STM Drifter review: Water resistant, light cargo-pants of MacBook backpacks – 9 to 5 Mac (blog)

STM is a relatively well-known Australian company that makes great quality, but slightly pricey bags and cases for your gadgets. What I’ve always loved about the company is that most of its bags don’t look anything like the typical accessories you’d associate with consumer tech. They just look like regular bags, except they’re not. Nowhere is that more clear than with the STM Drifter; a well-made, lightweight, spacious and durable back pack with enough pockets and compartments to carry virtually anything…

Design-wise, it looks more like a hiker’s bag than a backpack for carrying your laptop. Even down to the main shoulder straps which has a clasp to fix them together around your front, making the bag more secure and comfortable while you’re wearing it. What’s more, there are two drink holders (one on either side), both of which have straps to loosen and tighten depending on how large your bottle happens to be. If that wasn’t enough, the entire exterior of the bag is made from a water resistant polyester fabric that’s 320D thick, reinforced by a 640D fabric at the bottom. In short: This thing is built to last, and protect your gadgets even if you get caught in a shower. If the bag’s water resistant properties aren’t enough, there’s a rain cover neatly stowed in a compartment right at the base of the backpack.

Unlike most bags of this style, the Drifter’s main compartment opens at the top, instead of having a zipper that opens the entire bag up like a jaw. The zipper runs all the way around the top edge of the bag, letting you open the top, almost like a lid. The one downside of this design choice is that trying to reach anything at the bottom of the bag can be frustrating. Saying that, it does ensure that nothing will ever spill out (unless you tip it upside down).

On the underside of this ‘lid’ is a see-through compartment, for putting in all the stuff you really don’t want to lose, or have to go hunting around for. I tended to use it mostly for my small cable pouch, my wallet, keys, inhaler, and other medication. But you can use it for most accessories or personal items.

In the main body of the bag itself, the most notable part is the area designed to carry your MacBook. You can fit virtually any laptop up to 16-inches in size, and it’s relatively well-padded and lined with a soft fabric.  It’s a wide enough space that I could have my MacBook Air and a regular A4-sized notepad in without even beginning to stretch its limitations. Just in front of the laptop compartment is a pocket designed for tablets. It’s easily big enough for an iPad Air, and has separate, smaller pockets in front of it designed to carry spare battery packs and cables. Stitched to the front of those is a strip of canvas with three loops, perfect for a couple of pens.

Then there’s the main, deceptively spacious internal compartment. The entire bag has an 18 liter capacity, but still weighs only slightly over 1kg when empty. In total, using the compartments and internal space, I carried my MacBook Air, iPad Air, notepad, DSLR camera, V-Moda earphones (in carrying case), glasses (in case), two phablet-sized smartphones and all my cables and it wasn’t even close to full. For a bag that has a relatively low footprint, that’s impressive. Because the material is so light and flexible, it doesn’t take up a lot of space at all, unless it’s completely packed to the brim.

That’s all before I even mention the three generously-sized compartments on the front, each with their own thick, durable self-healing YKK zipper. The top one is built in to the aforementioned ‘lid’, while the other two take the rest of the exterior space on the front of the backpack. STM has managed to put as much of the available surface area as possible to good use. It’s a bag that just keeps giving. Even with everything I could possible need with me when travelling, I had a compartment left over. That’s with all my aforementioned devices and accessories, plus my MacBook and phone power adapters.

For comfort, the Drifter has four thick cushioned pads built into the back ensuring none of your stowed items give you a hard time when carrying it. What’s more, there’s a large channel through the middle for airflow, ensuring you don’t get overly sweaty. If I have one complaint about the comfort, it’s down to the shoulder straps. They’re flexible and relatively comfortable, but not particularly well padded. There is some padding in there, but perhaps about ½ of what I would find ideal. Carrying it around all day isn’t quite as snug and comfy as I was hoping, but it wasn’t a terrible experience. 

Overall, my time with the Drifter has been great. I’ve taken it on two trips, and found it more than met my needs regardless of how little or how much I wanted to take with me. There are few small downsides, but the only real obstruction to wholeheartedly recommending the bag is the price. The STM Drifter will set you back $137.60 in the States, and it’s available in graphite (featured), olive, navy, camo and red. In the UK, it’s under £90 for most options. It’s a steep outlay for a bag, but in my experience using the Drifter, it’s worth it.

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