You know, I love the way Saddleback Leather positions their products. It’s very “retro” — but retro as in turn of the 20th Century retro. I’m serious. Have you ever seen what items they place in their bags to stage em? It’s hilarious. It’s like a moleskin notebook, three hardcover books sans dust jackets, a rangefinder camera circa 1936, a Red Delicious apple, among other things that nobody carries nowadays (we have computers and e-readers and camera phones and protein bars, etc).
But I get what they’re selling. They’re selling us on an old-time adventure. John Muir-type stuff. The sales pitch is something like,”Quick, grab your galoshes, your pith helmet, your surveyor’s compass, your vintage thermos and let’s go sojourning through the Appalachians! And, don’t forget your Saddleback pack!”
It’s an effective pitch. There is something romantic about venturing out into the great outdoors with really old-looking items placed in a beautiful gear bag. You can imagine yourself hiking up a wooded trail, finding a nice big rock overlooking a quiet brook, pulling out your 2nd Ed. “Ulysses” and reading until the sun kisses the horizon.
There’s something else going on here too. It’s the implicit notion of quality. Saddleback is basically saying, we make em like they used to, which is to say the way we used to make things in this country, i.e., with pride, an attention to detail and with an emphasis on quality so that they lasted you a 100 years or more. Most of the crap packs and bags we buy at WalMart or on eBay are made on the cheap and have a shelf life of about 10 years, if we’re lucky. Saddleback is bucking that trend. They’re putting out products that last a lifetime. You know, like they used to.
The Murse vs. The Backpack
When it comes to backpacks and bags, I divide into two categories for better or worse: Backpacks and murses, aka man purses. Yes, it’s probably a bit immature on my part, but this dividing line makes sense in my head. If it has two straps, it’s a backpack. If it has one strap, it’s a murse. Size to me is really irrelevant.
I will openly and freely admit that I’m a murse guy. Though, it’s not by choice but by happenstance. My mother gave me a one-strap computer bag four or so years ago. She got it for free at a work function, one of those remote two-day events where they build “team synergy” and discuss “corporate strategy.” From that day forward I’ve toted my man purse with aplomb.
Like the pistol versus revolver debate, there are pros and cons to each the murse and the backpack. In a nutshell, the backpack is more masculine; it’s what soldiers carry. In terms of comfort, it distributes the weight of the gear across two shoulders instead of just one. And with respect to functionality, the backpack typically has more pockets and places to attach extra stuff, especially if it has MOLLE webbing. The downside of the backpack is that it looks odd in professional settings. Showing up at a corporate board meeting toting an olive drab or coyote tan tactical pack might make you stand out, though not in a good way, like a lost boy scout.
The murse, on the other hand, is great for professional settings. You can wear it with just about anything. Of course, what you give up is that extra strap and, as a result, a bit of comfort when it comes to carrying your stuff for long durations. Also, with a murse, you don’t typically have the MOLLE webbing or extra pockets. In terms of its divisional structure, the murse is more simplistic — one big pocket, with maybe an extra pocket or two on the inside.
Before I get to the review, I should ask, are you as murse guy or a backpack guy? Or, do you carry both?
- Price $327
- Adjustable strap length: 38 ½”-61″
- Exterior: 12” H x 13 ¾” W x 3 ½” D
- Interior: 11 ¼” H x 12 ½” W x 3 ½” D
- 4.2 pounds
- Built with uncommonly thick 24 oz waxed canvas from Scotland that is extremely rugged and water resistant
- Top flap secures with one-handed pad eye closure
- Removable canvas shoulder strap with a thick leather shoulder pad
- Can be carried by adjustable shoulder strap or top Old Bull handle
- Old Bull leather pad adds comfort and protection against your hip, and functions as an
exterior pocket; Leather is also stamped with month and year of construction.
- Two exterior pockets and three interior pockets
- Fits a 13” MacBook or iPad with room to spare
- A dependable workhorse bag built for constant abuse: heavy waxed canvas, full grain leather, solid copper rivets, sail grommets, and double stitching with 00 continuous filament polyester thread (the kind they use for parachutes and boat sails)
- 100-year warranty and free shipping
Alright, enough about marketing strategy and the murse vs. backpack debate, on with the review! What you really want to know, what every review essentially boils down to is performance weighed against cost. In a nutshell, is this bag worth its $327 price tag?
