Review: Nomadic Wise Walker Backpack

The nice folks at JetPens.com recently sent me a Nomadic Wise Walker backpack to try out. I've been sitting on this review for a while to make sure that I really figured out what was great about it and to get past the novelty of the new.

The WW is a product of Japan. It came with a guide to its thirty-five billion pockets and pouches which, unfortunately, was in Japanese. I have no doubt that the pockets are each designed around very specific and efficient uses but I had to rather guess what each of them were.

Since I switched from a MacBook Pro to the iPad for mobile computing, it's opened a whole new set of possibilities for luggage. This is probably my favourite thing about the iPad - it fits into your everyday baggage without demanding that you buy bags and cases to mollycoddle the device. My wife and I both have ipads in the standard Apple case - she keeps hers in her handbag and I keep mine in the Wise Walker. The iPad fits in standard everyday bags along with all your other bits and pieces.

So what's the WW like? Well, the first thing is that it is _incredibly_ lightweight. It's made of nylon but at the bottom of the bag, the normal material is reinforced with a thicker weave of nylon over the top. Carrying my standard "kit", which features an ipad, a couple of books and other bits and pieces, it feels like the backpack is almost empty.

The main talking point, though, is the sheer number of pockets and - what shall we call them? - structured areas in this bag. By my count, there are thirteen different storage areas in this bag all of various sizes and for various purposes. Let's talk about them:

The main compartment that lies against your back is the full height of the bag and is deceptively huge. An iPad simply gets lost in there. Fill it with folders, books or clothes.

The rest of the bag towards the front is split between a lower compartment taking up the bottom third and a number of smaller compartments at the top. The lower-third compartment is great for something like a roll-up rain jacket. In my glamourous lifestyle, I have mostly used it for spare nappies and baby wipes, which are the kind of thing you generally want to dedicate a section of any bag to. I've also used it as a fast access pouch for my Canon EOS 30D with the Canon 24-105mm f/4L lens, which is a not inconsiderable size. It's not really well enough padded for that kind of use, but it worked in a pinch.

The upper two-thirds of the front of the bag is home to two more zipped pockets. The rearward pocket opens to a concertina divider and is just tall enough to hold an iPad (depth-wise, you could fit about five iPads in it). I use this section for keeping books in, as it keeps them out of the way of the main pocket and keeps them good.

On the front of this section is another pocket which contains the usual collection of small item pouches and key loops. It's divided into four sections front to back' and on the front of that section there's one last zipped pocket.

This is all very hard to visualise from words, so here's a video walkthrough:

One of the things I love about this bag is that the inside is finished in the most eye-searingly bright orange nylon. So many bags finish the insides in the same black nylon as the outside. Ever tried to dig into the bottom of your bag for something? I've found primitive societies forming at the bottom of some of my bags. A bright finish on the inside makes it much easier to see what evil lurks at the bottom of your bag.

I recently took my family to London for a few days and decided to use the Wise Walker as my only bag. My standard kit then comprised:

- iPad and stand
- Canon 30D w/24-105mm lens
- Three iPods and a Nintendo DSi
- Significant amounts of child-changing materials
- Two small books
- Various water bottles
- The daily accretion of comics, food, discarded sweaters, scrapbook materials and flyers that accompanies any family day out in London.

I was worried that the seemingly wispy fabric of the WW wouldn't hold up to that much weight. I was also worried that the shoulder straps would lose their shape and start to dig into my shoulders.

I needn't have worried too much about that. Neither of those things were a problem. The bag still looks as good as new and my shoulders didn't hurt once. What did happen, though, was that the bag started to sit too low on my back.

The WW seems to me to be designed as an everyday bag that can expand for those times you need to carry a bit more. I was really loading it every day and walking round for hours. Because I didn't really want to wear it with the shoulder straps clamped tight at all times, the bag started to move down and sit lower on my back. Computer backpacks solve this problem by building in all kinds of waist belts and harnesses to lay some of the weight of the bag through the hips. The WW isn't built that way partly, I guess, because it's not as tall as most backpacks. The waist belt - if it had one - would be sitting just under your ribs.

So this was a problem but not a huge one. The practical outcome was that the strap adjustment buckles (where the thick shoulder strap meets the thin webbing strap down at the corner) rode up under my arms and caused a bit of discomfort. I am not the smallest of gentlemen and, I suspect, people of more average proportions wouldn't find this so much of a problem. I also blame the unusual amount of weight I was putting in the bag. I haven't found this to be a problem under any kind of day to day use.

I have two other small criticisms to make of the bag: firstly, the zips are covered by external rain flaps made of the same light nylon as the bag. Great that they have rain flaps, but I found that it was a bit too easy to get the rain flap caught in the zip. Secondly, the bag has two mesh pockets on the outsides for water bottles. I couldn't find any bottle small enough to fit them. Perhaps Japanese bottles are a different size to ours?

I've really enjoyed using the Wise Walker so far. I switch between it and a Tumi pocket bag which is really good for just for the iPad and nothing much else.

In so many ways, the iPad starts to fade your "computing" into the experience of everyday life. When you're using a laptop away from a desk, there's so much ceremony involved - opening it up, clearing a space for it and always, always making sure that you're not too far from the wall socket into which you will soon have to insert that hefty charger.

The iPad is such a wonderfully low-ceremony device. It requires only just a little more care than a book. You can chuck it in any old bag alongside all the other stuff in your kit, instead of having to carefully entomb it in a sarcophagus of neoprene, foam and nylon. You never take your iPad charger with you, except on overnights, and there's nothing else to take. No 3G dongles, no MiFis, no second batteries, no cable bags. You just take it with you and use it.

I've searched long and hard for the ideal computer bag. It turns out that the ideal computer bag is not a computer bag at all, but making the computer so that it doesn't need special love and care. The Wise Walker is a pleasure to use.