- The Impression: Cool. I got two compliments the first day. I have worn it with a suit and my three year old Earnest Sewns. It is does not contradict either role.
- The Leather. That bridle leather everyone talks about? That's what this thing is made of. Completely. The smell when you open the box is incredible. I cut the edge at one of the shoulder straps to confirm that it is, indeed, vat dyed through and through. The bag is lined front to back with pigskin, left suede on the sides. It's as heavy duty as a saddle. All the major seams are double-stiched, none of the edges are rolled. This is no Gucci bag, it is not a pair of jeans with the oil-filter mark pre-stained at the factory for poseurs. It is a serious piece of kit.
- The Hardware: All corners and load-carrying areas are riveted. There's nickel-plated steel throughout the twelve D-rings, one round ring, four buckles, and three clips -- none for show. The hardware is stout and allows flexibility in your carrying of stuff, you can clip the shoulder strap to different points to better balance the bag for unusual loads, or run the strap from the bottom Ds through the central ring to carry it as a backpack/knapsack. I was worried that the ring that makes this functionality possible was going to pull out it's rivet, but I see that it is in fact riveted to a wide aluminum bar sewn between the top flap and its pigskin lining. Nice engineering there -- it's never coming out.
I've already used a carabiner on a Dring to attach my baby Slik tripod to the bag. The clips on the shoulder strap are particularly interesting to this engineer -- for your bag to drop due to clip failure at its weakest part, two separate pieces of metal would need to break. Interesting. There are no snaps, zips, buttons or other closures other than buckles.
- The Storage: The bag has two main compartments, about 4.5" x 15" each, two small external compartments (cell-sized), an external paper/magazine pocket, two large and two small internal pockets. The most I could stuff in the bag was my 15" HP laptop and a 1" binder in the back, two casebooks (vertically) in the front, and all my other stuff. That's a ton of weight, surely over 30lbs, and I hope to never have to carry all of that.
I mainly use one compartment for my Eee netbook a binder, and sometimes a file or two, while the other compartment gets a casebook and my Lumix DMC-LX3 in its fitted case. The lumix would fit in the largest of the four internal pouches, but I've already got those crammed. The outside two pockets are a little small, but remember, this is good leather that will stretch and conform like holster -- my thermos bottle now fits securely in one of those pockets.
- The Functionality: It's a briefcase with a very comfortable carry handle and a shoulder strap, so I tend to think of it as a messenger. But the shoulder strap has two pads, and in about 45sec you can convert it to a backpack/knapsack. It's very secure in that mode, and while not perfectly comfortable, it's what you need and want when your arms are tired or you need to be hands free. If you were broader than I, you might feel the lower Drings against your back (I do if the bag's not centered), and I'd advise getting the wider bag then. I wonder if Saddleback could arrange for little leather flaps to guard against this? They probably could. I wouldn't buy it as a pure backpack (Saddleback does make one of those also), but as a 50% duty item it would be hard to ever live without.
metal briefcase, and that is just not an issue for me -- the straps/pads are excellent, and unlike thin nylon webbing, do not tend to collapse into the smallest possible area to cut through your neck. Loaded, I'm around 22lbs now.
The buckles take about a day to get used to. I have thus far only used the center one to close the bag, leaving the other two belts just tucked away, though they serve fine to keep my umbrella or raincoat. They are also completely removable belts and could be used as such admirably. Some call the bags too heavy. Well, the leather just is. It's heavy because there are no shortcuts. I've been carrying a
- Conclusion: This is the raw denim of bags. It is made very, very, very well but is not an Anderson and Sheppard suit. It has, as I once described myself, "a white collar, but blue hands." They would understand the notion of wabi-sabi. You buy it and make it yours as age and life scars it and you -- after a week of hard use you can see mine is already picked up some 'patina.' But it's honest and that appeals to me, as does this company's ethic. The bags are made in Mexico by people they claim who have "never made as much money before in their lives" which I'm sure is not U.S. standards but I believe from all my interaction with Saddleback that they treat their people much better than comparative firms. After I ordered this bag (I bought a second on eBay as I thought it would be too big for my needs, nope), I was informed that 10% of my total was being donated to charity -- this stands in contrast to the max profit at any cost model that much of the Western world has adopted and I applaud that sense of humanity. It is something I look for in all of my purchases.