Most of the products we have reviewed here at the “Gadget Corner” are true gadgets. However, there comes a time when we need to carry all those gadgets! For the last few months I have been using an Expand-It Messenger bag given to me by BBP Bags. The company was founded by Sean Lee in 2005. Lee had been suffering from herniated discs in his back for several years, which was aggravated by having to carry a laptop for his consulting work. The first bag he designed—the BBP Hybrid Hampton—combined a traditional laptop bag with the shoulder straps of a backpack in order to reduce the strain on your back while hanging low on your back. It hung so low, in fact, that it rested on your “bum” and thus inspired the company’s name—“bum bak pak,” or BBP for short. In 2009, BBP expanded their lineup of bags to include the Expand-It Messenger bag.
BBP attempts make bags that are not only functional, but also fashion-friendly. As a result, you have unique colors to choose from—black pinstripe and red plaid. The Expand-It Messenger I received was the black pinstripe. Most people who have commented on the color have either loved it or hated it—there seemingly is no middle ground. While I wasn’t immediately sure what to think, the pinstripes have grown on me over time. Interestingly enough, I feel a bit “over accessorized” on a typical workday, as our office has a casual dress code. On those occasions when I am dressed more formally, the Expand-It Messenger is icing on the cake.
When I first took my Expand-It Messenger out of the box, I was skeptical of how functional it would truly be. The Expand-It comes in two sizes: the small is 14” wide × 10” high × 3” deep and the medium is 15” wide × 11” high × 3” deep. While the medium size is long enough to accommodate 15.4” widescreen laptops, at 3” deep there isn’t much room for anything else. This is especially the case when you insert the removable padded laptop sleeve. In fact, I found there wasn’t even room enough for the AC adapter when using the sleeve.
Underneath the bag’s flap there is a complement of pockets and zippered compartments, but not too many where you spend half your time trying to remember where you put everything. There are two large pockets, including one that zips shut. The non-zipper pocket is large enough for legal pads and file folders, while the zipper pocket is ideal for such items as your keys and cell phone. There are also two side-zip pockets that you can access without undoing the bag’s flap closure. Once I got used to their configuration, I didn’t have much problem accessing the pockets while wearing the bag. Even within the main storage compartment there are two more pockets, which are perfect for storing cords or other computer accessories.
Too often I have come across bags that offer everything I am looking for, only to fall flat because of a poorly designed shoulder strap. Luckily, the Expand-It doesn’t have that problem. The shoulder strap has an oversized shoulder pad that distributes the weight of the bag nicely. Furthermore, the strap itself is long enough to allow for cross-body carrying.
A subtle touch that I found to be highly useful was the luggage handle pass-through on the back of the bag. For anyone who travels with wheeled luggage with a telescoping handle, the Expand-It’s pass-through handle lets you put the bag on top of your wheeled bag without the fear of your laptop crashing to the ground as you navigate an airport.
Perhaps my biggest complaint about the Expand-It Messenger is its flap closure—it is incredibly stiff. It seems it wants to stay open when you want it closed and vice versa. Whatever material BBP uses within the flap is so stiff that you have to be careful not to bend it; otherwise, you will end up with a permanent crease in the flap.
As I mentioned earlier, the Expand-It doesn’t offer a lot of room at its standard 3” width. In this role, I found the Expand-It most suitable for carrying work papers and a book or two. However, as its name implies, you can expand its storage capacity by opening the zipper than runs along the bottom of the bag. Doing this gives you an extra four inches of space—7” in all. Once I did this, I found the Expand-It Messenger to be extremely roomy. I could carry a laptop in the removable sleeve as well as the adapter and still have room for the mountain of reading materials I always find myself carrying to and from the office.
The removable laptop sleeve that comes with the Expand-It Messenger is one of the nicer sleeves I have run across, with more than enough padding to protect your laptop. It is also large enough to handle a 15.4”-wide laptop and has a solid Velcro flap to keep your laptop secure. It attaches to the inside of the Expand-It Messenger with Velcro too, so you don’t have to worry about it sliding out. Removing it, however, is easy, which is nice when going through airport security or when you need to carry something besides your laptop. The sleeve also has a zippered mesh pocket on the outside, which is nice if you decide to use the sleeve without the bag.
While I will never be accused of being a slave to fashion, I admit that I do like the way the Expand-It Messenger looks. For most, however, function trumps form. Luckily, though, the Expand-It more than holds its own in that regard as well. When fully expanded, the Expand-It has more than enough room for your typical commute. Its solid, albeit somewhat stiff, construction ensures that your materials are well protected. The removable laptop sleeve adds an extra level of protection. Some may balk at the $84.95 price tag, but when you spend hundreds of dollars on a netbook or laptop, it makes sense to spend the money to carry it in something that offers worthwhile protection. Overall, the Expand-It Messenger bag is well-suited for those looking for a sturdy laptop bag that offers a flash of style.
$84.95 (both small and medium)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.