I’ve been using Chrome messenger bags for about ten years, and I’ve really liked them. Mine have been all over the world with me, and at least one of them still looks nearly brand new. However, my riding these days is basically straight commuting between home and the office, so I rarely need the on-the-bike access that messenger bag gives me.
Even worse, my left shoulder, which bears the whole bag, has recently decided it hates my guts and would like me to die, or at least share the load across both shoulders. As much as I like a night on the couch with bourbon, painkillers, and a hot water bottle, I can’t afford to get into the habit of that kind of thing.
So, I went to start looking at new bags. Because I live in PDX, I need something waterproof; because I live in Portland but travel to San Francisco, Palo Alto, NYC, London, and more, I need something that looks good; and because I travel a ton and hate overpacking, I need something small (where my definition of small is I can *barely* fit my daily needs plus an extra shirt/socks/etc for one night away). All that, plus of course it should be comfortable and last 10 or 20 years. I’ve also been trying hard to buy things that don’t look quite as plasticky as most, um, everything looks these days, so extra points for natural fibers or something that does a good job of faking it.
I looked at quite a few other bags, but everything seemed to fail really quickly on either ‘look good’ or ‘be small’, and many failed on both. It was obvious right away that I had to give up on buying anything that didn’t look plasticky - everything was plastic or nylon, and really obviously so. One of the other things about most of the bags I found was that they tended to be more like gear and less like everyday bags, and they tended to be very complicated with lots of straps and pockets and things. This could be done well, but in most cases (heh heh) the bags were either too complicated, with lots of straps and extra pockets, or too simple, with just a big middle pocket and little to no organization.
I decided I had to see a bunch of bags in person, so I set out to some shops in town with my then-day bag full of everything I carry with me every day and a bit of extra clothing to simulate an overnight trip (yes, I pack light). My first stop was River City Cycles, a fantastic shop for commuters, and that’s where I ended up buying my bag. I was able to try my top contenders there (from Chrome and Timbuk2), but the Chrome bags were, um, gigantic, and the Timbuk2 bags were just to plasticky for me.
The first time I looked at the Mission Workshop Sanction, it looked both huge and plasticky. However, after trying everything else, I decided to actually load my stuff in one before I left. Then I noticed that they had two varieties - one made of nylon (linked above) and one made of waxed canvas, which I adore. It wears kind of like leather, in that it looks better with age, but it’s about as waterproof as you can get without plastic bags and has a great feel.
After loading everything into this bag, I realized it was a lot smaller than it looked (it helped that I had tried some truly big bags prior to this). In fact, it was kind of too small for my torso, given how the straps worked out. However, I wore it around the shop for awhile, and based on the fact that it was the last one they had in the gray color I liked (along with River City’s great return policy), I decided to buy now and try it over the weekend. In case it’s not obvious, I kept the bag after all.
Here, roughly, is how I tested it out.
First, my daily load (with an extra jacket just in case) outside of the bag. It’s mostly laptop, ipad, a cable bag or two, and a bunch of little things:
Then the bag actually loaded up. This is how I’d use the bag 95% of the time, so it’s the most important test:
Here’s how the bag looks open, so you can see where it all goes:
And you can see when it stands up that it’s really not very full:
I also tried it with a full load of overnight clothing, in an Eagle Creek clothing folder (which I really only use on overnight trips):
You can see that the bag is pretty round with this in it.
I also took a shot that showed two aspects of the bag I wasn’t so fond of, and one nice feature:
My cat hair sticks to the bottom, and the bottom part of the straps are too long (I’ve bound mine with rubber bands). I do like the loop for attaching a bike light, though.
I was able to fit everything into the bag in all cases, but I barely fit the overnight kit (and in fact, on my first actual overnight trip with the bag, I had to leave some stuff behind, which I consider a feature). The bag also never got too round or uncomfortable, and after going on a few walks and bike rides, I was comfortable that this was the right bag.
I looked into the bag a bit more (yes, I’m a bit maniacal on my research), and it turns out this waxed canvas version is a special version, so it turns out that one of the best features of this bag is that no one else in my office can have one, because it’s all sold out. :) Yes, the Puppet Labs office is full of bike and gear nuts, with a strong overlap on people who pack really light. There is another special version of the Sanction, though, that might be worth checking out, and the normal version is still a great bag.
After using the pack for a month, including on an overnight trip, I’m still happy with it. My only real complaint is that it doesn’t have a handle on the side, which I would like for when I can’t put it on my bag. I didn’t expect to use the “special” laptop compartment, because it’s just a separate pocket behind the main pocket, but it ends up being really convenient - the main pocket can be packed full, but I can still slide my laptop in and out of its pocket. It also turns out that the little pocket in front perfectly fits my ipad, which is an added bonus.