NYC messenger bag, bookbag, man bag, or whatever it's called
May 8, 2011 4:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in buying a "messenger bag," "book bag," "man bag," or whatever you want to call it, in NYC or online. I'm picky. Lots of specifications inside.

To save you the trouble of searching the archives, I've already seen this old question. I'm not finding what I need there, and the thread is a few years old.

I've gone to Jack Spade, Burberry, Token/Manhattan Portage, Moo Shoes, and Urban Outfitters (the ones on 2nd Ave. and 6th Ave.). Haven't found quite what I want. I saw Crumpler recommended in the old thread, but those bags look too garish to me.

So, what do I want in a bag?

No leather or other animal products, not even if it's just the "trim." I do like bags that are reminiscent of leather or suede.

Not something that looks like I got it from a sporting goods store. I like the Jack Spade aesthetic.

New, not from CraigsList, eBay, Freecycle, etc.

Horizontally oriented, not the kind that's taller than it is wide.

Not ridiculously large.

Black, brown, grey, or an interesting muted color like this.

A zipper to close the main compartment. I carry a lot of paper, and it can't get wet. And it rains a lot in NYC. If the only way to "close" the main compartment is to put a flap over it, I'm not going to feel comfortable. (This is why I haven't bought a Jack Spade bag: I keep looking at their bags and I'm like "Hey, this one looks cool!" but then I'm like "Oh wait, there's no zipper to close the main compartment. Never mind.")

A place where I can slip a small map so I can instantly grab it without opening anything up.

This is not essential, but highly desired: a place other than the main compartment where I can put a medium-sized water bottle. I have a Briggs & Riley bag with one of these, but it's falling apart. (I know it's asking a lot to expect this on a non-sporty-looking bag.)

I'd like to spend around $100-250 if possible.

I live in Greenwich Village. I'll happily go anyplace that's strongly recommended in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

Especially interested in suggestions for specific bags, but open to suggestions for stores too. Thanks in advance.
posted by John Cohen to Shopping (41 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you looked at Muji or Uniqlo? I have always found their bags to be great and thoughtfully designed.
posted by loquat at 4:37 PM on May 8, 2011


Check out Wm J. Mills canvas, they make the best boat canvas in the country... and they make bags....
posted by tomswift at 4:38 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Possibly a bit over your budget, but check out knomobags. They have a variety of waxed-canvas (as well as leather, though I know you're not interested in those) messenger bags that look pretty great to my eye.
posted by modernnomad at 4:39 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like this Apolis X Filson bag. (Filson has the same bag at 1/2 the price.)
posted by cazoo at 4:43 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suggest walking into a computer store and looking at their laptop bags. Seriously,when I was living in NYC, I got a bag that way that meets all of your specifications except the bottle holder.
posted by baf at 4:45 PM on May 8, 2011


Timbuktu has a design your own bag section on their website. This may give you the colour combination you're looking for. I've hd one of their bags for 2 years now and it still looks like new.
posted by arcticseal at 4:52 PM on May 8, 2011


You would probably really like the stuff by Mat & Nat - all of it is animal-free and very stylish. Its a Canadian brand, and here in toronto its sold in quite fashiony stores alongside leather bags at similar price points.

Their website only lists one store in nyc (and its one you've been to already), but i'm pretty sure i saw their women's purses in various stores last time i was in the city, so it might be worth calling around if you don't want to order online.

(I think it sounds like you'd like these ones.)
posted by Kololo at 5:08 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it would work for you, but I have a lot of the same desires and I absolutely want this bag. It may not be the right size/proportion for you, though.
posted by darksong at 5:12 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fossil have some nice bags. Many of them are faux-leather.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:18 PM on May 8, 2011


A zipper to close the main compartment. I carry a lot of paper, and it can't get wet. And it rains a lot in NYC. If the only way to "close" the main compartment is to put a flap over it, I'm not going to feel comfortable. (This is why I haven't bought a Jack Spade bag: I keep looking at their bags and I'm like "Hey, this one looks cool!" but then I'm like "Oh wait, there's no zipper to close the main compartment. Never mind.")
For what it's worth, the risk of rain is the reason more expensive bags do not have a zip. The zip (or indeed any seam, but especially the zip) is the thing that leaks. Flaps don't leak. That's why you don't see zips of bags aimed at working couriers. There are of course other reasons to want a zip (security mostly), but keeping the contents dry is not one of them.

