Saddleback Leather Company Messenger Bag Review

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saddlebackleather-messenger-2Do you have problems with your laptop and gear bags holding up to all of the every day wear and tear that you subject them to? The Saddleback Leather Company makes gear bags that are super rugged and are built to last a lifetime. To back that up, they offer a 100 year warranty on each bag they sell. Let’s take a look at one of their latest bags, the vertical messenger.

FYI: Most of the pictures in this review are thumbnails that can be clicked on to see larger sized versions.

I know that this bag doesn’t look like what most of us picture in our mind when we think of a classic messenger bag. To me it looks like the big brother to the Saddleback Leather Explorer’s Satchel. And in a way, that’s exactly what it is. It’s made of thick rugged full grain leather and is available in 5 colors: Carbon Black, Chestnut, Dark Coffee Brown, Dark Tobacco Brown, and Light Tobacco Brown. I was sent the Dark Tobacco Brown version of the Messenger bag for this review.


This is a vertical oriented bag with a buckle down flap and a wide comfortable grab handle on top. If you click on the image, you’ll notice a lot of scuffs and scratches in the leather. No, I didn’t test the ruggedness of this bag by dragging it behind my car before taking the review shots. 😉 Scratches and scuffs are just the nature of bags like these and are not to be considered a defect or a problem with the workmanship. I think of them as character making battle scars.


If you flip the bag around to see the back, you’ll find a large vertical pocket that can hold several standard, large format sized magazines or file folders. You’ll also notice several D rings that can be used to attach different items to your bag. The large ring below the grab handle is used to convert the messenger from a shoulder bag, to a backpack. The Saddleback Leather Briefcase bag had this same feature.


It only takes a minute to unhook the shoulder strap, run one end through the metal ring and the attach the clips to the bottom D rings.

You’ll notice that the strap is adjustable and has two shoulder pads.


Each side of the Messenger bag has a open topped pocket that is large enough to hold a phone, compact umbrella, water bottle, etc.


As I mentioned earlier, there are several metal D rings positioned in different areas of this bag. These rings are handy for hooking different items such as keys, flashlights, etc. The hardware is nickel plated metal, which normally used for dog collars and horse tack, making it feel very strong and rugged.


The buckled flap lifts up to reveal one large compartment.


Inside, you will find an open topped pocket on each side and a key holder attached to a leather strap. This compartment can also be customized by clipping in the included divider.


The divider is made of thick leather and has metal eyelets riveted into each corner.


Matching clips are riveted into the main messenger bag compartment.


It takes a bit of blind wrestling to clip in the bottom edge of the divider, but once installed, the bag now has two compartments instead of one. The divider does wiggle around a little, but I think this is a nice feature nonetheless.


Here we see my 15″ Macbook Pro in the bag. Since the messenger isn’t padded, I suggest that you protect your laptop with a padded sleeve before placing it into the messenger bag. With the MBP in the bag, there is still plenty of room for the AC adapter, a mouse, other cables, etc.

I had to chuckle a bit when I read a comment on the messenger bag page on Saddleback Leather’s site. They mentioned that this is a light weight sleek bag. I wouldn’t call any Saddleback Leather bag ‘light weight’. 😉 When empty, this messenger bag weighs in at 6 pounds 2 ounces on my electronic scale. For me it’s too heavy to use for my everyday bag, but then I’m only about 5’6″ and 130lbs. Most guys probably wouldn’t even blink at the weight though.

saddlebackleather-messenger-13 saddlebackleather-messenger-14 saddlebackleather-messenger-15

Here’s what the messenger looks like when worn as a shoulder bag and as a backpack. For me, the bag felt more comfortable worn as a backpack as the weight was evenly distributed instead of just wearing it on one shoulder.

When you see one of these bags in person, you immediately know that it’s been built to last for a lifetime. The materials and construction are top notch. I couldn’t find one defect with this bag no matter how hard I looked.

If the price and weight of this bag doesn’t bother you, then the Saddleback Leather Messenger bag is a terrific gear bag that will last for years and years to come. It will serve you well on your next adventure down the Congo, or during less exciting adventures on your commute to the office. Either way, you’ll turn heads when people see you with this great looking rugged classic styled bag.

