Help me make my dream bag.
May 26, 2006 10:34 AM   Subscribe

What are the best, most useful, most ingenious backpack/messenger bag features you've ever seen?

I'm planning on making my own backpack/messenger bag with convertible straps. I'll use it sometimes for commuting, but mainly as an under seat carry-on for long distance travel. It will carry a laptop (which will have its own sleeve) and a few other small items.

Since it will be a custom job, I plan on adding all the useful features I can. I thought I would ask my fellow AskMefites if they have any bag features that they can't live without. Do you have a bag with super comfy straps? Does it have some kind of pocket that you can't live without? Are there special flaps to keep out the rain? Do those little metal feet at the bottom of some bags really matter? What kinds of materials are resilient enough to put up with lots of abuse? Any ideas about compartments for carrying snacks that won't get squished? I need descriptions, links and (especially) pictures.

I have lots of leather, canvas and vinyl and I have the parts to add a lighting system. I'm also experimenting with ways to stiffen the back so I can use it like a desk and adding a pillow to the front flap for naps. Other than that, I'm stumped. Any input or ideas would be welcome.
posted by Alison to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
the chrome messenger bags have this great system of loosening and tightening the strap...i've never seen it on any other bags, and its infinitely useful....
posted by xospecialk at 10:39 AM on May 26, 2006

If you are going to have a cell phone pocket attached to the strap (as many messenger bags do), design it custom to your phone so that there is a clear window and you can see who is calling (assuming you have caller ID) without removing the phone. Also, if your phone lights up in any way, you could probably point some fiber optics to where the light source will be and do something cool with that (some sort of light-up design on the bag/strap)
posted by mikepop at 10:39 AM on May 26, 2006

Slight derail: I'm really interested in seeing how your bag develops. I've given some thought to custom solutions, but don't quite have the guts to go about doing it. I'm hoping your experience will prove inspiring.

Perhaps a post to Make or Instructables would be in order?
posted by aladfar at 10:50 AM on May 26, 2006

key fob. It's not exactly rocket science, but it definitely helps keys from getting lost.

Also, it might be cool to have some way to thread your power cord out so you could charge the laptop without taking it out of the bag?

To carry snacks and stuff you'll want to have something sturdy. I'd think maybe a customized compartment that perfectly fits your favorite size tupperware?

I'm a big fan of WaterField, you should check them out for inspiration.
posted by radioamy at 10:53 AM on May 26, 2006

Second key fob, and add a semi-rigid shell attached to inner lining for glasses/sunglasses.

And please, post pics somewhere when you're done - I'm curious...
posted by pdb at 11:02 AM on May 26, 2006

A quick release cam-type buckle on the main strap so you can tighen it up on the bike, but release it easily so that its comfortable to wear when walking.

A stabilization strap from the bottom of the bag across the torso clipping midway on the main sholder strap. This prevents the bag from slipping off your backside when biking.

A small pocket on the outside of the bag for lock keys, wallet and cellphone.
posted by bonehead at 11:20 AM on May 26, 2006

I love the Tom Bihn sling bags - the Buzz is my current favorite.
posted by luriete at 11:26 AM on May 26, 2006

I have a MEC bag with a diagonal/curved "slash" pocket on the front that can be accessed if the bag is on its side or on its end without spilling anything out.

It's this bag:

The zip on the right right is the one I'm talking about. It's always "up".
posted by GuyZero at 11:52 AM on May 26, 2006

My bag has a little pocket for an iPod, which is pretty handy.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:07 PM on May 26, 2006

I have an older Port Noteworthy (sold now by Targus) bag that I love for two features:

1) The strap is very strong and stable. The part that fits over my shoulder is padded well, but it also is made of a strong elastic, so it gives when I sling the bag over my shoulder. This is exceptionally comfortable, especially when the bag is packed with laptop, books, and other gear. There is a picture of a similar replacement strap on the Targus web site here, although you can't really tell that it's elastic.

2) The size of the laptop pocket can be adjusted with velcro-backed padding. I'm using this bag on my second laptop, and I was able to move these pads to accommodate my new laptop. Targus calls this their patented "SafePORT" system, and do not provide pictures, unfortunately. But it is totally sweet and useful - I've dropped the bag w/laptop once or twice without incident.

Also, in looking for pictures of my case, I found this thread on Slashdot that might be helpful to you too.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:17 PM on May 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Chrome bags have a thick layer of nylon as the exterior, then another separate bag that is attached to the underside of the flap. Completely waterproof.
I second xospecialk's mention that strap adjustment on Chrome bags. Bonus points if you can salvage a vintage seat belt buckle from a junkyard.
Exterior adjustable mesh netting pocket for leaky water bottle or wet foldup umbrella.
If you run outside, strappies on the outside for dirty sneakers.
Not really relevant for a diy messenger bag, but the Roly Poly bag seems clever.
Hidden stash pocket inside for a spare 20$
Rather than a permanent pillow, have a pocket where you can stuff a jacket - instant pillow!
Someone made a bag with the golden ratio as a basis and seemed pleased.
I've read very good things about the Domke post office style shoulder strap.
Good luck!
posted by enfa at 12:44 PM on May 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

I knew someone with a purse rigged up with a refrigerator- like (turned on when the bag was opened) light inside. That was pretty fun.
posted by samsarah at 12:56 PM on May 26, 2006

...and I really should have read and seen that you already thought of that
posted by samsarah at 1:03 PM on May 26, 2006

The material you want (out of which all messenger bags are made) is Cordura. You will find it to be relatively expensive, and you'll need a heavy duty sewing machine to sew it (the fibers will clog a typical home sewing machine). I was also looking to make a custom bag at one point, but I never did find a source for the waterproofing rubber you'll find inside chrome bags.

