Buckle & Seam Sierra 15″ Messenger Bag (2018) review

I recently reviewed the Buckle & Seam Sierra 15″ Messenger bag, but they have since updated the product (they made it with thicker leather).  Is it a vast improvement over its predecessor? My opinion is that it is somewhat better, but far from what I was hoping for.

What is it?

The Buckle & Seam Sierra 15″ messenger bag is a leather bag used to carry a 15″ laptop and various documents for business or personal use.

Design and features

This updated Buckle & Seam Sierra 15″ Messenger bag is made exactly like its predecessor with the only difference being that the body of the bag is made of thicker leather. Since they are almost exactly the same bag, this review will include much of what was written for the original bag. The updated bag, just like its predecessor, holds a 15″ laptop and is made using full grain leather.

The leather used in this bag has been vegetable tanned. This is more environmentally friendly than Chrome VI tanning or other chemical tanning processes and takes four to five weeks to complete. This leather is also susceptible to scratches and will develop a patina over time. They call the leather Crazy Horse Full Grain Leather.

The main compartment flap uses a tuck catch lock closure.

The front of the Sierra messenger bag shows how the bag is assembled. They employed a double stitch using recycled polyester thread. Everywhere you see stitching in this bag indicates the areas where two pieces of leather are sewn together. Thus the front flap of the bag is made up of two pieces, and the lower front portion of the bag is made up of three.

The back of the bag also shows the double stitching and is made of two pieces of leather sewn together. The back of the bag has a zipper pocket. YKK elastic zippers are used on Buckle & Seam’s business bags.

The bottom and sides of the Sierra messenger bag are made by sewing three pieces of leather together (two for the sides and one for the bottom). The entire bag is lined with a sailboat blue custom lining which was “developed by our in-house design team and [is] manufactured only for us out of premium cotton” according to Buckle & Seam’s Managing Director, Marco Feelisch. There are different lining colors and patterns to choose from: Dots, Checked, Boats, Paper Planes, and Plain.

The main compartment of the bag contains a padded laptop pocket. This pocket will accommodate 13″ and 15″ laptops according to the Buckle & Seam website. The top of the laptop pocket uses a round magnetic closure (about 2 cm in diameter).

The material that separates the laptop from the main compartment is sewn into the inside of the bag using two 2″ wide strips of elastic material on each side (top and bottom). This is done so that the pocket can stretch to accommodate thicker laptops. The main compartment’s internal measurements are about 14″ wide x 3″ deep x 11.5″ high. The open front pocket, which measures 14.75″ wide x 8.5″ high internally, contains all the organizing slots and pockets which include places to hold three pens/pencils, a pocket for business cards, and a phone pocket. You may also store more documents here if desired.

There is a thin zippered pocket (shown above) lining the back of the front pocket which has internal measurements that about 11.25″ wide x 9.75″ high.

The bag comes with a key to lock the tuck catch lock closure. When the bag was shipped to me, the key and the Buckle & Seam tag were tied to the bag through one of the pen/pencil slots using a strip of leather as shown in the above photo.

The back zipper pocket will hold more of your documents. It measures 11.5″ wide x 9.5″ high but, in addition, it also has a trolley strap so that you can slide the messenger bag over a suitcase handle to make traveling easier (Buckle & Seam calls it a “hidden trolley solution”). The shoulder straps are attached to the bag using swiveling metal lobster claw clasps.  The shoulder strap is made up of what looks like two thin layers of leather sewn together but I also noticed that in order to get the length that they desired, the strap is made up of sections that are spliced together as well. The seam you see above also exists on the other side at nearly the same point. Again, the shoulder strap is a high-stress area of the bag and thus has greater potential to fail in the future because of the design of the strap.

Use

Just like the other Sierra bag, this one carried my things comfortably. Inside is a couple of thin paper folders, a large Biology textbook as well as a pencil case. In the laptop pocket, I was able to store my Bluetooth portable keyboard which measures 11.75″ x 7.75″ x 0.75″ (my laptops are larger than 15″ and thus do not fit). The Buckle & Seam website states that they use leather that is on average 1.8-2 mm thick. However, the handle of the bag is one of those areas where two thin layers of leather were sewn together to make a handle that measures about 2 mm thick. This is thin for a handle. Since this is a high-stress area, it could very well fail if it is heavily used.

