I have previously confessed to being a bagaholic. Show me a bag that is stylish, well-thought-out, and beautifully made, and I’ll be almost as happy as when discovering a new gadget. The Waterfield Muzetto I reviewed last year ticked all the boxes for me, so I was keen to try the company’s latest addition to its range: the Waterfield Outback Duo.
This is a slim laptop bag designed to reflect the fact that, for all the convergence we’ve seen, MacBooks and iPads remain distinct devices with their own strengths and weaknesses. That being the case, it’s not at all unusual for people to need to carry both …
This is very often the case with me, especially when traveling. I do sometimes keep both in my carry-on bag, but that’s a bit of a pain if I want access to both devices at different points during a journey. I do, then, sometimes carry a separate laptop bag for these.
For quite some time now, this has been the sadly-discontinued Pad & Quill Valet bag which my colleague Jordan Kahn reviewed back in 2016. This accommodates both the 16-inch MacBook Pro and a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and is a truly gorgeous bag. It does, however, have one drawback for travel: it lacks a rear slot to slide it onto the handle of a roller bag.
The Waterfield Outback Duo is an equally stylish and well-made bag that has that all-important rear slot.
Waterfield Outback Duo: Look and feel
Let’s start with the one aspect of this bag you’re going to love or hate: the distressed leather.
Any leather will pick up marks and patina over time, so if you only love smooth, unblemished leather, you’re only going to be happy with any bag for about the first 20 minutes. But distressed leather – which already looks about 20 years old when you get it – does polarize views. Personally, I’m an equal opportunity guy when it comes to leather finishes: I rarely find a quality one I don’t love, and this is no exception.
The bag is available in two sizes, and three finishes:
- Full size: Fits a 16-inch MacBook Pro, plus 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard
- Compact: Fits a 13-inch MacBook Pro, plus 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard Folio
My tastes in bags usually run to full leather, but I’ll grant that a well-coordinated mix of waxed canvas and leather can also work well, and that’s what we get in the one I tested. Most of the bag is waxed cotton, while the front flap and handle grips are a gorgeous chocolate distressed leather. Together with a water-resistant zip, that offers a decent level of protection against rain, though isn’t completely waterproof. (Alternative options are ballistic nylon with either chocolate or black leather. Neither, to me, has anything like the same visual appeal.)
The design has that of a classic, timeless look that I think looks smart and stylish, without being in any way in-your-face.
Inside, there’s what’s become the norm for higher-end bags: a gold-colored lining designed to reflect light into the interior and make it easy to see what’s in the bag. There’s a laptop slot in the back, lined on the inside with a really soft fabric, and a tablet slot at the front, which is almost identical.
Between the two is a third compartment for charger, cables, and papers. There’s an additional compartment under the front flap, with slots for a phone, wallet, and pens.
The bag slides easily on and off wheeled luggage, making it great for travel.
It also has a detachable shoulder strap for when you want to use it on its own. This likewise snaps easily on and off. The center section which sits on your shoulder is a stretchy fabric that makes for the most comfy strap I’ve ever carried.
The metal two-way zip was a little stiff at first, but eased off with use. Both MacBook and iPad slide easily in and out. There’s also a slot in the MacBook compartment which makes it practical to charge the laptop while it’s in the bag, and a similar one in the iPad compartment, though that’s only accessible if you’re charging through the keyboard.
The bag has twin handles, and my one complaint is that they are a little bulky when held together as intended. It’s more comfortable to hold it by the outer handle only.
The magnet on the front flap snaps shut reliably, without having to hunt for the right position – solving a frequent complaint with press-stud fasteners.
Waterfield Outback Duo: Price and conclusions
This is a premium-priced bag, with little difference in cost between the two sizes. The compact version is $229, and the full size $239.
As I’ve noted before in reviews of luxury bags, you’re either in the market for this type of price tag, or you’re not. If you are, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The look, feel and build-quality are everything you’d expect, made by hand in a workshop in San Francisco.
My sole complaint is that the twin handles are a little bulky when held together. But this is otherwise the perfect accompaniment to a carry-on roller bag when traveling, keeping your MacBook and iPad easily on hand, while also serving well as a standalone hand or shoulder bag for everyday use.
The Waterfield Outback Duo costs $229 (compact) or $239 (full). It’s available for pre-order now, and ships by July 31.
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