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

Manufacturer:Saddleback Leather Company
  • Rugged
  • 100 year warranty
  • Converts from shoulder bag to backpack
  • No breakable parts
  • Classic style
  • Expensive
  • Heavy

50 thoughts on “Saddleback Leather Company Messenger Bag Review”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. I’ve been carrying one of these for a couple of months now, and I can attest to its durability and utility. I use it as my everyday bag (replacing my LARGE Saddleback Leather Company briefcase) now that I don’t carry a 17″ laptop with me everywhere I go.

    I can fit my 15″ IBM Z61, power supply, SLC “Big Wallet” (this needs a review on this site), glucometer kit, and a small selection of files and letter-sized notepad in the main sections (laptop one side of the divider, everything else on the other), along with an Inova LED flashlight, Leatherman Wave multitool, and a selection of pens in the interior side pockets. My aging Treo fits nicely in one of the outside pockets, while my keys or my Blackberry ride on the other outside pocket.

    It’s a bit heavy fully loaded, but manageable when carried cross body.

  3. Forgot to mention that it works well as just an everyday carry (no firearms) bag that works well for guys. Everything except my SLR has been in this bag (from baby / toddler supplies to books to a video game system). I have the dark coffee brown which looks very good paired with everything except flipflops — Sage Barbour jacket, Wested leather jacket, khaki travel blazer, knit golf shirt.

  4. As usual your photos of the product are EXCELLENT…without a doubt the best of ANY reviewer…tech or otherwise. Love the bag, but cash is short now and I will have wait a bit. Congrats on an EXCELLENT REVIEW…you should pay yourselves on your respective backs. Phil

  5. Hadn’t noticed this before – so maybe you do it all the time – but really appreciate the comment at the end of your review pointing out that the links within are affiliate links. Not a huge deal to some – but I appreciate knowing that you get a little bump by clicking through on this review as opposed to getting there some other way. The full disclosure is nice – but even nicer is knowing that we can do something that directly supports the website – and gives you and your team a little something for your hard work. Classy – thanks!

  6. Let me add – even if you aren’t in the market for a bag like this – you have to pop over and browse the site. He’s got a very entertaining style of writing descriptions etc. Really a fun site to click around – and love his motto of “creating a bag that his grandkids will fight over when he’s gone”

  7. I must admit Julie, I really do like the look of these bags and wish I could use one for a couple of weeks before laying out the big bucks! May just have to bite the bullet and order one!

  8. Hi,
    I chanced upon your review on the briefcase a while ago and it led me to Saddleback leather and its products. I ended up getting the messenger bag about 6 weeks ago and I simply love the bag. Your review does the bag justice. It is rugged yet elegant. I wear a suit and tie every day and this bag, despite its apparent casual look compliments me greatly. I get positive comments everywhere I go. Yes it is pricey but it is worth every penny and the joy that it brings you makes it lighter on your back….
    Thanks for introducing me to Saddleback, Julie.

  9. Hi,

    A quick question — With the MBP in the bag (With a sleeve preferably!), how much space is left for other storage — i.e. would a ring binder / textbooks etc. fit comfortably?


    1. @Simon It all depends on how thick the books and/or ring binder are. I’d say there is at least 2-3 inches of space left while my MacBook Pro is in the bag.

  10. I have the Messenger Bag and the Large Briefcase (and also the Laptop Bag). I got all of them as part of “Dave’s Deals,” with either slight blems or unusual characteristics. I also have a MacBookPro 15″ model.

    BTW, I got my first item, the Messenger Bag, partly as a result of Julie’s earlier review(s) and some other online reviews.

    Here are my observations:

    1. The Messenger Bag _may_ be all the Saddleback Leather bag you ever need. It will carry the MacBook Pro 15″, vertically, with the top extending slightly out of the bag. I haven’t used a slipcase or other such case for it. It will also then also carry books, papers, everyday items, though these may then contact the laptop. (A later version of the MB than the one I have adds a leather panel, on swivel hooks, inside the bag, somewhat protecting the laptop.).

    My version was in Light Tobacco, which darkens pleasantly with some Kiwi Mink Oil. (Also adds to water-shedding ability.)

    I paid about $242 for this, and like it very much. It’s my “everyday bag” I carry on trips around town. A lot more masculine than the tiny European-styled “man purses.” Sort of a classier version of a nylon backpack, with slighly more padding. (The edges of any of the Saddleback bags provide some bump resistance, even without padding sewn into the lining. I feel my MacBookPro is better protected in my Saddleback MB than in most lightweight laptop cases and lighweight backpacks.)