When the bag was full (without a laptop), the above photo shows how much stress is placed on the handle when carried this way. The leather that the handle is sewn and riveted into is a little thicker compared to the previous Sierra messenger bag. This may increase the durability at this stress point. And like the previous bag, they included a 7″ long x 0.5″ wide rigid strip of reinforcing material where the handle attaches. This rigid strip is hidden between the leather of the main compartment flap and the lining of the bag.

Quality

I have learned from top-notch leather companies that the fewer seams you have in a bag, the more durable it is. In other words, they use fewer pieces of leather to assemble the bag to increase the durability and quality of the product. The seams of a bag are weak points especially if there is weight or stress exerted on those areas. The Sierra 15″ messenger bag is made with a lot more pieces of leather and has more seams than I’d like. Perhaps this is why it has only a two-year warranty.

The body of this Sierra bag was a little thicker than my last bag, but you’ll notice that the leather on the inside of the bag does not continue down the length of the bag …

… thus, the sides are not quite as thick as you might think. The Buckle & Seam website states that they use leather that is on average 1.8-2 mm thick.This is the thickness of the previous Sierra messenger bag.I compared the Sierra messenger bag to several other leather bags that I have reviewed. These other bags are not messenger bags but do illustrate the quality materials and craftsmanship used by these other companies. The Saddleback Leather Thin Front Pocket Leather Backpack is made from leather that is about 2.2 mm thick (single piece thickness) as shown above. Saddleback has a lifetime warranty on their products.
The Pad & Quill Roll Top Leather Backpack is made using full grain leather that is also about 2 mm thick (single piece thickness) as shown above. They have a 25-year warranty on their leather products.The Colonel Littleton No. 18 Leather Hunt Bag is made from full grain leather that is about 2 mm thick (single piece thickness) as shown above. The Go Forth Goods Charging Cable Tool Roll is made from full grain leather that is about 2.4 mm thick (single piece thickness) as shown above. They provide a lifetime warranty on their products.

Each of these other products looks feels so much more robust and well-made than the Sierra messenger bag.

Humanitarian efforts

The founders of Buckle & Seam are committed to providing the highest standard of working conditions for their Pakistani employees. And for each bag sold, a part of their revenue goes to sending a girl to school in Pakistan.

What I like

  • The Buckle & Seam Sierra 15″ messenger bag has an attractive design
  • It has a hidden trolley strap to make travel easier (strap that fits over a suitcase handle)
  • It uses vegetable tanned leather which is more environmentally friendly than other chemical tanning processes
  • The company is committed to providing good working conditions for their Pakistani employees
  • They donate part of our revenue for each bag sold to a school that promotes girls’ education in Pakistan

What needs to be improved

  • The bag uses too many pieces of leather to assemble the bag thus making it less durable
  • The leather is still too thin for my personal preferences
  • The handle is way too thin
  • Sections of the shoulder strap were spliced together to make up the desired length which weakens the strap
  • It has only a two-year warranty

Final thoughts

The Buckle & Seam Sierra 15″ Messenger Bag remains an attractive business messenger bag with many pockets and slots to organize your materials. It is made from vegetable tanned leather which is more environmentally friendly than chemical tanning processes. Buckle & Seam also donates a part of their revenue to send Pakistani girls to school to help increase the literacy rate.

However, I remain disappointed in the quality and craftsmanship of the bag. Although the updated Buckle & Seam Sierra 15″ messenger bag is made from thicker leather than the previous model, it still falls far short of the other premium leather products that I have reviewed in the past. These other companies make leather products that have much longer warranties thus illustrating their confidence in the craftsmanship and quality of their products (Saddleback, Pad & Quill, Colonel Littleton, and Go Forth Goods products).

The Sierra messenger bag is created using many pieces of leather and thus has many seams thereby decreasing its durability. Its handle and strap contained no improvements. Both were made by layering together two thin pieces of leather. The shoulder strap was made of pieces that were spliced together to obtain its full length which weakens the strap.

In addition, this bag is only backed by a two-year warranty. If I had $330 to spend on a leather bag, I’d rather spend my money on a product that was better made and backed by a better warranty.

Price: $330
Where to buy: Buckle & Seam
Source: The product used in this review was provided by Buckle & Seam

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