After unpacking at the hotel, the Dry Red No. 5 laptop backpack I was testing out was emptied and refilled with slightly different goods. (And no, I didn't carry that plastic grid with me to the hotel; the photos I took there were poor due to the hotel room's lighting, so I re-shot these photos back at my apartment, post-trip.)
For the plane ride the bag needed to hold a few, mostly large items; for its next intended use, serving as a journalist's bag to cover an event, it would need to hold a variety of smaller items, some of which I'd need to access quickly.
Here we see I've got the laptop, my eyeglasses, a pen and pad, a business card holder, a thumb drive, assorted cables and chargers, a camera, an audio recorder, a backup camera battery, and backup SD cards.
Obviously the laptop stays in its dedicated side compartment.
The largest items of what's left go into the main compartment...
...and the smaller stuff goes into the topmost compartment, as that's the one with the little subdivisions.
As I experienced at the airport, the straps and padding are both comfortable, even through all-day wear.
The padded, raised surface at the bag's point of contact with my back did a good job of making it feel like I wasn't carrying a lot and preventing sweaty contact points.
The roomy main compartment easily swallowed what few additional documents I had to pick up. If I was covering a tradeshow and thus expecting to pick up a voluminous amount of brochures, swag and the like, I'd feel comfortable carrying this bag as it can expand to make up the difference.
Whipping the laptop in and out of the side compartment was a snap and probably my favorite feature. What I did not discover while using the bag on the airplane, when it was always resting on the ground, is that the bag is not great for quick accessibility of the other compartments while you are holding the bag in one hand.
Most of you probably don't have this need, but for event coverage it is not always practical to walk around with your camera and/or audio recorder in hand, and if you serendipitously run into someone you want to interview, you want quick access to these things. What I found with this bag is that because the zippers are large, they do not turn corners (seen below) well, which slowed me down.
This may be difficult to convey in photos, but when the bag is weighted down and you're holding it in one hand, and you go to open the zipper with your other hand, that zipper always catches at the corner because gravity is tugging the bag downwards. What you're left with is an open slit this size:
That little slit that presents itself is not big enough for me to see what it is I'm trying to grab. So you get around this by either giving the bag a quick upward yank while pulling on the zipper, or you set the bag down, which relaxes the zipper enough for you to round the corner and allow the bag's maw to open properly. This became annoying for me.
My second gripe is that the bag's sleek design does not allow for any exterior zip pockets where I can securely and quickly store little things that I also need to access quickly, like SD cards and the camera's backup battery. Again you may not have this need, but when I'm in the middle of video interviewing someone and the battery light starts blinking, or the SD card fills up, I want to be able to instantly replace those things, particularly if the subject is in the middle of a long train of thought and I want to minimize the interruption. When trying to pull the red zipper open in this situation, it runs into the compression strap (which I started to leave unsnapped to get around this).
Again, the small slit that opens up is not enough to see into without spreading open with your fingers.
What I'd really prefer are dedicated, small external pockets with zippers that I can quickly get open and pull out exactly what I need.
On the plus side, the lack of external pockets make this bag a good choice for places like the crowded New York subway or other pickpocketable locations.
Conclusion on the Dry Red No. 5
It is of course impossible for me to determine how you would use this bag; I can only use this bag in the specific way I needed to use it for the relatively short test period and report those things back to you. Hence you may not have the specific gripes I did.
Overall the bag is well-made, comfortable and has a good carrying capacity. If you're using this as a "café bag," where you have plenty of time to park yourself and load or unload the bag, I'd say it's ideal; ditto if you need to carry, say, a load of gym clothes and toiletries along with your laptop and other stuff, as the bag definitely has the space.
In this series of reviews we've looked at just three of the bags in Crumpler's voluminous line-up. To see their dozens of other products, spread across a wide diversity of categories, dive in here.