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

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.