Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Budget Gear Review: High Sierra Swerve

High Sierra Swerve
High Sierra Swerve


Since I returned to school recently, I was in the market for a new backpack. At first I thought I could use my REI Flash 30 daypack, but a couple test runs didn't go so well. I realized I needed something else. Something without a belt, with multiple pockets for some semblance of organization, and a safe spot to put my laptop. Perhaps more importantly, I didn't want to spend an exorbitant amount of money since I already owned 4 backpacks. I just couldn't justify spending top dollar on another pack.


Like most of my budget buys, I found this pack on Amazon.com. The $35.50 price tag was really attractive, as was the hundreds of overwhelmingly positive reviews. The problem I've found with Amazon over the years, is that the overall star rating (based off average user reviews) can be misleading. People write reviews after one use, or immediately upon receiving the product. Although I always take the star rating with a grain of salt, I decided to purchase this pack because I liked the look, the design, the price, and the fact that it was made by High Sierra, a brand that I had heard good things about.

In this particular case, I found the positive reviews for the High Sierra Swerve to be mostly accurate, even taking into account the low price. I purchased the black/black/black design (I know, I'm lame) but there are plenty of fashionable designs and color schemes to choose from. The pack is made from a fabric called Duralite, which feels more rugged and coarse than the smooth nylon/polyester materials that I'm used to seeing on most higher-end packs. The material just feels tough, like if you snagged it on something sharp it wouldn't rip.

Laptop compartment w/folder sleeve.
The pack seems well made and durable. Indeed, this pack has seen heavy use since my purchase, including 2 semesters of college, and two long road trips over the summer where the pack was routinely jammed into tight spaces, sat on, buried by other luggage, and abused by children. So far its holding up great with no loose stitching, tears, or discoloration of any kind.

The High Sierra Swerve is good for school, work, travel, or day-tripping around town, but is clearly not made for hiking. It has plenty of compartments for organizing your stuff. I particularly like the small zippered top pocket which is perfect for my car-keys, MP3 player, and flash drive. The laptop sleeve is well padded and easy to reach, and my 15.6" HP Pavilion fits securely and safely (so far) inside. That being said, I find the number of zippered compartments to be overkill, especially when it takes me unzipping and searching 3 or 4 compartments just to find what I'm looking for. Out of the 5 zippered compartments the Swerve has, I generally just use 3 for everyday use. That's just me. I can imagine that some of you reading this review would consider all those compartments a bonus.

Top pocket. Great place to stash your phone during class.
It would be really hard to actually fill this pack to capacity, as it just seems deceptively huge. Its like a black-hole that swallows everything that gets too close. High Sierra lists the capacity at 1914 cubic inches (about 31 liters), but I think all the pockets and compartments just make it seem bigger than it is.

I do have a couple complaints that prevent me from being as generous as the customer reviewers on Amazon.

My biggest gripe is that when loaded full with school books and supplies (cuz' that's mainly what I use it for) the pack becomes very uncomfortable. Specifically, the back-padding (also made of Duralite) has a tendency to grab my shirt and pull it up as I walk, so that the padding rubs directly on the skin of my lower back, which can cause a burning sensation that can last for a good hour. Last semester when I had 3 big books, and my pack was really heavy, I was constantly having to reach behind my back and pull my shirt down as I walked around campus. It hasn't been an issue this semester because I'm using e-books, so the pack is much lighter, but last semester it drove me nuts. 

The side mesh pockets are too small, and wont fit anything bigger than a 16 oz water bottle. They are too narrow for anything bigger. Personally, I rarely ever buy bottled water which I consider wasteful and unnecessary. I usually use a Nalgene bottle for my daily hydration needs when I'm on the go, and a Nalgene bottle will not fit into these pockets. Maybe not a deal breaker for you, but If I was shopping for a backpack at the store and came across this pack, I would not have purchased it for this reason.

Lastly, the zippers can be stiff. They slide fairly smoothly in a straight line, but sometimes turning the corners can cause a zipper to stop in its tracks.

If you are on a budget, and need to haul a laptop around, I would consider the High Sierra Swerve backpack for your school and/or travel needs. Its sharp looking, well made, and will certainly get the job done for years to come. Just keep in mind, the back padding is uncomfortable when the pack is heavy, and you'll need to exercise a little patience with the zippers... 

High Sierra Swerve
High Sierra Swerve