WaterField Air Porter laptop bag review: A carry-on you’ll want to carry forever

Is there such a thing as a bag with too many pockets? You’ll
never catch me uttering such blasphemy, but I can easily
imagine someone pointing to the WaterField Air Porter
as proof of decadence most dire. It has 10 interior pockets, 4
exterior pockets, and even more pockets in an optional
removable sleeve. Depending on how you interpret the term, it
even has pockets in some of the pockets.

Somehow WaterField manages to turn this bag into something
that’s both incredibly portable yet capable of carrying fairly
hefty loads, making it a perfect companion for both the streets
and the skies.

Hidden depths

The Air Porter sound like a complex bag, and in some respects
it is. The beauty of it, though, is that you’d never know that
from a quick glance. It’s a subtle beast, to the point that
WaterField even did away with its traditional logo and
contented itself with a minimalist “WaterField: Made in SF”
stamped on the front leather flap.

waterfield air porter made in sf
Leif Johnson/IDG

Hey, we’re made in San Francisco, too!

You’ll see no other pockets apart from the flap and two
cylindrical pockets at either end for stashing water bottles or
travel umbrellas. You may not even see those, in fact, owing to
snaps on each pocket that keep them pressed closely against the
bag when not in use.

Want to use it as a messenger page? It’s got a removable strap
for that—complete with two adjustable ends for better
positioning of the shoulder pad—but the Air Porter’s two
handles also let you use it as a briefcase. WaterField armored
these handles with genuine leather, much like the flap along
the bottom of the bag (which is flat, allowing the Air Porter
to stand upright when stowed under an airplane seat).

waterfield air porter underside
Leif Johnson/IDG

Both the upright design and the Air Porter’s comparatively
slim profile also allow for more leg room on the plane.

As for the rest of the exterior material, that’s up to you. The
Air Porter comes in either a lovely waxed canvas or a sleek
nylon material that WaterField calls “black ballistic.” I chose
the latter, and while it’s undeniably tough, I find myself
wishing I’d requested waxed canvas when WaterField sent me a
review unit. The nylon will last for years, no doubt, but I
know from user photos that the waxed canvas ages beautifully
and in a way the nylon never will. I’m a little jealous.

Considering how much I’ve gushed over pockets, you might expect
that you’ll find another pocket on the bag. But nope: You’ll
simply find a trolly strap that makes it easy to slip the Air
Porter over the rollaboard if your more traditional luggage and
port it over the airport.

Pick your pocket

Just don’t mistake that subtlety for a lack of features. In
every detail, WaterField clearly gave attention to convenience.

For instance, let’s peek under that front flap. You’ll find not
one but two pockets, the larger of which is meant to house the
optional Air Caddy—more on that later—but which I personally
use for everyday items that would be a hassle with a zipper: my
iPhone, books, and my sunglasses. On the outside of that you’ll
find a slightly smaller pocket, which is great for stowing
thin-but-essential items like passports and tickets on a trip.
Unlike the larger enclosure, it’s lined with WaterField’s
signature yellow-orange honeycomb fabric, which is not only
nice to touch but also makes it easier to see items that darker
linings would accidentally conceal.

waterfield air porter front pockets
Leif Johnson/IDG

There’s currently nothing in them, but I use these two
pockets the most by far.

The flap itself is a marvel, as it’s stuffed with two powerful
magnets that snap like a vice. They make it easy to access the
essentials while also providing a sense of security.

Wide open spaces

But this is just the beginning. Two zippers stretch across the
midsection of the Air Porter, each shielded by a rubbery
coating that both protects them from water and conceals the
zippers themselves. If it weren’t for the toggles, you might
not even know they were there at all.

So let’s unzip the first zipper; the one closest to the front
flap. The compartment within is roomy—so roomy, in fact, that I
once comfortably lugged around a “trashcan” Mac Pro inside with
little worry about its safety. (It’s a long story.)

waterfield air porter mac pro
Leif Johnson/IDG

Did you think I was kidding?

Indeed, unzip it all the way and you’ll find that the Air
Porter lays flat like a normal suitcase, making it easy to
arrange a change of shirts or two within.

And yes, you’ll find pockets within this cavern as well. One
trio of tiny ones cling toward the top, each large enough to
hold AirPods or medication but little else. The bottom ones are
a rad roomier, but only in the sense that a Magic Mouse could
fit in there with no problems.

waterfield air porter interior
Leif Johnson/IDG

Only the essentials.

The two other side of the compartment has only two pockets, but
they’re large enough to hold a pocket Moleskine notebook.
Dangling from the corner you’ll also find a key fob with a tiny
clasp, ensuring that you won’t have to dig for your keys after
a long trip away.

Further in

So what’s behind Zipper Number 2? Here you’ll find the softly
padded sleeve for stowing your MacBook, complete with a velcro
clasp. It’s a big one, and it seems specifically designed with
the 15-inch MacBook Pro in mind as you’ll find little notches
in the sleeve that make it easy to charge your MacBook even
without removing it from the sleeve.

waterfield air porter charging
Leif Johnson/IDG

That’s one less thing you need to scatter about at an
airport charging station.

