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Why Laptop Bags Are So Heavy

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I’ve been travelling with Apple laptops since the days of the PowerBook 100, and in those years, I’ve seen their power skyrocket and weight plummet. My aluminum MacBook from 2008 is noticeably lighter than that PowerBook 100, and the 11-inch MacBook Air is half the weight of my MacBook.

But what seemingly hasn’t changed one bit is the weight of my fully loaded laptop bag when I’m schlepping it through an airport. After my last trip to Denver and Boulder, I decided to find out where all that weight was really coming from (had I accidentally stored paving stones somewhere in the depths of my bag?), so I completely stripped the bag immediately after the trip, weighing each individual item.

Alas, I didn’t uncover any bowling balls, but as I weighed each item and recorded the numbers in a spreadsheet, I made notes about why that item was present, and whether or not it was essential. And that’s where things became a bit more interesting.

To start, my fully loaded laptop bag weighed in at 19.22 pounds (8.75 kg). What I found was that of that, 13.84 pounds (6.28 kg) came from items that I deemed absolutely essential. But the remaining 5.45 pounds (2.47 kg) stemmed from items that were either entirely pointless or that I would bring on only certain types of trips.

For instance, if I wanted to pack all the gear necessary for Tristan and me to take photos, that added 1.35 pounds (612 g) to the bag. All my running-related items and food added up to 2.10 pounds (952 g). And another 1.87 pounds (848 g) turned out to be completely and utterly unnecessary, coming from items I’ve carried for years and never used. For future trips, I’m considering a separate small bag that I can pack in my clothing backpack, to keep the laptop bag a bit lighter.

But the heftiest items aren’t surprising; nor are they optional. Tops is the MacBook itself, weighing in at 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg), followed by the empty Kensington Saddlebag at 3.33 pounds (1.51 kg). If I were really trying to shed weight, a MacBook Air and a different bag could probably cut the poundage by at least 3 pounds, though I’d still be carrying 1.4 pounds (636 g) of power adapters and cables (a lighter power strip is probably available).

I can’t justify such an expense to save a few pounds, but I should clearly look to reduce weight with different airplane reading material for those times when no one is allowed to use electronic devices. Just three New Yorker magazines weighed in at 1.29 pounds (584 g). Another one would have put my paper material load in range of the iPad and ZeroChroma case weight, at 1.91 pounds (866 g).

I wouldn’t think of telling you what you should or should not carry in your laptop bag, but I can say that if you haven’t cleaned it out recently, you might be lugging more than is necessary. And, if you want to enjoy the voyeurism of seeing exactly what I was carrying with me on my last trip, check out the Google Docs spreadsheet I’ve posted.

 

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Comments about Why Laptop Bags Are So Heavy

Mitch Haile  2011-05-21 06:13
I recently switched to a very light Tumi bag for this reason--I had kept some laptop bags from the days of 5-7 lbs and it turned out those were the bulk of the weight once I switched to the Air.

The bag I am using is called the "Tumi Alpha Slim Deluxe Leather Portfolio" and it weighs.... 24 ounces. It also doesn't hold a lot--but it holds everything I need.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-22 15:15
And a lighter bag can't be filled as full! Which is good!
Charlie Stross  2011-05-21 07:33
I've been racking up frequent flyer miles over the past few years, and do this exercise regularly. For the win: Macbook Air 11.6" -- it cuts a full kilo or more off a regular Macbook Pro. More to the point, luggage weight varies drastically. I've got an Australian Crumpler laptop messenger bag that weighs 850 grams, and an iPad sized day sack that weighs 600 grams; other bags in their volume class weigh up to 2.5Kg (and don't get me started about leather goods -- heavy!).

In general I pack minimal power adapters in my carry-on, and ship the stuff I can live without for 24 hours in a checked bag. I try to use gear that can charge over USB, from the laptop's ports, rather than wall warts. And I don't skimp on spending on the luggage -- what I'm paying for is durability and light weight.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-23 08:29
Spoken like a true road warrior, Charlie! Good advice, and well worth taking for anyone who is traveling regularly. I can't justify replacing things based on how much I travel, but I'm certainly going to keep this in mind as I purchase future laptops and bags.
I usually put power adapters and other stuff i don't need during the actual flight in my roller bag (checked or carry on), at the top where i can quickly reach it when i do need it.

