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Why Laptop Bags Are So Heavy

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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