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GadgeTell Review: booq Boa shift Backpack

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With CES 2014 right around the corner, I needed a backpack to carry all of my essentials, daily, for an entire week. Everything else I own is in the form of a sling or messenger bag. Those can be killer on the shoulders for extended periods of time.

My tech gear packs light, and since I also prefer maneuverability, I wanted to get something slim. There are a lot of great, slim backpacks out there, I must say. With my options finally narrowed down to Ogio, booq, Brenthaven, and Everest, I settled for the booq Boa shift.

Design & Durability

The booq Boa shift keeps a pretty low profile while being worn. At 1.5 inches deeper than “slim” backpacks, I would consider it as “lean.” Even so, the interior is roomy and offers smart organization with the angled pocket design.

booq Boa shift backpack outside empty side

It’s not as thick as it looks online

The backpack holds more than it looks capable of. I especially like how the shape curves slightly instead of having a weird, uneven taper.

All of the lines and seams blend in with each other and don’t really offer much to look at from a distance. But once you get up close, you can see that the Boa shift is more sophisticated than plain.

There’s no excess of pockets or zippers, and the only exterior color comes from a slash of gleaming white and a poke of yellow logo.

The sturdy outside structure keeps a semi-rigid shape to cocoon everything inside, making it ideal for transporting documents, soft-cover books, and such, safely. The shape lets the Boa shift stand upright on its own, providing that the backpack is either empty or has evenly-distributed weight.

Handy? Yes indeed. I can set it down instead of having to lean it up against something.

booq Boa shift backpack inside empty

Inside of the backpack from both perspectives

The main compartment zips open almost all the way down, but has webbing to keep the front from flopping over. I don’t know why more backpacks don’t feature this. I can get into the bottom of the bag and then zip it back up one-handed (as opposed to using the second hand to pinch the zipper sides closer together).

The interior pockets end a couple inches up from the bottom, which prevents a fight for space at the bottom of the bag. The taper of the Boa shift prevents those same items from crushing up against large or tall objects in the middle.

booq Boa shift backpack inside front

*photo 1, showing contents inside and out

The laptop compartment is padded on all sides, even at the bottom and the interior separating wall. In fact, the entire exterior is lightly padded, offering a bit of additional water resistance to go with the ballistic nylon.

The shoulder straps are sewn on tight with extra reinforced stitching. Clearly, the Boa shift is designed to take a beating. The top grab handle has a stiff interior bar so heavy loads are carried evenly across the fingers.

After a thorough inspection, I found only a few loose threads. They probably didn’t need to be snipped, but I did anyway. Otherwise the seams are particularly strong and the zippers pull smooth and snag-free. The zippers also have water resistance in mind, giving liquids only the teeniest of cracks to leak in through.

Capacity

The interior pockets in the main compartment range from finger-deep to wrist-deep and no more. Most things can fit and still poke out the top a bit, providing quick identification of what is where. If an item is small enough to be swallowed by the pocket, it’s easy to fish out since you don’t have to dig.

booq Boa shift backpack inside rear

*photo 2, showing contents inside and out

Most all of the pockets have some overlap with each other, which makes them bulk up pretty quickly if I try to stick something in each one. Putting too much in pocket(s) makes them less effective at holding things in place, since everything starts to mash around with each other. But the slight variation in pocket size and depth offers options for moving things around to find the best fit.

The booq Boa shift can hold enough to satisfy most day-trippers, road-warriors, mobile-office professionals, and students. I’m sure there’s more, but that’s just off the top of my head.

When looking for that “one” bag, going about it online isn’t so easy if you’re particular like I am. Most stock photos, descriptions, and product reviews don’t really address the questions of “how much of my gear is going to fit?” and “will I love this bag or not?”. So, I went through all of my belongings to stuff the Boa shift to the brim, putting most of the seams to the test.

booq Boa shift backpack laptop

*photo 3, laptop compartment

The following details should provide a reasonable size-reference to work with. Just follow along with the photos.

Half of the items have little to do with each other (it’s ok to laugh). It’s also worthy to note that the combined weight of all the contents and backpack shown together add up to 22 pounds.

