Looking for the Holy Grail of Messenger Bags
October 30, 2019 10:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm on a quest to find the perfect (for me) messenger bag. Can you help?

The messenger bag is the best form of bag, in my opinion. Once, long ago I had a perfect one. Purchased on a whim at the mall in High School, it was a dark army green Fossil bag, made of smooth canvas but with piped edges to give it a fair bit of structure. It wasn't heavy, but was very rugged. Wasn't that expensive, maybe $25 back in 1999 dollars. It had one large interior pocket, with two smaller pockets on the front. The back and flap each had a zippered pocket, and I believe it had a magnetic clasp. It did not have a top handle and the strap was a stronger woven canvas, no shoulder pad thingy.

I used this bag every freaking day for years. I only stopped because it finally started giving out at the edges, and I tucked it away in the back of my closet. That was well over a decade ago. Since then I've probably purchased at least a dozen other messenger bags, but none have been able to hold a candle to the first. They're all too heavy, or floppy, or not enough pockets, or weirdly unbalanced, or or or...

To sum up, my perfect bag:
-Sturdy, smooth, somewhat lightweight canvas
-Holds its shape, but doesn't have to be strong enough to stand up on its own.
- (new for the modern laptop era) a divided main pocket with space for my work laptop.
-Magnetic front closure

So, fellow mefites who love messenger bags as much as I do, what are your favorites? Do they have similar properties to what I am looking for? If so, sing their praises and link their pages to me! I am open to most price points, but I'd prefer not to spend over $100 unless you're sure I'll never have to buy another bag again.
posted by sharp pointy objects to Shopping (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I have an old (1994) Courier Ware bag that is still amazing: huge and well-made, but just three interior and three exterior pockets. They have new models with more pockets and other features, in all sizes.

I also found an old (2005-ish?) Timbuktu bag at a thrift store this spring: smaller in size, but many interesting pockets. It has ordinary buckles, but it should be pretty easy to swap in magnets if you're handy.

Are you familiar with Courier Ware from Vermont (late of Cambridge, MA)? And have you considered fixing a nearly-perfect model, whether new or gently used?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:25 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Rickshaw Bagworks laptop/commuter bags are nylon, but hit a lot of these points - hold their shape, lots of pockets (specifically in the commuter bags - the other Rickshaw messengers are less pocketed), laptop pocket, shoulder strap pad is removable.

My Rickshaw commuter bag has a magnetic "silencer" that sticks over the velcro closure, which is my favorite thing about the bag, but I can't tell whether their current models still offer the magnets.
posted by pemberkins at 10:43 AM on October 30, 2019

If you still love the original bag, you might want to scour Poshmark every week or so to look for another one in good condition. I've replaced many beloved accessories/clothes from my past this way, though it does require patience. :)
posted by homodachi at 10:48 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

is this your bag?

Other search links:

Men's fossil messenger bags on poshmark
Women's fossil bags on poshmark (sorry, no "messenger" category; it's best to search everything)
posted by homodachi at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not for nothing, but Timbuk2 is apparently having a sale today (promo code TREAT30).

They don't do canvas or magnets, but the quality is super high.
posted by uberchet at 10:57 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I review canvas messengers and laptop bags as a sort of side project at my job. I'm afraid these may be a bit too expensive, but the Waterfield Vitesse is pretty reasonable. Worth at least looking into for inspiration!

Waterfield, Trakke, Mission Workshop messengers

Manhattan Portage, Saddleback, Joshu+Vela bags
Croots, Filson, Ona bags

Hope you find what you're looking for!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:50 AM on October 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses!

Wow BLF, your reviews have shown me a whole world of bags I barely knew existed! And I'm pretty sure my first bag was also waxed canvas, it had certainly developed that patina the reviews mention, that I loved. I might just have to horde my pennies for one of these babies. Which one was your favorite long-term?
posted by sharp pointy objects at 12:19 PM on October 30, 2019

Ooooh, Waterfield make nice stuff. I have a case for an original iPod that I won't throw away, just because it's so well-made and the fabric is still so pretty.

If you're into canvas, jump down the rabbit hole of the Duluth Pack Company and Frost River Trading Company (both of which are in Duluth, MN), as well as all their many inferior imitators. Sorry in advance!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:32 PM on October 30, 2019

Wow, Courier Ware still exists! I still have a couple of their bags; they must be nearly 20 years old now.

Tom Bihn's Maker's Bag has a looooot of pockets. Believe it can accommodate up to a 13" laptop. Not canvas, though.
posted by praemunire at 12:35 PM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

FWIW I've had the Waterfield Vitesse for over a year and love it so far.
posted by RGD at 1:17 PM on October 30, 2019

Hi, I came in to recommend the timbuk 2 commuter. It's really versatile, light, customizable. One recommendation I would make is to look into if they will put a hand on the top. Mine doesn't have one and sometimes I like to carry a bag with me. Good luck with the search!
posted by I_count_crows at 6:00 PM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Baileyworks has lots of options and holds up great!
posted by Unioncat at 10:09 AM on October 31, 2019

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