Waterfield Designs Compact Executive Backpack review

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REVIEW – I have almost as many bags/backpacks as I have portable batteries.  It’s gotten to the point that I am hiding them from my wife every time I get another one.  I mean, can you have too many??  Sometimes the situation requires a unique set of features for your bag, am I right? There are bags for day trips, and overnight trips, and daily use back and forth to the office.  And yet other bags for long trips, times when you need a professional looking bag, and maybe even for hauling a large amount of folders or papers.  The one type of bag that I didn’t have was a compact bag that just held my work gear to go back and forth to the office for the day, but that I could sling over my shoulder. Enter the Waterfield Designs Compact Executive Backpack for $329. Let’s check it out!

What is it?

The Waterfield Designs Compact Executive Backpack is a compact backpack that you can carry on your back, or use the handle to carry in one hand.

What’s in the box?

  • Waterfield Designs Compact Executive Backpack

Product specs

Here are the specs from Waterfield:

  • Size: 11 inches long x 5 inches width x 15 inches tall
  • Weight: 2 lbs
  • Materials: Full-grain leather and black ballistic nylon or waxed canvas.
  • Firm foam padding protects contents and helps the bag stand upright.
  • Padded laptop and tablet compartments fit up to a 16-inch MacBook Pro or similarly sized laptop and a 12-inch iPad or tablet.
  • Main compartment has gold, water-resistant liner for better visibility of contents.
  • An interior, semi-opaque, zippered pocket includes an AirTag pocket
  • One padded laptop pocket and one padded tablet pocket.
  • Wheelie suitcase pass-through slot for inserting into carry-on handles.
  • Sweat-wicking mesh in the back and on the backpack straps.
  • A comfortable leather-lined top handle facilitates a quick grab or briefcase-style carry.
  • An upper, exterior pocket with scratch-free Ultrasuede® and padded with soft foam.
  • A pleated, lower, exterior pocket accommodates chargers or other bulky items without bulging.
  • The pleated, exterior pocket includes four pen slots, an open pocket, and a key fob.
  • Two side pockets – water bottle pocket and quick-access items pocket.
  • YKK waterproof zippers and custom metal zipper pulls add a professional touch.

The built-in Laptop Padded Sleeve fits devices up to 14.25” x 10″, including:

  • 13″ MacBook Pro
  • 14″ MacBook Pro
  • 16″ MacBook Pro
  • 13″ MacBook Air
  • NEW 15″ MacBook Air
  • Surface Book 3 (13.5″ & 15″)
  • Surface Laptop 4 & 3 (13.5″ & 15″)
  • Other similarly-sized devices

The built-in Tablet Padded Sleeve fits devices up to 12″ x 8.75″, including:

  • 9″ iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard
  • 11″ iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard
  • 11″ iPad Air with Magic Keyboard
  • Surface Pro X, Pro 8, Go with Type Cover
  • Other similarly-sized devices

Design and performance

Waterfield is based in San Francisco and has been making bags since 1998, but I had never heard of them.  They make everything here in the US and in small batches, so they pay a lot of attention to detail, and it shows. Their designs are very clean and in some cases minimalist, but functional at the same time. In fact, the little details are what sets this bag apart from this crowded space of executive backpacks.

First off, let me show you the other ‘backpacks’ that I use on a regular basis.  You can see from the picture below that the Waterfield is indeed compact compared to other standard-sized backpacks.  The Orben on the left has been the backpack that I have probably used the most.  Its 18-inch tall frame has 3 large zippered compartments and 2 smaller ones on the front.  It’s padded to protect my electronics and it can hold a ton of stuff.  I usually use this one when I am traveling for multiple days because it holds so much. The North Face on the right side is slimmer and has that North Face quality, so it’s rugged. But it only has 2 large zippered compartments and 1 small one on the front.  And it doesn’t have a flat bottom so you can’t stand it up on its own whether it’s empty or full. But it is comfortable to wear, especially if you are hiking, camping, or walking a long distance and need to carry stuff.

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The first thing you’ll notice about the Waterfield Designs Compact Executive Backpack (pictured in the middle above) is how it looks and feels.  It’s made of a combination of full-grain leather and ballistic nylon, and it is soft and supple. Every zipper is covered with a slim covering of waterproof material so that you don’t have to worry about a sudden downpour to damage your electronics inside. The metal zipper pulls are designed with a hollow center so that you can put a lock on the zippers to discourage anyone from dipping into your backpack to steal stuff when you aren’t looking. (see below) On the back and the shoulder straps, you’ll find moisture-wicking fabric that helps you avoid sweat. It has 1 large zippered compartment and 2 smaller zippered compartments on the front. Let’s look at each one because that’s where it gets interesting!

