Backpacks are as convenient a way to carry things around a city as they are when hiking in the great outdoors, keeping your hands free and spreading the load across two shoulders, but they can be a little worrying when you’re carrying expensive gadgets. The reason? All the zips are behind you. Standing on an escalator, in an elevator or on a platform waiting for a train, you always have the worry of a thief quietly unzipping the compartments to make off with your hard-earned technology.

A messenger bag feels safer, because you can carry it at your side with an arm across it, but it’s less convenient and less comfortable than a backpack. This is the problem Riut set out to solve, with a secure backpack designed specifically to keep your gadgets safe from sneak thieves – so I thought I’d give it a try …

A conventional backpack design has two flaws where security is concerned. First, all the zips are on the outside, leaving them accessible to anyone standing behind you. Second, there are usually lots of separate compartments, each with their own zip, so multiple pockets are left vulnerable.

The Riutbag reverses this approach. First, the zips are against your back, where it would be virtually impossible for anyone to unzip them. Second, there are only two zips – one for a small phone/wallet pocket, and the other one giving access to all of the interior compartments. In this photo, the small pocket zip is completely hidden beneath the straps, while the main compartment zips are shown at the side. In practice, when wearing it, you keep the zips at the top, where they are completely inaccessible without removing the backpack.

The original Riutbag, launched back in 2014 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, was a little bulky for everyday use, with a capacity of 20 litres. The new models are available in a choice of 10 and 15 litre capacities. I tested the slimmer of these, the Riutbag 10, which is small enough to slip under an airline seat so should be accepted as a second bag for those airlines that allow a laptop bag in addition to your main carry-on.

Look & feel

The lack of rear zips aside, the Riutbag 10 looks very much like every other commuter backpack out there, especially in the new black version I tried (there’s also a grey one). It’s smart enough to take to meetings, but doesn’t in any way stand out – something I consider a plus when carrying valuables. You don’t want a bag that screams out ‘Gadget bag – steal me!’.

One immediate difference you notice from most urban backpacks is the shiny plastic base. This is waterproof, and designed to ensure that the contents remain dry if you ever need to take it off and put it down on a wet sidewalk to access the bag. It’s one of those small touches that tells you the company has thought about practicality. The main fabric material is, like most backpacks, water resistant but not fully waterproof.

Wallet/phone pocket

If you’re in an area where pickpocketing is a concern, it’s nice to be able to slip your wallet and phone into a secure pocket while also keeping them reasonably accessible. The pocket is very small, but was large enough for my iPhone 6s and Bellroy wallet. It also accommodates a standard passport and a set of keys.

Laptop compartment

When you open up the main zip, there’s a laptop slot large enough for a 15-inch MacBook Pro, with elastic straps to hold it in place when opening the bag flat on the floor. This slot is extremely well padded on the outside – the side that sits against your back. There’s only thin padding on the other side, but it seems adequate unless you’re carrying anything sharp inside the bag.

Other compartments

Next is what Riut describes as an A4 document holder. As a paperless person, I used this for my iPad Air 2, comfortably accommodated with the attached Brydge keyboard. There’s a generously-sized cable compartment, easily big enough for a power pack and a complete set of cables. A nice touch here is the four color-coded cable-tidy straps included. There’s also a business card slot in here, which I used for a USB key. There are four pen/pencil slots above for anyone who uses such things – could be useful for an Apple Pencil when carrying an iPad Pro.

Finally, there is a large general compartment suitable for a sweater and other bits and pieces, plus two slim zipped pockets suitable for documents or more cables.

In use

The bag is comfortable to wear, though it did take a couple of days for the straps to lose some of their initial stiffness. There’s a chest strap, which personally I find overkill on a bag of this size, and it wasn’t that comfortable when I tried it. Personally, on anything short of a hefty hiking/climbing backpack, I tend to cut off chest straps.

I quickly got used to the reverse design of the bag. You do have to be a little careful unzipping the main compartment, as it can flop right down to the ground. This is actually really useful when you want to get at something in the general compartment – far preferable to the rummaging around needed with many backpacks – but you need to get used to it, to ensure you don’t allow things to fall out. The elastic straps on the laptop are reassuring here.

I was impressed how much even the smallest of the range held. As someone who travels light, this would even work for me as a weekend bag.

Price & conclusions

At $120 for the 10-liter model and $135 for the 15-liter version, it’s not an inexpensive bag. You could pick up a broadly similar-quality conventional backpack for less than half this amount – albeit usually not as well organized inside.

The question then becomes whether the secure design is worth the premium. Personally, I think it is. Having stuff stolen from a backpack isn’t an everyday occurrence, but the risk is something I’m conscious of when wearing a conventional one, so there is that constant background concern about it. That makes every journey just that little bit less pleasant.

Having invited a couple of friends to try opening the Riutbag zips when I was wearing it, I feel totally confident nobody could do so without me being aware of the attempt. It thus provides real peace of mind when you can easily be carrying three grand’s worth of electronics. My view is that the premium you pay will soon be forgotten, but the reassurance will be appreciated each time you use it.

The black Riutbag is available for pre-order from Riut’s website, for delivery in February. The grey one is theoretically available now, but currently showing out of stock. The R10 is $120, and the R15 $135.