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Skooba Designs CheckThrough Backpack Review

I. Am. A. Mobile. Computing. User... Period. I live for converged devices, laptops, netbooks, and data on the go. I’ve got unlimited data on my Smartphone account; and have tethered my laptop to my phone when I need to be online in a pinch. When I travel, I need to take it with me; and when it comes to airport security, I dread the TSA required aerobics and mandatory disrobing... Thankfully, to help make things easier, Skooba Designs has blessed us with the CheckTrough Backpack.  Let's take a quick look to see how (and if) this thing makes travelling easier... sdb-003

I have a LONG commute. I spend 4 hours a day (2 hours, door to door, each way) going back and forth to work on the Metra Rail here in Chicago, and then to and from the train station.  At times, I’ve also had to trek out to Denver, and back and forth (on rare occasion) to Nashville.

The Accessories & document/clothing compartment.

When it comes to air travel, I hate, haTE, HATE doing the necessary aerobics and disrobing routine (shoes, belt, empty and turn pockets inside out, take watch off, etc.) at the security gate.  I curse the name of Richard Reid every time I have to kick my shoes off and walk on that dirty, DIRTY floor (just because this guy wanted to blow his feet up (for whatEVER reason)).  Its nice, however, when I don’t have to completely unpack at Security; and that’s all due to the CheckThrough Backpack from Skooba Designs.

The CheckThrough backpack opens and folds flat at its middle so that your laptop doesn’t have to come out of the bag.  When going through airport security, you simply unzip the bag at the middle, lay it down so that the clear window is up and exposed so that a TSA agent can see what’s in it, and allow the bag to go through the scanner.  The bag is designed to present your laptop exactly as it would if it were in a bin.

Everything is secure, so all you have to do when it comes out the other end is (get dressed), slip your shoes back on, grab the bag, give it a quick zip and head off to your gate.  There’s no need to repack your carry-ons. However, Skooba Designs does note the following on the product page for the bag on their site –

It is the intention and expectation of all involved in the “checkpoint-friendly” bag program that once fully implemented, the process will move smoothly and that suitably designed and constructed bags, properly packed and used, will move through the system efficiently as planned. However, in all instances, screening personnel always have the right to require laptop removal, secondary screening, or any other measures deemed necessary to ensure travel security.

The CheckThrough Backpack, open and ready for scanning

Skooba has a cool video of the CheckThrough process.  You can see it below.

Commuting Use
I’ve been running back and forth to the house on the Chicago Metra BNSF line for a few years. I’ve been using the bag there for the past few months. As a backpack, this thing is merely, ok.  Its small, so if you have more than 1 PC (like me) or some additional accessories to carry along with some paperwork, you may end up with a tight fight.  After a while, it got difficult to use in a daily commuting scenario, at least for me, with everything that I want/need to carry.  Also, according to TSA regulations, carrying a laptop in the accessories/clothing compartment will still require you to pull the second PC out and have it scanned separately.

For me, this was not a good commuting bag.  With both my work and freelancing PC, it was a bit heavy. The straps weren’t padded enough, and after a while, the bag became painful to carry.  The extra compartments made if hard to carry power bricks and other accessories for one PC comfortably, let alone for two.  It seems a bit small for clothing and shoes/toiletries for any other kind of trip other than an overnighter.  Thankfully, however, Skooba Designs does include a clear, plastic zipper bag to store TSA scannable liquids in. A nice little extra; and the document pockets were kinda nice to have, especially for my monthly train and bus pass.

The front of the bag. The document compartment is at the top.

Price: The Skooba Designs Check Through Backpack is $129.99 (at the time of this writing), and is available directly from Skooba’s website.

What I liked: CheckThrough design. Ease of use at airport security (provided you only carry/use one laptop in the bag)

What Needs Improvement: The bag is designed for travel, and as such, could use a LOT more room to hold accessories and/or clothes. The straps could benefit from a lateral tie to hold them together while being worn on both shoulders. The bag could use additional padding to help with back and shoulder support, as wearing it for an extended period of time (like in a LONG airport security line) can be a bit tiring and painful.

Conclusion: This is a decent bag that will do well for commuters doing puddle jumping on the East Coast, or for quick business trips.  Don’t plan on packing a lot of clothes, though. The extra compartment is very small; and if you’re going to be gone for anything longer than an overnight trip, you’re going to want a separate overnight bag for clothes or toiletries.

After carrying this bag for about a month, I am ready to move back to my older backpack.  The straps don’t tie together across your chest, making the bag feel as though it might slide off easily, despite their innovative shape. It also lacks a waist strap that would pull the bottom of the bag in closer to your hips, giving you a bit more lumbar support while carrying it.

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