Mark R Lindsey

Review of the Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack

In review on September 29, 2007 at 4:13 pm

In 1999 or so, I bought a Brenthaven Executive backpack for my IBM ThinkPad 390x. At the time, a laptop with a 15″ display was huge! 15″ is still the same size, but they’ve increased hugeness. Currently, my laptop is a MacBook Pro 17 — significantly longer than the ThinkPad 390x. I could still fit the MBPro 17 in the old Brenthaven bag, but to do so I had to remove the internal laptop sleeve, reducing the protection for the laptop.

After spotting a dent in my Macbook Pro, I decided to give in and get a new bag.

Every Ounce Counts (but Lacking Stuff is Tough)

I travel a reasonable amount for my job — once or twice a month. And I tend to travel pretty heavy. I typically have the following items in my backpack on work trips:

Laptop, extra laptop battery, Laptop AC power supply, Laptop AC power supply extension cable, Office-supply pouch (stapler, stables, scotch tape, name tags, paper clips, pens, pencils, sharpie marker, post-it notes), Medicine pouch (band-aids, tylenol, wet-ones, kleenex tissues, etc.), SD-USB adapter, Voice recorder, Digital Camera, Spare digital camera battery, Digital camera battery charger, Gorillapod, Keyspan DB9/RS232-USB adapter, Cisco DB9/RJ45 console adapter, Cisco flat rollover cable, USB cable, USB-Treo sync/charger cable, USB flash storage key (4GB), Bluetooth headset, Extra AAA Batteries, Sony Noise-Cancelling Headphones, USB-EVDO modem for Sprint-Nextel, USB-Ethernet adapter (sometimes one wired Ethernet interface just isn’t enough), Composition book (my work notebook), Spare tee shirt, shorts, and socks (in case I’m stuck overnight without my checked baggage), and a magazine or book.

Why give this list? Well, for one thing, it’s fun to inventory my bag. But also, I need to convey an idea of what I carry, so you can have perspective for what it means when I say that these things fit.

My old bag

My point of reference is the Brenthaven Executive Computer Backpack that I bought in 1999 or 2000. Brenthaven has introduced a newer model since mine. It’s still in great shape after 7 years of use, including two jobs and grad school. At first, I had trouble with this older bag, because it wasn’t clear where to put books. The obvious place just couldn’t hold many. But with some experimentation, I found that the unlikely place — an apparently-smaller pouch — could hold numerous large books.

Less carrying space

These things fit in the backpack, though it’s tighter than in the old 1999-era Executive backpack. In my old backpack, I could carry all this, plus a copy of the 1,616-page doorstopper, The TCP/IP Guide with no problems. But in the new bag, I’d have trouble zipping the zipper with all these things.


This new bag is thinner — meaning that it protrudes off my back less. This seems good; my old bag was rotund, even if I didn’t have it very full.


Probably to accommodate the larger laptop, the new backpack is wider. One reviewer said that it’s like carrying a small suitcase on your back. I’ve never seen a suitcase that small, but it is a relatively wide backpack.

No waist strap

My old bag had a waist strap; it is a 2″-wide nylon strap with a large buckle that went around your waist like a belt. It helps distribute the load, and was excellent when running to chase the 7pm J-bus leaving campus. This new bag lacks the waist strap, though a removable chest strap is provided. To be honest, I only rarely used the waist strap; most of the time, I had to wrap it around backwards and clip it around the bag, just to have a place to keep it.

Good features in common

This new bag still has excellent wide shoulder straps that seem sturdy and have lots of padding. There’s a key hook, and a place for pencils.

There’s still an interior pocket with a clear plastic front, which I use for my business cards.

Nice new features

As shown in the photos, the interior nylon fabric is grey; this helps finding items inside the bag by brightening it up.

There are two small exterior pockets with zippers; one is good for the A/C adapter and cords.

There are several nice interior pouchesa and pockets; most of them are mesh bags with elastic straps on top. Others have nylon covers. One has a heavy padded nylon cover, which may be useful for iPods or other items with a fragile case.

My modular packing

Perhaps it’s because I’m in networking where encapsulation within encapsulation is normal, but I’m not using the new bag exactly as intended. Many of my items are very small — for example, the USB flash drive, and the bluetooth headset. I could find pouches and pockets for each of these items in the backpack, but then I’d have to memorize their locations or hunt through the pockets to find an item.

In addition, sometimes I want to lighten the bag by removing cables during the flight, or removing the gadgets I’m not using. It’s nice to just pull out most of the stuff I’m not using for the next day and put it in my checked bag.

So to make things easier to find, I organize most of my stuff into several pencil pouches:

  • Green pouch — office supplies
  • Red pouch — electronics (any gadget that takes power or has a transistor)
  • Blue pouch with clear cover — cables
  • Blue folding Nike pouch — first aid

Then I just put the pouches into the backpack. The problem is that my pouches are bigger than the pockets, so they live in the larger zippered areas.

Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 12 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 7 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 10 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 6 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 3 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 5 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 13 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 4 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 2 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 8 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 11 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 9 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 1

  1. I read your review of the Meadow restaurant (Meadow Diner). Yours is a very accurate description. (Under 18, eh?) I’ve been there several times while going to and from Raleigh and Emerald Isle. It is great. I too did computer stuff but didn’t have to travel and have lived into retirement. That’s great also.Regards.jwd

  2. Thanks for the review 🙂 still trying to justify the price though…

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