Before I got the Hercules laptop backpack from ECBC, I was carrying around an old, worn out, red and black Everest bag that I've had since high school. Going from that ratty old thing to something as, well, Herculean as the Hercules laptop backpack was practically a religious experience. I had been shown the light, and now I feel as if I should have just thrown my old backpack into a fire.
The ECBC Hercules backpack is made of 1000d kodra nylon, and if you know your fabrics (you're forgiven if you don't), you'd know that it's used often in the world of high quality backpacks. It's both soft and lightweight, yet durable, and is generally water resistant. On this particular backpack, the zippers are water resistant as well. I'm certain not going to poor liquid on the thing, so I'll have to take their word for it.
Pockets for Days
The front-most pocket allows for quick access to your documents, be they plane tickets, your passport, itinerary, whatever. There's a small, non-zippered pocket inside.
The second pocket is already something of a rabbit hole. There are two more zippered pockets inside, one offers a key hook for keeping things organized. It's also inside of a netting, so you can always see what's in there. A larger, fleece-lined pocket lies in the heart of the pack and is idea for your more fragile cargo. Finally, a large non-zippered pocket stays closed via Velcro.
Directly above this pocket is another wide fleece pocket. Both sides hold small pockets which contain mesh holsters to hold your water bottles.
Then, we get to the first of the two main compartments. It's got a netted pocket and two Velcro fleece pockets. This is where you'd put your magazines, books, and other large objects.
Lastly, at the back, we've got the large, TSA-compliant FastPass foldout laptop compartment. Laptops up to 17" can be fastened into the sleeve with a Velcro strap and the entire compartment and unzips to lie flat, which can then be placed on the conveyor belt. The notebook barely peeks out of the sleeve, so it's not really visible, but that's apparently still TSA-complaint.
I only average about a flight a year, but I'm looking forward to not having to remove my laptop and putting it in one of those trays. The laptop sleeve holds a removable foam spacer. I had to remove it to fit my 17" eMachine, but for a smaller laptop you'd want to leave it in there for a more snug fit.
While the adjustable shoulder straps provide plenty of support, there's an optional sternum strap available, but the wearer would have to be the right size for it to function properly. I'm a hefty guy with a large frame and extremely broad shoulders and the strap came up so high on me that if I didn't have the shoulder straps adjusted tightly, the backpack would hang down and the sternum strap would choke me. The more stuff I had in the backpack, the more uncomfortable it would feel.
In order to get the strap low enough to be even moderately comfortable, I would have to have the pack strapped on so tightly that the top handle would dig into the back of my neck somewhat. The strap was definitely a no-go for me, but I acknowledge that I have an odd build. Fortunately, as I said earlier, the shoulder straps offer ample support.
Speaking of the shoulder straps, both the straps and the back of the pack are extremely comfortable, even when the pack is extremely heavy. A backpack doesn't have to do a lot to please, but this is one of the most important aspects. There's nothing worse than a backpack strap that digs into your shoulders, especially when you have to carry it around for an extended period of time.
Like I said, a backpack doesn't have a very complicated job. It needs to carry your stuff securely and comfortably, which the Hercules does well. The sternum strap seems to be a bit of a misfire, but I'm sure there are folks out there with the right build to take advantage of it. The backpack comes in a variety of colors. To those who regularly use cheaply-made budget packs, the $139.99 price tag might seem steep, but it's fairly reasonable when you take into account the quality and durability the Hercules offers.