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Review: The Targus CityLite Premium is the best backpack under $100

Let’s talk about luggage.

targus bag in red
Image: Targus

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Travel does a lot to you. I know, because last year I spent three whole months on the road, living out of suitcases. And while I could talk about air miles and how one’s waistline inevitably bulges from too many 4 AM airport Burger King breakfasts, that probably isn’t relevant for a tech blog.

So, let’s talk about luggage.

A month ago, Targus lent me one of its CityLite Premium backpacks. Before I go forward, I must confess I’m a bit of a snob about backpacks. For years I’ve worshipped at the altar of Wenger, thanks to the Swiss brand’s emphasis on ruggedness and unshakable build quality. Could Targus’ effort win my affections once and for all?

As it turns out, yes.

Plenty of backpack manufacturers emphasize padding, with their products encasing your delicate laptop within a thick sheath of foam. Others emphasize volume, allowing you to shove more things into your bag. With the CityLite Premium, Targus focuses on ergonomics, allowing you to secure your smaller gadgets in a fixed place, while simultaneously making the overall backpack easier to lug through airplanes and train stations.

This design principle is exemplified with the bag’s front pocket

targus citylite backpack front pocket

Image: Targus

Inside, there’s a rigid surface covered with a lattice of elastic straps. This allows you to fix your most essential items (like a voice recorder or portable battery) into place, making them easier to find. And because the straps are relatively taut, things stay put. You can also remove this, turning it into a portable gadget organizer.

In my experience, this feature solves two problems. Firstly, when going through airport security checkpoints, I don’t have to dive through my bag to find the things most prone to causing manual searches. And secondly, it makes it easier to start working when I’ve reached my hotel or workspace. I know where things are.

At the top of the bag, there’s a rigid hull that perfectly fits a sunglasses case. Of course, you can use this for pretty much anything, and I tend to use it for smaller items, like medication and pens. The interior of the bag also has a wire mesh, which is great for keeping loose items.

The main compartment of the Targus Citylite Premium has a zip that extends to the bottom of the baoog. While this sounds obvious, far too many rucksacks only zip halfway, making it harder to stow larger items. This effort, on the other hand, gives you a lot of room to maneuver bulky belongings and opens wide enough to stow a DSLR camera case, which includes a couple of lenses.

The laptop compartment comfortably fits a 15.6-inch computer, and thus is adequately large for a more conventional machine, like a MacBook Air. It also comes with a reassuring amount of padding, which protects your device from drops and prangs. There’s also a space in the main compartment of the bag for a tablet computer, should you wish.

On the side of the Targus CityLite Premium bag, you’ll find a handle, allowing you to carry your rucksack like a holdall should your shoulders get sore. This is a feature seldom seen on most bags, and as someone who frequently finds himself sprinting from gate-to-gate, it’s a welcome addition.

Perhaps the thing most people will find unpalatable with the Targus CityLite Premium is the price

targus citylite backpack

Image: Targus

It currently retails at $75 on Amazon US (down from the MSRP of $120), making it a pricey proposition. In fairness, this is in-line with what you’d expect from a premium backpack, with the Wenger Synergy and Wenger Ibex both squatting at the same price point.

And I’d argue the Targus CityLite more than justifies its price tag, thanks to its small delights, like the gadget organizer and protective glasses pocket.

That said, you still balk at the cost, I would encourage you to check out the Inateck 40L Travel Backpack, which retails at $66,99 (and, at the time of writing, has a $10 coupon on Amazon, bringing the price down to $56.99). I’ve used this beast previously, and it’s really quite decent.

A sample unit was provided for the purpose of this review.

Editors’ Recommendations:

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Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Past work can be found on The Register, Reason, The Next Web, and Wired.

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