    2. I got the Laptop Case because it was such a deal on “Dave’s Deals.” It came with a Pouch, in the same color, which either hooks to the front of the Laptop Case or which can be worn with its own strap. (This is a semi-bright idea, as the Laptop Case can then be as flat as possible without having to have an entire section wide enough to carry an AC Adapter, for example. The AC Adapter is what I normally have in the Pouch. It sits in my car (a spare) and gets hooked to my Laptop Case IF I think I may need it….often I don’t (for short visits to meetings, etc.).

    I think I paid $180 for it. Which is weird, as it comes with the Pouch which normally costs $130. So it was like getting the Laptop Case for $50…not that I would ever buy the Pouch alone for $130.

    I got this in Dark Tobacco. I also oiled it, for waterproofness and slight darkening, and it turned out well. I think this is maybe my favorite color. (I don’t like the really dark colors, as they hide the quality and uniqueness of the leather. More “saddle”-colored colors seem preferable.)

    (Note: These prices have increased somewhat since just this past summer, when I got these items. Check Dave’s Deals for discounts. My experience is that defects are minor, and actually help to encourage one to “abuse” the bag the way it _should_ be abused! )

    3. The Briefcase I can’t say _why_ I bought, except that I was happy with the first two items and viewed the Briefcase as a good Carry-On Bag for airline travel. (The Briefcase is expandable, and can be overloaded on the top, so the capacity is quite large. Stuffed-fully, it is really more of a kind of duffel bag than a conventional briefcase.)

    For checked baggage, I favor the usual Ballistic Nylon. Ubiquitous around the world, and less theft-worthy.

    Only for things I will carry with me and have close at hand will I pay extra $$$ for.

    So, three Saddleback bags. While bought at discount, a lot of money. (I’m 57, worked in the chip business, retired many years ago, to let you know where I’m coming from. I try to economize, but I can certainly afford sometimes splurging, as I did with these bags.)

    If I had to pick just one, for everyday use, it would be the Messenger Bag. Adequate protection for a laptop (if not dropped, etc.). Enough room for additional stuff. A nice size for “everyday” carry (even without a laptop).

    For those going to business meetings, the Laptop Case is much nicer than the normal nylon bag. And yet with all of the “bombproofness” and “will only look better with age” that the Saddleback bags all have (no zippers to break, no nylon to fray).

    And, yet, the Briefcase is calling to me more and more. BTW, mine was in the Chestnut color. Nice, not too dark. But I think Dark Tobacco would be even nicer.

    The Messenger Bag and Briefcase both convert to backpacks, but I think only the Briefcase (in L or XL) even _warrant_ such conversions, and then only for long walks. The Messenger Bag is just best left as a cross-shoulder bag…it’s not likely to ever get so loaded as to warrant conversion to a backpack. (The Laptop Case has no such conversion possible, not surprisingly. And it also doesn’t have all the rings and attachment options that the other bags have.)

    Two of the bags which seem uninteresting to me are the Duffel and the Backpack. The Duffel seems nicely built, but I wouldn’t want to check it as luggage, and it’s too large for a carry-on. (Theft reasons, as well as handling issues.)

    The Backpack looks ugly to me, and seems to do nothing the other bags don’t do better. Maybe better, padded straps, but if one needs a backpack with padded straps, get a nylon one!

    All in all, I’m really impressed with what Dave and Saddleback have done. Really high quality, done in an “old school” style.

    The online reviewing folks, including Julie, have also done a good job. The shape of things to come.

    –Tim May, Corralitos, California

  11. I followed Tim’s advice and conditioned my new messenger bag with Kiwi Mink Oil. It gave it a nice patina while darkening it a bit. Now a beautiful bag looks even more gorgeous, if that is possible.

  12. I’m with Julie on her weight comments – “light”? WOW. Weighs a ton and with a notebook added – DOUBLE WOW. Otherwise very nice. Appreciate Julie’s pictures..should have had those on Saddleback’s site, especially the conversion to backpack. With all the rings wasn’t sure how this worked til I saw the picture. Thanks Julie.

  13. There is a lot of hype about Saddleback leather products. They make a good robust product…..but it is heavy, stiff and not refined…its crude sometimes but mostly acceptable. I have a messenger bag and it is heavier than the nettop I place in it !
    I recently bought a wallet from them and it was terrible…the edges were discolored and real ugly…it took several weeks for them to give a store rebate after it was returned. Dont buy their smaller products as a rule and their lighter colors. Black and coffee brown are the most decent ones.

