The Wenger Synergy Backpack by Swiss Gear is large enough to carry a bunch of stuff all at once. Over the 4 years that I have owned it I have used it almost every day. After all of these years, it has held up considerably well given the amount of weight that is usually inside it.

Wenger is a Swiss company that has been around since 1893. You might recognize the logo from the world-famous Swiss-army knife. I’m not sure how long Swiss Gear has been designing luggage and packs, but this backpack has been very good to me.

Wenger Backpack’s Specs and Key Features

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This is by no means a small backpack. Swiss Gear designed the Wenger Synergy bag to hold a lot of gear at once. This is obvious given the numerous pockets and large capacity within those pockets. The fabric is durable and designed to hold a lot of weight, but your back may not be happy with you if you load it up to the max.

Size and Dimensions 

To sum it up, it is big. Not necessarily in height or in width, but certainly in depth. If the backpack is filled to capacity, you will look a bit like your carrying a turtle with a tumor on your back. Since it can be so wide, you have to consider weight distribution, as back pain may arise from putting the heavy stuff too far away from you. However, you will have no problems fitting a laptop, books, a sweatshirt and other gear in here at once.  Dimensions according to Amazon are 14”x12”x19”.  

Laptop Fit Size

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I carry my 13inch MacBook in here with plenty of room to spare. I use the Velcro strap at the top to secure it within the sleeve. This bag can hold a 15.4″ laptop, which fits many standard laptop sizes. If you have a 17” laptop, you could likely get away with putting it in a case in the main compartment, but you lose the added protection of the laptop sleeve.

Number of Pockets and Compartments

Technically, there are 11 zippered pockets, 8 on the outside of the backpack and 3 on the inside. From back to front there is a laptop pocket, the main compartment, an auxiliary compartment, and front compartment with a USB drive holder, carabiner, mesh pocket and pencil holders. In front of that compartment, there is yet another zippered pouch, good for a phone charger or small notepad. There are plenty of ways to house your items.

In addition to the pockets, there is also a pouch on either side of the pack that can act as water bottle holders. In my experience, only one of them is capable of holding a full sized 1-liter Nalgene, the diameter being the single setback. While the water bottle holders are not uniform in size, they would be capable of holding smaller water bottles with ease.

Materials and Fabric 

Overall, I am very impressed with the quality of the materials used in this backpack. All of the various fabrics are very durable, the zippers are of high quality and do not snag, and the straps do not tangle. To this day I have not had any issues with zippers and snagging, which was the main reason why I replaced my last backpack with this one. Every pocket opens and closes with ease.

After 4 years, certain parts of the backpack have begun to degrade- part of the elastic bands in one of the main straps has stripped off, and some of the rubber material on the bottom of the pack has rubbed off. Has this affected the functionality of the pack? Not at all- it’s just not as nice to look at as it was in its glory days. But after 4 years of using it constantly for school and travel, I consider this acceptable wear and tear.

Travel Performance

Biking with the Wenger Bag

I’ve ridden my bike with this pack probably a dozen times, and cannot say that I enjoy it. While I don’t have any pack to compare it too, the dimensions of the pack are so large that it makes riding a bike a less-than-great experience. Since it is not rainproof, this is not a pack you can ride within the elements either. Best to stick to using this backpack with other modes of transportation. Lastly, after a couple minutes of hill-climbing or hard pedaling, I’m left pretty sweaty despite the mesh padding in the back.

Taking the Wenger on Public Transit

Again, the dimensions of this pack play a disadvantage in traveling- but only if the mode of transit you are using is crowded. If it is filled to the brink, its best not to take it on an NYC subway during rush hour. The depth of the pack will result in bumping into people left and right. However, any other city or mode of transit and this pack does fine. Its headphone jack can wire into the main compartment, or into a smaller compartment at the top of the pack, which I prefer for easy access to my iPod. The durable materials and rubber bottom mean this pack will stay strong (and upright) as it’s shuffled across the dirty bus or subway floors.

