The Saddleback Leather Company makes rugged and elegant bags, suitcases, and accessories that look as if they came right out of an Indiana Jones fan-fic. Their products incorporate high quality, thick leather and real steel rivets. It's something that could easily be handed down to the next generation of finicky nerds.
I opted for the "Large" bag since that's the smallest that will accommodate a 15" laptop. The small would be nice for a small laptop, but after using the large, I'm convinced it's the perfect size for me.2 I imagine the XL could carry an iMac or your own minstrel. The Saddleback descriptions are worth a watch.
The incredible build quality is immediately obvious with the Classic Briefcase. Everywhere that a corner could be cut, more was added. The stitching is surprisingly thick and all of the areas that hold weight get double stitching. All of the rivets are pressed solid and all are doubled.
The second thing I noticed was the odor. It wasn't unpleasant, but this is real leather. It smells like a cowboy's ass. The odor dissipates after several weeks, but if you throw an apple in the bag for lunch, it will taste like a cowboy's ass six hours later. If that's your thing, then you should be clicking the buy button already.
While I consider the bag durable, it's not impervious. Like any fine leather, it can be marred. I don't treat my bag delicately. I throw it around and jam it in the corner at conferences. Consequently, there are fine scrapes (visible in the photo below). These are easy to buff out with a good leather conditioner. In fact, the best treatment I've used was also made specifically for Saddleback Leather.
The briefcase has two outer side pockets. They are large and do not close. They are perfect for holding keys but I wouldn't put anything too valuable in them.3
The the back pocket runs the full length of the bag and clenches documents tightly. Again, it does not close or latch. I actually prefer it this way. It's a perfect place for conference agendas and other things you need quick access to when deciding what speaker track will get you to the bar fastest.
There are a couple inner pockets. These also do not close. Unlike most synthetic-fiber bags, the pockets on the Saddleback bulge open. This makes it easy to access items in the pockets. The internal pockets tend to hold their contents well, as long as the bag is buckled tight.
The important thing to remember with the Saddleback briefcase is that it is not prone to tip over. This bag is proud. It stands firm and resists tips much better than most ballistic-fabric bags. That was my main motivation for switching to a big-boy bag. I tired of my bag flipping and toppling at the slightest provocation. The Saddleback bows to no man.
Because the bag stands vertical, the open pockets are less of a concern. The items I stuff in the pockets tend to stay there.
As an added convenience, I've add the the Tom Bihn Freudian Slip as an insert. This light insert adds several pockets, pen holders and zipper enclosures. Importantly, the Freudian Slip fits snuggley in the Saddleback. In fact, the fit is so tight, it feels like part of the bag. It stays in place perfectly and adds some extra padding to boot. This is where I put my iPad. I also stash several pens and markers, along with some nice 3x5 cards.
This is the point in the review that we get serious. If you like leather, then this might be the best bag you ever buy. If you don't, then move along. I happen to prefer a good leather bag over the best synthetic bag.
The Saddleback is part leather and part steel. Every facet of the bag contains a steel D-ring. I'm not sure why it was designed with so many D-rings, but even Mad Max would find this steampunk design a bit excessive. If you want to clip something to this bag, you will be in no shortage of places to explore.
The D-Rings aren't cheap. They are thick and solid. They do not deform when strained. The real use of all of this steel is to make the bag into what you need it to be. If you want to strap a tripod to it, you can. If you want to carry a small donkey strapped to your back, then this bag can do it.
The Saddleback is a shoulder bag. It can convert to a backpack with some minor changes, but I would rather set it on fire and put it out with urine than to wear it as a backpack.
I've found the rings and belt-style latches to be useful. I clip keys and flashlights to the bag. The belt latches hold strong and are very substantial. In an era of quick-clip plastic latches, it feels good to buckle a bag and know that almost nothing will break the latch.
8lbs. This bag is 8lbs.
Think about that before buying it. The MacBook Pro is 4.5lbs. Carrying the Saddleback is like carrying a small calf on your shoulder. I'm a big guy. I stand over six feet and weigh over 17 stone. This bag still feels heavy. And it smells like cowboy ass.
I've carried this bag to two conferences. The first one gave me a stiff neck. The second made me feel like a Viking. The weight is considerable in modern standards, but I carried a Dell Inspiron to Poland and back. This bag feels fine now. It feels better than "fine." It feels like you give a shit about what you carry.
This bag will rightfully increase your swagger. Because of its girth and weight, you stand straight and stout. Maybe it's the smell of cowboy ass or the jangling steel but this bag feels important. It feels like you are the accessory and the bag is the one entering the room.
I like the Saddleback. It's the best made bag I've ever owned. I feel inadequate when I carry it. This bag is not for everyone. It is very expensive and will add effort to every journey. Its job is not to relieve you of your burden. Its job is to remind you why you bear it.
This is not a "first bag" or a something you take on interviews. This is the bag you buy when you are planning a 401K or thinking about how in the hell you will pay for your kid's college. This is the bag you finish with, not the bag you start with.
The Saddleback Briefcase feels like an article out of time. This is how they made furniture and luggage in the 1800's. The Saddleback represents the mythology of American manufacturing but you need to be up to the standard. You don't choose the Saddleback, it chooses you.
Stay with me. I probably don't mean this as simplistically as it's stated here. I'm way less of an asshole than you think. ↩
I'm 6'1" and thick as walrus. The large is 16" W x 12" H x 9" D ↩
I keep a utility knife clipped to the inside of one. Because the leather is about an 1/8th in thick, the knife holds tight. ↩