Harber London Commuter Backpack Review
The Harber London Commuter Backpack looks stylish and premium, though it falls short of the mark on functionality with too-small pockets and slow access.
- Leather and other materials look premium
- Space for a laptop and a tablet
- Durable, water-resistant materials
- Hard to secure magnet on top flap
- Carry handle gets caught between bag and back
- Very tight bottle pockets
2.54 lb (1.2 kg)
16.92 in x 11.02 in x 5.51 in (43 x 28 x 14 cm)
Leather, rPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate), Recycled Plastic, YKK Zippers, Aluminum
Tablet Sleeve Size
Laptop Compartment Size
The features you want in an everyday carry bag will differ from what you want in your travel backpack. After all, you’re going to be carrying a daypack, well, daily, and you’re likely not going to need to stuff it full of clothing and toiletries along with your tech and work gear. That said, it’s nice to have an EDC bag that works well as a personal item bag on the plane and looks good, to boot.
The Harber London Commuter Backpack has great styling and useful features for getting your laptop and other assorted accessories from place to place daily while looking great. So, is it a bag you want to use that often? Let’s find out.
We’re going to start with the aesthetics of the 17L Commuter Backpack, because it seems like a lot of effort has been put into making a bag that looks really great. Bag experts in Spain craft it with full-grain leather and fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. So, while you’ll want to pass if you’re vegan, you may like it if you’re a packer focused on sustainability.
There’s a leather lid, along with leather accents seen in two strips running down the front, the carry handle, luggage pass-through, and shoulder straps, so if you dig that look, you’ll likely appreciate it. The Harber London brand logo is printed in small silver letters on the flap, continuing the understated design.
The fabric used throughout the rest of the bag is coated with a durable water repellent for water resistance, though it doesn’t completely seal up top, so you’ll still need to seek shelter if the rain starts to fall. It is quite thick and durable, so we think it will last. Be sure to check the Usage Timeline for updates to find out!
The carry handle is quite large. That’s great for holding the bag or hanging it on a hook but less so for carrying it as a backpack. When you swing the backpack on, it can flop down and get stuck between the bag and your back. Obviously, you can reach back and flip it up, but it’s annoying to do each time, and it is uncomfortable to leave there.
Harber London uses YKK zippers on the Commuter Backpack and aluminum buckles on the shoulder straps. That hardware all works well, although the main compartment zipper extends a few inches past the edge of the bag, so you have to tuck it in each time after fastening it.
However, that’s less of a hassle than the magnetic fastener on the lid. It’s sometimes fun to have magnetic closures on bags, but, in this case, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. A little rectangular tab on the lid should click easily into a receptacle atop the front of the bag. In practice, however, it’s more like trying to hang a picture on the wall. It’s easy to keep missing the nail since you can’t see the hole centered on the back of the frame, and in the same way, it’s easy to miss the receptacle for the lid.
It’s unclear if that’s because the magnet isn’t strong enough, or the weight of the leather lid pushes it past where it should fasten, or some other reason, but we suspect the first. Even if you manage to get it clicked in, it often pops open when carrying the bag. Suffice it to say, it’s not very secure.
Flipping around the back, you’ll find the leather luggage pass-through to slide over the handle of carry on luggage, which is great for making your way through the airport or if you regularly use a rolling briefcase on your way to the office.
The lightly padded back panel protects your gear, although you can definitely still feel your laptop against the back of the bag when wearing it. The shoulder straps are also lightly padded, with a soft, athletic-type material on the underside to prevent rubbing against your skin. There are elastic keepers on the bottom of the straps to contain excess straps, although they tend to slip out of place quite easily. Luckily, the straps themselves seem to stay put where you adjust them, which is nice.
The Harber London Commuter Backpack is an aesthetically pleasing bag, that’s for sure. As long as you like the look of leather, this has a nice heritage knapsack style pumped up with premium materials. If you’re rocking the Black colorway as we are, the monochrome palette goes well in a lot of situations, as long as it’s an occasion where a backpack wouldn’t be out of place. As of the time of this review, you can also get it in Mocha and Olive, with the fabric changing color and the leather remaining black.
However, this isn’t the most comfortable backpack you can get. It’s not uncomfortable, per se; the fit is more average than really great. There is adequate back panel padding, though it doesn’t blunt the feeling of everything in the backpack, especially a laptop. Likewise, the shoulder straps are comfortable enough, though they are a bit tight for users with broad shoulders.
