We get hands-on with the ECBC Hercules backpack. At $139.99, it offers a rugged yet stylish bag to carry everything a tech-savvy
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Review: ECBC Hercules Backpack

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Hats off to ECBC for the design of the Hercules backpack. The materials, layout, handy features, and colors make this a first rate choice. I am very demanding on my work gear. The fact that it held up to three straight weeks of heavy use in the field with only a few issues really impressed me.

I’ve used a backpack as my primary laptop bag for work for the past eight years, so I know exactly what I want and need from one. The first three that I used each lasted a year or less before the exterior ripped or the shoulder strap fell off. I almost gave up on using backpacks entirely, however, I decided to give them one more try with a heavy-duty Swissgear model that has taken everything I’ve dished out for the last five years. And for the record, that’s a lot of punishment.

While my old Swissgear backpack is tough, functional, and has tons of storage space, it isn’t very comfortable to carry, and there aren’t really enough pockets for such a large bag. It’s important to note that I load up my bags with tools and documents for my job. Lately, my Swissgear has had a negative affect on my lower back. With this in mind, I’ve been on the lookout for something that will be a suitable upgrade. I haven’t had much success in this search, until several weeks ago, when I heard about the new ECBC Hercules backpack.

The main reason Herculese caught my eye was the fact that it has a special padded pocket for tablet storage. It also has a lot of pockets and compartments I knew would be good for organizing things like cables and chargers. The question for me was if the Hercules could stand up to the same punishment as the backpacks that have tried before.

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Exterior

One thing about my old Swissgear bag that I always appreciated was its toughness and durability. It isn’t much to look at, but that tough exterior has protected my gear in some not-so-friendly environments over the years, and has never torn or ripped. So, any potential replacement would have to live up those same standards. So far, the Hercules has performed better than I initially expected. The bag exterior, which is made from what ECBC describes as “Outdoor Industry Tested 1000d Kodra” is tougher than it looks from a distance.

As you can see above, I received both the Blue and Green models of the bag. All of my testing to this point has been using the Blue version. Anyway, both of the colors bring a bit of style that my old bag certainly did not have, while still looking very professional. Also of note is the fact that those good looks are meant to last. The Hercules still looks good as new after three weeks of use.

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Bear in mind that the bottom of this bag has spent several hours sitting on a mechanical room floor (albeit a well kept one). Remarkably, the Blue color doesn’t show dirt at all after a minimal amount of care (such as a quick dustoff). Very impressive. While the Hercules is a step up from what I’m used to in the looks department, don’t let that fool you. Running your hands across the exterior, you can quickly tell that the Kodra material feels tougher than it looks.

Another thing I’ve learned to look for in a bag after past failures is the quality of the stitching. It doesn’t matter how awesome the interior of a bag is, or how many pockets it has if the straps come off and everything falls apart.  Additionally, the straps themselves and their adjustment mechanisms, as well as the carry handle on top of the Hercules, are very thick and designed to last.

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The same also holds true for the quality of the zippers. As you can see below, the stitching is heavy without being ugly or obtrusive. The reliable YKK brand zippers are heavy duty and water resistant. The bag has a Kodra exterior treated with a water repellent coating. I’ve had to carry the Hercules back and forth from job sites to my car in the rain a few times, once in a very heavy downpour. I checked my laptop after that walk in the heavy rain and everything inside was nice and dry.

The Hercules features no shortage of padding. The back of bag is well padded making it very comfortable to carry, especially for long periods of time. Also, the molded back panel has the same webbed exterior as the straps. It sits on my back in such a way that it doesn’t get uncomfortably hot. The material allows air to move through, so the Hercules doesn’t feel like a sweltering mass sitting on your back. This may not seem important to some of you, but just try wearing a backpack that doesn’t have this feature for a long time outside on a hot summer day. It’s not pleasant.

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For me, the most important element of the Hercules’ exterior design is its profile. It has a much narrower profile than my old bag, and as such, it keeps the weight that it carries closer to my back. Bear in mind that I have this bag loaded with gear. This gives me noticeably more leverage when I am carrying a heavier load, making that weight easier to carry over a longer period of time. Thanks to that, my back is no longer hurting after doing so. As with all of the other areas of the Hercules’ external design that I have described, ECBC also nailed it here.

The only small drawback to the overall design of the Hercules is that it doesn’t sit upright on a level surface without leaning it against something. This is because of the weight distribution and narrower profile of the pack. The wider base of my older Swissgear bag would keep it upright most all of the time. However, this small matter pales in comparison to how well the bag distributes the weight across my back. It is definitely a worthwhile tradeoff. I’ve adapted to just propping the bag on a table, chair, or wall.

Interior

As good as the exterior of the ECBC Hercules is, the interior design really won me over. Thanks to an intelligent layout of multiple storage pockets and areas, it holds far more gear than I originally thought at first glance.

