WaterField Designs Cargo Laptop Bag review: A classic gets updated

WaterField is a manufacturer of quality bags based out of San Francisco. Hand-made with only the finest tanned leather and ballistic nylon, WaterField bags are not cheap, but they are meant to last a lifetime versus lower-cost mass produced ones.

The Cargo Laptop Bag was the company's very first bag, going back 18 years. For 2017 it has been redesigned with improved materials and functionality.

The Cargo Laptop Bag has been my go-to bag recently for longer trips where a simple messenger bag is just not enough. Is it worth the $349? It will depend if you like this style, but the quality is top notch.

Design and appearance

The WaterField Cargo fits in the more traditional duffle-bag era for those who prefer a classic look when carrying around their large laptops. While obviously lacking a rounded appearance of a gym bag, the Cargo is taller and flatter, making it ideal for large laptops and tablets. The Cargo can take up to a 15-inch laptop, including the Surface Book 2 and Dell XPS 15 with ease.

The design though is still unique. There is a top flap making the Cargo resemble a horizontal messenger bag, but this flap is a bit deceiving. It acts as a water-resistant cover for the core of the bag but also hides a large compartment for full-size headphones. The flap itself has a waterproof zipper that hides a decently sized compartment for your smartphone and some smaller accoutrements. The pouch had no problem holding the rather large and square Razer Phone.

Instead of the main compartment being hidden by the flap it is on top with a full-body waterproof zipper. The design choice lets you unzip the bag and grab your laptop or tablet without flipping the flap, which is cumbersome on traditional messenger bags — the WaterField Cargo goes for function over form.

Inside the main compartment is the familiar gold-lined material that WaterField uses in all its bags. Not only does it look elegant, but the brighter color gives greater contrast when looking for loose accessories or items in the bag. This design choice is very different from other bags that just have black on the inside making it difficult to locate items quickly. There is also now a padded inner compartment to protect the laptop from any bouncing accessories.

The shoulder strap has an excellent padded area that is very grippy on the bottom, so it won't slide around much. The strap is adjustable with a sizeable quick-release camlock versus the more traditional sliding buckle, which often requires you to remove the bag first before shortening the strap. While the quick-release buckle is preferred, the all-plastic design may be better served with some metal (the tradeoff is added weight, which may be why WaterField opted for plastic).

For a cargo bag, the Cargo is very rigid with a reinforced top frame that keeps the bag mostly flat. It does make opening it a bit tighter than I would prefer, but the bag is sure to hold its form over many years.

WaterField provides a few design modifications to fit your preferences. Those color and material options include grizzly leather, chocolate leather, or black leather. The materials used for all models includes 1050 Denier Ballistic nylon body and full-grain leather flap and handle. All of this weighs in at 3.4lbs (1.54kg) — quite light for its size.

Cargo all the things

I had no fundamental issues with the WaterField Cargo bag. The materials and quality of the craftsmanship are as excellent as always, which helps justify that hefty $350 price tag.

That high price comes from WaterField's manufacturing: the bags are handmade in San Francisco with premium materials and high quality standards, and that drives up the price. A WaterField bag will last a decade or more versus the more disposable bags found at Walmart. Dropping $350 on a bag for your laptop may seem excessive, but a quality bag is an investment in protection and functionality — not to mention it can make as much a statement as your outfit. The WaterField Cargo checks all the right boxes for that crowd.

Related: Best Laptop backpacks

I'm not entirely crazy about cargo bags as a category; I prefer the new Staad backpack or a more traditional messenger bag like the Crossbody. For those looking for something more formal, there is the WaterField Maverick bag. The downside for these is neither can hold more than your laptop and accessories — they're straight laptop and gear bag.

WaterField Cargo Laptop Bag

For those who enjoy the cargo bag look, the quality and functionality are unquestionable with WaterField. The Cargo is their longest running and most popular bag for a reason. For Surface Book 2 owners – especially those with the larger 15-inch model the WaterField Cargo is an excellent choice for a premium companion.

See at SFBags.com

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.