A rugged, semi-professional flap-top bag or briefcase or whatever.
December 22, 2013 3:09 PM   Subscribe

I need a sturdy flap-top briefcase or messenger bag for holding a 15" laptop, books, notepads, and small personal items. I am considering the Saddleback thin briefcase, but the prominent role of Bibles in the product demo videos on the Saddleback site is giving me pause. I'm also wondering if a similar price/quality ratio can't be found at a lower cost.

Price: Up to and including what a Saddleback thin briefcase costs (~$500). I want to buy this once.
Material: Not nylon; prefer leather or a durable, high-quality, waterproof, easy-to-clean, natural cloth (example 1, example 2).
Color: No bold nylon colors; preferably a dark brown, black, grey, etc.
Look & Feel: The bag should not give the impression that I wear a suit at work (e.g., not this). But it should look sturdy, well-made, and relatively subdued and professional.
Desired Features: I prefer real buckles to magnetic clasps. I want a comfortable handle in addition to a good shoulder strap. The handle should be comfortable and well-balanced. I find that a flat handle quickly becomes uncomfortable. A quick-access side pocket is a nice bonus.

I see a wide range of bags on department store websites, on Zappos, and on luggage sites. There is now also a ton of Saddleback knockoffs on Amazon (example) — I assume they're optimized for their resemblance to Saddleback products in photos, rather than for quality. I am generally unable to inspect bags in person, since the stores near me don't carry more than a few.

Help me choose the right bag the first time. This bag is the runner-up so far, but I dislike the magnetic clasp and cloth shoulder strap. This knockoff also looks pretty good, but I don't know anything about it except that it's a Chinese-made Saddleback knockoff.
posted by Nomyte to Shopping (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I asked something somewhat similar in September, if it's of any use! I didn't get a ton of answers, though.
posted by limeonaire at 3:19 PM on December 22, 2013

I can't recommend the Filson Briefcase Computer Bag highly enough. I love, LOVE mine. Not inexpensive, but worth every cent.
posted by The Michael The at 3:30 PM on December 22, 2013

I held my nose at the religious ostentation and bought that exact Saddleback briefcase a few years ago. Couldn't be happier with it. It's a beautiful bag that will take a lot of abuse. In fact, I've been looking for something Saddleback-quality in a style they don't make but haven't found anything for less than $800. Low price:quality is Saddleback's whole deal.
posted by arrmatie at 3:30 PM on December 22, 2013

FWIW, caveats abound:
Possibly too odd stylistically: "Gustav" by seventy-eight percent

From Japan: Herz makes a range of great looking leather bags.

I don't have personal experience with any of these. The only recent bag I've used that remotely matches your specs would be the Kletterworks "Kurier", and while well-made, I don't find it to be particularly well-designed.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 3:31 PM on December 22, 2013

I had similar requirements, and wound up on the Frye Logan Flap Brief Case, in the antique cognac finish. The computer sleeve holds my 15" MBP snugly, and there's room for a few more items (notebooks and such) without it starting to look overly full or bulky.

I couldn't be happier with it.
posted by grudgebgon at 3:33 PM on December 22, 2013

I've had this Dr Koffer laptop briefcase for just over 2 years and remain extremely happy with it. Functionally, it meets all of my needs and organizes the crap out of me. It doesn't quite hit the "lifetime durability" that I was hoping for - honestly, if Saddleback made an equivalent bag I'd probably invest in one - but it is so freaking functional I can't help but recommend it to you even though it does have magnetic fastenings.

Here's why I love it:

2 sides - laptop(s) [I can squeeze two in if I need to] go in one side, separated and padded from the other side. Extremely sturdy magnetic closures fasten each side, I have NEVER had them open without me wanting them to open, but they're also a breeze to open with one hand (try doing that with a buckle - I didn't think I'd like them, but I love them). The laptop side also has a flat file pocket where papers can be slid in without bending them.

Front side has space to organize all of my crap. Inside the voluminous front pocket there are pockets seemingly purpose made for both of my phones then card slots (which I don't use and a big space that neatly fits my charger, etc., etc. This bag is small enough to not be overpowering on a small woman (which I am) but spacious enough to be the only bag I bring on many overnight trips.

There are two additional flap pockets on the front which I generally use to sort car keys and chap stick into.

The handle is very comfortable. The shoulder strap is removable.

After 2 years, my gripes are that the lining is beginning to fray in the areas where I use it hard and repeatedly, and that the leather will clearly not last for 30 years. However, this kick-ass bag takes a serious beating from me nearly every day of the week, and still works perfectly and is a very functional bag. I get compliments nearly every month.
posted by arnicae at 3:33 PM on December 22, 2013

Based on a previous question I got an Ernest Alexander bag and couldn't be happier with it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:34 PM on December 22, 2013

There's also Hard Graft.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:38 PM on December 22, 2013

FWIW, I find the Saddleback to be too fiddly-looking. I don't think it's a style you'll love for long. I got a leather Coach briefcase messenger bag on eBay a few years ago and get more compliments on it than any other single item I own. Here's a link to a similar item. It's really good looking, not too formal, definitely subdued and professional, and the aging over the last couple of years has only made it better.
posted by pomegranate at 4:12 PM on December 22, 2013

Have you seen the Saddleback bags in person? My brother-in-law has one in the Tobacco color and it is gorgeous. I'm not someone who would tend to notice a guy's bag unless it was pretty special, but his really caught my eye. I'd buy one in a heartbeat if I could afford it.

Which is not to say it is anything less than manly. I'm just not particularly girly.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:35 PM on December 22, 2013

I logged in to recommend checking out Duluth Pack - they have briefcases. Made in the USA, lifetime guarantee, looks like they'd fit your specifications.

However! Their website appears to be a bit borked right now: everything is loading fine for me EXCEPT for the actual pictures of the bags. Wait a bit, they'll probably come back soon.
posted by Elly Vortex at 4:43 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Have you seen the Saddleback bags in person?

I've seen them on the street twice. Both times I stopped to compliment the person, because that's what you do when you see someone carry one. But I've never seen one in a store, and I certainly haven't examined one in detail. For all I know, they are completely impractical.
posted by Nomyte at 4:53 PM on December 22, 2013

Custom Hide has those classic satchel type briefcases. I haven't seen them in person but the reviews I've read in the men's style forums are very favorable.
posted by cazoo at 5:20 PM on December 22, 2013

I find the saddleback guy smarmy and think they trade on a romantic idealization of durability and craftsmanship.

However, I have the thin leather briefcase, and it is beautiful. Almost too beautiful to use, but it looks even better after a month of abuse. The belt buckle is honestly annoying and makes me wish I could have some kind of modern clasp even if it means the bag only lasts 20 years rather than 100. However, after a month of breaking in, the buckle is easier to use, and the shoulder strap is actually quite comfortable. FYI I have a medium sized, it's perfect for a 13-inch macbook inside a neoprene sleeve, a pad of paper and some odds and ends. When I need to lug around books, I often end up taking my old backpack.

Also, I'd imagine that giving your money to the management of an Chinese exporter of cheaply made leather bags might not make you any happier than giving it to Saddleback. YMMV
posted by skewed at 5:55 PM on December 22, 2013

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