In the Bag

Are LifeProof’s First Backpacks as Good as Its Phone Cases?


May 17, 2018 Reviews By Photo by Jarry Truong
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LifeProof, the maker of the original waterproof, dust-proof and smash-proof phone case, announced its first collection of products that aren’t tech-related: LifeProof backpacks. The new line features four bags: the 18-liter Quito, 22-liter Goa, 20-liter Squamish and a 32-liter Squamish XL.

Like its phone cases, LifeProof’s backpacks are generally designed for the rigors of everyday use — commuting to and from work, light activities such as hiking and biking, and travel. While each bag has unique characteristics, they’re all built with water-repellant Cordura fabric and equipped with weather-resistant tech pockets. The three bigger sizes also come with padded laptop sleeves, internal organization and hidden side “stash” pockets.

The Good: LifeProof designed its backpacks for everyday use, and many of the features found in the bags excel because they have this concept in mind. The side-access laptop sleeve is separate from the main compartment, which keeps it free from clutter and makes airport security lines less painful. The foam used in the shoulder straps and back panel is robust, breathable and light, which creates a very comfortable wearing experience. Even the bits of plastic hardware feel rugged, as we’d expect from LifeProof.

Who They’re For: Everybody. LifeProof backpacks aren’t built for specific activities, but for daily life. Those who carry laptops regularly will get the most out of the bags though.

Watch Out For: LifeProof integrated lots of organizing pockets within the main compartment of the backpack and on its exterior as well, but not many of them feel particularly useful. There’s also only one main compartment — some might desire more than that for additional organization of larger items.

Alternatives: LifeProof’s backpacks are non-technical and designed for everyday use, so there are a lot of alternative options. Thule’s Accent pack ($130) is one notable option that has a range of similar features, including a separate side-access laptop compartment and an emphasis on protection, but with a slightly different aesthetic. Evergoods’ Civic Panel Loader is a bit pricier at $229 but offers high-end design, lots of access and various carry methods. Patagonia’s $129 Black Hole Backpack puts a similar emphasis on keeping contents dry and protected.

Review: I still remember my first encounter with a LifeProof product. I visited my local Verizon store with a friend who was buying her first iPhone — a 5 — and the clerk there had a water-filled fish bowl at the ready to show off the capabilities and magic of the LifeProof Fre case. She dropped her phone into the bowl and cued her colleague to dial its number while we all watched in awe as the screen lit up to receive the call.

I’d witnessed enough cracked screens amongst my friend group to know that’d I’d need a similar case when I made the switch from flip phone to smartphone (which took place years after the rest of general society). I conducted the intensive research that only a product obsessive would, and concluded that LifeProof’s slim and impenetrable case was the best for someone prone to dumping his phone on rocks and getting pushed fully-clothed into bodies of water, as I am.

In the years since, my trust in LifeProof’s products hasn’t wavered (and I’ve never broken a phone, knock on wood). As a result, I can’t help but view the company’s sidestep into its first non-tech category, backpacks, against the high bar of experience I’ve already had with its phone cases.

I tested the 20-liter Squamish over the course of a month, integrating it into my life and used it as I would any “every day” backpack. Most of that involved commuting to and from work on bike, foot and train, and there were some weekend trips as well.

At first impression, the Squamish seemed unimpressive. The backpack category is massive, with a lot of innovative good happening inside of it, and nothing about the Squamish screamed “new” or “groundbreaking” — I thought back to the Verizon store fishbowl. Digging deeper though, I discovered features that are inherently LifeProof about the backpack. All of the hardware, for instance, is made with a hard and durable plastic similar to that which is used in the phone cases; the zipper pulls are designed with ergonomic, finger-sized loops.

Some of the backpack’s details are also fairly standard. It has one large compartment that’s lined with variously-sized pockets and tech organizers, none of which are particularly innovative or noteworthy. One of these is a fleece-lined phone pocket; I, for one, have never stored my phone in one of these pockets, and I don’t know anyone who does. I would have expected LifeProof, which we know as a tech accessory company, to have devised more thoughtful ways to organize and integrate those products into the backpack.

The Squamish does excel with prominent details though. The most notable surprise is the shoulder straps, which are ultralight to the point of feeling flimsy but are actually some of the most comfortable I’ve encountered. The back panel is made of the same foam and is equally comfortable, and more breathable than I would’ve guessed. Both of these features call back to the high level of durability provided in LifeProof’s slim phone cases and are proof of the brand’s ability to push function while keeping designs as simple as possible.

Verdict: There’s a lot to like in LifeProof’s first stab at backpacks, particularly in the Squamish. The bags excel in providing everyday comfort thanks to the shoulder straps and back panel, and the side-access laptop compartment makes getting to that larger tech item a breeze. The Squamish left something to be desired though, and doesn’t quite live up to the high standard LifeProof has already set for itself with its phone cases.

Key Specs for the Squamish Backpack

Main Body Material: Water-resistant Cordura nylon
Available Volumes: 20 and 32 liters
Available Features: Separate laptop and tablet sleeves, hydration sleeve, dual water bottle pockets, expandable front pocket, tech organization, side stash sleeve, adjustable and removable chest strap, tie-down straps for skateboards, yoga mats or other large items, durable foam straps and pack panel

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