My answer to that question is, well, it depends. I know, I know, that’s a bit of a cop out, but hear me out. In terms of basic functionality, can you purchase a similar gear bag for less money that will function as well and last as long (remember, this baby has 100-year warranty)? Yes, you can probably find one. But will it be made in America? Will it be made from the same high-end materials? And will it look as cool?
In addition to the materials the bag is made from, it’s really that last question that matters most in this “is it worth it” discussion. Yes, the cool factor. Many of us spend extra money on items and products because they look a certain way. Because they’re cool or because deep down they just tickle our fancy. It is what it is. And if you’re into murses, you’re not going to find a cooler looking murse than this Saddleback medium gear bag. It’s a gentleman’s bag, through and through.
Okay, now that I addressed the elephant in the room, the sticker shock that many of you are undoubtedly reeling from, let me talk about utility and performance.
I carried the medium gear bag at the NRA 2016 Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Louisville, KY. In the bag, I placed my 13” MacBook Air, the power cord, some business cards, a bottle of water, a few pens, my sunglasses, and any press release material I accumulated on the showroom floor. The bag held up, as you’d expect, just fine. It was a rather stress-free test for the bag, I wasn’t excavating Sankara Stones from the Temple of Doom or anything.
Since then I’ve carried the bag on various summer excursions. It’s been my go-to computer bag. Yes, yes, I know, it would make a cool range bag too, but I can’t bring myself to use it in that setting. Between gun powder residue, dirt and sand, inclement weather, I just feel that the bag is too nice to bring into a harsh environment. Not that it couldn’t handle it, it totally could, but to muck up the brand new bag at the range and then to have to go through the trouble of cleaning it, ugh, no thanks. I’m convinced that once you get sand or fine dirt in a bag, it’s impossible to get it all out. And if I’m going to use it more as a go-to EDC, computer bag, then it doesn’t make sense to get it all dirty and run the risk of getting that dirt or sand onto (or into) my laptop.
The bag is rather comfortable to carry. The removable canvas shoulder strap with the thick leather shoulder pad is nice. It doesn’t bite into your shoulder the way a thinner strap might. It’s a bit heavier than my previous murse. The full-grain leather pad on the back of the bag, which in addition to being an extra pocket provides added durability, certainly adds some weight. I sometimes wonder if they added that Old Bull pad just because it’s Saddleback Leather and they wanted to affix some leather onto it. I could go either way on the pad. I know that it helps provide some rigidity too, to keep the bag from flexing, so it’s easier to open the bag, but I would like to see an option without the pad. I think it would help to lighten it a bit.
Two things I absolutely love about the bag are the Scottish waxed canvas and the one-handed pad eye closure that secures the top flap. Besides the beautiful deep green color, the waxed canvas is super tough and water resistant to boot. You can tell it’s durable as heck. It follows the design concept of the bag, which is built with toughness in mind: between the heavy canvas, the copper rivets, the sail grommets and the double stitching with continuous filament polyester thread, Saddleback put together quite a bag.
What I love about the pad eye closure is really easy to use, especially when you’re on the move, which is nice. You don’t have to fiddle around a bunch or remove the bag from your shoulder to access it. There are three slots, so depending on how packed the bag is, will depend on where you slot in the closure.
As far as downsides, I don’t really have much to report. I’ve read some reviews that said they noticed some slightly frayed edges, a loose stitch or two and other minor, minor breakdowns in the integrity of the bag (if I had to guess, I think these users were nitpicking), but I’ve noticed none. However, I did manage to put a few big scratches in the leather pad. I don’t know how that happened. But it adds some character, I think.
Overall, I’m impressed with the Saddleback Medium Gear Bag. I really am. I’m not known for being a stylish person. But this murse is not only going to help me get my computer from show to show and hotel to hotel for the rest of my life, it’s also going to up my profile as a cool-looking dude. Who knows, maybe I’ll become a better journalist because, you know, when you look good, you feel good and when you feel good, you write
good well. LOL.
To pick up your Saddleback Leather medium gear bag, click on this link: http://www.saddlebackleather.com/medium-gear-bag
To look at other cool Saddleback products, click on this link: http://www.saddlebackleather.com/