The laptop itself (usually not used during flights because of my ipad) i carry just to keep it safe.
W Baker  2011-05-21 10:53
I'm accustomed to weighing items before taking off on a leg of the Appalachian Trail but never to walk through an airport and out to transportation.

What's the walk distance total? Two, three miles max?

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-22 15:14
It feels as though it's at least a 10K from gate to gate in nearly every airport I go through regularly. With escalators. :-)

The difference is that a good backpack will distribute the weight well (and that's what I use for my clothes), but the laptop bag just pulls hard on a shoulder, even with a good padded strap.
For those of us who are getting om in years but still running through airports lugging laptop bags, arthritis can be a challenge that acts as a multiplier on the distances.... Probably brought on by years of running through airports with poorly balanced laptop bags ;).
Repacking the bag periodically is a very worthwhile exercise. Still, when the weight is over 10 lbs, I find a backpack so much more tolerable than the laptop bag.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-22 15:15
Yes, and the Kensington Saddlebag has backpack straps, but I'm also carrying all my clothes in a large travel backpack (which is heavier yet), so I can put only one at a time on my back.
My bag is stuffed with items I might need when I encounter an ailing Mac in the wild. It all looks pretty normal ... until you come to the Master Painter putty knife. Who knows when I'll need to open an older Mac mini away from my office.
M. Perry  2011-05-22 19:22
You've hit on why I'v decided to wait until the Ivy Bridge chip model to upgrade my MacBook to a MacBook Air. I carry so much stuff when I head out, that the couple of pounds difference between the two laptops is only about 10% of my load, which doesn't justify an upgrade costing over $1000.
Jwalant Natvarlal Soneji  2011-05-23 05:43
Nice post!
It will be great if you can include the Totals row at the top and let other post their configuration (:)) in new worksheets. That should be interesting!
Thanks!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-23 06:46
What I'd really like is to make the spreadsheet sortable and all that, without letting people change the data (so they could analyze it on their own), but that doesn't seem like it's possible in Google Docs.
The thing that really annoys me is all the power gear I need. There's the international plug adapter, a power strip to make several British plugs available, my laptop power supply, my phone power supply, the power supply for my eDGe, the power supply for my external disk... It just goes on and on.

Each of these is a distinct combination of voltage (5, 12 or ~16) and plug (USB or DC sheath plugs). There has to be a better way than this.
Raglin  2011-05-23 06:30
I have stopped using laptop bags. During my trips all items are checked in with luggage and I carry my backpack, which has essentials item, just in case flight delays or my luggage doesn't arrive on time, including my notebook. Power adpater I normally checkin with luggage. When going to work or meeting client, my bag only has laptop, my notebook and power adpater. I am kind of green lover so I always avoid printing papers, so no extra unwanted printed paper in my bag.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-23 07:55
I'd be very hesitant to separate my Mac from its power adapter - the battery on my aluminum MacBook just doesn't last long enough if luggage were lost or delayed.
While I usually pack the AC adapter in my roll aboard I found that some significant weight is due to coins. I have adopted the habit of dumping change in my laptop bag before going through security and over time it just accumulates since I never bother to take it out.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-23 06:47
Yeah, I was a little shocked at how many coins I had too... Keeping a few in there makes sense, but a handful?
Gerry Kobinco  2011-05-23 09:58
Yes. And... the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. There are people who will not be eating at all today because of poverty. There are people dying due to lack of medical care. There are those not making enough to live by because their company executives are drawing excessive salaries. And what are we talking about? The junk in our laptop bags! And we call ourselves the "civilized" West!!
IconDaemon  2011-05-26 07:18
There's lots of pain out there, dude, and we all feel various amounts of it in our lives. I myself have a wife with breast cancer & leukemia & who is about to lose her job. My Dad died last year, too, but you don't see me complaining in a posting about laptop bags.

