I recently saw an advertisement for the Kendal & Hyde Classic Satchel, and the photo quickly caught my attention. I’ve actually always thought of getting myself a quality leather messenger bag or satchel. There’s something that’s simultaneously timeless yet unstoppably cool about the style that draws me in. Sure, I’ve tried some less-satisfying cheaper bags…but when I saw some of the pictures of the K&H Satchel, it was as though it was exactly what I’d visualized myself getting someday. I visited the site, and found out that this isn’t just a simple leather bag, either–it includes some modern touches as well. The laptop protection is excellent, and a handful of accessories are available to personalize your bag. I was impressed, and decided to look further into it.
It was hard not to notice the price right away. For a guy who considers paying $100 for a backpack splurging, seeing that the retail cost of the K&H would be $500 was a bit of a shock. There was some consolation in seeing that they were still at a preorder price of $400, but regardless, that’s pretty rich for my blood! I’m not one to write something off based on price alone, though–I believe in getting what you pay for. The bag matched what I’d been looking for too well to dismiss, so I started digging.
The details on K&H’s website were a great start. They give lots of information about the details of the bag, the materials they use, and their mindset in making design decisions. Their guarantee builds a lot of confidence: where most companies are only willing to help in the case of “manufacturer defects,” K&H will have your back, for your lifetime, even if the bag breaks from normal wear and tear. I discovered the comments on the Kickstarter to be very informative–Kendal, who designs the bags, answers nearly every backer comment, sometimes in great detail. Responses include useful information about leather treatment, design details (even some additional pictures), a list of revisions from their previous satchel design, even a breakdown of the differences between their bag and the relatively famous Saddleback products. The transparency and dedication to backers surprised and impressed me.
While all of this gave me a good grasp of what K&H provided and thought of their own product, I did want some third-party perspective, as well. I actually started with a more general search–what sort of things should I look for in a leather bag, indications that would justify the high cost? It turns out this was a wise move that furthered my draw to K&H and their Classic Satchel. It seemed that every time I found a new piece of advice about buying leather, I would compare that information with the descriptions I found from K&H, and sure enough, they met the highest of expectations. Thick, full-grain vegetable tanned leather sourced from North America; solid brass hardware; plenty of gunmetal rivets to strengthen weak points; no liner or excessive stitching to hide thin or incomplete pieces of leather; strong polyester thread where stitching is necessary; etc. Things seemed to be lining up nicely.
I also hoped to find some third-party reviews specifically about Kendal & Hyde’s products. Truth be told, there isn’t nearly as much available as I would like–we’re talking about a fairly new company (around a year old) that is just starting to establish their footing via Kickstarter. I found what I could though, and can essentially sum it up in a sentence: a video review here, a reddit post there, Best Leather gives their first impressions here, and a handful of happy backers give their thumbs up in some comments there. Though to be honest, all but the Best Leather review are actually about the older version of the satchel (the new one hasn’t been released)! This gave me some extra insight about the products and further boosted my confidence in K&H, but it still wasn’t quite enough.
Fortunately, I found out that part of their company base was a short drive from where I live. I decided to see if I could go and check out the satchel…a few emails later, I had a meeting set up with Kendal himself!
When I arrived at the meet, a pile of leather bags quickly grew in front of me: some of their other bags (including the old version of the satchel), their modular bag accessories, other bags they used as design inspiration, future products in the works…and, of course, prototypes for the new Classic Satchel. After doing an embarrassing amount of research on the web about this thing, I finally was able to get my hands on one–not to mention numerous other products, with their very designer available to ask any questions I had!
It’s all-too-often that when I finally get to experience a product in person, I’m a bit disappointed. It doesn’t quite have that special something I fantasized about when I saw the picture. That was the case with cheaper satchels I’ve tried out. This was not the case with the Kendal & Hyde Classic Satchel. The appearance in person was exactly the meeting of classy and cool that I enjoyed in the pictures, but with an added feeling of ruggedness that came from seeing how thick the leather is, how sturdy the hardware appears, and the overall heft of the bag. I started opening the bag to try it out with some of my things that I’d brought for that purpose. Based on some information online, I thought the leather may be very stiff and hard to use, but that also isn’t the case. On cheaper bags I’ve had, the poor leather, poor and excessive stitching, and lining are to blame for making the bag stiff. The quality materials on the K&H bag function very smoothly, while still giving a sense of strength. The buckles are amazingly easy to operate and the whole bag moves just as it needs to, without the undue crinkling or folding common to lesser bags. The very thick leather does have some stiffness, but this mostly just aids in maintaining the bag’s shape, preventing floppiness, rather than making it more difficult to use. These prototypes I tested out are also very new–with time, the leather will wear in, molding to one’s own use.