The front interior of the Boa shift (*photo 1) is good for pens, calculators, and moleskine notebooks. The Otterbox Defender Series case shown fits a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which is likely close in thickness to Texas Instruments graphing calculators.

The pocket with the book, Sonnets of Love and Friendship, can fit, approximately, an additional inch in width and ¼ inch in thickness. The zippered mesh pocket has more room – I filled it enough to see the contents without burying them.

The rear interior pocket area (*photo 2) is roomier and can fit thicker objects. I managed to squeeze all those items in to fill each pocket while still giving space for the main interior area. There is still a lot of vertical room in the rear-most pocket (with The Microbe Files book). The case shown fits a Samsung Galaxy S2. The Mutants book is as thick as it looks.

booq Boa shift backpack inside main

*photo 4, showing contents inside and out

I crammed an old Dell Inspiron (almost 2 inches thick and 6 pounds or so) into the laptop compartment area (*photo 3). If I knew where the power brick was, I could have slipped it in next to the laptop. The clunky Dell fits comfortably, so modern (i.e. thinner) laptops can likely share more space with folders, books, or soft binders if needed.

With all the interior pockets fully-loaded, the main interior compartment had room only for a 1 ¾ inch thick Accounting: Concepts and Applications book. I threw my Slappa headphone case with the Phiaton Chord MS 530 headphones on the top, which required a bit of squishing to get the zippers over it.

booq Boa shift backpack outside side 1

*photo 5, showing how exterior pockets bulk when filled

The Nerf Strongarm required a bit of wiggle to get in, but the Starbucks thermos, which has the circumference of a soda can, slides in readily. Stuffing anything in the exterior side pockets adds some squish to the inside (*photo 4), yet it doesn’t really cramp the contents.

The outside zippered pocket is curved, so I find it useful for scraps of paper, tissues, keys, smartphone, or anything else I care little about being bent or warped. It’s great for quick-access items. Each shoulder strap has a stretchy mesh which are also pockets. They don’t fit as much as one would think due to how that area curves around the body while being worn. Getting my Samsung Galaxy S2 in and out was somewhat trying – it might be better for lip balm, pens, or something like that.

Comfort

I spent over 10 hours (non-consecutive, minimum 1-hour outings) with 30 pounds loaded into the booq Boa shift. I have to say that it’s one of the most comfortable backpacks I’ve ever worn. Although the shoulder straps are thin (I wondered about this at first), their width and shape help to evenly distribute the weight across the neck and shoulders.

booq Boa shift backpack padding

Padding provides cushioning that helps to keep you cool

The straps are easy to adjust while wearing the Boa shift, but they also stay tight in place. I especially like the curve of the straps around the base of the neck, which helps to keep the backpack high up against the shoulder blades.

Unless you’re wearing a shirt with a wider/lower neck opening, there’s no chafing. This might vary from person to person, but most should be safe.

Because of the curve of the straps, I can roll my shoulders and adjust without having to use my hands.

Chest straps aren’t necessary here. While the shoulder straps can dig into the armpits a bit (adjusting fixes this), I didn’t get pinched or rubbed on at all for those 10 hours with 30 pounds.

The cushioning on the back of the Boa shift is excellent. The material is breathable and helps to keep the heat levels down. It won’t, however, eliminate all heat, so prolonged wearing will gradually built up the body’s sweat level. But it’s a lot cooler to wear the Boa shift, and I can personally attest that it does not soak up back sweat either.

Verdict

The booq Boa shift is built like a rhino with the streamlined look of a stealth fighter. You won’t get obvious attention while having it out in public, but the professional yet easy-going design makes it a versatile choice for casual, academic, or business use.

booq Boa shift backpack outside

Everything loaded; notice the strain on the seams

Each booq Boa shift has a unique Terralinq serial number engraved in a metal plate on the back. It’s great for travelers, as registration connects the bag to one’s personal identification. If lost, the person who finds it can have a way to reach you. (Or you can just hide a GPS tracker in the backpack too)

The booq Boa shift can hold a good amount of gear and is designed to fit comfortably, especially for long-term carrying. I own and have used Ogio, Swiss Gear, and Tumi bags, and the booq Boa shift fits right in with what I look for in terms of durability and style. If you’re looking for a backpack that is lean, fits well, and looks good all in one, this is it right here.

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