If you are truly concerned about poverty, homelessness, starvation & all the other ills of this world, take the all energy you used to write these posts and do something about it!

You may feel helpless, (we all do,) and see no real way to help, but just working at a homeless shelter for a hour a week is a rewarding experience. Become a Big Brother; volunteer at a soup-kitchen; teach a fellow adult how to read!

Namaste

IconDaemon
Colby Cramden  2011-05-23 10:55
Adam: Thanks for a great report, with an assiduous inventory. But you've got all your clothes strapped to your back? Hmmm. So you're not checking anything? Sounds like the extra minutes you save not standing at the baggage carousel have yielded the extra pounds you are forced to endure as a human pack animal.

Back in the 80's I had to shoulder a Nagra III (classic 60's film audio recorder) around Africa and the middle east making documentaries. My camera operator and I would have 10 pieces of checked gear (including 16mm cameras and a hundred pounds of fresh stock) and then our personal effects. 30 yrs later my shoulders are no longer for rent, nor is anyone bidding for them.

These days, here's what I do when traveling between homes and businesses we have in two countries: check everything, (frequently including our two Maine Coon cats in their voluminous kennels). For onboard, the ubiquitous rolling pod with telescoping handle and a laptop bag. However, when packing the pod I leave just enough room so I can fit the laptop bag in there. The only time the laptop bag needs to be shoulder-slung is on the approach to security and again when boarding the aircraft. The pod goes up top and the laptop bag goes under the seat. Only what's necessary during the flight is in the laptop bag, while the rest (power supply, cables, camera, 2 changes of clothing and a pair of flip flops and lightweight driving mocs) are overhead in the pod.
This means most of the bustling around between home or business and all through the airport is done with a single item in tow. And yes, I employ the porters whenever possible, especially when the felines are flying.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-23 11:54
Yeah, I don't like checking luggage when I can avoid it, thanks to the cost, the number of times it has been lost temporarily by the airline, and the extra time it takes to check and pickup. I generally travel pretty light (one backpack for clothes, and the laptop bag), so it's usually possible.

The best is gate checking - free, and you can usually get the bag in the jetway. :-)
From personal experience, any weight savings benefit of offloading a laptop power supply to checked baggage is certainly offset by the replacement hassle when luggage goes astray. Realistically it can take an airline a couple of days to return the bag, and in places without easy Apple Store access getting hold of a new power unit can take just as long.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-23 13:07
Dan Frakes has a good article from 2009 on using shorter cables, which can help.

http://www.macworld.com/article/140215/2009/04/cableclutter.html
brian.workman  2011-05-23 15:55
This is exactly why when I travel now, I only take my iPad and charger. I don't need a lot of horsepower on the road, just Pages, Nubers, and Mail, and I find the on-screen keyboard to be perfectly acceptable for such use (even superior to one of my old Mac keyboards). The iPad has replaced the laptop for me.
Eolake Stobblehouse  2011-05-23 16:21
I recommend the various bags by WaterField (sfbags.com), they have high aesthetics, and very good strength to weight ratio.
Ed Rush  2011-05-27 20:13
My old bag wore out, and before I could replace it my wife gave me one that is really too big. But now, of course, I am required to use the one she gave me. ... Your spreadsheet lists the security cable as nonessential, but I disagree. Often I don't want the MacBook Pro with me (when going out to dinner or a show, for instance), and I don't completely trust hotel maids, so the locked cable makes me feel much more comfortable at such times.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-28 12:01
We generally don't need the room cleaned every day (our house isn't!) so we just use the Privacy marker when leaving laptops in a room. :-)
Adam - switch to digital reading materials!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-24 06:22
Oh, I have no problem with digital reading material. But the airlines won't let you use such devices until an appropriate altitude has been reached (don't get me started on why), so I need something to read on paper during takeoff and landing.
very good idea.
corbin dallas  2011-05-23 17:02
OH MY GOD! Another reason re: Apple people! but over all Really? this is an earth shattering news article?
I never liked this phrase before but now I have to say refocus people this all comes under "sort out your bag if its heavy then move on!"
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-24 06:22
Did anyone - including me - suggest that this was earth-shattering news? No, it was merely a matter of satisfying a small question of why the darn laptop bag was heaver than seemed reasonable.
I also carry-on all my stuff and I have settled on an Eagle Creek convertible bag and a Marmot Talus daypack.

