The Level8 15″ & 17″ Atlas Backpack is a workhorse backpack that will haul your 15-17″ laptop along with a small mountain of additional “stuff” with a bit of style, a ton of protection, and a lot of comfort. Thanks to it’s adherence to TSA standards, your laptop can ride through the X-Ray screening station while remaining in the “checkpoint friendly” laptop section. There are four things that are critical for a travel/daily use laptop backpack – rugged construction, ample and organized storage, protection for the laptop, and comfort (when overloaded!) The Level8 Atlas is a winner on all of these.
The Atlas is made with a nylon exterior – it is padded between compartments, and the compartments are lined with smooth nylon. The base of the bag is a heavy plastic:
The carrying strap on top is a double grommeted, plastic encased steel cable, with a free-floating soft plastic grip for your hand.
The zippers are all heavy duty, and the straps are shock-absorbing, reinforced, and attached to the back with an additional reinforcing layer of nylon over the doubly stitched attachment points. The photos of the straps and back are a bit further on, in the “comfort” section.
The Atlas has six exterior compartments – looking at the front view again, you can see the two easy-access zippered side pockets.
The entire front is a compartment, inside is what would typically be an organizational layout for a briefcase – a large inner zippered pocket, a bank of pen holsters, a velcro pouch just the right size for business cards, and a mesh pocket for stuff you might need to see. Oddly missing here was an attachment ring or integrated C-Clip for snapping in your car keys.
Moving back along the top, nestled between the front and large mid compartments is the padded media player compartment with headphone port:
Behind that is the first of two full bag compartments. The first compartment opens all the way down to the two side pockets, but not all the way to the bottom, so stuff inside is unlikely to spill out even when you crank it all the way open:
In this compartment is a zippered mesh pocket about half the hight of the bag on one side, and four open pockets roughly CD sized, two mesh, on the opposite side. The bottom of this compartment contains an additional layer of padding over the base padding, so you can put somewhat delicate items in here.
The back compartment is where your 15-17″ laptop goes. This case is targeted to the 15-17″ Macbook Pro, but any fairly new (as in, not thicker than a couple inch) laptop will feel right at home. In order to be checkpoint friendly, the last compartment unzips fully to the bottom, so you can lay the whole backpack open flat on the X-Ray belt:
The right hand side in that photo is the actual “three dimensional” EVA foam lined sleeve for the laptop, the rest of the compartment is bare of zippers. The left side does have a fabric pocket which extended about 2/3s of the way up, which is perfect for a tablet, or papers.
The padded sleeve is the height of protection. The top of the sleeve opens and folds down, and includes the helpful logo to encourage the TSA to allow your laptop to ride through inside:
Opening that exposes the additional padding. A 15″ laptop slides all the way down past the hinge of the inner sleeve, while a 17″ would extend above it – in either size the laptop is fully enclosed and protected when the flap is up. There isn’t a lot of excess width for the laptop to slide around, even if it could with all those bumps. The result being, once you slide the laptop in there, it’s not moving until you pull it out.
The base of the sleeve is padded as well. Also padded is the back of the bag – mostly for your comfort when wearing the bag, but it also adds another couple of inches of padding to the who thing, which isn’t bad.
The Atlas has a standard backpack design, and wears just like you’d expect:
The straps are adjustable with quick-pull tabs:
and back of the backpack are covered in a breathable nylon mesh, and include air channels, which helps avoid sticky sweaty back syndrome.
All in all, a very comfortable backpack to wear, even when loaded for a business trip (or a day of classes.)
On The Road
Thanks to a cross country business trip that happened the day after the backpack arrived for review, I was able to take the Atlas through security, onto a cross country flight, and then haul it around with me through a week of meetings. My in-flight gear includes two phones, one netbook, a 15″ Macbook Pro, one power brick (thanks to Virgin America’s in-seat power plugs) and assorted lesser junk, some paper, a physical notebook, etc. The netbook was riding in the back compartment, outside the sleeve, while the MPB was in the sleeve.
Fully loaded I came in at a hair under 20 pounds. On my back, it didn’t feel like 20 pounds at all, and I cruised in comfort through the airport, to the security checkpoint. Once there I pulled out the netbook and opened up the backpack, laid it flat on the belt, and was done with security with ease.
On the plane I found the only real drawback to the Atlas, and it’s really unavoidable. The backpack has to be large enough to accommodate a 17″ laptop, which makes it about 3″ longer than the space you’re given in Economy on most airlines. So when you shove it under the seat, it sticks out a bit – which means its possible to step on it, and you’ve got that much less legroom. In a perfect world they’d make a slightly smaller bag for 15″ only laptops.
The Level8 Atlas is a well made and very usable backpack for 15-17″ laptops roughly the thickness of a Macbook Pro. The laptop itself is well protected, as is your back and shoulders. The many compartments and outer and inner pockets give you all the options you need to carry whatever you might want or need on a trip, or on your daily commute to work or school.