While running a Kickstarter campaign might be a bit easier for veteran company Peak Design, there’s something to be said for raising over $4.8 million of excitement over a messenger bag. What is so special about this bag that merits this reaction? After reaching out to Peak Design, they sent a just-finished version of the Everyday Messenger — the "Trey Ratcliff bag" — for review so I could answer some of those questions.
Reviewing bags is a bit like reviewing pens. There are certainly bad ones. But once you get in the realm of great pens, they all do their job pretty well, and distinguishing between one another becomes a futile practice of navigating tastes.
There is one more problem with reviewing bags: everyone wants that magical Mary Poppins bag. They want it to be lightweight, they want it to fit all of their gear without growing heavy or bulky. Doesn’t fit a 15” laptop? Subtract points. Feels bulky with two bodies, three lenses, a laptop, and a pair of hard drives? Subtract more points.
This unrealistic expectation of bags to defy physics against the reality that at some point, we either have to slim down or deal with carrying our own weight — literally — leads us (yes, despite knowing better, I too am guilty of this thinking) to forever search for the “perfect bag.”
While the perfect bag is a complete illusion, it is true that modern ingenuity and new materials can give us at least a partial remedy for our silly first-world problems. The blistering success of the Everyday Messenger’s Kickstarter campaign is indicative of this thriving and relentless hope. But whether or not it’s the change we can believe in has yet to be decided.
In this case, “First Impressions” will easily bleed into the “pros” list of this review. Everything you first see about this bag stuns as much as it does in the video. I could give Peak Design an award from the shipment packaging alone (animation above). And the materials the bag is made with seem to be robust enough to serve for twice as long as the bag-to-last-a-lifetime verbiage alluded to in the Kickstarter promo.
It has to be mentioned that my girlfriend walked in on me opening the package and immediately exclaimed it was the ugliest bag she’d seen. While I don’t care about a bag’s looks too much compared to its practicality, I personally could see someone saying the Everyday Messenger looks anywhere from “rad” to “not quite my style,” but “ugly” seems far too harsh. Too each his (or her) own. But three guys recognized the bag in the coffee shop I frequent and loved it. Maybe it’s a guy thing…
Of course, the standout features that were likely responsible for the stellar pre-launch excitement over this messenger really do stick as the strong selling points for the bag. The magnetic latch system is way, way better than it looks — and it looks awesome (am I right?). How could it actually be better? Because it actually works, which is a "feature" that's quite rare when coming across new ways to do the same, basic things. I would go as far as to say that any flap-opening bag should try to emulate this type of closure.
A slight amount of elastic “give” allows the process of opening and closing to be done quickly, securely, and easily. And those three traits are the key to a good open/close system. Not enough for you? The top zipper that provides access to the same main compartment is another genius add-on of which I really wonder why we don’t see more. From quick access to a laptop charger resting on top of your gear to grabbing a full-sized lens, the main compartment's added access flexibility makes for a lazy-man’s dream (because the true lazy man is the most efficient, is he not?).
Perhaps the least exciting (but still practical) part of the bag is the small front compartment that has more than enough room for my favorite Seagate 4TB Backup Fast drives, memory-card-specific slots, and a general accessories you might have.
Diving in a little deeper, the padded dividers are among the best features of the bag as well. Thin, yet protective, these dividers’ best part is their literal flexibility. Instead of Velcro-ing dividers horizontally above gear — simultaneously restricting access to them — in order to lay items on top of said gear, these dividers are made to fold any number of fractions of themselves over and on top of any gear their protecting. This same foldability lets them shrink, expand, and generally adapt in size to the specific configuration of the bag. These dividers won’t act as support beams that push your bag out, wider than it needs to be, or that fall apart when the gear in the bag pushes it wider than a standard divider’s set width. Major, major props on this one.
The size of the bag lends itself well to the “Everyday” moniker. While you can certainly fit a DSLR and two or three lenses, one of those could be a 70-200mm f/2.8 in a vertical orientation. Likewise, the extra vertical space can be home to a jacket, some earbuds loosely thrown in on top of the bag, a light meter for fall those street film shooters I know are out there — you name it. The point is you can fit your lunch and your extra gear in the bag with ease.
