Saddleback Leather Co. Waterbag Medium Review

I grant you Saddleback Leather’s Waterbag is not a gadget or tech device of any kind…..its not even specifically designed to carry around tech gear and/or their accessories. But it is an incredibly well made, stylish piece of travel gear, designed to (easily) withstand the test of decades of travel and the hard/rough-road taken. When I opened the box from Saddleback I literally heard the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme rumbling through my head. The Waterbag is classic, timeless, rugged, manly, tough as nails, bad to the bone ( ;) )…..all terms that come to mind when I think about anything created by Saddleback Leather Company, actually.

The Gadgeteer Team has reviewed quite a few Saddleback products over the years and a majority of them reference Indiana Jones or the Raider of the Lost Ark movies in their reviews. As you have read, I have done the same thing. All of Saddleback’s creations radiate old-world craftsmanship, handmade artistry, over-the-top rugged design, and the highest quality materials; all backed by a lifetime warranty. If you have researched Saddleback Leather Company’s products at all, you know they are definitely not the cr@p#y, mass manufactured, thin-leather bags from China. Saddleback products are hand-made in Mexico.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 20″w x 9 1/2″d x 6″-18″h (50.8cm x 24.1cm x 15.2cm – 45.7cm)
  • Weight: Approx 10 pounds
  • Leather: 100% Hypoallergenic 4 to 5 oz (2.0mm to 2.2mm) thick Full Grain chrome tanned leather
  • Construction: The body is made from one solid piece of leather
  • Thread: The double zero continuous-filament Polyester thread

Features:

  • Constructed of full grain leather
  • Made of one solid leather piece
  • Fully tanned leather
  • Hidden nylon reinforcing straps
  • No breakable parts
  • Sewn together with industrial thread
  • One big long seam

The Waterbag is available in four colors:

  • Chestnut
  • Carbon black
  • Dark coffee
  • Tobacco

Build Quality and Design:

Like all the Saddleback Leather (SBL) bags I have seen/reviewed over the years, they are built to last and last and last. So far, I have yet to have one of their items even break in. The Waterbag is the most rugged SBL item I have used so far and I do not foresee it even breaking in for a VERY long time, let alone wear out. Saddleback Leather bags are constructed of 4-5 ounce full grain leather, which comes from the top layer of the cow hide (the toughest part).

The main body of the Waterbag is formed from a single piece of their ultra thick leather, stitched together with double zero continuous-filament polyester thread. The two main (front and back) flaps are held closed by three straps that are attached in the back of the bag and buckles to the front. The two side flaps fold underneath the front and back flaps. This design keeps your contents secure, but the buckles also mean that you won’t be able to quickly open the Waterbag.

As you can see, the three straps are securely attached to the back of the Waterbag. As with all critical points on Saddleback products, they are secured via stitching and rivets. This is just one of the (many) configurations the Waterbag can be transformed into.

There is nothing of note on the bottom of the bag. Although the base of the Waterbag is just as tough as the rest of the bag; I envision it taking the most abuse (being dragged around and scuffed more than the other parts of the bag).

The sides of the Waterbag have several connection points to attach the various straps. There are two d-rings on each side, meant to attach the shoulder strap for carrying the bag in the classic, over-the shoulder method. The right side of the bag has a single o-ring at the base and the left has two, one on each corner. These o-rings enable you to wear the Waterbag as a backpack.

The handles are well padded, strongly stitched and easy to carry the bag with. When I traveled with the Waterbag, I occasionally needed to take it off my shoulder and carry it via the handles to give my shoulder a (needed) rest.

To give the Waterbag form and the interior extra protection, Saddleback includes two rigid, leather covered liners, 6″ and 9″ (pictured) high. When new and not broken in, the Waterbag can stand on its own. But once the leather begins to soften, the liner will allow the bag to stand open on its own.

The Waterbag comes with a thick, relatively comfortable shoulder strap with two pads, for carrying the bag over your shoulder or as a backpack.

It also comes with a secondary handle to be used in some of the Waterbag’s many configurations. This smaller handle is as well made as the rest of the bag.

