Saddleback Leather's hand-made bags are like the relics you might throw in after looting a tomb: heavy, durable, and attractive in a way not everyone will appreciate. It's not for those among us after sleeve-like innovations cut perfectly for the gear we want to lug. And while certain items in the lineup display an awareness of trends–iPad case!– the sensibility remains at odds with today's prevalent vibe of lightweight designer gadget cosies. I like it because I dig the Edwardian adventurer look and because I'm tired of rebuying the same stuff over and over again.
You know, I haven't ever reviewed a bag. How to cover a bag? I guess you could play it straight and write a formal review, running through volume, durability, type of fastener, etc. But no: you can read all that at their website and watch the crocodile video. But a story about the challenges and triumphs the creators have experienced? Folks already did that, too.
So I'll just tell you that I like the bags.
Cut from extremely heavy-duty leather, stitched rather than riveted (if you like rivets, check out Palmer and Sons of Vancouver), and they're offered in brown, brown, brown or brown. Saddlebag's items start at wallets and pouches, then increase in size and compexity, through messenger bags and backpacks, until you hit luggage.
The pro is also the con. They're built to last and ready for action on whatever jaunts you might plan–but once out of pocketable territory, they're also much heavier than everyday fare.
Compare these two bags. On the left is my own everyday messenger manpurse thing, custom-made by an old man in Manhattan. It has a lifetime warranty: anything breaks, I mail it back to his shop and they fix it. On the right is the rough equivalent from Saddleback. Look how thick that hide is. It's overengineered, crafted for a vanishingly small minority of buyers' needs.
I like how it's ostentatiously leathery, but simple and straightforward enough to haul TPS reports around with.
They're not unreasonably expensive, either, and sometimes surprisingly cheap. For example, the aforementioned iPad pouch was $40 on special ($55 currently), about the same price as the neoprene junk at the Apple store. But whereas those squidgy affairs seem doomed to fall apart, Saddleback's is a single folded sheet of leather. It's one of the few iPad cases that will not only last longer than your iPad, but provide nourishment after the zombie holocaust.
I bought a wallet from Saddleback not long ago: tired of my old one being an overflowing, bursting roll of fabric, I decided to switch to a non-folding card holder. The one I got at Target, however, soon unstitched itself: the nature of these things is that they're under more stress than normal wallets, because everything fits in them extremely snugly: even a couple of folded-up bills in the middle makes them bulge. But Saddleback's, though more expensive ($30 instead of $15), turned out to be of radically higher build quality — as you can tell as soon as you see it.
Even the small satchel pictured at the top of this post, however, has its own weight to carry; as gorgeous and nigh-indestructable as it seems, it takes a committment to make it part of your life. So, I repeat, you'd best skip it if you're just looking for something lightweight to carry a netbook and study/work basics around in. But if you have any kind of game plan — "I need a manbag," declared with the stern, bug-eyed intensity of Oglaf royalty — it's a very safe bet. Especially considering how the qualities it embodies — durability, utility, functionality — are often absent from the superficially similar items you'll find at Amazon or elswhere.
Verdict: Splendid adventurer-grade dead cow, but too heavy for the MacBook Air set.