The main suggestion I would make is to make your bag bigger than you first think you should. I own a chrome "citizen" bag which looks big enough, but if I were commuting and transporting a laptop along with a change of clothes and shoes, or a bunch of groceries, the bag would need to be bigger.

I third the chrome strap suggestion; the quick pull and release is easy to use and very smooth. I never use the seatbelt clasp, however. The chrome bags also have small pockets on either side of the main compartment, which I find exceedingly useful for change, small tools, digital cameras, etc.
posted by beerbajay at 1:26 PM on May 26, 2006

My perfect bag is somewhere between my current Timbuktu messenger bag and my old Dickies DJ bag.

The Timbuktu has the nice quick release straps and has an awesome cross-strap for securing it low on my back so it doesn't jostle or hurt. It has a quick release velcro strap on my laptop section so I can grab my laptop one handed in the airport security lane (the separate sleeve makes it a pain).

It's made from durable stuff on the inside (waterproof, etc) and lovely wool on the outside so I like how it looks in a casual and business situation. It has a strap with a clip for my keys, ipod, phone and etc. holders on the inside.

The Dickies bag had two external cellphone pockets (great for one ipod, one phone or whatever random thing). The top flap had a zipper pocket for stuffing things without having to open the whole bag up. It also had a ipod/cellphone holder that velcroed on the strap with a clear ID window on its flap (great for bus pass/BART tickets/IDs). The ipod/phone holder had a hole cut in the top for headphones/hands free.

Too much stiffening (like hardboard) adds weight and makes it more difficult to fit in the awkwardly shaped under the seats (like United coach aisle seats).
posted by Gucky at 2:46 PM on May 26, 2006

I just bought a Sherpani 'Flora' messenger bag -- just for commuting to work, not for yoga-gear-hauling -- and am highly pleased with it. The shoulder strap is very strong, comfy, is attached with swiveling brackets, and has a reflective stripe. The carrying handle is great, and there's an adjustable (and also removable) strap to go around your waist if you're bicycling. (I don't like the magnetic closure on my bag, however.) The company also has cute/useful-looking laptop bags and laptop sleeves that might inspire you.

Also browse through eBags for inspiration. How cool to make your own bag!
posted by oldtimey at 2:46 PM on May 26, 2006

I absolutely adore the strap design on my Pac bag. If you're going to do a single strap design, I recommend checking their stuff out for inspiration (that said, I'm also a big believer in two-strap bags but my Ortlieb bag has basically no features/gimmicks whatsoever). The adjustment/quick release mechanism for the main strap is very similar to the Chrome design but my friends can't poke me in the chest and make my bag fall off. The "x strap" is definitely useful if you're going to carry heavy loads. Also if you're gonna' make a big bag, compression straps are a necessity. Oh yeah, and on the Pac, I love the fact that the front of the bag, under the main flap, is pretty much covered with huge straps of velcro and all of the extraneous straps have velcro on the ends so that when they're not in use, they can be neatly tucked up under the main strap instead of dangling below your bag.

Have fun!
posted by leecifer at 4:20 PM on May 26, 2006

I ditto the timbuktu bag. You can customize it, buy an ipod case and you can get a bag that will protect a laptop.
posted by oronico at 8:23 PM on May 26, 2006

My Booq bag has an external pocket flap which is kept closed by two fairly strong magnets. This is absolutely great for keeping commonly used items secure yet easy to access with little digging.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:49 PM on May 26, 2006

my perfect bag would have a zipper and not a flap
also, having enough pockets is very key
one or two inside with a few pockets for pdas, ipods and phones would be good
i would also recommend a quick access pocket in the back of the bag which would be large enough to hold 8.5x11 paper or a magazine.
posted by cjw333 at 10:16 PM on May 26, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, everyone!

I love the idea of finding a seatbelt buckle for quick release. I'll have to test that idea out to see if it is comfortable. I also like the idea of having a way of charging my laptop without taking it out of the bag.

Unfortunately, due to a fused spine anything resembling a sling bag is out. I need to be able to distribute the weight evenly or have a way to shift the strap from shoulder to shoulder. I like the concept of the X-strap, but it isn't exactly what I need.

I'm going to go to New York next week and I'll try to pick up some Cordura samples. I really want to screen print something interesting on the front flap, so if Cordura can't hold ink I will go with heavy canvas with a leather bottom 1/3. I'm thinking about putting a layer of plastic or vinyl between the outside layer and inner lining, but it might be too bulky.

I'll mull over the advice given here and post the design sketches when I figure out what I want.

posted by Alison at 9:32 PM on May 27, 2006

Response by poster: Here is the three month update...

I still have not built the main body of the bag, but I have drawn up diagrams for the pattern pieces. The bag will be square-shaped with a water bottle/umbrella pocket on one side and a cooler pocket (made from an old insulated lunch bag) on the other. Inside I will have a wall of velcro so that I can find my important electronics more easily. I've been working with a few materials to find the right one, but the sturdiest, lightest ones would be the most difficult to screen print. I'll link to pictures of the prototypes when I build them.

posted by Alison at 8:33 PM on September 4, 2006

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