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Mar 26 2011

Spire USA Torq Review

If I were to refer to myself as “a little obsessive” when it comes to the acquisition of new gear, my wife would likely guffaw loudly and then pretend she was reading or watching something funny.

I pore over the internet, read every review I can find, scour forums, ask for input in hotel lobbies, zoom pictures to the point of utter pixellation and generally make a complete idiot of myself. The worst part is I don’t stop after I make a decision, but continue to obsess while it is en route. I have even been known to continue the process after UPS arrives and I have been using a piece of gear for awhile.

Nowhere is my addiction to research more perniciously pervasive than the subject of bags, cases and luggage. A recent upgrade to my laptop ( a Mac Book Air 13″, thank you for asking!) gave me the excuse I was looking for to upgrade from the CODi back pack I had been carrying around.

After far too much dithering, I settled on the Torq from Spire USA. They are a company in Colorado who has their feet firmly in the “outdoors” camp but make some very interesting laptop backpacks.

The Torq is Spire’s medium size backpack, but at 2400 cubic inches it is likely capacious enough for nearly anybody’s typical day to day usage. The backpack is made from 1680 Ballistic Nylon and #10 YKK zippers with nylon pulls. It exudes a “mess with me and die” sort of hubris that lets me picture using it for a long, long time. It is a “soft” pack with no internal frame but it is structured enough that it has no trouble maintaining its shape and integrity.

The Torq is divided into three basic sections with a front organizational pocket, a center pocket with clips for what they call a Boot to protect a laptop, and a large rear section that could hold clothes for an overnighter, school books or a one man tent.

The outside of the bag has a zippered pocket for easy access to accessories and two mesh pockets on the sides for water bottles. There is a reinforced handle and three heavy duty O rings that you could attach hooks or carabiners too for additional flexibility.

The front zippered pocket is good size but is best suited for reasonably flat kit that doesn’t take up lots of space. I keep my MBA power supply and a mesh bag with my Ipad accessories in here. Not immediately apparent is the mesh pocket that is on the inside of this external pocket. It is obviously intended for a music player since there is a headphone feed through just above it on the front face of the back pack. Rather than take the rubber gasket with an x cut approach, they have opted for a steel O shaped gasket to pass the headphones through. This is covered on the front of the backpack with a series of nylon loops that obscure the output and could also be used to clip things to. I like this approach because it doesn’t scream “steal my Ipod” as loudly as some other designs I have seen.

I am going to pigeonhole myself as a business user now. Why are there TWO water bottle pockets on this back pack? They are mesh pockets with tight elastic on the mouth of them, but you can clearly see through them. While you can put anything is these pockets, I would really have preferred there to be another zippered storage pocket in lieu of at least one of these pockets.

Continuing on the outside of the pack the straps are really nice. They are thick and comfortable and they have both waist and sternum straps included at no cost. The sternum straps ride on little tracks and it is very easy to adjust their height to account for a variety of body sizes. I am not very tall at 5 foot 8, and I found the Torq to ride comfortably on my shoulders even ridiculously overloaded. I have used the sternum strap but I have never found thee need for the waist straps even when I had it loaded to the gills with two laptops and all the accessories.

The padded back of the pack is comfortable against me and features that breathing mesh that keeps you dry even while running through the Atlanta airport. The mesh area is also not attached at the top so it could be used as an additional thin pocket for storage of files or a legal size envelope. There are round cutouts at the bottom so it would not be suitable for small objects. The intended use for this section is to hide away the backpack shoulder straps and waist straps. The pack also comes with a padded single strap to make the Torq over into sort of a messenger bag configuration while the back pack straps are tucked away. The O rings on the ends of the handle are where this additional strap would be attached. Some people may like this approach but it does not work for me.

If you would want to attach the Torq to a roller case there is not a dedicated solution so you would be forced to adapt the waist and sternum straps to do so. This is not perfect, but it is doable.

The last thing to mention on the outside of the Torq are the compression straps. There are lower and upper sets with the top ones being latch based and the bottom ones being dedicated. It is stunning how effective they are. If the pack is under loaded it is very easy to make it look much smaller and more inconspicuous. If it is overloaded (as is usually the situation for me) it allows you to make the pack as small as is reasonably possible.

The front zippered compartment is intended to be your “organizational” section. When you zip it open it features a reasonable size compartment with two horizontally zippered pouches that are on the “flap” side of the case. For me these neatly organize my video output widgets, my Sprint Overdrive module and power supply and a miniature USB hub. These pockets are on top of each other and the front one is mesh, making it easy to see what is inside of it.

The other wall of this section features 4 pockets, 2 pen slots and a quick release key holder. The key holder is a traditional key ring type. It would be simplest to attach this quick release ring to your keys and then secure them to the quick release latch when you get to the airport. This is not a great solution if you carry more than one key ring and I would prefer to see a carabiner style latch here. While it is sturdy, it is the ONLY part of the bag that seems a little cheap.