I have a Bailey Works backpack (which, from a weatherproofing point of view, is basically their messenger bag with two straps instead of one), and I live in a much rainier place than NYC. The contents have never gotten wet, despite regularly cycling in torrential rain. Before my Bailey Works I had a bag with a zip. If it rained hard then my papers got wet.
posted by caek at 5:27 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


New, not from CraigsList, eBay, Freecycle, etc.

I'll let you in on a little secret: these days, the vast (vast) majority of items on eBay are new; there's little to no auctioning to be had. That said, I was able to pick up a new Timbuk2 bag (new with tags) on there for much less than half of what I would've paid at retail. Granted, I didn't have much choice in colour, but I lucked out on that count as well. And no one could tell that I didn't buy it in a brick-and-mortar store. For real.
posted by matlock expressway at 5:38 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have you checked out Chrome bags? Might be too bike-messengery for your aesthetic criteria, but mine has neat side spaces that are perfect for a water bottle, and an easily-accessible little front pocket that would be able to fit your map. No zippered pocket but I am an editor and carry around pages in the inside pocket and can assure you it's 100% waterproof, especially if you seal up the velcro and connect the straps. Plus it's made out of materials that seem indestructible, and if anything breaks they've got a lifetime guarantee.
posted by mlle valentine at 5:44 PM on May 8, 2011


(Also, they recently opened a store in SoHo.)
posted by mlle valentine at 5:44 PM on May 8, 2011


Brooklyn Industries, my friend. I have this bad boy, which I tend to wear more as a backpack as I'm petite. While it doesn't zip shut, I haven't had trouble in the rain (even carrying my laptop in the laptop pouch). Even if you need to keep papers in something waterproof, it's so roomy that it should accommodate that quite easily. Or I'm sure they've got something else that'll meet your needs.
posted by Sara C. at 5:54 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


John, take a look at the Waterfield bags. I can absolutely vouch for the construction and the materials, and I've had customizations made to standard designs simply by emailing specs with owner/designer, Gary.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 6:00 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think you would like the Acme Made "Slim Cargo" bags – I have and love their Clyde City which I got at that bag place on Greenwich Ave across from the mystery bookstore by the playground, but which I think is discontinued. But the Slim Cargo has that Jack Spade thing going on, and has the top zipper.
posted by nicwolff at 6:01 PM on May 8, 2011


I cannot recommend Zappos enough. Tons of brands, reviews, and last but not least, video clips featuring Zappos staff of all shapes and sizes trying the bags on. I'm extremely picky when it comes to messenger bags. I ordered four from Zappos, and had three non-hassle returns.
posted by invisible ink at 6:06 PM on May 8, 2011


Get a Bailey Bag. They seem to last forever. We've got a bunch of different sizes with ages between 10 and 20 years, and even with daily use, they look nearly new. Waterproof. The 253 bag would fit your needs, although you would just need to leave the flap a little loose for easy access to your map pocket (I do this to get access to a pad of paper, and it's an easy one-handed operation.

NY dealers.

Maybe a negative or a positive for you, but they have a cult following and people who love these bags are not shy about saying hello.
posted by quarterframer at 6:17 PM on May 8, 2011


You may want to take a look at Archival Clothing. Most of their bags are waxed canvas (and lovely), but I'm not certain they have one with a zipper.
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:19 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love my Osprey Transit bag, which I don't think they make anymore, but has several fantastic features that may have migrated into their current models: lined pockets for small electronics, waterproof zippers (e.g., with rubber seals) and a second special zipper to access the laptop compartment for convenience when going through airport security. Their bags come in many colors; mine is graphite.
posted by carmicha at 6:33 PM on May 8, 2011


For what it's worth, the risk of rain is the reason more expensive bags do not have a zip. The zip (or indeed any seam, but especially the zip) is the thing that leaks. Flaps don't leak. That's why you don't see zips of bags aimed at working couriers. There are of course other reasons to want a zip (security mostly), but keeping the contents dry is not one of them.