Inside The Pack
Depending on your preference, you may miss the absence of many exterior pockets on the Commuter Backpack. There is one narrow slip pocket centered in the front of the bag with the receptor for the magnet at the top. While Harber London shows it in use as a phone pocket, it’s very tight to fit a phone inside if you’re using any sort of case. Plus, it’s quite deep but only a few inches wide, so your phone may sink to the bottom. If it does, it’s really hard to get back out.
Barring finding a way to use this, however, there is nowhere to stash your phone, wallet, and keys without diving into the main compartment of the bag, which is rather inconvenient for daily use. However, if you carry a sling or purse along with the Commuter Backpack, you might not miss the inclusion.
So, since there’s nowhere else to check out on the bag’s exterior, let’s head inside. To do so, flip open the leather lid, and you’ll find the zipper attached to two strips of leather connected to the front and rear of the bag. We say the front and back because they don’t extend to the sides of the bag, which fold outward to expand when there’s more gear at the top and compress inward when there’s not, but they leave gaps on the ends where moisture could get in or gear can fall out. The space on the right gives you a way to tuck in that extra zipper track we mentioned earlier, but we didn’t do that much during testing; we just left the zipper hanging out. Why? It was just inconvenient to continually push it in and take it out, even if it’s just a couple of times a day.
Inside, the liner is a similar fabric as the exterior, still made from recycled plastic bottles, but this time it’s tan. It’s light enough to see your gear against it, which is great, especially at the bottom of the bag.
You’ll find the only place to toss small gear against the front panel. It’s a very large zipper pocket that we use for AirPods, headphones (yes, we use both), tissues, travel size bottles, wall chargers, cords, and other assorted items. It is wide and deep, though, with the opening located about halfway down the bag, so everything still gets jumbled up in here. We still need to use a https://packhacker.com/blog/general/best-tech-pouch/ to avoid a rat’s nest of cords and cables and keep gear neat and tidy. Thus, the pocket is under-utilized because we store most things elsewhere. Additionally, the fabric is quite flexible and falls down on itself, obscuring the opening.
On either side of the bag, you’ll find internal travel water bottle pockets. Or, in our case, one bottle pocket and one hard glasses case. We say that because, try as we might, we could not fit a standard-size bottle into the one on the right. It looks the same as the one on the left but seems to be just a few millimeters smaller. Since we have to squeeze a standard-width bottle into the one on the left, losing a fraction more space makes the one on the right unusable. While this is probably just a matter of a stitching defect, it seems it could also happen easily on another Commuter Backpack.
Finally, against the back wall, you’ll find two sleeves. The rear holds up to a 16-inch laptop—although it’s a very tight fit—and the front holds up to a 13-inch tablet. There’s a very slight false bottom on the laptop sleeve and a stylus or pen holder next to the tablet sleeve. Both are minimally padded to protect your device, and a leather strap with a snap holds your computer in place. However, we must point out that your laptop tends to rub against the rear metal zipper on its way into the sleeve unless you actively pull and hold the zipper out of the way. While we haven’t noticed any scratching on our MacBook Air, there’s a possibility that it could happen to you.
A leather key leash is attached to the left side of the tablet pocket so you can keep them easy to find instead of having to dig through the zipper pocket.
What you have left is space for everything else, whether it’s that tech pouch we’re carrying, a travel journal, a packable rain jacket, or whatever you need. The gussets at the top of the bag allow you to stack gear on top of each other to make use of the extra space, as long as you’re sure to load your laptop and grab anything you need out of the zipper pocket first; items on top block the bag’s organizational features.
All in all, the Harber London Commuter Backpack seems like a daypack that definitely puts form before function. The leather accents are nice if that’s your style, but we think that the cons with the actual use of the bag may outweigh the pros for many people. In our opinion, those include a phone holder that seems too small for a phone, bottle pockets that are too tight for many bottles, a zipper that can scrape your computer, and weather-proof coating on a bag with an open top. If you’re looking for a classically stylish backpack to carry from home to auto to office, and you always have an umbrella and a sling, it may work well for you. You’ll certainly look great carrying it around town, that’s for sure.
- Interesting magnetic closure
- Full grain leather looks super premium
- Excited to wear the super soft shoulder straps
- Appreciate the inclusion of a key leash
- Minimal organization for small items
- A couple loose threads on the lid