    1. @Carl T. It’s strange that you should say that their wallets are not any good. I just received one to review and upon first inspection it looks quite nice.

  14. Julie:

    I have taken pictures of the medium wallet……i sent it to them and they agreed in their e-mail that it was “awful”. …… perhaps the darker colored ones look good since you wont notice the black glue smeared on the rough edges. Also it could be quality control.

    I was disappointed with the product and the service, but I do have their other products such as the briefcase and messenger bag which are good and which I can recommend.

    Anyways I think your reviews are good and fair, although till a bit too positive. They probably send you the highest quality ones just as they screen their feedback on their web page to show only the ridiculously gushing and positive ones.

    1. @Carl T. I can only review what I’ve been sent. I can’t assume that they send me a best example of their product and then send crap to everyone else. I really do like the workmanship of their bags, but as I have said in my reviews, they are too bulky and heavy for me. But others leave comments to the reviews saying that they are completely in love with the bags, bulk and all. I don’t screen the comments here as you can tell by the fact that yours are being listed 🙂 It’s good to hear all sides.

  15. Julie:

    Thanks for running an honest and transparent website…good for you and good for us.
    If you check the Saddleback website now, you”ll find that all their light colored products are on sale…they explain why on the site…they wont be making the light tobacco ones in the future.

  16. I have to say I am the proud owner of 7 (yes SEVEN) Saddleback products and have found the quality on each to be excellent.

    I still have several more on my wish list, just waiting for that winning lottery ticket to come in.

    There GREAT products and I LOVE that REAL leather smell.

    Great reviews Julie.

  17. hi julie , i read your earlier review of the satchel, and i ended up buying one! i like it v much – it is a bit stiff (hope it softens) and it is rather heavy. but i was a bit surprised – when i first got it i thought it may not fit all my stuff, but it did, and some more. i can actually put a 0.65ml water bottle in on top!(horizontal). Now i am tempted by the messenger – what holds me back is the look is so similar to satchel (you think?) and also the weight! i found my satchel not that easy to convert to backpack (maybe leather stiff)..

  18. Hi Julie, thanks.Not bad at all in design, only thing is the messenger seems to be a more vertical design right? I believe the weight would be pretty close to the medium satchel that i have (about 5lbs). Actually today, i stuffed the satchel (my ebook reader; some wet yoga gear) etc, so i rather suffered through the weight. It is heavy! So i read your remark on “lightweight” with amusement. the bags arent lightwt..! Thanks..

    1. @genny Yes, their interpretation of a messenger bag isn’t the same as what I think of. When I think of a messenger bag, I think of the Timbuk2 bag (horizontal). And yes, I don’t think Saddleback makes ANYTHING that is light weight 🙂

  19. “…they wont be making the light tobacco ones in the future.”

    Really? Good thing I just received my light tobacco large classic briefcase this January of 2011, huh? And my light tobacco medium gadget pouch for my NOOKcolor. On order: light tobacco mousepad, light tobacco Moleskin cover, and light tobacco narrow wallet. 😮

  20. hi Julie,

    Thanks for the awesome review. I was just wondering if you think the bag is too big for your frame? I’m around 5″8 and I’ve been eyeing saddleback bags coz of it’s design. Although I don’t want it being too big for me then looking ridiculous in it. Sadly I can’t see the small briefcase in the site anymore and was thinking of getting the messenger instead. thanks again!

  21. I am one of those people who actually do travel the world in swashbuckling adventures, and I can tell you that this is the finest bag you will ever find, period. It is rugged enough to go with me through some of the planet’s roughest terrains, and it holds up perfectly. The price is a bargain for what you get!

  22. Hey – I’m wondering if you think the messenger bag will fit a 17″ macbook pro. It measures 10.5″ x 15.5″. Is there enough strap left to close the bag around the laptop?

  23. @Charles Going to Apple’s site and comparing the dimensions of the 15″ and 17″ Macbook Pros, I *think* a 17″ MBP would fit in this bag. But, since I don’t have one or the bag anymore, I can’t be 100% certain. You can email the guys at Saddleback and ask. I’m sure they will know the answer. I’ll also email and ask them post back here once I get a response.

  24. Thanks Julie. I appreciate you taking the the time to answer my question. I did contact Saddleback and they *think* it will fit, however the sides will be exposed to the elements. I originally purchased the large briefcase thin, but it looks way to big on my frame (I’m 5’8″ @ 155 lbs). So it is on the way back to them in exchange for the messenger. I’ll repost after I give it a try.

