This a guest post from Jay Emme, a 40-something guy who hails from Zombie Central: Atlanta, Georgia. Jay holds an advanced degree and a couple of graduate certificates, and his work as a data research specialist requires frequent travel. Jay’s hobbies include spending time with his family, a good conspiracy theory, and collecting gadgets and gizmos. A plus for a Practical Hacks contributor, Jay is currently in therapy for a world class bag fetish.
If you went to a leather artisan 70 years ago and said “I need you to make me something that will hold a bunch of stuff and last a long time while I travel the world,” a Saddleback bag is what you would have ended up with.
They’re built like old Chevy’s: simple design with big functional parts that don’t wear out fast. If you’ve never seen Saddleback products you should hop on over to Saddlebackleather.com and feast your eyes. These bags are wicked nice!
Saddleback calls the bag reviewed here the “Classic Briefcase” and it’s available in 4 different colors, and three sizes (S, M, XL). My choice from them was something exquisite: A Saddleback Leather large Classic Briefcase in Chestnut Brown.
- 100 Year Warranty
- 100% Thick full grain boot leather (mine is horse hide)
- Pigskin lining (Suede available as special order)
- No breakable parts, e.g. zippers, snap, etc.
- Converts quickly into a backpack
- Hidden nylon reinforcing straps
- Hidden false bottom
- Key strap
- 8 Exterior D-rings
- 2 side exterior pockets to hold a GPS or a water bottle
- Removable shoulder strap
- Removable side straps that double as a belt for size 34″ – 36″ or a tie down in a pinch
- 2 open interior pockets for gadgets (each is approximately 4.5 inches deep)
- 2 side interior pen pockets
- Only 3 major seams
- Dimensions: 16″w X 12″h X 9″d
- Weight: 7.5 pounds
Impressions and Comments
Saddleback bags are rustic looking, and you can almost imagine one of these things falling off the back of a horse. This is not a formal business attire briefcase. The quality of my bag was even, with the leather generally matching in all areas. There was one handle loop that was a bit frayed and worn when I first got the bag. Later on that loop became a bit of a problem because it wasn’t holding a D-ring in place properly. Not the end of the world, but a subtle reminder that these bags are not the epitome of fine leather.
The coloration of the leather was exactly as shown on the web site. I got my bag in December of 2008 and used it as my business travel bag for over a year. The nylon reinforcement in the straps started to show in areas where the leather stretched from normal use, particularly the holes for the buckles. The color didn’t fade much but the bag did collect a whole new texture in small scratches and scuffs. That’s normal for leather, and it gives the bag character. Right before I sold the bag I sat down and gave it a really good cleaning and conditioning. The texture smoothed out nicely and the bag assumed a slightly darker color similar to a reddish brown.
Saddleback products incorporate no zippers, Velcro, or complicated pockets. Everything is very basic and some of the conveniences you expect in a modern bag are missing. They are mildly water repellent, and not at all waterproof. These bags are large open designs with huge amounts of room and little compartmentalization.
If you’re the kind of person who travels with a lot of electronics and “stuff” this is going to be your first hurdle with Saddleback. The open pockets in the bag stretch and stuff starts sliding out of them when you stuff this bag under the seat in front of you on the plane. You will end up having to put all of your stuff in a bunch of smaller bags (inside your big leather bag) and then you have a hard time reaching that stuff. You need two hands to unbuckle the flap strap, and then you need one hand to hold the flap open while you reach in with the other hand to unzip a smaller pouch and grab your (whatever). Then you need two hands again to close the bag and buckle that strap. Getting inside one of these things while on the move in an airport is simply heartbreaking.
Did I mention the bag is very heavy? I tried using it as a backpack once and it was not exactly comfortable, but passable for short periods. All that fine quality leather weighs a lot, especially when you fill the bag up with all the stuff you can carry in it. It’s a crying shame really. Cows lined up right before their natural deaths so they could live on in the form of a Saddleback bag.
The customer service I received while ordering the bag was good, with prompt responses to email inquiries. The website easy to navigate, and is a polished work of high quality marketing. When you go to the website you are bombarded with pictures of exotic and rustic locales mixed in with photos of Saddleback products. The feeling you get is that these are tough bags for active people. There are pictures of people climbing mountains and paddling canoes. Real whip and raider jacket type stuff. They want you to believe you can do anything with these bags.
The thing is, people who travel a bunch and go to exotic locales learn real quickly that there is a place for everything and everything should be in that place. That means lots of pockets, zippers, Velcro, and compartments. Lightweight, waterproof, and durable are the building blocks of moving around the world with a bunch of stuff. Saddleback is none of these.
They are beautiful bags that look great everywhere you go. If you’re not a trendy student or someone who works in a relaxed office atmosphere, the novelty will wear off — fast. Interested in a really hot bag that will turn heads and collect compliments at the office or on the quad? This is your bag. Slogging across long concourses, walking 20 minutes to work on crowded streets, need to grab stuff out of your bag quickly? Find something that’s lighter weight, with user- and traveler-friendly features. This ‘aint your bag.
Although I love the look, feel, and idea of the Saddleback Classic Briefcase, it’s hardly a great bag for the traveler, and as such, leaves me feeling ambivalent. And in case you missed it earlier in this piece, I sold mine.
The verdict? Great for school and urban style atmospheres, bad as a travel bag.
The Saddleback Leather Briefcase is $519+ (depending upon size); see it here – Saddleback Classic Briefcase