Bobby back pack review: Travelling with an anti theft bag
When I heard about there was such a thing as an anti theft back pack, I was curious. A video of the Bobby popped up in my Instagram feed one day, and after seeing all the hidden compartments and concealed zips, I thought "Flip, that's cool. Why has no one done this before?!"
After a long Googling spree, it seemed like this little bag may be the answer to my fears. I was weeks away from a roadtrip through Spain, and had been warned repeatedly about pick pockets and bag snatchers.
While having my wallet or phone stolen would have been awful, I live abroad and was more concerned about being stranded without the passport and residence permit I needed to get back into Qatar. My current backpack was great, but I doubted its drawstring closure, unlockable zips and simple magnetic clip would dissuade any would-be thieves in Barcelona.
So I ordered a Bobby.
To help anyone who is looking for new travel gear and faced with the same concerns about theft as I was, I thought I would put together my own review of this clever bag.
There are a number of other reviews out there, but I found that many of them focused on using the Bobby for day-to-day commutes and life at home, which isn't what I bought it for. So this will be more about using the Bobby on the road while travelling, when you usually have to carry different gear, walk longer daily distances, enter the "tourist areas" that are often pickpocket hot spots, and generally transport all your most important things around in a foreign country.
Hold up. So what exactly is this Bobby thing?
The Bobby (yes, it's named after the slang term for the UK police) is a backpack that has been reconfigured to make it more difficult for thieves to get inside. It is made by a company called XD Design and originated from a KickStarter project in 2016. The Bobby has no zip pockets on the front, open pouches on the side, or any external openings that aren't securely resting against your back or concealed in some way.
The bag is different from others in that it basically opens backwards - the main zip runs along the back padding, and the front opens on a hinge. There are a few different models and colours with different features, but mine has:
Two small pouches in the straps where you can store metro cards or bus passes.
Two triangular external hidden pockets at the base of the straps that can fit a phone, power bank, or snacks.
A larger external rectangular zipped pocket in the back lining that can fit a phone or small notebook.
A small inner pouch to hold a cylindrical power bank (and a built-in USB cord so you can charge your phone on the outside without taking off the bag).
A rectangular zip pocket, with another open pouch behind it and pen-holding tabs on the front.
Two padded sleeves on the back to hold a tablet, Kindle, small laptop or notebooks.
A strap on the back that slides over the handle of your luggage, so you can transport it easily.
A waterproof cover that packs away into a small pouch in the base of the bag.
A double, lockable main zip.
Additionally, the bag is made out of a lightweight fabric that has an inner layer to protect against slashing. The back and shoulder straps are also nicely padded to make it more comfortable to wear. By hugging close to your body, the bag also distributes the weight more effectively and doesn't put strain on your shoulders or back.
Travelling with the Bobby
If you're wondering how this all played out on the road, you're in luck.
On the plane:
The Bobby is quite firm and holds its shape well, which means it isn't easy to squish under the seat in front of you in economy class. This meant that I had to store it in the hat rack space.
Update: This isn’t the case for all flights - for example, it didn’t fit under the seat on a Qatar Airways Dreamliner, but did for a Norwegian 737.
I'm a bit paranoid (as you may have guessed already) and I didn't want to leave all my valuables and in-flight essentials in the overhead storage compartment. Fortunately, the main zip compartment on the bag is designed to be locked, so you can add a padlock and no one will be able to rummage around inside while you're sleeping on long flights.
But, if you're also cautious and are considering a Bobby, keep in mind that you might have to bring an additional smaller bag that can fit by your feet on the plane.
On the go:
I wore the Bobby pretty much all day for two weeks straight around Spain, and again for two weeks in Amsterdam, and I never had sore shoulders or any back pain. It was comfortable to wear when filled with all my daily essentials (phone, DSLR camera and lens, wallet, two notebooks, power bank, snacks, sunglasses, pens, lip balm, water, light raincoat, umbrella). Even when I added souvenirs or extra items on travel days, it was still easier to carry the weight than it was with my previous bag.
The Bobby is more of a day pack than a hey-all-my-life-is-inside bag, so it can get pretty full on days when it needs to carry extras like a jacket, change of clothes, books, etc. It wasn't much of an issue for me, but if you want to travel with more tech (laptop, tablet, multiple camera lenses, etc) it could be constraining.
The inner compartments make it easy to organize and find things quickly, but can be an issue when what you have doesn't fit inside a pocket or pouch. For example, my power bank is rectangular, so I couldn't put it in the smaller cylindrical power bank space, so I had to use up another pocket and find something small to go there instead. On the other hand, I think the card-sized pouches in the straps are a stroke of genius - I put my metro and hotel key card inside and it was so easy to access and stash them away while I was walking around.
While I loved all the hidden pockets, I missed having an external side-pouch where I could put a bottle of water. My other pack had one and while I know it's not secure, it would have freed up some interior space and saved me from having to stop and open the bag whenever I was thirsty. And really, I don't think a boring water bottle will be all that tempting to thieves anyway.
The Bobby's small size and back-hugging tendency makes it very compact and easy to wear in crowds and small spaces without knocking into things. I was very grateful for this in markets and small shops filled with breakable goods. It didn't pull down and away from my back, so I could even wear it while balancing on a segway during city tours.
On the anti-theft side, the bag definitely lived up to expectations. I added a combination lock to the hidden zip, so even if someone had figured it out and tried to get into the bag, they would have needed a lock cutter too. I was a bit cautious at the start of the trip, but after a few days, I put the Bobby on and never thought about whether anyone was trying to rob me.
I walked down busy pedestrian streets, squashed myself into buses and metro carriages, filed into packed elevators and escalators, wandered through markets and stood on bustling sidewalks taking photos. The peace of mind it brought me was incredible - I didn't have to keep turning around to check if anyone was up to mischief, or wear the bag on my front like a kangaroo.
When you stop:
The Bobby can stand up by itself, so you can put it on the floor under your table if you stop at a restaurant and it won't collapse and spill its guts all over your feet. Yay!
Because of all its clever anti-theft precautions, the backpack can be a bit difficult to open by the wearer too. With other backpacks, I could take one arm out of the straps and swing the bag around to get out my wallet when paying for things in a shop. Because the Bobby's hinge only creates a small gap by default, this meant I couldn't always open the bag easily without having to rest the backpack on a counter top (or stand awkwardly on one leg and put it on my other knee).
After a few days of struggling, I realised that it was easier just to put it down somewhere, undo the bottom clips/ velcro and open it fully if I was trying to get anything bulky in or out. But this wasn't always possible (or safe) in places like markets or food stalls - I would have to prop it up against a wall or crouch down and open it on the floor.
So, to sum it all up...
What I loved about travelling with the Bobby:
How it made me stop worrying about being robbed, even in crowded areas
The clever anti-theft design and useful hidden pockets
Its comfortable padded straps and back section
The modern look and cool colour options
The waterproof cover (which saved my stuff from the Amsterdam rain)
What was meh:
How difficult it was to open without putting it down / opening it flat
Not having a water bottle pouch
Overall, I'm very happy that this little guy popped up in my life - it took some getting used to, but it saved me a lot of stress on the road. I'm excited to see how it holds up on future adventures!
Have you got your own Bobby? How did it hold up on your travels? Let me know in the comments!