Are Built-In Laptop Sleeves Even Necessary in Backpacks?

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Yesterday I wrote about my requirements for a travel backpack. One dealbreaker is a bulky laptop sleeve.

Built-in laptop sleeves have become de rigueur in travel backpacks. Classic backpacks like my Jansport Odyssey have had them added in recent versions.

These sleeves take a tremendous amount of space, space not easily re-purposed when a laptop is not present.

Not confirmed to backpacks, these sleeves are in all kinds of carry-on luggage. I have an 18″ Osprey rollerboard that I got online on a closeout sale. It is not exaggerating to say that the laptop compartment takes up  30% of total space. I hardly use that case because I can barely even fit a pair of shoes and a change of clothes in the main compartment. A normal 18″ rollerboard should be enough space for a multi-day trip. I only used that Osprey a handful of times.

Osprey 18 inch rollerboard

Are Built-In Laptop Sleeves Even Necessary?

Modern laptops feel sturdy. The main risk should be the screen, most likely to crack by a drop to the corner or direct blow to the screen back. I guess hard drives are next, with a SSD more durable than a traditional drive. Nowadays there aren’t protruding elements or buttons like CD-ROM days.

There is a functional argument for ease of access for someone using a backpack for a daily commute.

Also, I can see a case for students that are only carrying some bulky textbooks. A loose laptop will get banged around.

For the typical traveler, the laptop will be cushioned by clothes and stuff, and won’t move around.

As for spills, a typical laptop sleeve is not waterproof, so a spill will do damage regardless.

Has anyone really tested the necessity of these sleeves? Is the risk so high as to justify taking up all this space and added weight? Compared to buying a slim sleeve for the laptop itself?

An analogy comes to mind. When I pack something to ship, I carefully add tons of packing material. When I receive a package from an online store, the packing is minimal in comparison and almost always does just fine. I put all kinds of tape on boxes, Amazon puts on one strip and the box stays shut.

My Laptop Sleeve

I carry my laptop in an unstructured packing cube. I’ve been backpacking like that years. Ahead of a flight, I add my documents, reading material, and headphones and slide it under my seat. Over many trips with no special effort at gentle handling, I’ve never had a laptop issue.

My laptop sleeve

Readers, are laptop sleeves worth it to take up so much space in backpacks?

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4 years ago

I carry my laptop in a separate messenger bag, so I look for carry-on bags without a dedicated laptop sleeve.

4 years ago

While I think the “business style” laptop bags and travel cases should have sleeves, I agree that for most of the leisure travel crowd it’s an unneccesary waste of space. While you might be lucky, I have not. My work uses HP laptops which are prone to hard drive failure due to impact shock. If it was a personal laptop it would have an SSD but instead my IT department has replaced my HD 3 times in less than 3 years of service. My go to bag right now is the Ebags Professional Weekender, It has a sleeve/compartment for the… Read more »

4 years ago

I use those Incase Slim sleeves that don’t take much space and gives an extra layer of protection to my macbook. For me it is still necessary. 🙂