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At the top of the Waterfield Designs Compact Executive Backpack on the front, you’ll find the pocket that is the perfect size for a pair of sunglasses, your boarding pass, or anything else you’ll want quick access to. The nice little touch that Waterfield added here is that this pocket has soft foam padding and the lining is made of Ultrasuede® to prevent those expensive sunglasses from scratching or getting crushed!

Below that on the front is the larger zippered pocket that can easily hold a couple of power cords for your laptop and tablet, a wireless mouse, etc, it also has 4 slots to hold writing utensils, and a larger 6” by 6” pocket to slide your passport into. You’ll also see a nylon strap with a clasp to hold your keys. In this pocket, I discovered one of the other nice little touches that Waterfield included that I never knew I needed: a beautiful gold-colored nylon lining. My first thought was ‘Why in the world did they choose such a bright color? Why not just go with the black theme all throughout?’ Why indeed. Have you ever used a backpack where you were quickly digging through the pockets to find that one thing that you forgot where you put it? Yeah, like every day. Now I know why they picked this rich, gold color. It makes it so much easier to see stuff you are looking for inside the bag, even when you are in low lighting. Genius.

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When you move to the larger zippered compartment you’ll see 2 padded, felt-lined slots to hold your tablets/laptops. And you’ll still find room to hold a stack of file folders, power supplies, or anything else you want. You’ll of course see that same beautiful gold nylon lining that makes everything easier to find. Inside this main compartment, you’ll also find a 5” by 10” zippered pocket to hold even more stuff like snacks and gum, more writing utensils, wallets, whatever! Inside this pocket, you’ll also find another little nice touch in the way of a small pocket slot that is the perfect size to slide an Apple AirTag, or perhaps a Tile Tracker to help you find the bag if it wanders off! (See the upper right corner of the pic below to see that AirTag slot)

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On each side of the Waterfield Designs Compact Executive Backpack, you’ll find a zippered pocket that is perfect for holding other things you want quick access to, like a wallet, lip balm, or whatever. On the left side pocket, you’ll see it also has a smaller pocket slot to put something. On the right side pocket, you’ll find another nice little feature that you didn’t know you needed. That pocket is designed for a water bottle (see pic below of my 17 oz Swell bottle).  Waterfield states in several places that the 16 oz Hydro Flask is the absolute largest receptacle that will fit inside the water bottle pocket. My 17 oz Swell does stick out of the pocket, but it still looks good. The nice little touch about this pocket is that they designed the inside of this pocket to expand inward into the bag itself to limit the bulkiness on the outside of the bag. Very nice.

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Finally, a few of the other nice touches are worth mentioning.  The bottom of the Waterfield Designs Compact Executive Backpack is flat, so it can stand on its own. (Don’t you hate bags that constantly fall over when you are trying to use them??) On the back of the bag is a pass-through slot to slide the bag over the handle of your wheelie suitcase. And if you would rather just carry the bag with the handle on the top instead of using the shoulder straps, then you can expand the shoulder straps all the way out and slide them behind that pass-through slot to keep them out of your way. That’s a thoughtful design.

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What I like

  • Beautiful, clean design that looks good in any situation
  • Tons of pockets inside and out to hold all your office gear
  • Thoughtful, gold lining making it easy to find stuff
  • Flat bottom that enables it to stand upright on the floor

What I’d change

  • I honestly can’t think of anything

Final thoughts

If you are looking for a backpack that looks good and can be used in every situation, the Waterfield Designs Compact Executive Backpack isn’t for you.  It’s a little small for a long, extended trip, so you won’t be loading it up with a change of clothes in addition to your office gear. But it isn’t designed for that anyway. This bag is perfect as your daily backpack for going back and forth to work, and carrying your work essentials. It works great on an overnight trip and fits nicely on the handles of your suitcase when you are walking through the airport. It looks great and competes nicely in features and price with other leather, executive backpacks. And when you look at all the nice little touches that Waterfield added to this backpack, it’s an easy choice to make!

Price: $329
Where to buy: Buy on Waterfield’s website
Source: The sample of this product was provided by Waterfield

4 thoughts on “Waterfield Designs Compact Executive Backpack review”

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  2. Douglas Jensen

    I have been a Waterfield customer for many years. Their design and quality are unmatched. So is their customer service (e.g., help to see whether a particular product meets your needs). This backpack is perfect for me. Putting the shoulder straps through the pass-through slot facilitates wearing this as a “frontpack” on my chest while in a wheelchair (or in any seat having a back).

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