Does my perfect bag exist?
August 15, 2014 6:45 PM   Subscribe

I spend a lot of time out and about and need to carry stuff with me, and in my search for the perfect everyday-carrying-around bag, I've tried a LOT of bags. After a few years of this I've finally figured out my needs. Is there anything out there that meets all of these requirements?

-Horizontal messenger-style
-Large enough to hold a 14" laptop with other stuff, too--but not too large
-At least one external water bottle pocket, preferably two
-Sturdy and will hold up to lots of abuse
-Available in black or other dark colors

And, here is the kicker, in my perfect dream world this magical bag would convert into a pannier for my rear bike rack--and be comfortable to carry as a messenger bag when it's off the bike. But I'd also be happy to find a bag that doesn't convert if it still meets the above criteria.

For many years I carried around a Tom Bihn Ego. It's about the right form factor and holds everything I need it to and has the double water bottle pockets, but it's a little too big and bulky, especially for wearing crossbody while I'm biking. The Imago is just about the right size, but it lacks an external water bottle pocket, as do the rest of Tom Bihn's bags.

I own Timbuk2's newest convertible pannier, the Moraga, and it's just about perfect--two external bottle pockets and the pannier hardware tucks away so you don't notice it at all. Sadly, though, it's oddly shaped and not quite big enough--it can't even hold an 8.5x11 folder without smooshing it, and the weird shape makes it difficult to pack efficiently. It also only comes in grey and blue, neither of which I like very much. I am aware of the same company's Shift pannier, but I tried it in the store recently and the pannier hardware adds a pretty ridiculous amount of weight to the bag and is very bulky and inflexible and poke-y, making the bag uncomfortable to carry on my shoulder or cross-body.

I've also tried the Ortlieb Downtown pannier, but it's bulky and very uncomfortable to carry for more than just a quick stop.

Any other ideas? I'm not interested in a backpack, convertible or otherwise. I'm not willing or able to pay for something custom anytime soon. External water bottle pockets (by which I mean pockets that hold the bottle in a place where it's immediately accessible without having to open a flap, unzip anything, or reach inside the bag) are non-negotiable.
posted by rhiannonstone to Shopping (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think the Pacsafe CitySafe 400 Hobo Bag might fit all your needs, except for converting to a pannier. I use the smaller CitySafe 200 for my regular life, but it's very a tight squeeze for my smaller laptop plus a bit of other stuff.

The 400 has 2 exterior pockets, comes in at least black and brown, presumably as sturdy as the rest of my Pacsafe bags (they're actually lined with wire mesh, and I've never had one rip, over the last 10 years or so), and I'm estimating about the right size (you can try one in person at REI).

It's currently on sale at REI, which makes me think they might be about to put out a new model.

Well, I think I've sold myself on this for traveling (it has the back sleeve to slide over rollerboard handles) Maybe it'll be good for you too :)

Edit: added link.
posted by ktkt at 7:35 PM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ok to be fair I didn't have time
To click all links but please look at the ebags Kalya Town Square. It is the shit!!! So many awesomeS!!
posted by tristeza at 7:51 PM on August 15, 2014

Best answer: Are you familiar with North Star Bags from Portland? You might like the Route 9 convertible, which generally meets your criteria except that it's vertical not horizontal.

I see them used a lot around town, and they appear sturdy.

You might also try Etsy.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:50 PM on August 15, 2014

I scrolled down to recommend the larger PacSafe bags only to find that ktkt beat me to it! I will say that I love my PacSafe bag. I originally bought it to use for travel, but was so impressed that I started using mine (the same CitySafe bag) everyday and have for years and it is indestructible. If you can find it in a suitable size, you will not be disappointed.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 12:42 AM on August 16, 2014

The 5.11 Tactical Rush series of messenger bags are sturdy, well reviewed and meet your requirements. They're a bit mall ninja in khaki, but in black they would be fine I think.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:50 AM on August 16, 2014

The Tough Traveler line of bags and luggage is a hometown & regional favorite here in upstate New York, but I had never heard of them before moving to this area. The products are super sturdy. They offer briefcases and messenger bag styles.
posted by Ardea alba at 6:12 AM on August 16, 2014

Best answer: You might like Po Campo's Loop pannier. REI stocks Po Campo, so you might be able to see one in person. I've been quite happy with the quality of my Po Campo bags and they really handle more like bags that "bike bags" (I also find Ortleib really uncomfortable to carry off a bike) although they are sturdy like bike bags and secure on a rack like bike bags.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:37 AM on August 16, 2014

The Dipped York Brief from Jack Spade has been a wonderful bag. With some extra clips I imagine the shoulder strap hooks could be used to attach it to a bicycle, otherwise it fits your description perfectly.
posted by alhadro at 4:32 PM on August 16, 2014

Response by poster: I ordered the Po Campo Loop Pannier, and it arrived Friday. Is the closest to perfect I've found so far, so thank you, crush-onastick!

I like how nice it looks (professional but not too much so, with attention paid to little design elements), and the fact that it wears/carries like a normal bag, with almost no hint it's also a pannier. It's also easy to attach to and remove from my bike rack. I wish it were just a tiny bit bigger--like, maybe 20% bigger--and that the expandable side bottle pockets were a more integrated part of the bag rather than being zip-open pockets with elastic straps, which feel like an afterthought to be used only in case of emergency instead of a functional dual-bottle-carrying system. But I do think it's going to be my everyday on-and-off-the-bike bag, at least until something else better comes along!
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:39 PM on August 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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