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Waterfield Designs Tech Rolltop Backpack review: My new favorite laptop and gear bag

Waterfield is one of my favorite makers of quality laptop bags, backpacks, and slings. Hand-stitched and assembled in San Francisco these bags are certainly more money than your average mass-produced ones from China. But these bags also last a lot longer and are like nothing else available.

I've been using the new Tech Rolltop backpack for the last three months. It's the perfect bag for those who sometimes want to pack a lot, but on most days travel light. That ability is thanks to the expanding main pocket with a rolltop and ingenious latching mechanism. Here's what you need to know about the latest from Waterfield Designs.

What you'll love about the Tech Rolltop backpack

Compared to other Waterfield backpacks the Tech Rolltop brings two water bottle holders, has a slim design, and is meant for both the office as well as a jaunt to the great outdoors on the weekend. The holders on the side are perfect for a pen, soda bottle, umbrella, etc. and made life with this backpack much more enjoyable.

Being quite versatile, the Tech Rolltop has been perfect at tech events, the coffee shop, or when flying (it fits easily under the seat on airplanes).

The rolltop is a feature found on many outdoor and hiking backpacks. The benefit of the functionality is when not in use, the bag is thin and small. However, if you suddenly need to jam some clothes, or larger items the unrolled bit gives your back much more expansion abilities. The rolltop expands the volume by three to six liters, which is massive. I found this ability very useful when grabbing last-minute gifts at the airport as I could now stuff in a few extra boxes while also latching the bag closed.

Materials are also essential and one of the hallmarks of Waterfield backpacks. The black version is 1050 denier black ballistic nylon, which I have used on some of Waterfield's other bags – it's smooth and modern looking.

For a more traditional look, there is a blue or brown waxed canvas. Waterfield has never done blue before, so that is the version I chose.

Two sizes are available for the Tech Rolltop:

  • Compact:16.5 X 10.5 X 4.75 inches; 2.4 lbs. Volume: 12 liters; Expanded 15 liters.
  • Full: 19 x 12 x 5.5 inches; 2.8 lbs. Volume: 18 liters; Expanded 24 liters.

I chose the compact size, and the rear laptop compartment could still squeeze in a 13-inch Razer Blade Stealth. For those with 15-inch laptops (or larger) getting the full size is a better choice. That laptop slot is lined with a very soft fleece-like material to ensure your precious cargo won't scratch. Padding on both sides also prevent dings and adds comfort.

Inside there is another large slot for carrying a tablet, but it is big enough to fit a Surface Pro or small 13-inch laptop with ease. Waterfield uses its gold color lining (versus black) to make it simple to see things, and I appreciate that.

A small zip pouch can hold incidentals. On the rear of the bag are two larger pouches. One pocket has an easy-access magnet lip and the lower, larger pocket with a zipper and key fob so you can retrieve your keys without digging.

What you'll love less about Tech Rolltop backpack

The new blue looks great although waxed canvas is more prone to picking up some lint. Waxed canvas is easy enough to clean, but I was surprised at how quickly it picked up stains from putting it on the ground. If you're fastidious about cleanliness, the black ballistic nylon is the better choice.

Waterfield is also not keen on using sternum straps – a clip strap that connects the two shoulder ones to alleviate pressure on your shoulders and back significantly. I wish they'd at least offer that as an add-on feature.

The two pockets on the back are great – especially the top magnetic one, but I also found the angled pockets on the Staad a bit more convenient for quick access.

Finally, price is always a sticking point. Starting at $229 for the compact and $249 for the full, the Tech Rolltop is only for diehards with a solid budget.

Should you buy the Tech Rolltop backpack

The Tech Rolltop is a fantastic purchase. Assuming you're in the market for a long-lasting, premium laptop backpack that can do double duty for the office and play and you can afford it.

Even though I have a closet full of bags to choose from I've been using the Tech Rolltop exclusively going to Microsoft Build, private press events in New York City, Taipei for Computex, and Mexico on vacation.

The main selling points are small, light bag that held my Surface Headphones, Nintendo Switch, Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1, Amazon Kindle, plus my passport, cables, chargers, and even sleep gear for the plane. But the ability to suddenly expand it even more so I can stuff some small boxes, shirts, or whatever is precious. I also enjoyed having those side pockets back as I missed having those on the Waterfield Staad.

That adds up to make the Tech Rolltop my favorite backpack yet and very easy to recommend to others.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

  • Thanks for the great review, Dan!
    I'm really interested in this bag, but I'm concerned that the roll top is a pain to open and close every time...
    can you close the top flap without actually rolling the top (when the bag's not full, obviously)? how easy is it to get inside and find your stuff in there?
    Also, is the back laptop slot padded enough to carry my Surface Pro 6 without a sleeve? Tanks again!
  • Hey, thanks.
    "Can you close the top flap without actually rolling the top (when the bag's not full, obviously)? how easy is it to get inside and find your stuff in there?"
    So there is an adjustable strap that secures the rolltop. The latch is a sliding mechanism with a magnet - first I've ever seen. You slide the latch apart and then you unroll the top. The rolltop is not actually huge, so it's not like pulling a tent out or anything. I regularly use this on airplanes and had no issue opening the main compartment to get my headphones - I didn't feel awkward, or anything. I too was thinking a rolltop may be more of a PITA to open/close or get in and out of, but it's really not mostly due to that fast magnetic slide latch/strap combo (it's hard to describe, it's not a buckle though or one of those pinch-connectors found on backpacks).
    "Also, is the back laptop slot padded enough to carry my Surface Pro 6 without a sleeve"
    Totally. That's how I use it. I face the keyboard out so the metal body is full-flush against the cloth, the keyboard facing outward has a few inches exposed, but this setup ensures that nothing gets scratched. Hope that helps!
  • That actually helps a lot!
    I found a video on Waterfield's YT channel that shows that special buckle, so I totally understand now what you wrote.
    I'll be ordering my pack today :) Thanks again for that and everything else you do.
    I love the site and channel and your work is greatly appreciated! UB