But it’s more than just a sleeve. Fully unzipped, this side of
the bag also unfolds like a suitcase, the idea being that the
unfolded bag isolates the sleeve and so negates the need to
remove your MacBook during a TSA screening. Since the sleeve is
fully exposed when the bag is open, so the logic goes, the TSA
won’t give you hell because you didn’t remove your laptop. In
fact, you’re helping them.

Good luck with that, I say. I’ve missed a flight before solely
because I had a sleeve on my iPad Pro: a device, mind you,
that’s supposedly almost immune from such inquiries. Using
something like this to claim that you don’t need to remove your
laptop? That just seems like asking for trouble.

waterfield air porter macbook sleeve
Leif Johnson/IDG

Maybe this happens all the time and I’ve just been
extraordinarily unlucky.

And we’re still not done. Opposite the sleeve you’ll find the
two largest interior pockets of them all, and they look perfect
for stowing the massive power brick needed to power the MacBook
Pro. For that matter, you can stash a power bank in the other
one. You get another compartment for stashing your stuff when
the zipper is closed again, but keep in mind that’ll likely
keep you from pulling off the TSA trick there’s anything
substantial in there.

All those pockets. All that junk. I expected that the
Air Porter would be rough to carry; I imagined it’d leave me
wincing after short strolls from the baggage claim to the cab.

Somehow that’s not the case. The weight is distributed evenly
so long as I’m not stuffing it past its limits; the shoulder
strap never digs into my skin. I have a lighter messenger bag
that’s less comfortable than this, even when I’ve barely got
anything in it. I won’t say it’s quite as comfortable as a
backpack for constant city walking, but it comes closer to that
ideal than many of the strap bags I’ve used. That alone makes
it great.

A cute companion

That’s about it for the Air Porter itself, and normally this is
where I’d start wrapping up the review. Today, though, the fun
doesn’t have to end there.

The Air Porter has an optional $59 nylon or waxed canvas
companion piece called the Air CaddyRemove
non-product link
—a 12-inch by 8-inch sleeve that’s
designed to easily slip into the large front pocket beneath the
Air Porter’s outer flap.

waterfield air porter air caddy
Leif Johnson/IDG

That’s an iPhone 8 Plus stuffed in the front. You can’t
close it when it’s upright, but it fits fine on its side.

It’s but another example of the depth of thought behind
WaterField’s design. The idea here is to keep the Air Porter
itself stuffed under the seat in front of you, while the
AirCaddy holds everything you’ll need for the flight. It’s even
designed to slip into an airplane seat’s back pocket, negating
the need for contortions and acrobatics while you stretch to
reach the Air Porter.

You might think a simple sleeve would do the trick, but even
here the pockets assert themselves. You’ll find one in the
front, which unzips to reveal that marvelous honeycomb fabric
and two smaller pockets for something larger than AirPods but
smaller than an iPhone XS Max.

The main compartment has a padded sleeve that seems made for a
9.7-inch iPad, while the middle space can hold either a
physical book, some munchies, or perhaps a Kindle. (If you’re
ambitious, it can probably fit them all.) And yes, you’ll even
find two pockets on the compartment’s other wall, each big
enough to hold a power bank.

waterfield air caddy Leif Johnson/IDG

WaterField claims a 10.5-inch iPad Pro can fit in the Air
Caddy, but the 9.7-inch fits tightly enough to make me
wonder.

It’s a smart design; one that even technically gets around the
usual two-bag carry-on limit for airlines. I wouldn’t say you
need it if you don’t plan on traveling that much, but if you
do, you’ll likely find it solves problems you never even knew
you had.

Pockets to pocket book

Aside from smirking at the concept of a “TSA-friendly” bag, I
haven’t really said a negative thing so far. So let’s say this:
The WaterField Air Porter is expensive. The bag alone costs
$359, and if you add on the $59 Air Caddy, you’re looking at a
total bill of $379.

waterfield air caddy in pocket
Leif Johnson/IDG

Warning: It won’t fit this nicely if you have it as stuffed
as I did in the photo above. But it will still
fit.

Normally I’d say you were nuts for wanting to spend that much
money for a carry-on. But as I’ve already said, this isn’t
merely a carry-on bag; it’s an everyday bag as well, and a darn
good one at that. Thoughtful decisions reveal themselves in
every aspect of its design, and much of that thought was aimed
directly at Mac and iPhone users. And think of this way: The
bag along costs about as much as the HomePod, and I could see
myself using this bag a hell of a lot more than Apple’s smart
speaker.

waterfield air porter lining
Leif Johnson/IDG

Gotta admit: It’s impressive that something like this still
gets made in this country, and in this city of all
places.

For the time being, it’s my everyday carry (minus the Air
Caddy). I may someday switch back to a backpacking owning to
the amount of urban walking I do, but right now I’m in love
with how easily I can each my stuff on the subways and streets
of WaterField’s native San Francisco. I know I look fine doing
it, too, and I know the bag itself will last many years. It’s a
philosophy any Apple fan can appreciate.

Just one bit of advice: Consider getting the waxed canvas.

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