Oh . . .

I'll have to reconsider this.

Anyway, thanks for the suggestions, everyone. Lots of good ideas here, so it'll take me a while to choose a bag. Once I do, I'll mark a best answer.

Having only skimmed through the answers, I can definitely say I'll be giving a close look to the Acme "Slim Cargo," Matt & Nat "Ramones," and Knomo "Saxby."
posted by John Cohen at 6:42 PM on May 8, 2011


A zipper to close the main compartment. I carry a lot of paper, and it can't get wet. And it rains a lot in NYC. If the only way to "close" the main compartment is to put a flap over it, I'm not going to feel comfortable.

John, I'm going to repeat that the flap is indeed the best thing for rain. I live in Portland, Oregon, and I take the bus, so my bag is definitely exposed. My messenger bag has a flap, and it's been outstanding. My bag (styled for women) is fake leather. The flap / fake leather combo is *perfect* for rainy days. I would avoid faux-suede if you are concerned about rain.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:49 PM on May 8, 2011


Having only skimmed through the answers, I can definitely say I'll be giving a close look to the Acme "Slim Cargo," Matt & Nat "Ramones," and Knomo "Saxby."

Scratch that: my current frontrunner is Matt & Nat "Barnes." (I have to put the Acme and Knomo on the back burner since I just noticed they have leather.)
posted by John Cohen at 7:15 PM on May 8, 2011


I've been eye-humping this Matt and Nat bag. Unfortunately, I don't have a kidney to sell to pick one up.
posted by purephase at 7:17 PM on May 8, 2011


You would probably really like the stuff by Mat & Nat ...

Their website only lists one store in nyc (and its one you've been to already), but i'm pretty sure i saw their women's purses in various stores last time i was in the city, so it might be worth calling around if you don't want to order online.


For the benefit of other New Yorkers who might be reading this thread and interested in Matt & Nat bags, I should correct this. Their website is confusing. I'm sure you went to store finder, then selected US, then New York (state), then "New York City," which turns up just one store (Moo Shoes, which, as you said, I've already been to). The problem is that you have to select a different city — the one called simply "New York" (no "City") — to see their 16 other stores in Manhattan!
posted by John Cohen at 7:22 PM on May 8, 2011


John, take a look at the Waterfield bags.

I am really happy with my Waterfield.
posted by dfan at 7:38 PM on May 8, 2011


Thirding the flap being rain proof. I was a bike messenger in Manhattan, and water getting in the bag was never an issue.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:30 PM on May 8, 2011


If you're worried about rain, some bags do come with a roll-up closure. Basically, the sides come up well above the closed height of the bag, and you're meant to fold the excess down several times like you'd fold the top of a paper lunch bag. This is the preferred design for the "dry bags" people use to carry electronics on kayaks.

That said, yeah, a flap is totally sufficient for walking around New York, and it is the standard way to keep rain out of messenger bags. In fact, when you asked for a zipper, I assumed you wanted the bag to zip up underneath the flap, in case it got tipped upside down or something.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:41 PM on May 8, 2011


Not ridiculously large.

Large in just height by length, or large in depth, or what?

I swear by Tom Bihn bags. And he uses wonderful splashproof zippers on many styles, like the ID, which I carried as my everyday bag for years.
posted by desuetude at 9:39 PM on May 8, 2011


I'm really pleased with my Tom Bihn bag. It doesn't look all sporting goodsy, is only big enough to hold what I need, and there are options a plenty.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 10:22 PM on May 8, 2011


My cousin in the Pacific Northwest has one of these. It's rainproof and is made from recycled tires. He likes it.
posted by JesseBikman at 10:23 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Heh, just came in here to recommend Tom Bihn as well. In fact I think I bought mine because of an earlier AskMe recommendation but whatever. I think their bags generally meet your requirements except for the zipper closure. Mine is well made and well designed. I definitely recommend them if one of the bags they sell suits your fancy.
posted by hattifattener at 10:29 PM on May 8, 2011


