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!