The Eagle Creek bag has both hidden backpack straps and excellent wheels with a telescoping handle. I have never used the straps, but the wheels and handle are very handy indeed. The Talus is placed on top of the Eagle Creek bag for easy wheeling in airports and city streets.

The Eagle Creek bag comes with a small detachable daypack that my wife uses but I do not.

The Eagle Creek bag contains all non-essentials and is set-up to be checked should that ever be necessary. Everything else goes into the Talus, including a Lowepro Orion beltbag that holds a Nikon DSLR, two zooms and a shoe-mount flash.

In the Talus is a tiny messenger bag that is my traveling day-bag. It just so happens that the messenger bag is just large enough to hold an 11" MBA, which I will be getting as soon as the Sandy bridge update is released.

I ran out of characters before I could include the URL for the messenger bag I mentioned:

http://www.ebags.com/product/baggallini/messenger-slingbagg-crinkle-nylon/47360

It looks cheesier than it really is, and its organizational pockets are great for keeping track of day-tripping essentials. I can even carry my DSLR in it when not using my R Strap. My wife decided to get the same bag after seeing how well it works for me.

After four international journeys I think that I may have finally found the travel sweet-spot bag-wise...

And Adam, now that New Yorker subscribers can read the magazine on the iPad, maybe you can ditch those three analog copies... ;)
Logan Anderson  2011-05-23 20:27
Yeah, I've noticed the same thing. Things are usually as heavy as the cumulative stuff they contain. It's one of those things you don't realize until you think about it.
Paul Corr  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2011-05-23 20:59
Awhile back, I was watching a health information show and the doctor/host noted that women's handbags should be less than 14 pounds to avoid back trouble.

If you don't slip both arms through the laptop bag's straps, it is worth considering lightening the load for general health reasons.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-05-24 06:24
Yes, indeed! The Kensington Saddlebag does have backpack straps built in, but I can't wear it and my travel backpack (for everything) simultaneously.
Bgrant  2011-05-24 04:48
i got a Crumpler for my macbook air
perfect compliment, it weights nothing
started off as messenger bags, like, for people who actually ride bicycles
they know their stuff
Michael  2011-05-24 05:15
Since I support a number of users both mac and Windows my laptop bag includes both a MacBook (13") and a Windows laptop with powers. Since I have room my lunchbox is also included. Makes me glad I decided to go with a backpack style bag.
John Egan  2011-05-24 17:55
Depending on my travels, I go between a Swiss Army computer backpack or an ultralight and well padded nylon computer bag that's big enough for a computer, camera and a change of clothes. The Swiss Army bag is heavy but I never worry about my equipment, but my nylon bag is far better for planes.
Edward Reid  2011-05-24 22:56
I started from a different POV when I got a laptop. I had been carrying a daypack nearly full time anyway, for various reasons, and I had already done a lot of hiking, so a daypack was obvious.

With my laptop, I bought a daypack designed for a laptop to slip in so it's against my back. It's still a full size daypack, so I also pack whatever else I want. I completely eliminate the weight of the laptop bag, and everything I put in the daypack is far easier to carry than in my hand or on my shoulder. I'm a lot more likely to keep the daypack on my shoulders instead of putting it down, so it's a lot less likely to sprout legs or get left behind.

I have to slip the laptop out for security, but that's only a few seconds.

Couple times I've taken a trip needing a larger daypack, and I simply used a large hiking daypack and slipped the laptop in so it would be against my back.

My first laptop daypack was from HP (probably made by Targus). My current one is a Jansport.