I’ve done a few other backpack reviews, but this will be my first on one that calls itself “green”, so how exactly is a backpack green? Well in the case of the Mandrill, all of the fabric both inside and out is made from 100% recycled bottles. Yes, you read that right – the fabric is completely made from recycled plastic bottles, something that the GreenSmart people call (simply enough) “Bottles 2 Bags”. While the idea is all well and good in theory, how well does it actually hold up in practice? Are these bottle bags competent enough to make it with the likes of other bags, or should the whole idea be recycled into something better?
The first thing that I thought of when I heard that these backpacks were made from recycled plastics, was that they would have all the comfort of a plastic bottle. I know it’s a wrong thought to have, but I hadn’t had much experience with recycled things. I wonder how many other people have these same thoughts. The fact is that had I not have been told that, I would have never even guessed! The Mandrill I got to test was easily as comfortable some of the more high end backpacks I’ve worked with. The only thing I would have wished for was a little more padding in the shoulder straps as what is there is pretty skimpy. The padding on the rear of the backpack (or the part that rests on your back) is thick enough to keep you from feeling whatever you’re packing (providing it’s not a set of unsheathed knives).
There is one more section that definitely needs more padding though, and that is on the bottom of the Mandrill. You see, the Mandrill is billed as a laptop backpack, but there is literally under a sixteenth of an inch of padding in the bottom of the laptop section – plus there are no straps to keep your laptop from moving around. If it would be billed as a standard backpack, everything would be well and good – but I expect a little more from something supposedly engineered to hold my laptop. I’m sure for a lot of people the amount of padding will be sufficient, it’s just I have a rougher lifestyle than some other people because of children and such – they cause some definite abuse to backpacks.
Other than that caveat however, the Mandrill is a great backpack, and extremely durable. My son goes through two backpacks a school year easily (I think he likes to make me buy new ones all the time), and while a normal backpack would be starting to rip now after letting him use it for two months, the Mandrill shows no signs of wear to speak of. I don’t know if that is a testament to the strength and durability of the woven plastic, or if it is a compliment to the level of craftsmanship in their product, but GreenSmart definitely got that aspect right. He runs around with flaps hanging open, books halfway out, and the backpack not on his back, but dragging on the ground behind him – and there still is not even a single scuff mark that I can notice; high praise indeed.
The Mandrill has: one large compartment – the “laptop” area that is designed for laptops up to sixteen inches, another large compartment in front of that, and then a smaller compartment with dividers for pencils and the like on the very front. There is a cord that is woven across the front that can be tightened or loosened, and you can put something like a jacket underneath it for safe keeping – a great idea that I wish more backpack makers would start using. On the left side is a small zippered pouch that would be suitable for a bottle of water (remember to recycle that bottle!) or maybe a mouse; on the right is another small pouch, but it has an elastic band in the top rather than a zipper. Finally on the right shoulder strap is another small zippered pouch – but to be honest I have no idea what it is for. It is too small for a phone, so maybe a smallet or pack of gum would be the best use for it. At any rate, I would rather have more pockets and pouches than less any day.
The Bottom Line: The Mandrill backpack is a backpack that is dancing with greatness; while it does have a few minor flaws, they can easily be overlooked because of how well it is constructed, and how much better it is for the environment than a normal polyester bag (it even uses less energy to make one of these than one from polyester and virgin chemicals)
- The Mandrill is extremely well put together (and can withstand the trials of a ten year old let alone an adult!)
- The cord on the front is a brilliant idea that more manufacturers should start taking note of
- You can have a positive effect on the environment without having to do anything extra – good things from being lazy!
- The padding in the laptop garage is not enough for me to be comfortable enough to actually put my laptop in
- I don’t really understand the usefulness of such a small pocket on the shoulder strap – it should be a bit wider so you can put a phone or iPod there
- The shoulder straps themselves need a little more cushioning to make it even more comfortable
You can get a GreenSmart Mandrill Laptop Backpack of your very own in either black and orange, ocean blue and orange, or olive and grey (exterior and interior colors respectively) from GreenSmart’s own website for $74.95 – comparable to other backpacks while doing something good for the planet. While you are there, be sure to check out the rest of GreenSmart’s fine products.