The straps are awesome. I was wondering about length, since some satchels I’ve tried don’t have nearly enough holes punched in them to help you get that perfect length, but the K&H has plenty. The buckle is as nice as the ones on the bag, and the shoulder pad is very thick. Typically a small bit of neoprene is used for padding on the shoulder, but Kendal didn’t like the way neoprene makes the leather over it fold and crease, so he tried out a another small piece of softer leather instead. This results in a pad that is harder than you’re used to, but will maintain the shape it becomes when resting on your shoulder, won’t create any uncomfortable creases over time, and has a large area of contact that distributes weight. I thought that was pretty clever. The straps are connected to the bag with more of their solid brass hardware, and can roll and twist very easily so that the bag rests comfortably.
Sizing was another factor I was hoping to get a feel for during the visit. Reading the descriptions and advice on their website gives the impression that these bags, size for size, are larger than most bags. I think this is because of the way they’ve been designed around the laptop compartment. Most similar bags are just larger than the laptop they’re meant to hold, but the K&H Satchel’s laptop compartment is a bit different. You can see an animation of how it fits within the bag on the product description page, but it’s essentially utilizing the seam between gussets as a wide protective barrier for the edges of your laptop. As a result, the bag’s overall size is more like the size you’d expect for a bag meant to hold a laptop about 2″ larger in screen size. In fact, larger laptops do fit quite nicely into the main compartment, if you want a smaller bag but have a larger laptop (15″ laptops will fit in the main compartment of the medium satchel, etc.).
Based on this information, and also probably biased by an excessively large satchel I’d recently tried out, I expected a lot of space. What I hadn’t realized, is that the K&H Satchel is fairly compartmentalized. Most satchels are just one large bucket of space, and everything is just sort of thrown into the same main compartment. You’d be lucky to have a front pocket or magazine pocket on the back, and a flat pocket or two on the inside panels. The K&H satchel is divided in the center of the main compartment by the laptop pocket, with the front compartment further broken up with some pockets, and the back compartment the only larger bucket of space. What this meant was, I needed to sort of organize all my things into place within the different pockets. Instead of worrying about my Nalgene crushing my wireless mouse or headphones, it fit snuggly into the back compartment next to the headphones, and didn’t just roll about in my bag. The mouse could be placed in a separate pocket. The take-home message is that the compartments aren’t as wide as similarly sized bags that aren’t divided up, so some wider items will be more snug or may not fit at all (the thermos tube accessory may come in handy for this). Overall, I’d suggest following the advice offered on their webpage: pick the size that fits your laptop. Not only will your laptop get some stellar protection, but the overall effective space isn’t vastly different between sizes. If you have some flexibility as far as laptop is concerned (or don’t mind your larger laptop being in the main compartment of a smaller bag), do consider that the large is pushing the size of a carry on, and the small felt small enough to be a purse, to me. Check out their pictures of 5’9″ Hyde carrying each size for reference. While the bit of extra space from the large is appealing (and would be nice for travel purposes), I felt the medium will suit most of my uses, and my 5’10” 165lb frame, the best.
I didn’t experiment too much with the accessories, but did gather a few notes. The thermos tube was a bit larger than I imagined, even though they have several pictures of it online. The external pockets are pretty sweet looking, and the simple closing mechanism seems very secure. One thing to note about the accessories is that they do have substantial weight, and will only become more heavy when filled…this does make the top flap of the bag less wieldy when the accessories are attached. I imagine most using the thermos tube will attach it to the bottom partially for this reason, though this will make the bag harder to set down. Overall I liked the accessories, and they’d make great add-ons to add some space and organization. I think the backpack straps will be a necessity for myself. I also saw a prototype for a water bottle holder and spoke with Kendal about a few things in the works–he has some cool ideas. I was especially intrigued by accessories that would be able to quick-clip to the same portion of the bag that the shoulder strap attaches to.
