By Doug Goldring updated on 05/02/2011
Not long ago, my beloved Tumi briefcase began disintegrating before my eyes. The threadbare seams began fraying and shedding like a long haired pup in summer, The end result of this was a bag filled with holes, and stray fabric clogging the zippers. It quickly became apparent that it was time to seek out a replacement. With Tumi's several hundred dollar pricetag putting a replacement well out of reach, I Immediately, turned to my two favorite gear bag companies, Waterfield and Skooba Design as possible candidates for a replacement. Thus begins my two-part gear bag showdown. In part 1, we will take a look at the Waterfield Cargo Bag. In a few days, part 2 will provide a look at the Skooba Design Netbook/iPad Messenger Bag.
The Cargo Bag is Waterfield’s signature bag. It is large…as in cavernous large. Big enough to carry everything you will need and then some. The bag itself comes in three sizes (obviously, small, medium, and large). I opted for the medium in order to get a fair sense of the sizing. To be honest, even the medium was a bit on the big side for my needs, though I still fear the small would have been just on the other side of what I needed. So, faced with the choice between too much space or not quite enough, I would rather have too much. Though a small plus would probably have been perfect.
The bag itself can be divided into three sections. The enormous main pocket, the front flap, and the magazine pocket on the back. Let’s start with the front flap. The flap itself is available in two options, leather or Indium/Ballistic (Ballistic is essentially the same finish as the rest of the bag). You also have your choice of colors for this flap, which really gives you the opportunity to customize the bag and make it fit your personality (what..no monogram?). I opted for brown leather in order to give me the illusion of professionalism when I use it for work related activities.
One of the real highlights of the bag is the clip holding this flap shut. Typically, faced with this situation, most bag manufacturers will give you a standard plastic clip. You know the type, squeeze it on both sides and pop it open. Pretty much every bag or backpack around has a clip like that. They are perfectly functional, though they can be a bit on the flimsy side. The clip on the front flap comes in two styles: the aircraft buckle, which utilizes the same clip style as an aircraft seat belt; or the paragliding harness clip, which obviously will look familiar to the paragliders among us. Because let's face it, if these clips are good enough to keep you safe when soaring hundreds or thousands of feet above the Earth, they must be good enough to secure your precious cargo. It is small details like this which make Waterfield such a fantastic company.
Under the flap is a large pocket. I was a little surprised by this, as most bags feature several smaller pockets in a space like this. As much as I liked this large pocket, it would have been nice to have several smaller pockets here as well, in order to offer greater organization of smaller items, without going too deeply into the bag. Nonetheless, the large pocket is fantastic. I was able to cram my umbrella in there and watch it disappear, leaving plenty of room for my iPad keyboard, which was one of my main priorities when selecting a new briefcase.
Also in this pocket is a smaller inner pocket, which is the perfect size for smaller items such as headphones, a mobile hotspot, or a media player.
This brings us back to the main compartment. It is absolutely cavernous, with the zipper stretching from one end of the bag to the other. What is nice here is that the main compartment opens behind the front flap, making it easy to access without taking it off your shoulder. Although this space looks narrow inside, I just kept cramming things in there and it just kept on taking it. In the end, I managed to fit my iPad, netbook, gearbag (containing assorted accessories and cables) and two additional power adaptors…all at the same time, and I likely could have had plenty of room for more had I so chosen.
Hidden inside the main compartment is an inner flap containing a variety of pockets designed for smaller items, like pens, business cards, tissues, etc… When I started using the bag I was surprised by the placement of this flap. Typically, an interior flap like this would be found along the rear wall of the compartment, in other words closer to your body. This one hung from the front of the compartment, which felt backwards, but worked great. This design allows you to access the pockets without removing the bag from your shoulder. Again, we find that fantastic Waterfield attention to detail, ensuring the bag maximizes its own functionality, even despite the perceptions of the user.
Also in this main compartment is a strap with a clip for keys. If anything about this bag disappointed me, it was this plastic clip, which really felt flimsy and a little too easy to bend or snap. Given the durability and strength of the materials in the rest of the bag, including those heavy duty clips on the front, this plastic clip really felt out of place. The bag would have been far better served by a simple metal clip here.
This brings us around to the back of the bag where you will find the magazine pocket. This one is held shut with sturdy velcro, preventing it from flapping open unexpectedly (I was not sure why they chose Velcro rather than a zipper, but it worked just fine).
A zipper on the bottom will also allow the pocket to slide over the handle of any standard rolling bag for easier transport.
Finally, we turn to the side of the bag, which bears a small pocket designed for your cell phone or media player. To be honest, I would have rather found a water bottle pocket in this space, as I personally rarely stick my phone in a pocket on my bag…though my habits are likely different from yours.
Ultimately, the Cargo Bag really did a fantastic job of living up to its name, and holding ALL of your valuable...stuff….erm... cargo. The size of the pockets, however, is only part of the story. For the rest of the story, we need to take a look at the construction of the bag itself. As I mentioned at the beginning, this bag is made from heavy duty ballistic nylon. This means no matter how full you pack the bag, it is not going to tear. I can be pretty tough on my briefcases, overpacking them and dragging them to and fro, yet I have never feared that this bag would fail to support me in the manner which others (are you listening, TumI??) have. I will say that I was a bit disappointed because, unlike some other Waterfield bags and cases I have used, the bottom of the Cargo Bag is not reinforced, which would have been nice.
Before we end this review, I would be remiss if I failed to at least mention the zippers, which are large and fit well with the trend of durability found throughout this bag. What really impressed me was the design of these zippers which never seemed to pucker or snag. I have never seen a bag which, when packed full, had no problem zipping shut with a so much as threatening to snag against the material. Again, Waterfield is really on top of their game with the attention they have paid to seemingly minor details like this.
All that, and the bags are made entirely in the United States (Waterfied is a San Francisco based company).
At the end of the day, I was thoroughly impressed by Waterfield’s Cargo Bag. It is one of the few bags I have used which can really keep up with the rigors of my daily commute. Waterfield did a fantastic job with this one, almost exactly tailoring it to fit my needs (it was a little bigger than I expected). Most importantly for me, however, was the construction of the bag. True to their reputation, Waterfield uses only the best and sturdiest materials, ensuring that this bag will not tear or fall apart when you inevitably overstuff it full of your…valuable cargo.
The Cargo Bag is available from Waterfield and ranges in price from $179 for the small bag to $269 for the largest size (add $10 if you choose the paraglide clip).
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this review when we will look at the Skooba Design Nebook/iPad Messenger Bag and find out how well that bag held up to the same rigors of my daily commute.