Light on features travelers would want
Padded laptop sleeve feels flimsy
Material feels thin and less durable than other bags
When it comes to flying, a backpack is a smart luggage option, especially as most are small enough to count as your personal item. That means you can also bring a roller bag or duffel, effectively getting away with two carry-on items and avoiding ever-rising airline baggage fees. Backpacks are a useful and hands-free solution for commuting around your hometown or using while sightseeing on vacation and they often have features designed to protect delicate gear like laptops and sunglasses. We had high hopes for the SwissGear 1186, but it fell pretty flat. Below, everything we discovered after toting the bag around for a few weeks.
Design: Simple, but hurting for features
We’d describe the design of the SwissGear 1186 Laptop Backpack as non-remarkable. But, for travelers who want a bag that won’t stand out in a busy train station, that may be a good thing. It’s designed in classic SwissGear style, meaning that functionality plays more of a role than appearance. The dark black color scheme is versatile enough for outdoor adventures and urban commuting, and the only branding is a small SwissGear logo on the back. The adjustable straps and back padding utilize SwissGear’s Airflow technology, which is supposed to reduce sweat and heat by being extra breathable. This worked for wear around town, but it didn’t make much of a difference when worn on a 5-mile hike in the sun; we had sweaty marks on our back just halfway into the walk.
SwissGear’s pack has two front zippered pockets as well as one large utility pocket. The front pocket is approximately 9 x 7.5 inches and has no dividers or smaller compartments, while the second utility pocket has a few smaller pouches and straps designed to organizer compact items. If you’re planning on carrying smaller accessories like chargers, and power cords, you may need some kind of additional small gadget organizer bag.
We were able to hold one pair of women’s sandals, two pairs of jeans, a sweatshirt, a light jacket, and not much else.
The largest compartment, with a capacity of 26.5 liters, has a laptop-specific pocket, but it feels light on padding. The SwissGear website says this can accommodate a 13-inch laptop, but we were able to fit a 15-inch one (albeit it was tight). Because the padding feels so thin, we wouldn’t recommend storing your laptop without additional padding during travel or situations in which the bag may get bumped and tossed. We felt more comfortable tucking our 13-inch laptop into an egg-crate laptop sleeve before sliding it into the pouch. If you’re someone who regularly brings their laptop on vacation, you should try this bag in person to determine if the padding feels thick enough for your peace of mind.
The SwissGear Laptop Backpack has a headphone port on the small front pocket, allowing you to thread your earbuds through the bag while still leaving your phone safely in the pocket. While this could be a useful feature occasionally, we felt it was unnecessary, especially for users who prefer to keep their phone within arm’s reach while traveling.
Portability: Extremely lightweight
The backpack features an adjustable bungee cord on the front, which is a nice feature, but not as secure as a zippered pocket. While wearing the SwissGear pack, the bungee aptly held soft gear, like a beanie or rolled-up jacket, but firmer items like water bottles made the pocket below it inaccessible.
The adjustable straps and back padding utilize SwissGear’s Airflow technology, which is supposed to reduce sweat and heat ... but it didn’t make much of a difference when worn on a 5-mile hike.
There are also mesh pockets on either side for water bottles which worked well, though we did run into a few instances where larger, reusable water bottles from popular brands fell out of the pockets when the bag was laying flat. We noticed another design flaw of the mesh side pockets as well: when fully packed, the main compartment of the bag expands into the space for the pockets, leaving the mesh pulled taught across the sides. We were unable to fit even a small water bottle in the side pockets when this happened. The same happened with the two front pockets; while the main compartment was only partially full, we were able to use the front pocket for a reusable water bottle and large over-the-ear headphones. When we filled the main compartment, however, were only able to fit flat items into the front pocket, like an e-reader and external hard drive. We’d like to see a gusseted pocket here or some other design change to ensure all pockets can be fully utilized.
The SwissGear Laptop Backpack is one of the smallest travel bags we’ve tested with a capacity of just 26 liters. In our testing, we were able to hold one pair of women’s sandals, two pairs of jeans, a sweatshirt, a light jacket, and not much else. However, the small size was easy to travel with and didn’t take up much space under a seat or in a vehicle. Because the bag has a fairly simple design, with few external features, we also found that it didn’t snag or get stuck on armrests or handles like other more tactical bags do.
The padded straps were comfortable to wear for both our male and female tester. While the outer fabric feels a bit thin, the zippers are strong and durable, holding up well against overfilling and sudden tugging.
While the outer fabric feels a bit thin, the zippers are strong and durable, holding up well against overfilling and sudden tugging.
Price: It’s got this going for it
While this bag isn’t our favorite in terms of features, it does score points for price. The SwissGear Laptop Backpack retails for $50, which makes it one of the most affordable travel backpacks on the market.
Competition: Better features are out there
Timbuk2 Uptown Travel Backpack: If you have twenty extra dollars to spend, we’d opt for the Timbuk2 Uptown Travel Backpack as its more thoughtfully designed. The Timbuk2’s sturdier, thicker-padded laptop sleeve left us feeling more comfortable when carrying electronics, and the 30-liter interior compartment allowed us to pack a few additional clothing items. We also appreciate its sleek exterior which would be as much at home in your office as on the road.
Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack: If you want the ultimate in both features and size—and you have the money to spend—consider Oakley’s Kitchen Sink Backpack. Though the main compartment is only 8 liters larger, the Kitchen Sink has a dozen more features that will be useful to travelers, like a protected shell pocket, external clips, and a separate shoe pocket.
Need some more help finding what you're looking for? Check out our list of the best carry-on backpacks.
This bag is functional in a basic sense, but for just a few dollars more, you can buy a larger bag with more travel-friendly features. We wanted to like it, given the great warranty and very affordable price point, but we don’t think it will cut it for most travelers.
- Product Name 1186 Laptop Backpack
- Product Brand SwissGear
- Price $50
- Weight 1.6 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 17.75 x 13 x 7 in.
- Color Black/Grey
- Model Number 11862415
- Volume 27 liters
- Material 900D polyester
- Warranty 3-year limited (doesn’t cover normal wear and tear)