Form and Function:

I travel quite a bit for my day job, bouncing around the US for varying periods of time.  A majority of the time, I go on an overnight or two/three day trips that requires more space than a small bag allows for but not enough to take a large roller bag. The Waterbag’s ability to expand when needed is ideal for this type of travel.

I can carry the obligatory pants, shirts, undies, and two days worth of workout gear and size thirteen running shoes within the Waterbag: total weight 22 pounds. I compared it to my small roller bag and the weight is comparable. The difference is that my roller bag has wheels (obviously) and the Waterbag is designed to be worn over the shoulder, as a backpack, or carried by the handle; all methods are more of a burden than dragging along a wheeled bag.

My typical travel wear easily fits into the Waterbag.

While the Waterbag has a nice volume to travel for a few days, it is heavy…..over 10 pounds heavy, empty and over 20 filled. If there was one single Con throughout a majority of the Saddleback reviews we have done here at The Gadgeteer, its the weight of their products. For me the Waterbag weighs as much as the three days of clothes I pack into it. But that is fine with me, I am tall, in relatively good shape and strong enough to manhandle it. So, humping around the Waterbag is not too much of a hassle. I found the key to packing this bag around is managing what other bags you bring with it. On my first airplane (cross country) trip with the Waterbag, I also brought my booq Boa Flow backpack to carry my tech-gear. In retrospect, a tactical error on my part….both bags needed to go over my shoulder and were definitely in each others way and too much of a burden (from a logistical & weight perspective) as well.

I have reviewed several Saddleback bags over the years and they have yet to disappoint me. And to be honest, the Waterbag is by far my favorite from not only a look/style but a form/function perspective as well. It did a great job carrying my non-tech stuff from Seattle to Raleigh and back. During this trip, I received no less than a half-dozen compliments on the Waterbag from the little old lady at Starbucks to the TSA agents running the security screening. It did get a few minor scuffs and scraps going in and out of the overhead but they quickly faded. Admittedly $645 dollars is not cheap; but considering the build and material quality, craftsmanship, look and style, it is a far better value than the designer bags you can purchase for much more. If you can manage the Waterbags overall weight, I could not recommend it more.

If you are interested in getting one of these or just curious, here is a great video by Dave (founder and owner of SBL) that shows many of the configurations the Waterbag can transform into. Well worth a watch…..

Note: The links to Saddleback Leather Company on this page are affiliate links. If you use one of these links to make a purchase, we will earn a small percentage of the sale, so we appreciate it if you click through.

 

Product Information

Price:$710 - $820
Manufacturer:Saddleback Leather Company
Pros:
  • - Excellent materials and craftsmanship
  • - Well designed/engineered
  • - Beautiful/gorgeous/eye-catching
  • - Adjustable volume size
  • - Will last forever
  • - Lifetime warranty
Cons:
  • - Heavy
  • - Expensive
Posted in: Bags, Reviews, Travel Gear

3 comments… add one

  • Matt March 7, 2011, 2:31 pm

    I LOVE Saddleback. I have bought four pieces from them. Unfortunately, I had to return two and sell one…and it killed me to do so. The reason is not quality; you simply will not find a higher quality product on the market. Yes, you definitely pay for that quality, but that’s not even the reason I had to get rid of three of the pieces. Here is my trouble with Saddleback. Rather than the pieces adapting to the way I live and travel, I always end-up having to adapt the way I live and travel to the Saddleback piece. They weigh a ton, they never seem to have enough pockets to suit my organizational particulars and there’s no such thing as opening a Saddleback bag quickly. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. If I could design my own SB bag I would be a happy puppy. The perfect combination of modern utility and bad-ass looks. Until that day, I’ll have to stick to dreaming.

    1
  • Alex April 26, 2013, 12:26 am

    Hi, I’m a bit confused as to which size bag this is. The title says this is a medium, but the Saddleback site clocks the large bag as being the one that is 10 lbs empty. Is this the medium bag? Great review.

    2
  • Johnny May 28, 2013, 5:43 pm

    You’ve done a review on the SBL duffle and the SBL waterbag. Which bag would you prefer? Why? What’s the biggest difference between them?

    3

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