In 2006 I needed a 17 inch laptop pack, so I purchased this High Sierra Access pack. The critical feature that the pack has is a waist belt, which I find very useful for carrying a lot of weight in a pack. Overall, this is a laptop pack with many features of a conventional backpack. It is reasonably well made. It has all the features you might expect of a laptop backpack. Unfortunately, it recently had several serious problems. It has a lifetime warranty, so hopefully High Sierra will fix or replace it.

Some of the less common features include side compression straps to deal with a lightly loaded pack. The waist belt has compression straps that can pull the body of the pack closer. There is a bottom compartment which includes a bright yellow rain hood.

Back View

high sierra back

This is a view of the back of the pack. Many features of the pack are visible. There are many compartments and inside each compartment are more sub-compartments for virtually anything you might imagine. There is one small compartments on the side of the pack where you could put a water bottle or a mouse. The semi-circular compartment at the top is for a portable cd player.

Pack Front

high sierra front

This is the front of the pack, i.e. the part which rests against your back. There is some elastic near the top of the shoulder straps, which supposed to absorb shocks. It isn't clear if it does much. Conventional backpacks don't have this. There is some padding on the front (on the other side of which is where the notebook lives).

Waist Strap

waist strap

The pack has a waist strap which has some padding for about 6 inches on either side. It also has a compression strap on each side to hold the pack closer to your body. This is the nicest waist strap I have seen on a laptop backpack.

Shoulder Strap Failure


This is where the fabric on the shoulder strap has pulled out of the stitching for about 2 inches. This type of failure indicates insufficient margin which is the the amount of fabric after the sticking. I have seen this type of failure many times in packs, and more is to come for this one.

Main Compartment Failure


This is the side of the main compartment away from the shoulder straps. The fabric has pulled out for at least 8 inches. It is not clear what caused this failure, but I would guess it is a combination of insufficient margin of the fabric and not hot-cutting the nylon fabric. Hot cutting the nylon fabric melts the cut edge and makes it quite unlikely for the fabric to unravel at the edge.

Main Storage Compartment Failure

  storage compartment

This is the main storage compartment. There are a number of interior compartments and pockets. Of note, there is a really big pocket in the inside which is secured with a zipper going across it. The fabric above and below the zipper has pulled out of the seam. You can see the zipper hanging in the air, and below it, you can see two layers of fabric with frayed edges where the zipper is supposed to be attached. It looks like there was insufficient margin where the fabric was sewn to the zipper, and the fabric simply pulled out of the seam.

Front Padding Failure

front rip

This is a rip of about 2 inches in the padding on the front side of the pack, i.e. the side that rests against your back. Unlike the other failures, this is not due to insufficient fabric margin. I would guess that the failure is a result of abrasion against a sharp edge. Using fabrics that are not abrasion resistant on the outside of a pack is generally not a good idea. I suppose the part against your back should be subjected to less abrasion than other exterior fabric of the pack. Since this is the only failure of the outside mesh, it is clear that the mesh has not worn out. I have seen packs where all of the mesh is worn out and there are multiple failures. This did not happen to this pack.

This backpack has had a pretty easy life. It was in my closet for many years. The outside of the pack is in very good condition aside from a few buckles falling off and some fabric pulling out of the shoulder strap. The robustness of the exterior fabric is quite good. Laptop backpacks are much more complex than conventional hiking backpacks. There are many more compartments, zippers, and pieces of fabric. It requires much more sewing to build a laptop backpack. It is clear that a few millimeters too much of margin was shaved off of the fabric in the three areas where there was catastrophic failures. It might be possible to repair, but it is much easier to patch a hole in a pack than to resew a seam that had too little margin to begin with. Ideally, you would hot cut the edges and allow for at least 3/8 of an inch of margin. But there is already too little fabric to start with, due to the seam pulling out. One could add another piece of material to the failed seam to extend the fabric, but that would look quite ugly and require quite a bit of sewing. The pack is still usable as the outside is intact. Unfortunately the utility of the pack is greatly diminished due to the large rips. I am sure more seams will fail in time.

Well, the warranty process wasn't too bad. Several emails, phone calls and digital pictures of the pack, and about a week later, I have a replacement pack. The pack is still called the Access, and looks mostly like the Access, but it is has a bunch of differences, mostly for the worse.

New Waist Belt

HS Belt HS new Belt

The biggest issue is the waist belt. On the old pack it has some minimal padding and it is 1.5 inches wide. It also has side compression straps which help keeping the pack close to your body. On the new pack there is no padding and the belt is 0.75 inches wide. It is easier to tuck away inside the pack body if not used. The old belt is a real belt, the new one is a joke. There is no way to put a serious belt on the new pack without significant disassembly of the pack, which would be quite difficult am sure it costs a lot less to make the new belt.

New Laptop Compartment

HS Laptop HS new Laptop

The laptop compartment used to have two straps on the sized to compress the laptop to hold it securely. They were adjustable with velcro. These straps are gone. There was a strap that went across the top of the compartment that kept the laptop from moving in the pack. That strap had a adjustable buckle to allow adjustment and secure the laptop. This strap is gone. The new laptop compartment does have an unpadded compartment for a tablet. There are no straps to secure the laptop or the tablet. It would be very difficult to add the straps. I don't think I have even seen a notebook pack that didn't have this strap, except this one. Again, I suspect this is a cost savings measure.

New Rain Cover Compartment

HS Rain HS new Rain

The rain cover used to live in a zippered compartment. The new rain cover compartment has velcro. I don't think it is a big difference, but I prefer the zipper.

New Key Holder

HS Key HS new Key

The manufacturers web page says Premium multi-pocket organizer with removable key fob. The old pack did have a nice removable key fob. The new pack has a really cheap non-removable clip. Also of note, in the pictures the top pocket area had a zipper in the old pack, but the new pack just has a flap. So not only is the description very inaccurate, but I am sure this was done for cost savings.

New Water Holder

HS Water 1 HS Water2 HS new Water

The old pack had a zippered cover for the mesh side pocket The mesh side pocket could be used for a small water bottle. It is nice to have it covered so the mesh doesn't catch on stuff. The new pack just has a mesh side pocket. It is bigger than the old pocket, but there is no protection for it.


I liked the old pack. It was pretty simple and had a lot of good features. I really liked the hip belt. The new pack is a shadow of the former pack. The hip belt is a joke. The laptop compartment doesn't secure the laptop. I cannot recommend this pack any more. I am in the market for a laptop pack that can hold my 17 inch notebook and has a real waist strap. This isn't it.

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