Festival Gear: Topo Designs Commuter Briefcase Review

I live out of a tent, which means I also live in an unsecured home security situation (my front door is made of fabric). And because I’m a music festival photojournalist, I also carry far more electronics than your typical festie. I’ve been on the search for the perfect festival daypack for years and I’m hoping the this Topo Designs Commuter Briefcase fits the bill this summer.

What makes this bag stand out is that it magically transforms into three different carrying configurations, useful for your everyday Music Festival Wizard. Load the bag up and take the weight off your shoulders with the backpack mode, then stow the straps away and convert to a messenger bag for casual tripping. You can also detach the messenger bag strap and turn the whole system into a stylish briefcase for high powered business luncheons on the roof of a fancy Frankfurt hotel or whatever else I think that people with normal jobs get up to during the day.

Topo Designs Commuter Briefcase Tech Specs

Materials: 1000D Cordura, Horween®leather, 420D nylon pack cloth liner
Dimensions: 16″w x 11″h x 4.5″d
Volume: 915 cu. in. / 15 L
Weight: 37.1 oz.

Why I Want A Messenger Bag For Festivals

Breathability: I tend to get heat stroke as soon as the sun makes an appearance. With a messenger bag, I can at least swing it around to my hips and save myself from an impossibly gross back sweat situation.

Security: At a festival in Colorado where I was mesmerized by The Flaming Lips, someone zipped open my backpack and swiped my favorite flannel. In large crowds, I like having the option to hold my bag front and center like an over protective parent protecting a baby.

Ease of Access: As someone who carries a camera and takes a few thousand pictures during a festival, being able to easily get into my bag without taking it off is a big deal for me.

Traveling: I already have a backpack that’s 35 liters, holds everything I own, and is my main bag. A second backpack would be awkward for traveling, so I like the messenger bag in this scenario.

Why I Want A Backpack For Festivals

Weight Distribution: Over the last four summers, I’ve been slowly upgrading my camera along with a few heavier lenses.  Some of the strolls from the festival campground to the actual festival site can turn out to be a long haul hike (I’m looking at you Open’er Festival). According to my watch, I’m clocking 7-10 miles a day which in turn is putting a ton of strain on my trusty right shoulder.

General Hiking: Whenever there’s a break between festivals, I head straight into the mountains seeking the solace of solitude to decompress. Have you ever hiked across the Carpathians with a messenger bag? It’s not great.

Why I Want A Briefcase For Festivals

Airplane Travel: I’ve saved well over $500 at this point by avoiding airline baggage fees, and one of the tricks I’ve learned is to bury as much weight as I can in my “personal item”. Most airlines give a pass for a laptop bag, but the key is to hide as many straps as possible and make it blend in. This should work perfectly as long as the gate agent doesn’t notice the veins popping out of the side of the neck.

High Powered Business Meetings: I’m just kidding. I fucking hate meetings. Unless they’re on hotel rooftops.

The Two-Week Initial Review

I’ve replaced my trusty everyday adventuring Timbuk2 Messenger Bag with the Commuter Briefcase and have been road testing it around Vermont. A few of my initial impressions:

  • I’ve logged on at least 10 miles of walking/hiking with backpack mode and it’s been an incredible.
  • Unclipping the straps to convert into a messenger bag takes a little bit of practice.
  • At 15 liters, the inside is spacious enough for my Nikon D750 with a 24-70mm lens, a 14-inch laptop, and my larger 70-200mm camera lens.
  • I’ve only tested the waterproof qualities during a few a light drizzles, but no issues with dryness so far.
  • For organization, there’s only two pockets inside the bag and one larger outer pocket. I do wish there were a few more spots to store my smaller items.

Overall, I’m finding the bag to be a perfect fit and it’s coming with me to Europe for the summer to see 15 music festivals in 15 weekends in 15 different countries. I’ll be updating this article at the end of the summer!