The middle section of the bag has got clips for suspending one of Spire’s Boots. This is a minimalist case that comes with the Torq that you choose based on the size of your laptop. It is a ballistic nylon case with a velcro closure and a full width pouch on the backside that you could use to store papers or a folder or a power supply.

The boot hangs from the hooks in the middle section of the Torq so your laptop is floating in the midst of the bag and is protected from damage by the Boot, the body of the Torq and any items you have crammed into your backpack.

The boot also comes with a simple shoulder strap that attaches to the same D rings that float it in the laptop section of the backpack. If you get to a destination and don’t want to carry your whole backpack with you just pull the boot and use it as a minimalist vertical messenger. This whole middle section is quite roomy and I will often carry both my MacBook Air and a 15” Macbook pro in a soft case in the same section.

The final, back section of the Torq is a large, undivided section that runs the entire length and width of the back pack. It would be easy to pack clothes for a short 1-2 day trip in this section or carry several textbooks or a host of other stuff. Dimensions for this section are about 3 x 20 x 14 inches or a whopping 840 cubic inches so you can cram a ton of stuff in this section.

The Torq is available in Stealth Black (my choice ) or a burnt orange and black contrasting color scheme. I would not quite push the Torq into the professional looking category but I found it calm enough for use in the business applications that I have.

Overall, I really like the Torq. It is comfortable, exceptionally well made and looks like it will last far past bags that are only a little less expensive. At $169 I am not sure that anyone will label it cheap, but at that price it does include your choice of a Boot sized to fit your laptop. The shoulder and waist straps are included and if you already have a case you want to repurpose for your laptop they will take it off the price of the Torq. This brings the price down to $139.

My only real complaints on the bag is I would like to see a bit more external organization on the outside of the bag. If there were a small external zippered pocket toward the top for an Ipod and one of the the water bottle pouches were a zippered pocket, it would suit my personal needs better. I would also like to see a bit more padding on the top handle, but this has seldom been an actual issue for me.

These, however, are quibbles. I love the bag. It is well made, rugged and looks great. You can put a ridiculous amount of kit inside it and your chiropractor will still speak to you. It has become my day to day bag and swallows two laptops, an Ipad and all of their assorted paraphernalia with no complaints.

The cherry on the sundae was the customer service. They jumped through hoops to make me happy, went out of their way to get the backpack to me in time to use on a long trip I was heading out for, and answered a bunch of dumb questions from little, old obsessive me. They also had no idea I was writing an extensive review of their product while they strove to make me happy.

To quote their mission statement:

We’re a small company that was founded in Boulder, Colorado with one goal in mind: to make damn good laptop bags. Durable, comfortable, versatile and functional bags for people who venture into real jungles as well as concrete ones.We focus on quality materials and construction that will last a lifetime. We believe in practicality and usefulness above superficiality.”

As far as I can tell there is not an ounce of BS in that statement.

Final conclusion? If you are currently waffling about whether to buy a Spire bag, simply stop obsessing and do it. If you haven’t looked at one yet you will regret it if you don’t make them a part of your research process.

 

Also, in the pictures below I have been asked by my better half to point out that the floral monstrosity of a bedcover is not from our home. The first person to correctly name the major hotel chain it is from will win some sort of worthless prize!

Www.spireusa.com

413-397-3060

 

The Torq stuffed to the gills.

 

Front section with organizational pockets.


The headphone through port on the front of the Torq.

 


What came out of the Torq: Grid-it organizer with widgets, Boot with 13” MBA, 15” MacBook Pro in soft case, notebook with printed boarding passes on top, orange organizer bag with Sprint Overdrive and Power supply, red organizer bag with Ipad power supply and VGA output cable, USB drive in velour case, 7200 RPM drive in Pleather case, multinational AC adaptor widget, yellow organizer bag with cell phone chargers, mini USB hub, pen, VGA out widget for MBA, Universal Audio UAD Laptop PC34 card in static bag, Ipad in brown leather Sena case with bluetooth keyboard, blue 3M cleaning cloth, silver zippered toiletries “oops” bag, Genelec acoustic tape measure, black back with audio cables and adapters, white monster travel power strip, Monster earbuds with with microphone, mesh bag with computer cables, MBA power supply.

 


The Boot for the 13” MBA.

 

Middle laptop pocket with suspension hooks for the Boot.

 

9 comments

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  1. MAT

    That’s one nifty little bag my man.

  2. Jeff Mac

    I am a fan. But I put WAY too much stuff in it!

  3. motorna olja

    bmw olje
    Thanks for your input and I will use it for my college research that I am doing for this website.

  4. Rick

    Great review. I’m looking for a good laptop backpack. I know this review is about 8 months old, but am hoping the author (or anyone else who can reply) will see this comment/question.

    I’m currently demoing a Tom Bihn Brain Bag with the Vertical Brain Cell and Vertical Freudian Slip. It’s a VERY nice bag, and even bigger than the Torq. Did you look at it at all? Interested in how these two bags compare.