Using the Wenger Synergy Backpack for Travel

Using this pack for airport travel is likely where it excels most. The laptop sleeve is easy to access, the multiple compartments allow you to better organize items for travel, and its size allows for a somewhat generous personal item to take aboard a plane. The handles on the top of the back will easily allow you to slip the pack onto a carry-on suitcase to consolidate baggage. Occasionally I run into the issue of trying to stuff it under an airplane seat, but only if it is filled to absolute capacity.

Is the Wenger Waterproof or Weatherproof?

Oh, how I wish this pack was more water resistant than it is. Anything more than a light drizzle and you’ll find that parts of the pack may become damp inside.

After a torrential storm in Iceland, one of my schoolbooks was wet at the top- not destroyed- but altered somewhat.  This is not a pack that can be exposed to the elements- you have been forewarned. 

That being said, perhaps scotch guarding the entire pack would help with this problem. The fabric seems like it would work well with a waterproofing spray.

Laptop Protection

The laptop sleeve for this pack is padded very generously. According to the product description, laptops are protected on all sides by three layers of high-density foam. 

I keep my laptop in a sleeve that goes inside the backpack sleeve and has no issues with tossing my backpack into a corner as I enter a room.  I am confident that the foam provides the protection that my laptop needs.

The Velcro strap at the top of the sleeve can be used to secure smaller laptops into place and keeps laptops from moving up and down inside the sleeve.

Comfort and Fit

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Padding

There is plenty of padding to be had with this pack. The wide straps and “shock absorbing technology” do their part in reducing stress on the shoulders. The back padding is decent although I wish that the material had a little more cushion to it. I can comfortably wear the pack for about an hour before I start to get sore, and that’s carrying around 25 lbs. of stuff.

Back Sweat/Perspiration

The back padding is thick and the mesh material does a decent job at preventing perspiration unless it is really hot outside or you are engaging in some elevated physical activity with the pack. Because of the sheer size of the pack, the back padding does not do well when hiking or biking.

FAQs

Who does this backpack suit?

This backpack has a lot of capabilities that are best utilized by students or professionals that need to carry a lot of stuff. It travels well, is decently comfy, and very durable. While it is not weather resistant, it can survive brief periods of rain and performs well when loaded down with a lot of weight.

Who doesn’t this backpack suit?

This is not a backpack for an active lifestyle. I would look for alternatives before biking or a hike with this pack. While you might be able to get away with commuting by bike with this pack, if you have a long commute or live in a hilly region, I would reconsider. It needs a chest strap to be more functional in these activities. Its depth also works to its disadvantage here, as there is a greater possibility of uneven weight distribution, which could lead to faster fatigue.

How comfortable is this backpack?

Comfort is decent on this pack, thanks to the wide backpack straps. While padding could be more cushioned, it is plentiful. Having a chest strap (which I believe was added to later models) would definitely improve the comfort of this pack as it would help distribute weight across the body.

How big is this backpack, really?

The technical answer: it measures 12”x14”x19”. Amazon says that it is a 26L pack. However, it feels bigger to me. When I travel for school it carries:

  • a laptop
  • two textbooks
  • two notebooks
  • a sweatshirt or jacket
  • my laptop charger
  • a phone charger
  • headphones
  • some snacks
  • and other small items

With that much stuff, the backpack feels full but could probably handle another couple of textbooks. My back would disagree, but that’s a different story.

What is the best feature of this backpack?

I would argue that the number of pockets is the best feature. It provides so many options for storage and allows for the organization beyond what many backpacks offer. Also, the cable handle at the top of the back is pretty cool-looking.

Final Thoughts on Swiss Gear’s Wenger Synergy Backpack

As a student and traveler, the Wenger Synergy backpack has served its purpose well. Its numerous pockets and padding are designed to keep your gear protected. And the selection of materials has held up well to 4 years of heavy use.

The main feature I wish this backpack had would be water-resistant fabric, but you can’t win them all. I have thoroughly enjoyed this pack. I hope to get at least a few more years out of it as a travel pack before it retires. So far, so good.

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