The Patagonia Arbor is about style and durability. It's not about lots of features or ultimate comfort. It's also not cheap. But we've been using it for over four years, taking it around the world, and still use it every day. It's a classic that should last a decade.
Patagonia updated their Arbor pack. See below for a comparison of new vs. old.
Our Analysis and Test Results
Patagonia's new Arbor keeps the same basic look and shape but has lost the leather patches on the sides. The front zipper pocket now runs horizontally instead of diagonally. Barring these changes and some color updates, everything else remains largely the same. Compare the two packs below, with the new one pictured first.
We link to the new version above. The review below, however, refers to our experience with the older version.
Hands-On Review of the Arbor
The Patagonia Arbor looks terrific. It is the antithesis of techy bags from The North Face, which are function-forward backpacks but that fall short in the appearance department. Honestly, the Arbor is a great pack that would surely rank much higher in most categories if this review was not specifically about laptop backpacks.
This pack protects your laptop enough - but just barely. The padding is thin, and you don't want to throw it around carelessly. Patagonia's website points out that if you don't carry your laptop you can use the pocket as an insulated water bladder holder instead, and we think that this may be a better use of this design.
This model is one of the more comfortable bags we tried. The straps are simple but cush. It's only when you completely load it up and walk around all day that it becomes uncomfortable. There is no sternum strap, and the waist strap is thin. This pack is not the best for walking around all day or moving over uneven terrain.
The storage is simple: one outside pocket and one lid pocket. It's enough for basic organization. But there are no pockets for business cards, pens or anything of that size. It's perfect for people who specifically don't want too many extra zippers or pockets.
Check out all the features and storage of this laptop backpack by watching this video.
Ease of Use
Because the pack is so basic, it's also easy to use. Getting the laptop in and out is quick. The best feature is the ability to latch a big jacket under the lid. This detail allows you to travel with a big parka and easily carry it when it gets hot. There are leather patches that allow you to lash extra items to the side with webbing, but these are mostly for style. We never found them all that practical to use.
The Patagonia Arbor did very well in our water resistance test. It has a protective polyurethane layer and a durable water resistant (DWR) coating, both of which do an adequate job of repelling water. That said, by the end of the two-month testing period, our model showed signs of beginning to wet out, meaning the DWR coating was already wearing off. There are only two zippers on the outside of this bag, and they are both very well covered by protective flaps. The top flap adequately covers the large top opening, although we feel that in prolonged exposure to heavy rain, water could find its way into the bag.
If you like a timeless design, this is one of the most stylish bags we tested with a throwback rucksack design. What is clear is that the Arbor has a timeless design. It works just about anywhere from the mountains to cities. The colors are generally low key and muted.
The Patagonia Arbor is one of the best-looking bags that we tested, and we believe that style matters. It's a highly functional backpack for most uses, especially in the outdoors. However, if protecting your laptop or keeping your school or work things organized is your top priority, then the Arbor is not a great selection for you. Functionality also matters. But in the end, when faced with a box full of backpacks and asked to pick one out to use for a day, most of our testers reached for the Arbor first.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.