Waterfield Designs Bolt Backpack review: High quality professional backpack made in the US

Millions carry items to and from work in backpacks every single day and it may be one of the most used bags you own. Waterfield makes all of its bags in San Francisco and they are built to last for years.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

As a commuter who rides the Sounder train daily for 45 minutes each way, I see nearly every person on the train with some kind of bag that carries their computer, lunch, work papers, tablets, smartphones, workout gear, toiletries, and more. A daily gear bag is essential for millions and spending a bit more on one that will last for years is worth it.

A couple of years ago I checked out the Waterfield Designs Bolt Briefcase and used it as my daily bag until recently. Over the last few months, I transitioned to a backpack since I now prefer to carry the load centered on my back. A couple of weeks ago, the recently launched Bolt Backpack arrived in waxed canvas with chocolate leather.

I missed the release of the Bolt Backpack last fall, but mentioned on Twitter that my oldest daughter and I were using Waterfield bags together on our shared Sounder commute. I was thrilled to learn that Waterfield released a backpack version of its Bolt design and have since used it to commute each day while also taking it on a recent business trip to the Boston area.

Professionals often carry briefcase type bags and possibly messenger bags so it was great to see Waterfield bring that same incredible look and feel to a backpack style bag. The elements of waxed canvas, ballistic nylon, and high quality leather are all present while the design is perfectly optimized for distinct compartmentation of all your gear.

Walk around the Bolt Backpack

On the extreme front of the Bolt Backpack you will find the same two vertical pockets that we see on the Bolt Briefcase. These pockets are secured with a leather magnetic flap and I found them perfect for a small notebook, pens, passport, wallet, and other items you need regular access to. Running behind these two pockets for the full width of the backpack is a large zippered compartment for storing all kinds of items.

That signature Waterfield Designs gold lining is present in this large compartment. It is brilliant to use a gold lining that makes finding everything so much easier than the black lining that is commonly used in other bags.

Working back, we are now into the large compartment with various divisions inside and two ways to access the top of this massive compartment. Once again, it is gold lined and there are two small pockets against the front side that secure with Velcro. I've been using these for business cards, earbuds, and other phones.

Behind these is the main large compartment that I have used to carry packages I am shipping, my lunch, clothes, and all kinds of items. There is a padded tablet compartment on the back side of this large compartment. You can fit tablets up to 13 inches by 9 inches in this pocket. All of these pockets and dividers are designed to be accessed through the top double zipper above them.

Behind the leather wrapped carrying handle, there is another single zipper that lets you open it up and reach right into the laptop pocket that is positioned behind the tablet pocket and runs the full width and depth of the Bolt Backpack. You can fit laptops up to 15 inches by 10 inches in this pocket. I love that Waterfield put in a second zipper dedicated to this large back pocket.

The back has an anti-sweat mesh cushion that lets you carry the backpack in comfort. I've had some very heavy loads in the backpack, but it has been extremely comfortable. The lower mesh cushion is open on the front so you can slide it over a rolling suitcase for easier handling.

The straps have the same mesh cushion on them and are designed so that you don't need a chest strap and the weight of the pack is distributed evenly. The top of the straps are close together and it fits very well, even on a 245 pound guy who is 73 inches tall.

There is a thick leather bottom so you can set the bag down and know it will withstand the usage. The bag sits up very well when not on your back. There are two side pockets for smaller water bottles and other quick-access items. I place my car keys in one and a pack of gum in the other.

The Waterfield Bolt Backpack weighs in at 3.2 pounds and is 12.5 inches by 16 inches by 5.25 inches in dimensions.

Waterfield Designs Bolt Backpack review: in pictures

Daily usage experiences

It was great to see Waterfield send along a waxed canvas model with chocolate leather for testing as I enjoy its waxed canvas products that develop character over the years. Waterfield's products are made to order right there in San Francisco so you can feel good knowing that jobs are being provided for locals in California.

The waxed canvas and leather material look and feel fantastic. The stitching is flawless, the zippers are waterproof with leather pulls, the lining is strong and vibrant, and the entire Bolt Backpack exudes high quality and professionalism.

The Bolt Backpack went with me daily and I never once was wanting for more room or compartmentalization for my various daily gear. It was awesome to use on my flight across country and back as it was sized perfectly to carry all of my gear, and some movie snacks, while fitting comfortably under my seat so that I could still rest my feet under the seat as well.

I walk about a mile each way between the train and my office and love the way the Bolt Backpack sits up higher than other backpacks I have tried. This makes it more comfortable to wear and also doesn't pull my shirts up. The straps have quick tightening and release mechanisms so I have been adjusting them regularly to adjust to the load I carry.

Pricing, availability, and ways to improve

You can purchase a Waterfield Bolt Backpack for $329 in six different color and material variations. These include waxed canvas with chocolate leather, waxed canvas with grizzly leather, waxed canvas with black leather, ballistic with chocolate leather, ballistic with grizzly leather, and ballistic with black leather. I'm a fan of waxed canvas and the way it ages over time to give it a bit more character than ballistic material.

The Bolt Backpack is excellent, but there is always room for improvement. While I often carry a phone in my pants pockets, I also carry other phones and the two internal pockets are too short to put a modern smartphone inside while also securing the pocket with the Velcro material. I would love to see these inside pockets just a bit deeper, maybe two to three inches.

The side pockets could be used for a water bottle, but many of us now carry refillable bottles (Hydro Flask, for example) and I find these two side pockets too small for these kinds of bottles. I would like it if even one of these bottles could be made larger. Another idea would be to include an internal strap or sleeve to hold a refillable metal or plastic water bottle off to one side in the main compartment.

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