Review: Two Acme Made shoulder bags

The holidays are approaching, and although gadgets, cameras and the like will be flowing like wine, one sector shoppers tend to neglect is how to carry said gadgets. After all, you upsize your laptop and it no longer fits in your briefcase, or you get a new lens and now you need a better camera bag. Acme Made makes quite a lot of the bags, briefcases, and soft shells you’ll be wanting come December 26. We got a couple of the most general-purpose ones to see whether they’re any good.

The two bags we chose to evaluate are from this page: the Courier and the Clyde City. The former is the more professional-looking, I-write-for-the-Economist one, and the latter is the strappy, I-roll-up-my-right-pant-cuff messenger bag. One thing you may notice right off the bat if you click those is that there are various designs available (which likewise varying prices), many of which are quite good-looking. I’m an unassuming guy so I picked the tamest ones, but keep in mind that these bags are really very stylish.

Update on the video: Acme Made brings it to my attention that there is a strap on the Clyde City that is specifically for holding that loop in and preventing it from being grabbed. Very thoughtful! That makes this bag an even more solid deal. Thanks for keeping me honest, guys!

The option I evaluated for the Courier is made of perhaps their most luxurious of their many materials: Telun canvas, a “vulcanized” or rubber-treated canvas that has a wonderful textured matte surface and is very resilient while retaining the scuffs and marks that I personally like to accumulate on my stuff. Makes me feel like Indiana Jones. I’d say Telun Courier is probably one of the most sophisticated and understated bags I’ve seen, at least from the outside (I don’t care for the interior, personally). It carries a hefty $50 premium however, so plan for that.

Inside the Courier is a slightly different story. I’m afraid it’s not exactly spacious; the luxurious but inflexible material and deluxe fittings (fat zippers, buttoning straps on the inner pockets) mean you’ll need to budget your carry-alongs wisely. I attempted to put my 15″ MacBook Pro into the zippered compartment at first, like a fool, but then found the real slot for it, and it fit in like a glove. That of course means that anything bigger would be completely impossible to force in, but it would accommodate a smaller machine snugly as well. There’s not a lot of room for accessories — the inner area is limited and the buttoning pockets are of all of the same medium size, too small for a big charger but too large for a pair of headphones. They don’t compress well, so they’re always taking up space. The outer surface has a couple nice, business-y places for cards, pens, and an iPhone-sized cell pocket. The flap closes conveniently with a couple small magnets within the material, which always found each other even if I wasn’t paying attention.

The Clyde City is more of a gadgeteer’s bag. And although I tested out the sober black version, opening it up reveals a shocking mango color even brighter than my previous bag, which was pretty savage. Looking it over, it really is a perfect bag for a blogger like myself or anyone who needs to carry a good amount of tech around but not look like a yuppie or lawyer (the Courier doesn’t do that, but it’s further that way on the spectrum). The roomy laptop compartment will fit a 17″ or 15″ laptop and there’s a ton of room for an external hard drive, AC adapter, book, extra lens, and so on, but when empty it flattens out well and the buckles secure the whole package pretty tightly. The pocket under the flap seemed impractical to me at first, like a little purse stuck on the outside, but it’s the perfect size for the jumble of USB drives, adapters, and miscellaneous cords we’re always carrying. I have to say that the strap-adjustment solution is a little weird: it can be quickly adjusted shorter or longer, which is great, but the ease of access also means that the loop of extra strap is dangerously easy to snag on a doorknob or something and give you whiplash as the bag falls to the shoulder strap’s maximum extension. <– See note below video.

One thing both bags could improve on is the shoulder strap. My Manhattan Portage bag came with a fantastic removable pad that spreads the weight and grips your shoulder. These come with bare nylon straps, which is kind of a buzzkill when the rest of the bag is so dapper-looking. Maybe they thought it complicated the look, but they neglected ergonomics in this case.

Overall I was pleased with both these bags, although the Clyde City is clearly more my department. The Courier is obviously more for business types who have papers, business cards, and a couple mobiles in addition to a laptop no larger than 15″. The Clyde City, while far less sophisticated-looking, is more practical (and comfortable, I found) for people who carry more weight or a greater variety of things. At $100 it’s also a decent deal for a mid-range bag. I paid $90 for my current bag and I’d consider them on equal footing. The Courier is harder to justify at a far more spendy $250, but you know if you’re the kind of person who spends that amount or more on a bag.

I should also note that these are only two of the whole Acme Made lineup, and although I have my differences with some of the designs, the bags are definitely well put together and not cheaply manufactured as designer throwaways. Check out the other options if these two didn’t tickle your fancy.