I sometimes have back pain and carrying heavy gear bags often makes things worse. I’m constantly on the lookout for a sturdy, protective bag that’s big enough for my computer must-haves but won’t add a lot of weight itself. We’ve used neoprene lunch bags from Built NY for years. These lunch bags wear like iron, and they’re very lightweight. Built NY (or Built as they seem to call themselves now) expanded from food and beverage bags into gear bags sometime ago. I finally decided I’d give their Neoprene Tote Bag for the 13” MacBook Pro a try. I placed my order at Amazon and got my bag delivered the next day. Let’s see how it works.
Some of the pictures can be clicked for an enlarged view. The top picture is courtesy of Amazon.com (because I couldn’t get the bag to stand up nicely); all the other pictures are mine.
Built uses wetsuit Neoprene to make their bags. I don’t have calipers to measure the thickness of the Neoprene. It feels thicker and much more dense than some Neoprene bags I’ve had, like the Neoprene pouch that came with the Sony PRS-600 ebook reader. The material is compressible, but it is not so spongy that you can completely flatten it between your fingers. The stitching on the bag is very even and straight. The raw edges are bound with a black jersey fabric. The only branding on the exterior of the bag is the “Built” name in a plastic iron-on applique on one side of the bag.
Like most of their products, the Neoprene Tote Bag is available in a variety of patterns and colors. I ordered the Graphite Grid color. The interior is lined in a medium blue fabric. Both the interior and exterior fabrics seem to be a synthetic material in jersey knit. I’m not sure that guys would like the shoulder-style of this particular bag, but the color and pattern should work for men.
The bag measures about 15.25” at the widest point at the top and about 13.4” across the bottom. It’s about 4.25” deep at the bottom (exterior dimension). The bag is about 21” tall including the handles. The bag itself is 10.5” tall. The double straps have about a 10” drop, so there’s plenty of room to place this bag on your shoulder. The bag weighs only 1 pound, 1.5 ounces empty.
The bottom of the bag and most of the sides of the bag are made of a sturdier material. This material seems to be a heavier, less compressible Neoprene with a sturdier fabric on the exterior. This should protect the bottom of the bag from wear and provide a little more protection for the contents of the bag.
This particular bag is designed for the 13” Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops. It has a laptop sleeve sewn into the sides of the bag. The sleeve doesn’t reach all the way to the bottom of the bag, so the laptop will be suspended in the middle of the bag. The Graphite Grid bag has a solid black laptop sleeve with a blue velvet lining. The sleeve has a nylon zipper with a metal slider and a large, black plastic zipper pull in a figure-8 shape.
My 13″ MacBook Pro just fits inside the sleeve without a millimeter to spare, and I was afraid that the zipper slider would drag along the edge of my laptop and scratch it. I haven’t noticed any scratches yet, but I do put my finger under the zipper slider as I take it over the corner of the laptop, where the fit is tightest.
The laptop sleeve divides the bag into two sections. The front section (behind the iron-on Built logo) is completely open and empty. I carry my iPad 2 in its back cover and Smart Cover in this section. I have plenty of room to carry a notebook or magazines in this section, too. The back section is the same size as the front section, with the addition of a zippered pocket on the exterior wall. The pocket has a plastic zipper with a metal slider and a plastic figure-8 zipper pull. I chose the front pocket for my iPad because I didn’t want the zipper to scratch it or put pressure on the screen.
I carry the large Levenger leather pouch (shown in the picture of my gear, below) in the back open pocket. The Levenger bag is almost 11” X 5” X 2”, and it’s packed with cables and connectors for various gadgets. There’s plenty of room in that large compartment for more. I have a 1TB Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex external disk and its Firewire connector plus the power supply for my laptop in the small zipper pocket. The Neoprene is stretchy, so I could probably fit something else in there, too. You can see the size of the zipper pocket outlined in stitching in the picture of the back of the bag (above).
Of course the bag is heavy when fully loaded with all my gear – because the gear is heavy. At just over 1 pound, the Built bag is the lightest I’ve had for my computer. The Neoprene straps are soft and stretchy enough that they seem to “give” under the weight of the stuff loaded inside, so they don’t feel like they are cutting into my skin.
I used the Neoprene Laptop Tote during a trip last weekend. I found it fit everything I wanted to take and had room for more. It was comfortable during the time I was carrying it. I felt my MacBook Pro was protected in its cushy, suspended sleeve inside the Neoprene bag. One thing I didn’t like about the bag is that it won’t stand up on its own. Unless I leaned the bag against my chair, the fully loaded Built bag fell over on its side. The only other quibble I had was there was no closure for the bag. The laptop sleeve zips closed, as does the interior small pocket, but the two main compartments are completely open.
I don’t see how I could possibly find a smaller, lighter bag for my MacBook Pro unless I used only a sleeve that had no storage for anything else. The Built Neoprene Tote Bag for the 13” Apple MacBook/Pro is now my go-to computer bag.
UPDATE (Jan 2015): I’ve purchased and/or reviewed other gear bags since I bought this Built NY tote in 2011. No matter what I try, I almost immediately go back to this tote. It’s roomy, and it’s by far the most comfortable bag I’ve carried. Built NY has recently undergone a change in direction, and they seem to have discontinued this bag. I’ve still found a couple of these bags for sale, and I’ve bought an extra one to keep in case something happens to this one. Check Amazon and eBay to see if you can find one. You won’t regret it.