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WaterField Air Travel Backpack review: Perfect bag for hands-free business travel

There are a number of methods to carry your essentials for business travel, and after a couple of short business trips, I think WaterField's latest bag may be exactly what I've been looking for. It's perfect for short trips with no other bags or even longer trips where you check another piece of luggage.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

WaterField Air Travel Backpack

4.5 / 5
Very good

pros and cons

  • Extremely high-quality bag
  • Well-designed compartments and configuration
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable for extended carrying
  • Easy access to essential gear
  • Clothing straps allow clothes to move in backpack mode
  • Expensive

Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, there are still many of us that have continued to travel as part of essential business sectors, and I continue my pace of about one business trip a month. I've taken a couple of short duration trips over the past month and think I may have finally found a bag that was designed specifically for my needs. 

Also: These are my 5 must-have devices for work travel now

My primary business travel has been conducted with the WaterField Pro Executive Laptop backpack and an OGIO rolling travel bag for the past three years. The OGIO is a very nice bag, but its space is not optimized for its size and rolling a bag through the airport requires one hand and arm dedicated to manoeuvring around. The majority of my trips are only 3-5 days long, so I only pack large suitcases when going on a family vacation and prefer small bags that let me avoid checking bags and waiting for them at my destination.

I've also used the Air Duffel for a couple of trips, but that still requires a hand to carry it around. For the past month, I've been traveling with the WaterField Air Travel Backpack that gets just about every detail just right while letting me travel with two hands-free if I carry it in backpack mode. It's available in five different colors/styles for $419 each with a build quality that will last you for many years.

Tour around the Air Travel Backpack

The WaterField Air Travel Backpack can be carried in two orientations, vertical in backpack mode or horizontal in briefcase mode. There are two main compartments, one for several days worth of clothing and accessories while the other is designed for business gear.

The front compartment, located opposite of the backpack straps, is optimized for horizontal use with a long leather strip covering two rugged zippers that provide access to two front compartments. These are handy for headphones, chargers, keys (there is a lanyard to secure your keys), and other gear you want immediate access to while traveling. I have been using the lanyard to secure my car keys because when I park at the airport, I always worry I will leave my keys behind at my work destination, so I love having a dedicated space to ensure the keys are with me upon my return.

Also: This hidden iPhone feature can help you fall asleep faster

Working towards the backpack straps, we next have a very large clothing and accessory compartment. I've used the Pro Executive backpack for one or two days trips in the past, but there was inadequate space for all of my clothes and toiletries. That is not a problem here with plenty of space and that lovely golden water-resistant ripstop lining. There are two large zippered mesh pockets, which have been great for undergarments and socks. There are two straps for helping hold your clothing in place, but I found they do not function that well when the bag is rotated into backpack orientation and all of the clothes slide down to the bottom. Maybe a cross pattern would be more effective for securing clothing in a future revision. WaterField also offers a zipper-lock system for this compartment that helps secure that space. I love that this space is separate so that you don't have to reveal your clothing to access any gear while traveling.

Rotate back 90 degrees into backpack mode, and then we see a cool external ballistic nylon pocket on the right side to hold your water bottle, up to 3.5-inch diameter, while you travel. There is elastic in the top of this pocket to securely hold your bottle in place.

WaterField Air Travel Backpack review: in pictures

One of the most used pockets is found on the top of the bag that has been perfect for carrying my face mask, passport, and mobile phone. These are essential for travel, and I love the quick and easy access to this gear in the top pocket.

We then find the very large business compartment that also has substantial zippers and a mechanism to secure these two zippers on one side. While I have TSA PreCheck and never have to take my laptop or tablet out of my bag, this compartment is TSA-friendly, so you can fully unzip it, lay it flat, and go through the metal detectors with your mobile gear remaining safe and secure in various compartments.

Towards the front, we see a very large gold-lined compartment with two smaller pockets and three pen/stylus pockets. This large pocket is perfect for carrying the Air Caddy until you get on the plane. On the backpack strap side, we find two large padded compartments that are perfect for your laptop, tablet, ebook reader, and other mobile gear. A mesh zippered pocket above these is a good place for cables or earbuds. The orientation of these pockets is perfect for easy access when you zip up both sides and can then reach down to pull out your gear quickly and easily.

There is padding on the back with an opening so you can slide the Air Travel Backpack onto a roller bag when the bag is in a horizontal orientation. This shows great attention to detail and functionality. The two straps are also padded, so you can carry even a heavy load in comfort. A removable sternum strap system is provided with four connection points to fit people of every size and shape. The securing mechanism for this sternum strap is extremely high quality with metal material and easy release, as expected from WaterField Designs. There is also a strap system so that you can tuck the shoulder straps when not in use, as it is clear WaterField has thought of everything with this bag.

See also: WaterField Designs Pro Executive Laptop Backpack: A perfect business backpack created with the help of customers.

Price and options

The Air Travel Backpack is available in black ballistic nylon with options for chocolate leather, black leather, blue leather, and crimson leather highlights for $419. A fifth color/material option for the same $419 price is tan waxed canvas with chocolate leather. The leather is found on the carrying handles and front dual pocket upper border.

The Travel Air Backpack weighs in at 3.9lbs for the ballistic nylon models and 4.6 pounds for the waxed canvas bag. The bag is 22.5-inches long by 16-inches high, and 7.5-inches deep. These dimensions are right at the maximum for most major airlines, the depth is less, so it should fit fairly easily in the overhead compartment. Underseat dimensions are less, so you should consider also including something like the Air Caddy, Executive Folio, or Tech Folio to carry the gear you will use while on the flight. I personally used the Executive Folio with a small bag for my movie snacks.

Travel experiences

WaterField sent along the blue leather Air Travel Backpack for me to test out, and it has been an extremely enjoyable experience. The soft leather luggage handles are very comfortable and securely attached, so I never worried about overloading the bag. The stitching, zippers, interior lining, and shoulder straps are of the highest quality. In typical WaterField fashion, I expect this bag will look the same in 5-10 years, even with regular monthly usage.

The compartments are optimized for perfect placement for short business trips, and as someone who makes most of my trips in 3-5 days, it's clear this bag was designed for the regular business traveler. Another great aspect of this bag is that you can unload all of your clothing and toiletries in the hotel room and then carry this to the job site for work, with it appearing to be a slightly oversized backpack. This trumps the need to carry multiple bags for business travel and has been a great revelation on just the two trips I have taken so far.

Sometimes I even make trips for mobile tech launches where I take a red-eye flight and land in the morning, conduct business all day long, maybe stay a night, and then fly out the next day. This WaterField Air Travel Backpack is the perfect companion for trips like that, too where I carry it all with me and maintain two hands available for getting work done on the go.

WaterField's size guide shows you all of the various sizes that will fit into the laptop and tablet pockets, and as you can see it covers just about everything you can throw at it. I've been traveling with a Surface Pro 6, Surface Book 2, Samsung Galaxy Tab S7, Kindle Oasisand several smartphones without a problem.

As I mentioned earlier, the only update I would make to the bag is in way of the straps in the clothing compartment. It's tough to get everything perfect, but WaterField Designs has proven once again it listens to customers and builds products to help us all get work done and carry all of our essentials for business travel.

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