Review: Jansport Optimizer Laptop Bag

Review: Jansport Optimizer Laptop Bag

What s in a bag? In mine, lots:

  • Sony Vaio V505
  • 3 PC Cards
  • Cell phone
  • PDA
  • Folders of papers from work
  • Latest issues of 2600 and Nuts and Volts
  • Columbia Ibex Rain pants and jacket
  • Igo Juice adaptor and cables
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Headphones
  • Cables upon cables upon cables
  • Pens and other little odds and ends (remotes, USB drives, etc.)

In total, about a 20lb load that was used to test the Jansport Optimizer upon its arrival. The Optimizer is one of the new bags in Jansports 2004 line-up. In terms of style, the bag is a typical knapsack. But in terms of functionality, the Optimizer attempts to reach the bar set by others while trying to raise it somewhat. So how did it do?

The Jansport Optimizer

To start with, the Optimizer features 4 main compartments and a few pockets here and there. The 1st compartment is your typical organizational area. In it, you ll find pockets secured by Velcro that are suitable for phones, PC-Cards, and other small items. There is also your customary pen holders and lanyard for keys. This compartment is deep enough to hold additional items which is a welcome sight. Too often laptop bag makers figure a bag will only be used to carry a laptop. Never mind the cables, adapters, files, etc. On the exterior of this compartment is a pocket that is fairly deep. I ve been using it to hold my iPAQ and found that grabbing it in a hurry is a snap with the Optimizer, and I still have room to boot.

But why try to shove everything in that one area; there are always the 2nd and 3rd compartments. These areas are general storage areas and suitable for holding just about anything. The 2nd area is slightly smaller than the 3rd. They both can be opened fully which allows full access to the interior. Perhaps a side benefit that no one considered was that these compartments are in front of the laptop storage space. A jacket or a pair of sweats can easily provide additional protection, although the Optimizer does a pretty good job of this on its own.

The 4th compartment is the reason you shelled out the $120 to purchase the bag. This is where your laptop is stored and it s quite functional. For one, you ll notice the zipper only goes half-way around the compartment. This is actually an advantage. It makes computers easy to slip out and also reduces the chance of items falling out of this area. The interior itself is padded and provides excellent scratch protection for a naked machine. The Optimizer has some of the best drop protection around for a bag in its class. At the bottom, you ll find (or feel) a hollow plastic block supported by cushioning. This arrangement produces a safer sounding thud on drop impact, rather than the alarming crack sound. Surprisingly, even with the drop protection, the compartment could easily accommodate my Sony NV190 or a similar machine like the Dell 9100. If the drop protection were removable, I d be willing to bet that the Optimizer would accommodate 17 inch machines. Regardless, this bag offers some superior and innovative protection.

Optimer w/ NV190 Room to Spare

Blurry v505 in Optimizer Even more to spare!!

Being creative is one thing the Optimizer handles very well. You ll notice a pocket between the 3rd and 4th compartments. No, that is a pocket and not a compartment. Once open, you ll find it s only about 4 inches deep, but wide. This makes this area ideal for storing cables. Or .. Look at the small opening towards the top there. Looks like that can accommodate a headphone cord, or USB cable from a GPS unit. This area would also be perfect for storing your favorite MD or CD player and listening on the go. To get the full effect, make sure you choose a unit with a remote on the cord 😉

On either side of the bag, you ll find additional pockets. On one side is a small pocket secured with a zipper. This space is very small and can accommodate small items. During my testing, I was using it to carry: presentation remote, USB mouse, USB drive, and a Bluetooth adapter. Even though it is quite small, I find it useful to carry smaller items I use frequently. This saves time by not having to dig through a larger area. On the other side, you ll find a little experiment that went wrong somewhere. This is a larger pocket that is constructed of half nylon and half mesh. When zipped up, the pocket can be used to hold items, but there is a slight issue. The mesh leaves some items exposed to the elements and potential thieves. When zipped down, the mesh expands out to become a full function bottle holder. The idea is good, but could have been executed a little cleaner, perhaps by making the pocket solid nylon and completely hiding the mesh when zipped up. However, a saving grace is when you do use this as a bottle holder; it actually accommodates larger 16oz and 20oz bottles. This is a good thing as most seem to only accommodate cans.

Overall, the bag is constructed of 840D ballistic nylon. What does that mean to you? Easy it has a durable feel and is somewhat resistant to punctures. Water resistance is lacking though. However, a quick trip to your favorite outdoor sports store can solve this problem with some water resistant spray. One of the most impressive features on this bag is the shoulder straps. Jansport employs its Airlift 2.0 system. This provides shoulder straps that contain gel inserts that help to reduce the load on your shoulders. There is also a comfort zone built in meant to reduce the strain on the neck. Couple this with the padded back that uses mesh to help get rid of moisture, and you have one very comfortable bag. 20lbs was no problem to haul around for hours at a time. Even when slinged over one shoulder, the straps provided a high level of comfort. For those truly mobile folks, this deserves some serious consideration. Even the carry strap on the top of the bag deserves mentioning. It s quite large and feels very sturdy. Carrying this bag around at times, I did not feel as if I d lose my grip or that this strap would rip the bag because of the weight. You ll also find the Optimizer provides a phone carrying case on one of the shoulder straps and holes in the zippers that can be used to run a cable through in order to lock up your wares.

Close-up of straps and external cell phone holder

Could it have been done better? be. The one item that deserves consideration is the zippers. They are quite large and quite loud. This makes sneaking into a meeting or class impossible. I also would like to ask Jansport, why only one zipper on the laptop compartment? The rest have two which makes locking the bag easy. With the laptop compartment, you have to get creative depending on the size of your cable lock. Being an outdoors person, I always favor compression straps. These are straps that go across the face of the bag and can be tightened. This in turn reduces the overall size/profile of the bag. The Optimizer can be a little bulky if fully packed, compression straps would have enhanced its overall functionality.

All in all, an excellent bag for the money. It appears someone at Jansport took the time to say How do I want to carry my laptop everyday before they started working on this bag. In this day of over-hyped designers and cheap workmanship, Jansport does an outstanding job of blending functionality to something so common and everyday the knapsack. The Optimizer provides an efficient means of getting to work, and getting everything to work, so the job can get done.


The Jansport Optimizer retails for around $99. Check for comparison pricing at





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