Burro Bags of Jacksonville, FL will custom make just about any kind of bag, with any kind of feature set you can describe, out of recycled highway advertising signwrap and other synthetic materials, at very reasonable prices. And, uh, they're fun folk to work with.
posted by paulsc at 11:14 PM on May 8, 2011


I have had a Manhattan Portage messenger bag for years, its survived all the rain Manchester can throw at it, that's a lot of rain.
posted by gallagho at 1:13 AM on May 9, 2011


2nding Bailey Works. Indestructible. Mines been though a couple bicycle accident and is no worse for wear, you can get them in several sizes, and if you're willing to wait a week or two, they'll make you one specifically with the colors you pick out.

They also employ a lot of single moms who can flex their schedules around whenever so they can work around their families. Badass.

To solve your map query, i use a cell phone case on the front strap, made by Chrome but there are many types of pouches or cell holders like this out there. Perfect for a wallet or a (folded) map. I'm sure you could find a waterproof version out there.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:35 AM on May 9, 2011


My dream bag is a custom made R.E.Load.

Currently, I have a Chrome that I love. Both are tough, waterproof, and not made of animals.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:39 AM on May 9, 2011


Check out this Waxed Canvas Fossil Wagner bag. You can get it at Macy's if you want to see it in person but it's more $ there.. No leather, waterproof, and I agree that foldover tops are more rain-proof than zippers.
posted by rmless at 2:33 PM on May 9, 2011


I just ordered the Victorinox "Werks Traveler" bag.

I'm also very impressed with Zappos.com. Very thorough info about each of their many bags, including multiple photos of each bag (for each color), and a video for most bags with their lovably dorky salespeople showing off all the features! Zappos also gives free shipping on all orders and returns. (If you're thinking of getting a Fossil or Matt & Nat bag, I recommend looking for them on Zappos in addition to those companies' own websites. You might find a better selection and/or better deals.)

I quote from Zappos's description of the bag I got:
High-density nylon fabric composition with a nylon twill lining delivers greater abrasion resistance and superior durability.

Adjustable webbing shoulder strap features a sliding cushion with gripping material that prevents slippage off your shoulder.

Comfort grip haul handles provide flexible carrying options by hand.

Front flap-over pocket features a wide, zippered pocket for quick access to items.

Rear pocket converts to a sleeve for sliding over most wheeled upright handle systems.

Patented, zip-away water bottle pocket conveniently holds your tasty beverages.

Top flap folds back to reveal an extra wide organizational pocket with storage for cell phone, pens, and more.

Main compartment features a laptop sleeve, two mesh pockets, and a slash pocket.

Dimensions: 15.0" wide x 5.5" deep x 12.0" high.
Emphasis added!

It meets every single one of my criteria, even the one I said was "asking a lot."

Thank you, AskMetafilter . . . especially you, invisible ink.
posted by John Cohen at 11:02 PM on May 9, 2011


Have you looked at Seagull Bags yet?
They are courier-ish but they also customize bags and may be able to provide something you're looking for.

I mention them because I bought one of the "courier" bags back in 2008 and haven't looked back. It has two main front pockets, velcro'd, and of course the main flap with two securing buckles. It's absolutely water-proof, as having been caught in the rain on my bike several times will prove. And this bag is tough. It's endured many nights of carrying 24 packs and 40's( I'm convinced this bag was designed to do that, the fit is too perfect)

All in all, I can't sing their praises enough. Would buy again.
posted by Wanderlust88 at 5:12 AM on May 10, 2011


MetaTalk
posted by bluedaisy at 10:08 PM on May 11, 2011


How about a Timbuk2 bag? They have lots of pockets, waterproof, great design and they are well constructed. I have a bag from Timbuk2 that I got at least ten years ago and I'm still using it today and it's still waterproof and intact.

You can get custom colors, multiple styles, etc.
posted by fuq at 7:01 AM on May 12, 2011


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