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It starts right up front with two zippered outside pockets. The upper one is roomy and perfect for carrying my laptop’s charger where it will always be easy to get to. There is even enough room for my Bluetooth mouse. The lower zippered pocket is smaller, but is a great place for charger cables. There is also a small slide-in pocket that is good for holding backup batteries or anything similar in size.

Behind the lower exterior zippered pocket, there is a larger interior section with plenty of storage for pens and cards, as well as a mesh pocket for small accessories, and an enclosed one for medium sized accessories.

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The center section of the Hercules is the most spacious part of the bag. It has a larger mesh pocket that is perfect for adapters and cables. This section also has a pocket with a Velcro closure that can be used for documents or small items (I put Ethernet cables in it, myself).

There is a significant amount of open space at the bottom allowing room to carry some larger items. I’ve been carrying a 5 outlet surge protector, wireless router with AC adapter, extension cord, and headphones in here. This proves that there is plenty of room.

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The bag’s center section contains a special tablet pocket. This pocket does the job, but it’s obvious that it was designed with 10″ tablets in mind. I have an iPad Mini, and the closure strap isn’t perfectly suited to hold it in place. This is likely the case with smaller 7″ tablets as well. Despite being a loose fit, my Mini doesn’t fall out while the strap is attached.

While the tablet pocket has ample padding on the side facing the interior of the bag, the other side doesn’t really have any padding to speak of. The back of my tablet is just sitting against whatever I have in the pockets behind it.

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None of this is particularly bad, but the Hercules’ tablet pocket also isn’t quite as nice as the one in the STM Nomad shoulder bag that I reviewed recently, which was lined with microfiber material and fully padded on all sides. I wouldn’t be as comfortable putting my iPad Mini in here naked, considering how much loose gear I have sitting right on the other side of the pocket’s padding in this section.

One positive with having such a large pocket with some slack in the holding strap is that if you don’t have or care to store a tablet in here, it would also make a good spot for a netbook. It can also be used for documents or other general items as well. While the tablet pocket isn’t the most impressive aspect of the Hercules backpack, it does get the job done, and is a welcomed feature.

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The rear section of the Hercules is where the main laptop storage compartment is located. It is large enough to fit a 17″ laptop, but will still hold a smaller one securely. My new Lenovo Yoga is 13.3″ fits fine with being too loose. There is also padding on both sides, so my laptop has plenty of protection.

There is also a pocket near the laptop that is well suited to document storage. How much room you will have here may depend on how thick your laptop is. Mine is a thin ultrabook, so I have plenty of room for a few folders and files. With a thicker laptop, you may need to store your docs in the center section of the bag.

One of ECBC’s highly-touted features for the Hercules is a compartment which they call FastPass. It is fully TSA-compliant and is becoming more and more common in high-end laptop bags and cases. Just unzip the sides of the case all the way down to split the bag in half. This allows you to put the bag in an airport scanner bin, and run it through the scanner without removing your laptop. This is a really handy feature for those who frequently travel by air.

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The last storage feature may seem like a small thing, but I just found the engineering and attention to detail to be very impressive. The Hercules has mesh drink holders on both sides of the bag. This feature itself isn’t anything groundbreaking, but the way they are installed is really cool. They are zippered pockets, and when closed, they fold up completely flat to the bag.

When opened, these pockets are larger enough to hold my 24 oz water bottles, or 16 oz coffee thermos with room to spare. There is also enough room to use these for other things. For instance, I keep one available for my bottle and have a Klein 11-in-1 Screwdriver alongside a pair of wire strippers in the other with room to spare.

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Conclusion

The Hercules retails for $139.99. This is not a cheap backpack, but it isn’t the highest of high end either. I believe my company paid somewhere close to $60 for the Swissgear bag that I’ve been using. There is definitely a noticeable difference between the two in every regard. While some consumers may balk at this, I personally think $139 is a fair price considering how well the bag worked for me. It held up to heavy lifting in the field, helped me consolidate my luggage by safely carrying my tablet and accessories, and is well-equipped for air travel.

I knew that the ECBC Hercules was a well-made and designed laptop bag when I first pulled it out of the box. I just didn’t realize at the moment how good it really was. Other than a couple of very minor caveats, this bag is pretty close to flawless. The materials are top quality, durable, and water resistant. The interior layout is very organized and useful. The little design touches such as the breathable padding on the back of the bag and the zip-out drink holders are evidence of good design and careful thought. Oh, and it looks great, to boot. The ECBC Hercules is without a doubt the best laptop backpack I’ve ever used.

(If you like what you’ve seen of the Hercules in this review, keep an eye on iSource over the next day or so. You might find a nice surprise worth $139.99, if you know what I mean!)

The ECBC Hercules is available from ECBC for $139.99 in Black, Linen, Blue, Green, and Berry.

The Hercules backpack was provided by ECBC for review on iSource. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

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