Choosing a bag is like choosing a daily traveling companion: choose wisely, and you will enhance your trip; choose poorly, and it’ll take all your belongings and leave you, penniless, in the Utah desert. Thus it only seems appropriate that the first post here be outlining some considerations for choosing an EDC bag.
Leaving aside purpose-designed bags for hiking and trekking, most everyday carry aficionados will be choosing between a few types of bags:
And choosing between two main types of material:
Messenger bags (or courier bags) come in a variety of sizes and can be made from several different materials — most commonly they are either canvas or leather. The advantage of a messenger bag is that they are easily accessed one-handed, whereas a backpack or sling needs to be removed to be reached. As they are smaller and require less material structurally, they can (but are not always) weigh less than a traditional backpack. They may also permit more freedom of movement and visibility if you commute to work on a bicycle.
The cons of using a messenger bag mostly stem from the uneven distribution of weight across your shoulders and the resulting reduced carrying capacity. A messenger bag may not be ideal if you are not weight-conscious in your everyday carry, as you may find a heavy load cumbersome and painful to manage.
Laptop bags are a catch-all category for bags designed with a separate padded section for protecting a laptop from the everyday bumps and bangs of life. Designed to carry your laptop, your books, your cell phone and all of your attendant gear they are jacks of all trades but, as is so often the case, generally masters of none. Laptop bags are often marketed and sold as essentially PC accessories — a horrible approach to designing and manufacturing a bag. Generally speaking, if the bag is being marketed as a “laptop bag,” rather than just a good bag that has a laptop sleeve, you are probably looking at a piece of kit that is not going to stand the test of time. Avoid.
Ah, the venerable backpack. With you through high school (and maybe college?), it has never let you down. Alas, its focus on function over form is its undoing; in sum, it is hard to look cool wearing a backpack. You always look as though you should be tucking your thumbs under the straps, lowering your head, and weaving through the other drones plodding to class.
All of that said, they have a lot going for them. First, you can carry an incredible amount of weight in even a cheap backpack with flimsy straps. So if your business requires you to transport cinder blocks across town one at a time, this is a great option. Second, they generally leave your arms free to do other things — toss a football, hold hands to avoid becoming lost, and pump your arms to get that burst of extra speed to outrun a bully.
The major disadvantage to a backpack, as you might have already realized, is that they evoke a certain juvenile look in the mind of most. Rare is the suit jacket that can be enhanced by a matching Jansport. If, however, you favor function over form, and you have a lot of things to drag around with you in the day, there are some minimalist backpack options that may suit your fancy.
A sling bag is something like a smaller messenger bag, or a hybrid between a messenger bag and a backpack. It slings over your shoulder and is pulled closer to the body, against your back, than a traditional messenger or courier bag. Unlike a backpack, a sling has a single strap and thus is subject to many of the same weight distribution issues as its more versatile cousin, the messenger.
A sling can be a great option if you don’t have to carry a lot of weight, and may be especially useful on a bicycle. The closer fit to the body means there will be less shifting of weight while you pedal, and may allow for a more comfortable ride.
All bags typically fall under the broad categories of canvas or synthetic (e.g. polyethylene) and leather. The former is, realistically, less expensive, more durable, more waterproof, generally lighter; the latter is … cooler. Leather bags also typically look better as they age, as can canvas, but the same cannot be said for synthetic materials.
Well chosen and cared for, a leather bag can last a lifetime. Leather does bring with it maintenance requirements that other materials do not. For instance, leather stitching may need to be removed and replaced, and a leather bag needs to be oiled from time to time — especially after being exposed to water. It will show scuffs and scrapes sooner and more obviously than most other materials but come on, that only adds to the charm.
If keeping the weight of your kit down is a real issue, however, leather is almost never an ideal option. Quality leather and light weight are inversely correlated, so if you find a leather bag that seems light, it is probably not a quality piece.
Canvas and synthetic bags are the no fuss, no muss option for EDC bags. Get a bag from quality manufacturer such as Timbuk2 and it will likely last you nearly as long as a leather bag — and typically at much less cost. Canvas and synthetic bags carry with them no requirement for maintenance but, on the flip side, this also generally means they are not easily reparable. A broken strap or torn seam will likely mean the end of the road for your traveling companion.