I also spoke with Kendal quite a bit about the company. It was fascinating to hear stories about the design process, securing their leather, dealing with hiccups. They design products with the looks and strength of designs that have stood the test of time, but incorporate modern features to address modern needs and add modern convenience. It felt like Kendal had very little tolerance for sub-par product. He has tried and sifted out many suppliers and manufacturers that didn’t meet the standard. The company’s first batch of leather belts didn’t meet this standard, and rather than ship the less-than-perfect product to consumers, they fronted the bill, donated the belts, and started over–a move that nearly put them out of business. I was impressed by their dedication to quality, in addition to taking advantage of opportunities to be charitable. They also donate quality sandals to those in need for every one of their boots purchased. Kendal loves his products, puts his best work into them, and makes himself very available to customers. This is the sort of company I’m happy to support.
Within the next couple weeks, I’ll have a working satchel prototype, and will be able to provide a more detailed review after giving it some use. In the mean time, check out Kendal and Hyde for yourself, and feel free to ask me any questions in the comments.
Update (9.11.15)! I picked up my prototype yesterday evening! Photos and more hands-on review information to come soon.
I haven’t had much time for trying the satchel out, but thought I’d throw up some quick pictures. Sorry if they’re not especially good pictures, but I wanted to capture a few things I noticed. Disclaimer: my satchel is a prototype, and while it will be very similar to production models, a few things are different. I’ll note differences I’m aware of, so make sure to read the descriptions. I will say upfront that all the hardware, save for the clips on the backpack straps, is not the same as will be on production models. Please let me know of any other pictures you’d like to see. This is a medium satchel in the ‘natural‘ color (but it has been extensively treated, so the natural has darkened a fair amount). Click photos to enlarge.
I’ve now had my K&H Classic Satchel for just over a month, and think it’s time to give my more experienced thoughts on it. It’s probably worth noting that this is essentially my first leather product, so some things I’ve observed are likely true of all similar leather bags.
Long story short: I love the bag more than ever. Here’s some of my more specific thoughts, too:
- The leather is tough. It softens up with treatment and likely with time, but it’s just a strong material. This means the bag is sturdy enough to offer some serious protection for your items, especially the internal laptop pocket. I can even pretty comfortably use the bag as an armrest on the bus 🙂 the strength of the leather also means it isn’t ideal to hold some soft items. As the stiff leather folds over, it is capable of squashing items not able to hold their own shape.
- On that note, my original concern about the K&H satchel not being ideal to hold items that are around that 3″ width mark is still valid. I sometimes get nervous about the stiff leather pushing down on my headphones, for example, especially when I wear the bag and my body pushes against the back opening. Ideally you’d have the back opening filled with books or other flat things, and use the more organized front opening for smaller things placed in the pockets. The area around the front pockets isn’t too easy to use, but I often slip some papers in front of them, or place my battery pack between them.
- Transitioning from a conventional backpack takes a bit of practice. I love the true buckle closures, but they slowed me down at first. However, they are more quiet than zippers and allow simpler one-handed use, especially for opening. If you allow the heavy buckles or other hardware to hit hard surfaces they can be quite loud 🙂
- I thought I’d love the backpack straps and wasn’t sure how much use I’d get out of the single pocket, but my opinion has flipped. Except for times that I really need to walk around with the satchel a lot or on longer motorcycle rides, the shoulder strap is faster and more convenient than the backpack straps (especially since I can lift the satchel while open with the shoulder strap…the backpack straps attach to the handle, which is, unfortunately, unusable unless the closure straps are buckled…or you want to spill your stuff everywhere). The single pocket, however, is enormously useful for stowing that one last item that you need quick access to. My roommates jokingly call it a “sandwich pocket,” since it does fit a small sandwich well. I’ve even used it as a phone holster on the shoulder strap, in a pinch.
- Everyday, I love my satchel more and more. Everyday, my satchel becomes more my own, with deepening tan lines and scuff marks giving it character and identifying it as uniquely mine. Kendal loves this aspect of his bags, he designs them for it, and I couldn’t agree with him more. It is just plain cool. As this is easily the most complimented and admired thing I’ve ever owned, I’d say I’m not alone in this opinion.
In part due to my review here, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve recently been brought onto the review team over at BestLeather! This review on my own website is more detailed and is more likely to be updated and responsive to picture requests, etc., but I did write a review (with even more pictures) on this satchel on BestLeather’s website here.