I’ve become somewhat of a bag connoisseur. It’s an odd thing for somebody focused on gaming to say, but suffice it to say that there is, in fact, a right bag for specific things. You might recall I took a look at a bag from Solo New York recently — the Alistair vertical briefcase (review). It’s become my daily use bag as it is stylish, incredibly room, and holds more than enough for any given normal day. While it does hold a lot, I’ve found most recently that it is not a great bag for travel. It holds my Microsoft Surface nicely, as well as my camera and recording equipment, which is perfect for a day trip, but longer trips or conventions require something a little more robust. Enter the Solo Elite backpack.
The Solo Elite backpack carries a lot of the same traits as other entries in the Solo New York catalog, and a few that are unique to this model. The first thing to note is that this bigger than the Alistair. It can support a 17.3” laptop comfortably, courtesy of a 3/4″ thick pad between your back and the device. My EON-15X OriginPC laptop fit snugly in the Alistair, but had plenty of room to breath in the Elite, leaving plenty of room for accessories, a mouse, cables, and the ever-present power brick. The extra vented padding made carrying my laptop a breeze. While it isn’t as comfortable as the old Dell XPS laptop bags, it’s also not nearly as heavy.
If you are like me, you obsess about every little detail before you take a trip. The Elite caters to that level of insanity with a staggering number of pockets to put everything in its place. Recently I took it on a trip to Los Angeles to test that theory. Inside the main flap of the bag there is a vertical zippered pocket capable of holding a Nintendo 3DS nicely. Above that is a sealed, but see-through mesh pocket that held my keys and a thumbdrive at the ready, but out of sight. Two similar sealed mesh zippered pockets adorn the inside of both the left and right sections of the bag, distributing weight towards the top of the bag. These were used to hold my mouse, miscellaneous wires, and a portable hard drive. It’s the very bottom of the bag that surprised me most.
Most backpacks are more accurately described as simply sacks to hold things in. They lack form, and they certainly lack purpose of function. At the bottom of the Elite is a small solid floor that can be dropped down to create a solid base for the bag. This gives it structure enough to stand up on its own. Additionally, there is a spacious additional bag with some very specific utility in mind — shoes.
On the outside front of nearly any backpack is a small zippered pocket that you’ll use to hold miscellaneous odds and ends. Maybe that’s where you put your wallet while you slog through the TSA checkpoint, perhaps it’s where you’ll put a pack of gum. Sure, you can do those things here as well, but if you pull the inside of the bag out, it creates a sealed off section of your backpack where you can load a pair of shoes. I don’t want whatever horribleness I might pick up on the streets of LA making contact with anything else in my bag, and with this backpack, they don’t have to. Sliding my Toms Shoes into these let them sit safely in my bag, but granting them no access to transfer anything from the soles to my electronics or clothes. This spacious bag can also be used as a dirty laundry container, once again keeping them separate from your clean clothes, and for the same reason. There is a restraining Velcro strap to keep everything in its place and tidy. It’s a little thing that I didn’t expect to pay off so completely, but now that I have a bag with this feature, I can’t imagine doing without it.
On both sides of the bags (let’s call them “hips” for fun) lie two additional pockets. These are deeper pockets that run nearly 10” down the flanks. I found these to be incredibly useful for the things I wanted handy while on a plane or in an Uber, but without having to open the main body of the bag and rummage around. My phone charger and phone, sunglasses, printed directions, earbud headphones, my boarding pass, that sort of thing. These hip pockets are perfect for plane rides as you can quickly grab what you need and then sit back down without catching the evil eye from your fellow passengers.
Heading to the top and rear of the bag, a nylon cover adorns the top portions. Secured from straps on the flanks of the bag, it prevents anything like rain from getting inside the bag, potentially ruining the contents. That flap also has a zippered pocket on top, though I often forgot about that one in lieu of the other many zippered sections on the Elite. There is also a semi-rigid carrying handle on top of the bag, so you don’t have to carry it lopsided by one of the shoulder straps should you wish to pick it up without putting it on your back. There’s also a flexible handle on the bottom, and on both sides of the bag, though I can’t say I’ve found a particular use for those at this point.
The shoulder straps on the Elite are a combination of many different types of material. The smooth black nylon gives way to a heavily reinforced cloth strap material, which connects to the bottom of the bag. These are held in place by the most reinforced X-shaped strap stitches I’ve ever seen on a backpack. The stitches are placed in a criss-cross pattern, and then encircled to ensure that there is absolutely no chance that it will come apart. In fact, every load bearing surface of the bag follows this pattern — a rarity among bag manufacturers, but not as much of a surprise given the build quality of the aforementioned Alistair. With further thoughtful design, the chest strap / clip harness can slide up and down, ensuring it can fit any body type.
While we are on the topic of straps, another small thing that I came to appreciate is that every strap on the bag has a secondary restraining “ring” of sorts. Often, once you tighten a strap in place, it dangles haphazardly, snagging things around you as you walk by. On the Elite, these small strap binders hold the excess strap close to the bag, preventing all that nonsense. All of the various clips on the bags are plastic, which isn’t my favorite, but they are very sturdy, thick, and look like they’ll hold up nicely for a long time.
In a similar vein as the straps, Solo New York has attached small white ropes with a T-handle on the end of every zipper. These make them easy to manipulate in either direction one handed, and allow you to reach items in your bag without having to take it off entirely. Again, as with the Alistair, the zippers themselves are a semi-sealed structure, preventing jamming. To keep weight low, these are made of plastic instead of steel, but even after a month of use, I have yet to feel like they might jam on me.
If I had one complaint about the Solo Elite, it’s the body of the bag. You can put a 17” laptop in the bag easily enough, but as the main entry point to the bag is more center than side, it makes getting in and out more challenging than it needs to be. I feel like the Solo Altitude might be better suited if you are frequently pulling your laptop or tablet out, but that’s really picking a nit, isn’t it?
As we talk about quality, I have to reiterate that the team at Solo New York believe in their products. While other bags often have no warranty whatsoever, or at best, 90 days, Solo warranties the Solo New York Elite backpack for a whopping five years. They guarantee that it’ll be free of defects in materials and craftsmanship for five years from the day you buy it. Having churned through entirely too many backpacks that look fantastic for about three months, I have a deep appreciation for a company that stands behind their work. When you realize that they are warranting a back that retails for $79.99, it’s a no brainer. I can promise you that you’ve thrown away 80 dollars worth of junk backpacks in the last five years — how about buying one that will hold up for once? Not having to check a bag with your non-Southwest flight will almost pay for it outright.
Solo New York Elite Backpack
The Solo New York Elite backpack is peerless and lives up to its name completely. With a spacious and padded space for a 17” laptop, more pockets than I knew what to do with, and an integrated shoe/laundry compartment, it has become my travelling / convention bag. At a price point you can’t ignore, and a warranty that screams confidence, the Elite backpack is a very easy recommendation.