  5. Rick

    Jeff, thanks for the reply (not sure why it’s not showing up here on the site).

    I tried to order a Torq to demo and saw they were out of stock. Long story short, emailed them and they’ve scrounged one up and are willing to send it to me for $10 less than the normal cost. That said, I’m just really liking this Brain Bag. The feel of the materials, the construction, and I like that it stands on its own, which apparently the Torq does not do. I’m debating about whether or not to go ahead and have them send me the Torq. The orange and black color scheme is cool, but I wonder if I would grow weary of it.

    And yes, the Torq seemed to have better built in organizational capabilities, but the Freudian Slip in the Brain Bag is great, and the Bihn Brain Cell seems much sturdier than the laptop holder for the Torq. One thing I like about the Freudian Slip, my files are all instantly visible, I don’t have to fish around at the bottom of the bag for them. Also makes nice use of vertical space in the bag instead of occupying more low-lying horizontal space and leaving the space above unutilized.

    So many decisions.

    Also looking at the Bihn Tri-Star as a traveling companion. Looks to me like a combo of the Brain Bag and the Tri Star would make even week-long trips a breeze with just two relatively compact bags.

    Nice to have choices.

  6. Jeff Mac

    Rick,

    I actually have the all black Torq because I also felt the Orange and Black was a bit over the top. As close as the Spire crew is to shipping the new model (which is supposed to be made in the USA) I think you would regret getting the old model. Far too much room for buyer’s remorse there!

    How much longer do you have to demo the Brain Bag? If you can stall a week or so I suspect the new Torq will show up and you can make a more informed choice, but I can say with confidence you will never go wrong with a Tom Bihn bag. It will literally last forever.

    I have a Tri-Star and it is quite possibly the best bag I have ever owned. I reviewed it as well here. I can travel with just it for 8 days (leaving next week to do exactly that) and combined with a Brain Bag you could probably stay out for a month!

    The flexbility of being able to move the Brain Cell between the bags makes it very flexible and you might find that you actually want something a bit smaller than the Brain Bag when you travel with the Tri-Star.

    Definitely look into the packing cubes…to me they make packing and unpacking much simpler…

  7. Jeff Mac

    Hey Rick,

    Actually if you have wandered around the site much you can see that I am a HUGE Tom Bihn fan. When I bought the Torq I actually had narrowed down the purchase to a Brain Bag and the Torq.

    The Torq is actually slightly larger (2400 cubic inches versus 2200) but I actually chose the Spire because it is divided into 3 sections and has a bit more built in organization.It also features a waist strap in addition to the sternum strap and seems to have slightly better shoulder straps.

    I also chose it a bit based on total outlay as the TOrq was $165 with a Boot (their version of the Cache) and was going to be at about $250 with the Brain Bag once I got everything I thought I needed.

    The Bihn is made of better material, and to tell the truth I NEVER use the waist strap on the Torq. If you have added the Freudian slip, that addresses most of my organizational issues with the Bihn.

    Also, if you are looking soon, the Torq is not available currently (although they are claiming it will be soon) so that might answer your quandary.

    I really don’t think you can go wrong with either pack. Please feel free to poke me if there is something specific I am not touching on…

  8. Rick

    Thanks Jeff!

    I DID get the Brain Bag with the vertical Freudian Slip and one of their brain cells. The Bihn brain cell looks like a much more rugged protector for my laptop than the Spire version. And my understanding is the Spire Torq does not stand up on its own because of the shape of the bottom of the bag. I think I’d find that frustrating. The Brain Bag does seem to balance ok. That’s not a deal breaker, but one of those small things that can get annoying over time.

    The good folks at Spire are indeed out of stock of these, but after emailing Cory (who has been exceptionally gracious and helpful), they’ve scrounged one up for me if I’d like to try it out. I was interested a week ago before I got my Brain Bag, but it took them a week to find one. Now, I think I’m at the point where I’m done ‘dithering’. I can turn any purchase into a week-long research project, lol. I love the materials, construction and functionality of the Brain Bag, and the Freudian Slip does a very nice job of holding my files in such a way that I can easily see ALL of them at a glance. That doesn’t happen with the typical backpack, where they all sink to the bottom and you have to fish through them. Also, I like the way the Slip makes nice use of vertical space and preserves more horizontal room at the bottom of the bag, something few packs do.

    I think Tom Bihn just got a big fan, but the Torq does look like a great bag. If I’d gotten one 2 weeks ago, who knows what I’d be using now.

  9. Jeff Mac

    Both companies really care about their customers, which is pretty obvious when you see the hoops they will jump through.

    The Brain Cell is pretty bomb proof and is definitely the best protection you can get for a laptop. It is a step past the Boot.

    And no the Torq is not good about standing up on its own.

    Sounds like we are both pretty obsessive about these kind of decisions!

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