Continuing on my recent quest for the perfect backpack, I recently asked to review the Toffee Berlin Backpack. Eighteen months ago, I reviewed the Toffee Centennial pack, a red all-canvas model that I carried for a while. One day, my oldest came by the house and proclaimed it “too girlie” for her dad, and absconded with it. I’m not sure if that was just a ploy to get a new bag, but I’ve gone through several possible replacements in the intervening months. This is but the latest.
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What is it?
The Berlin is billed as an Urban backpack and is shown in very masculine settings, and is listed in the “For Men” section of Toffee’s website. (For what it’s worth, the Centennial also shows up under the “For Men” section. I’m so confused….)
Design and features
The Berlin is a waxed canvas bag with a covered zipper, leather accents, and nicely padded shoulder straps. There is a generous double-thickness leather haul loop stitched and sealed and sewn into the center of each back strap. Inside are two pockets for laptop/tablet, sewn into the back and lifted slightly from the bottom of the bag for drop protection. The tablet pocket on the front of the laptop pocket can hold an iPad Air without a cover of any type, but it’s tight. A mini will fit easier. The laptop pocket holds a 12” laptop nicely and a 13”-er in a pinch. My iPad Pro 12” fits with a bit of extra space, but not enough to also fit my 10.5” one. Fortunately, the rest of the single inner compartment is roomy enough for my Freudian Slip, K811 keyboard, and the smaller iPad Pro without too much compromise.
Here are the specs as laid out on the website:
- Water-resistant waxed canvas and genuine leather
- Leather side pockets to hold a water bottle or coffee in a can
- Padded laptop compartment, separate tablet compartment
- Reinforced base with metal feet, durable YKK metal main zip
- Outer Fabric: 100% waxed cotton canvas, and genuine leather
- Side pockets: 100% genuine naturally milled leather with a subtle pebble grain
- Lining: 95% Cotton, 5% Spandex
- Bag Size: 260 mm/11.4 inches (L), 410 mm/15.3 inches (H), 14 cm/5.5 inches (W)
- Compatible With: MacBook Air/Pro, Surface Pro 3 & 4 and other similar sized notebooks up to 13-inch.
The only difference I can find between the Berlin model and the earlier reviewed model is the front handle from the Centennial is missing from the Berlin and the leather side pockets. The yoke where the straps converge at the top has a leather reinforcing patch on the Berlin, where it’s the regular canvas on the Centennial. I don’t think that’s enough of a difference to worry about. The interior is the same mattress-ticking cotton/spandex blend, there is ample padding around all sides of the laptop compartment except the top edge, the tablet pocket is sewn onto the laptop pocket so that it is well above the bottom of the bag for shock absorption. The YKK zippers are made from the same odd non-brass material that doesn’t quite slide easily. (Aluminum? Zinc? I can’t tell. But it doesn’t polish up and wear to get smoother, that’s for sure.)
The straps are leather and canvas and sewn into the top structure of the bag very well. The adjustment is easy to reach when wearing, but it slides the opposite way most of my other bags do. Since the straps are all one piece, there’s no buckle at the end of the padded area of the strap. Instead, it continues down the pack, then loops back to the center of the buckle. To loosen the strap, you grab the buckle and pull it down, in the same motion that tightens other straps. To tighten, you pull the buckle up, just like loosening up other straps. Strange, but no big deal. Your muscle memory soon works it out.
As for weather resistance – I’m glad the waxed canvas is there, as much of our spring and fall weather is misty and drizzly in the mornings. With no weather seal on the large-toothed zippers, however, I’d make sure to get under cover in the event of a downpour.
What I Like
- Leather side panels add a sharp look.
- Well-sewn with quality materials (except that zipper!)
- Good padding and sewn-in pockets for laptop and tablet.
- Enough room for headphones, crusher hat, or other slightly bulky items.
What needs to be improved
- The main zipper is a really horrible experience.
- The side and front pockets are so tight as to be unusable.
The Berlin, which is available in Black (shown), Olive, and a Royal Blue, is a fine-looking backpack, that will easily hold a 12” laptop, a standard or large-sized iPad Pro, and the basics of a daily commute. Leather accents permit it access to a little better level than most backpacks, but it’s still a backpack.