We get quite a few solicitations for free gear (in exchange for a review) at Greene Adventures, but much of it is stuff we’d never use, or that would be difficult to write a review of. But when AIRBAC asked if we’d like to test one of their new AirTech backpacks, I was intrigued. When I checked their website, it seemed like most, if not all, of their bags were designed to protect laptop computers, and were marketed more towards school or business use than hiking out on the trail. But we do travel with laptops a lot, and there was at least one backpack I thought was suitable for the trail (it had a waist belt, which I nearly insist on), and I told them if they’d send us the AIRBAC Journey, we’d review it. To my surprise, they sent not just the Journey, but also their Airtech backpack, which appears to be their most general purpose model.
I knew the point of the bags is the air cushioned padding inside (which is actually re-fillable with a pump!), but when I saw how bulky they looked and felt, I was admittedly a bit skeptical of their use. The are actually more spacious inside than they appear, but the padding definitely makes them larger than any comparable backpack of their interior capacity. They also have all sorts of nifty pockets and compartments, that let you store a variety of things in very organized ways.
Once I started loading them up and testing them out, I admit I was very impressed. I had thought the padding was simply to protect electronic devices like laptops and tablets, but it also really does make a load feel much lighter on my back than my other backpacks feel. Goofing around in the house one day when it was too hot to hike outside, I loaded up my lightest daypack, my larger hiking/hunting backpack, and these two new backpacks with a laptop (except my daypack, where it didn’t fit), a full 8 pack of Gatorade, plus two Gatorades in the side pockets, just to simulate the kind of weight I generally carry on one of our hikes.
Again, while they initially felt bulkier than I was used to when I put them on, I quickly grew used to them and as I hiked around the house (driving our beagle crazy, as she equates backpacks to fun for her!) and up and down the stairs, it was clear that the weight of the load was much more comfortable to carry in the AIRBACs than in my other two bags. The cushions not only soften the harder edges of the Gatorade bottles on my back, but also made the load feel lighter on my shoulders than my usual bags.
The cushioned pockets inside for laptops or other electronics were also impressive. The interior padding and the really cushy padding on the bottom of the bag really made me want to test the security of the bag, but I wasn’t going to do any drop tests with one of our actual computers, and I couldn’t figure out a simulation (eggs? bottles?) that would have any meaning to it. Suffice it to say, that if I was carrying my laptop in one of them and accidentally dropped it on the floor, or someone was jamming it into the back of my truck on a trip, or was a little rough tossing it into our cabin or hotel room when unloading on a trip, I would feel far better about my laptop’s survival than I would with any of my other backpacks, my laptop case, or even my wife’s old laptop backpack, which doesn’t have nearly the padding that these backpacks do.
The Airtech does not have a waistbelt, which I really prefer for hiking, as it keeps the weight of the bag on my hips, rather than on my back. It does at least have a sternum strap, which keeps the bag from sliding down your shoulders, and makes bearing the weight easier and more comfortable. It does have a fully separated padded pocket specifically for a laptop (our 14.5 inch screen laptop fit perfectly, our larger one did not), unlike the Journey. I think it would make a great bag to use as a carry-on for airlines, with plenty of room for your other travel needs, and great protection for your laptop AND your tablet. It would also be great for a college student, easily carrying your electronic devices and textbooks to class, without the overkill of the waist belt in the Journey model. In fact, I’m going to offer this one to my daughter when she starts school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in September. But if she chooses the other one, we’ll definitely take this one on our trip to Louisiana and Mississippi in the Fall, to protect our laptop on the airplane and in the rental car as we go from hotel to B & B to cottage along the way.
I have now had the opportunity to take the Journey on two different hikes, an aborted hike up Falls Canyon in Orange County, and a trip to Sturtevant Falls in Los Angeles County, one of the most popular hikes in Southern California (the trail write-up I linked is from a previous hike, not the one with the new Journey backpack). While the color scheme and style isn’t the understated earth tones and blacks I tend to prefer, and seems to be aimed at a more youthful demographic, it isn’t as loud as I feared when I first saw it online. And while I couldn’t figure out why you needed laptop protection (this one had room for our larger laptops) while hiking, I have to admit, it really does carry my load (6 Gatorades, 2 waters, the dog’s large water bottle, our snacks, the dog’s snacks, first aid kit, emergency kit (fire starters, emergency blanket, headlamps, toilet paper, poison oak scrub, knee braces, etc), tissue, sanitizer, compass, etc. very, very comfortably. The advertising claims “Feels like you’re carrying half the weight”, and I can’t disagree, so maybe the padding on this model is more about comfort and less about protecting the contents, though clearly it can do both. I also like the two pockets on the waist belt, for items you might want to keep handy (cell phone, dog snacks, multi-tool, etc), especially if your pants pockets were already full, or you are a chick wearing yoga pants and don’t have pockets.
Both backpacks clearly have their purpose, and both are available for less than $100. The black Airtech would make a great backpack for a student or a traveler who needs their laptop with them, and the Journey is very comfortable for carrying heavier loads over greater distances. If the Journey was plain black like the Airtech, it would almost certainly be my new favorite hiking pack, but I now have to decide whether having the blue camo clash with my earth tones is worth the extra comfort the air-padded Journey provides!