Behold the glories of the utterly unremarkable $120 STM Trestle backpack. It's the color of depression and is made of the same rough material you might find covering your belongings after an eviction. But just like an old tarp, the value of this bag is in protecting the things that lie within it. You could stuff the Trestle with thousands of dollars' worth of gadgets and equipment, and it'll still look frumpy and unappealing. And that's perfect!
For the past six years, I've been a thoroughly satisfied user of the (now discontinued) Kata Sensitivity V, a backpack designed to accommodate a full-size DSLR with a couple of lenses, a 15-inch laptop, and plenty of extra accessories like chargers and batteries. Over time, however, my usual gear has shrunken in size as the MacBook Pro gave way to a MacBook Air and the Nikon D5000 was supplanted by a Sony NEX-5N. So the greater depth and roominess of the Kata were starting to feel redundant, which has tempted me to look for shallower, but equally functional day packs that could take its place.
STM is just one of a vast array of bag makers out there. It was founded in Australia in 1998, as the Trestle's label proudly attests. I haven't had any experience of the company's prior products, and there's no special reason why I'm testing this one other than it showed up on my radar and looked reasonably compact. What I've found in my three months with the 15-liter Trestle is that it's an extremely versatile backpack with the hard-wearing durability that its dour looks hint at.
The Trestle's distinguishing feature is its lack of annoyances
No one would accuse this bag of being over-designed. Its pockets and compartments are perfectly predictable, with nicely padded slots for a laptop (up to 14-inch models) and a tablet (tailored to the 9.7-inch iPad's size) on the inside. Up front, there's a deep and multifunctional main pocket and another padded pouch at the top that will fit a phablet or a point-and-shoot camera. One touch I really like is the side pocket for a water bottle — it has a pleated elastic design that means you can always fit your bottle in there no matter how full the main bag is.
While it won't win any prizes for beauty or ingenuity, the Trestle is a well-thought-out creation with very few shortcomings or superfluous extras. It's impressively light and its rear padding is made of a breathable material that ensures it's comfortable to wear even on a sweltering summer day. The zippers are big, chunky, and super smooth in operation. I'd say the biggest distinguishing feature between this bag and the litany of $25 Walmart alternatives is in the absence of friction or annoyances while using it. The only thing I've been unhappy with is the accessibility of the laptop slot, having grown used to instant access to my Air with the Kata. The Trestle's zipper makes it a bit trickier to extract a laptop on the fly, which I'm probably more sensitive to owing to my job — but my usual hurried use also makes me hypersensitive to anything else that might slow me down with this bag, and in all this time, I've found nothing else to gripe about.
When I say the Trestle is versatile, I mean it. On most days, this bag is light and slim enough to be almost unnoticeable. But when I need to load up for an actual day of work, or even for grocery shopping, it fits a surprising amount of stuff. I can fit 30 cans of tuna inside it, or, alternatively, all the gear you see strewn on the floor in the above image. That's one MacBook Air plus charger, one iPad Pro with a Smart Cover and a Smart Keyboard, one Apple Pencil and one Paper Pencil, a portfolio with a notepad, two pens, keys, an umbrella, a water bottle, lip balm, eye mask, tissues, a two-inch-high stack of business cards, a wiping cloth for photographing gadgets, two sets of headphones, an Oppo HA-2 headphone amplifier plus USB-C cable, and two pouches filled with more cables, SD cards, and other essentials. Oh, and two iPhone boxes just to bulk things out.
I like this Trestle backpack. I like its lightness and I like its drabness. Both are pluses in my book, since my uses for a bag are purely functional rather than stylistic. So yes, I'd recommend it, even if it does cost a bit more than the usual fare. I think its quality justifies its price. You can get an STM Trestle from the Microsoft Store or you can buy directly from STM and exploit its 20 percent back-to-school discount to chop $24 off the $119.95 price.
Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge