My Pelican backpack has survived a year and a half of extremely rough digital nomading around the world, through some of the harshest conditions I've subjected my gear to. I thought it was time to revisit my initial review with updates on how it's doing.
Did it survive?
Not surprisingly, yes. The S100 is the first backpack I've owned in this price range, and definitely the only one that's ever been built to survive serious damage. And it shows. Other than scratches on the lower plastic plate that protects the tablet compartment and dings / scratches around the hard case for the laptop, it shows almost no wear. It's still waterproof after long motorcycle rides throughout the Indian monsoon season, it's completely dust- and mud-proof after riding through a few mudholes in Bengal, it's survived more flights than I can remember (and always been accepted as cabin baggage), and two weeks of working from the beaches in Goa didn't see any sand leak in at all.
I'm not even that upset about the scratches. A few of those were from dings that would have cracked the screen on the Nexus 9 that lives in the tablet compartment, and at least one very serious drop I had in a hotel room in Mexico would likely have damaged the Macbook as well. If anything, I've gotten too used to the bag's level of protection. I find myself being less careful when using other bags as a result.
My main issue with the bag is the weight. I assumed I'd get used to it after the first couple of trips, but this has been a little hit or miss. The bag was perfect on trips to Chicago, London, and Delhi, where much of my travel followed a pattern of flying in, grabbing an Uber, visiting friends, working from cafes, sightseeing, getting some code written in an airline lounge, and flying out again. For trips like this, the only time the weight was an issue was at an airport in Bombay last month, when the bag turned out to be past the weight limit for cabin baggage. I would have been able to repack and check some things in (I usually travel with just the Pelican and no checked luggage at all for shorter travel), but the customer service lady was nice enough to let it through when she saw I had a ton of electronics to lug around.
Other times, however, the bag seems very much on the heavy side. Sikkim, high in the Himalayas between Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan, involved a significant amount of daily walking on steep, narrow paths. Lugging the Pelican to get to a cafe for a day's work, the bag seemed to get heavier and heavier as the trip got longer. I found myself carrying the Macbook Air in a regular Pen & Quill book case under one arm instead of lugging the backpack towards the end of the trip. Similarly, in Goa, the Pelican's just too heavy to drag to the beach for a day's work, even though once you get it there the waterproofing (and sandproofing) are very nice to have. During a counter-kidnapping and close quarters combatives certification in Mexico, it ended up staying in the hotel for almost the entire trip. And as mentioned earlier, the weight can be an issue when you're packing for a flight; the S100 takes up half your cabin baggage allowance all by itself, leaving you about 7 pounds total to work with. That can be tight if you prefer flying without checking anything in.
If I were doing any bicycling on my travels, the Pelican would definitely be staying home.
One year verdict
I'm still loving the Pelican. If you're the kind of developer who has Applecare because your Macbook's primary value is as a work tool, the Pelican is really, really cheap insurance for all the dings, scrapes, mud, dirt, and camel poop your digital nomad life is likely to throw at it. My current compromise on the weight is to carry a tiny nylon backpack that packs into itself to become a pouch; when I get where I'm going, I can just grab that and go when I want to leave the Pelican in a hotel room or at a friend's place. I've also had a lot of success pairing the Pelican with a SCOTTeVEST; the vest is the perfect lightweight, convenient complement to the Pelican's rugged, heavy-duty storage.
At this rate, I'm pretty sure it's going to outlast the Macbook I bought it for.