Saddleback Briefcase Comparison Essay

“They’ll fight over it when you’re dead” is a pretty strong motto, but not one that comes without thought or promise. It’s taken me a long time to even start writing this review. Honestly, I wanted to make sure this bag was worth the $800 they were asking for it. I’ll admit that price tag did seem over the top to me, but both my lawyer brother and my cowboy brother (the third one’s a cop, go figure) have been carrying Saddleback bags for years and swear by them. With all the hooks and loops offering a wide variety of carry options, it seemed like it would suit my needs on the bike as well, so I decided to take the leap.

My older brother Spencer went to law school in Montana and was given his bag as a gift when he started. It stayed with him all through his time in Missoula and has been his daily companion to the office and back since. Fletcher, my younger brother, got his when he was running the horse unit at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and has since moved on to become a crop adjuster, bringing his bag with him from farm to farm in his pickup. I’m proud to say that mine has seen more miles and more wear in the short six months that I’ve been using it than either of theirs have, and it’s the wear that really gives these bags character over time. Not that brothers get competitive over petty things.

The Warranty

It sounds sort of silly to say, but I waited for this bag to arrive like a kid waits for Christmas morning. I was watching the tracking page—I turned on text alerts and everything. I was fully dorking out. It was bigger than I expected, and wrapped in a nice canvas bag to protect it inside the box. Also inside were a leather keychain and two business cards from the owner of the company, Dave Munson. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but as I dug further into the bag, I got more and more into his story and how he developed these carry systems.

“Every piece of Saddleback Leather and Canvas is built for you to break in for the next guy. We believe in our craftsmanship, materials, and designs so strongly that we warrant them against defects in faulty materials and poor workmanship for 100 years. If it’s our fault that it broke because we didn’t put it together well or we used defective materials that didn’t hold up like they were supposed to, then we’ll fix it or replace and send it back on our dime. But If you’re out having a good time and you jack up your bag, then give us a call and we’ll see if we can help for free or for a small charge.”

With most companies, a 100-year warranty is a hell of a gesture, but I don’t have all the confidence that you’re going to stand the test of time and be there when I come hunting you down for my money back. Then what. Dave says we can contact his descendants and promises they’ll make it right (he has kids, we’re cool).

I trust this warranty, but I don’t think I’ll ever need it. Most importantly though, the warranty is a nice safety blanket but not the reason anyone is initially attracted to this bag. It’s rugged, it’s timeless, it’s durable…

Design

It doesn’t take long to realize how much thought and effort went into not only the construction of this bag, but the design. There is one big bull ring under the top handle of that is the primary load-bearing component while wearing it as a backpack. From the outside, it looks like this is being held on by only one rivet, but when you open it up and look underneath, you see that it’s actually riveted to a 1/8-inch aluminum shank under the flap that attaches to both sides of the handle as well. A structural component to help redistribute the weight and make sure that no one piece takes the stress of the entire bag.

All of the hardware is made of high-quality stainless steel, and there are loops just about everywhere you might need one to secure this bag to just about anything. You can run this as a saddlebag on your bike if you want to; all it would take is a couple of clips or straps. Actually, I plan on doing just that once I finish up a project I am working on.

If you want to carry it as a messenger bag, that’s pretty self-explanatory. If you want to carry it as a backpack, as you probably would for riding, It’s easy to convert the strap, and there are two shoulder pads included for just this purpose. The flat back and placement of the lower hooks make it sit nice and comfortably against my back when I ride. The strap is adjustable as well, making it easy to keep the bag high up on my back. While the weight of the bag can be a little cumbersome, the pads and variety of carry options help alleviate any discomfort that might occur.

The weight of the bag is really the only negative, but the durability wouldn’t exist without it. Leather is uniquely strong and durable, but it’s also not the lightest material out there. If you want the look, feel, and function of this super high-quality leather, you’re going to have to deal with the weight as well. Luckily, like I mentioned earlier, there are a stainless steel hoops and loops throughout the bag, making it incredibly easy to strap to whatever you may need.

Lastly, this is just one of many designs. They are available both larger and smaller, more simple or more complex. This is the one that I chose to walk the line between weekend traveler and daily commuter, and it does so incredibly well. Maybe the ideal bag for you is something a little smaller that fits in a saddlebag more easily, or maybe you want to go with a more traditional backpack or full-blown duffel. Saddleback has options for everyone in a handful of colors, each made with the same attention to quality design and material.

So I’ll keep working on breaking this one in, and my brothers will do the same to theirs. A little conditioning every once in a while and our kin will be fighting over these when our time comes.

Saddleback Leather Co. Medium Thin Briefcase – $461.00

Editor’s Note: Dappered correspondent, Ben Madeska, has owned his Saddleback thin briefcase for three years now. Head here for the growing archive of these annual updates.

Entering the fourth year with the Saddleback Thin Briefcase in Dark Coffee Brown, there’s really no novelty left in using it. It’s firmly entered “favorite old pair of jeans” territory. After three years of regular use it just works. It’s comfortable. I know what it can do, and what it shouldn’t do. The leather is really starting to break in in places and take on some character, but still is solid overall, even rigid. A loose thread I noticed in the previous review hasn’t even loosened any further.

Having moved once again since the last update, this is now the third city and second state in which I’ve had this briefcase. It’s been used on multiple day and weekend trips. I probably won’t be taking it with me on long vacations anymore. I’ve taken it on a few longer trips, and it seems to be simultaneously too small and too big. It’s too small to be really useful for overnights, much less long-term travel, and I find it too big to be a handy second bag while on vacation. The classic briefcase would probably be a better choice for weekend getaways. This may just be me talking myself into getting a second bag from Saddleback.

I like using this as a daily briefcase. I no longer work in an office and don’t attend many meetings, but I still consider it my “commuting” bag. When I first reviewed this after one month of use in 2011, I wrote:

On a daily basis I carry:

  • My ancient 14″ laptop and assorted cables
  • Two notepads
  • Small notebook
  • Calendar
  • Two pens
  • Pencil
  • Magazine
  • Miscellaneous papers

That list is rapidly looking archaic (Spiral bound paper calendar? Really?) but it’s not too far off from what I still carry. The laptop’s smaller and lighter now, and I carry fewer paper files with me. If anything, this briefcase is better able to accommodate my needs now than when I first got it. It’s the perfect size for trips around the city if I’m meeting people for lunch, going back and forth to my studio, or hitting a coffee shop to do some writing (as I currently am).

Flexing and getting softer with age. Still tough as nails.

This briefcase hasn’t really been abused Indiana Jones style, but in three years it has been tossed around, been in the rain and the sun, survived a few polar vortexes, and handles the bus and subway just fine. It has always protected its contents admirably.

This is still a bigger, heavier bag though. I’m 6’4” so I tend not to notice the bulk, but other people comment on it (coworkers making exaggerated groans of effort when I ask them to hand it to me). According to Saddleback, with my height I could use the large size, which adds a couple inches to the dimensions and about a pound to the weight. The medium suits my needs just fine though, and I haven’t regretted choosing it over the large.

97 years to go.

Two heavily used items. The case, and the easel.

Filed Under: AccessoriesTagged With: 1-day sale, saddleback, saddleback 100 year test

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