While not entirely necessary, the side “loop” that can hold your DSLR with the help of Peak Design’s companion product, the Capture Camera Clip, is a nice touch that some will certainly enjoy. And the laptop compartment has been expanded slightly from the original design to fit thicker 15” laptops compared to the thinner, sleeker Retina-MacBook-Pro-like products. If I push it (though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it), I can even get my 15” Retina MacBook Pro to fit with an SD card sticking out. This isn’t an idea situation, but once you get it past the zipper opening, it actually has enough breathing room to make me feel safe. Where this is a better feature is when you’re charging your phone from your laptop on the go. A USB cable providing power to your phone has no trouble resting inside my laptop’s port while allowing me to snake the cable outside of a small opening I keep in the zipper so I can still access the phone. And in this case, who care’s if there’s a little extra pressure on the cable?
A quick side note: the Everyday Messenger features a handy built-in waist strap that hides away nicely. In fact, you almost don't notice the compartment it slips into if you're not looking for it. It does its job well for the more adventurous shooter, but I don't see this bag as your best hiking buddy in the dark green, lush Northwestern forests that seem so popular these days. So while it's a nice addition, I'll remain thankful that it's virtually unnoticeable for my own use.
Add to all of this the small additional Velco-fastened tablet compartment within the laptop area as well as a document sleeve in the main compartment, and you have a very well rounded bag. But that just wouldn’t be enough…
The flap itself has a small zipper pocket on its underside. But the latest and most ingenious change since the Kickstarter campaign’s prototype is the addition of a tripod-carrying system. And it’s so simple I want to cry. Put one leg of your tripod through the added opening in the flap and add an included, sturdy, Livestrong-like rubber band around the ends of your legs, and you’re instantly carrying your tripod. Because the other two legs, the head, and, generally speaking, most of the weight and form of the tripod is carried outside of the bag, you can add a tripod no matter how full your bag already is. This is brilliant.
Overall, the bag is just so well made. The strap’s hinge, the strap itself with its sliding function taken straight from the company’s already popular camera strap, the combination of sturdy construction and light weight feel in the zipper’s glide, the overall sturdiness of the bag’s form to protect gear inside from the klutziest of travelers… It’s all such a wonderful world (read over the captions of the images for added mentions of all of the bag’s other compartments and features). But it’s time to get real.
It’s just not fair to talk about “cons” in a bag like this. But life isn’t fair.
The biggest realistic complaint that I have with this bag isn’t fair, either. The bag is stiff. I really like the fact that it’s stiff. The sturdiness helps it be protective against a bang on a pole or a biker while getting around in the city. I have no trouble throwing the bag (semi-gently, but without much thought) onto the ground next to where I’m sitting, I don’t worry about anything falling on it, and the material’s water-shedding feature adds even more mental security.
But once you add the gear, you can forget about the bag conforming to your body, especially with a laptop inside it. That said, what do you expect when you add a 15” almost solid aluminum support in the rear pocket of a messenger bag? And without a laptop, the bag should soften quite a bit over time (I could already sense some mild softening after a week or so that I would only expect to go a bit further).
What does this mean? For short trips around town, this is a great way to carry everything you’d need between the house, the coffee shop, and in between. But for all-day shooting, if you’re one of those people that has to have a laptop with them, I would recommend sticking with a backpack-style bag. Note that I wouldn’t even be mentioning this if the bag lacked a laptop compartment altogether. And the fact that it has one is massively helpful for those times you need it. Again, this is just a realistic reminder to those hoping they found the all-elusive magic lamp.
My main gripe with this bag, however, is that it’s not a Mary Poppins bag. For that matter, no bag is. This is merely a warning to those that think this is magically going to fit everything you own while distributing weight off of your shoulder and onto the air around you. Guess what? It won’t.
What it will do, however, is serve as a great everyday carrying bag for your modest amount of gear. It wouldn’t be fair to say that you don’t want to plan a long trip with this as your only photo bag because some people could definitely do just that. But for most of the photographers that I know, this will be a supplement at most.
In short, if you’re a gear rat, stick with a large strapped or roller backpack that TSA agents think must be beyond carry-on standards, but that you can wiggle your thumb at when you show them it’s made to be a carry-on… just barely. But if you can live with a couple lenses in a bag you throw over your shoulder for a while, the Everyday Messenger is exactly what it claims to be, and perhaps is the best at it.