  25. Julie – I received the messenger bag and have verified that a newer (2010) 17″ Macbook Pro DOES fit inside the messenger bag. The sides will show a little but it is not that noticeable. The buckle straps up to the third hole from the bottom. Hope this helps.

  26. Yeah the bag looks and smells awesome! Very high quality product. I’m confident that it will last a lifetime. Only thing I wish is that it had a couple more internal pockets.

  27. I have the large briefcase, I bought the passport wallet and I bought my daughter a pouch to use as a purse. Next on my wish list the messenger bag; Love the briefcase, but looking to shave 2.5 lbs off my everyday bag.

  28. I have the Messenger and while I love the look and the durability, I simply can’t deal with the weight and lack of pockets as an everyday bag.

    I’m 6’1″ and when the bag is loaded with an iPad (not even a laptop), 2 moleskins a couple of pens and a spiral notebook, the bag weighs in at over 10 lbs! And thats with NO LAPTOP. Just an iPad.

    Also, as an everyday bag, I long for an easy to get to pocket on the front to carry my wallet and phone. It’s a hassle to have to stop, take the bag off, undo the buckle and the dig around in the bag for my stuff.

    My only other suggestion (whine) would be that Saddleback add loops to hold the excess strap when it is not being used as a backpack. The excess strap is very annoying. I ended up taking a piece of wire and creating a loop.

    Just some thoughts.

  29. Hi Julie,

    So, I just got the Saddleback Messenger, but I’m having mixed feelings because it isn’t very comfortable worn as a backpack.

    I don’t think it’s the weight, as I’ve travelled with heavier packs in comfort (think: walking around a city for a day with a Tom Bihn Aeronaut on your back).

    I’m sure it’s a matter of breaking it in. Any suggestions on how to help that process along?


  30. hmmmm…that would be one approach…or I could beat it with a hammer! 🙂

    I’m also wondering whether their classic briefcase might be more appropriate for my needs. It seems big from the pictures and reviews, and that’s why opted for the Messenger bag. But I’m guessing that if it’s broken in by the time I’m dead and gone, that it will grow to the size my kids need it to be when they’re carrying more stuff, and sort of collapse when they aren’t carrying as much! 😉

    Right now, I have it pretty full with my 13″ Macbook Air, the AC adapter, some cables/adapters and such, a camera, hand sanitizer and hand lotion. If I’m reading a hardback book, I would have a challenge fitting it in there.

    If the weather is nice tomorrow, I’ll ride my bike and carry the messenger bag as a backpack and start the break in process!

  31. The Messenger is starting to break in – I felt it was noticeably more comfortable on my back this morning.

    Clearly, it isn’t an ergonomic backpack experience, but I don’t think that it’s meant to be. Regardless, it’s a very cool bag!

    This isn’t the bag you’d carry on an extended bike ride – plus, I don’t think sweat and leather mix well. But it’s fine to carry if you’re riding around town and not breaking into a sweat.

  32. If I may ask, does a water bottle fit nicely into the exterior pocket of the messenger bag without typing over from being too top heavy? I have a fairly tall LLBEan stainless steel bottle. Thanks!

  33. @Chuck this particular bag is tall and does not have a very wide base, so its ability to stay upright is dependent on what you place in the bag more than the water bottle pocket on the outside. If you want a bag that always stays upright, I don’t think this is the bag for you.

  34. Thanks, I’m not as concerned about the bag standing upright as I am about the water bottle not falling out. Sorry for the misunderstanding. And thank you for your reply!

  35. Hi!

    I am looking to purchase one of the saddleback bags, specifically the messenger or or satchel ( not sure if the satchel will fit all my everyday needs..) but I am 5’2 with a slimmer/toned frame body..
    Do you think I should go with the satchel or messenger bag?
    And if the satchel, which size (medium or large) fits a normal notebook or a regular 1 inch binder or so??
    I am a senior in college looking for a bag to be able to carry a couple notebooks (thin), maybe a 1in binder and my ipad..

    Any Advice?

  36. @Sun I’d personally go with the satchel because it can stand up on a flat surface without falling over. I’m not sure which size would be best for you. I suggest that you go watch the videos that are linked to each of Saddleback’s product pages. Dave shows all the features of the bags and what types of gear they are able to accommodate.

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