Note: Durability Matters is reader-supported. When you buy through affiliate links on our website, we’ll make a small commission, without impacting your price. Thank you. Learn more.
The Messenger and the Satchel are two quintessential men’s leather bag styles. So fashionable and practical are they that both have been the go-to for decades. Even women and businessmen choose these two styles over the traditional briefcases and modern handbags of today. But can you tell the two apart?
While a satchel was designed to port books, the messenger came to prominence a little differently. It was first developed for use on horseback, mainly to courier messages, letters, and packages long-distance. Hence its name and why it features multiple clasps and buckles to secure it shut. A large external buckled pocket is another messenger staple, presumably to store essentials within easy reach.
As a result of its convenience, this style remained popular, even as bicycles and motorbikes became de rigueur. In contrast, the slouchy satchel has been a favorite for men of the book — specifically monks, students, and scholars. Another key difference between the two bags is the height of each. Both can be worn on the shoulder or cross-body, but satchels rest lower on the hip, while messenger bags hug closer to the lower back.
Our Top Leather Satchel and Messenger Bag Picks
Not sure which style to choose? It comes down to your lifestyle. The low-hung satchel is recommended for those who commute by car or public transport. In contrast, the secure messenger bag is a top choice for cyclists and motorcyclists wishing to keep their cargo safely tucked in.
To aid in your decision, we’ve researched the best leather satchels and messenger bags for you – At least as far as durability and style go.
Kodiak Leather Satchel
Read our hands-on review: Kodiak Leather Satchel
Featuring a mottled, aged finish, the Kodiak chestnut leather satchel is a modern-day classic. Flat rivets secure the buckles and pocket, while a leather top handle makes it easy to carry by hand. In fact, you can even tuck the strap away in the bag and use it much like a typical briefcase.
Its strap is also adjustable, meaning you can adapt it to your preferred length. Need to take your hardware with you? Measuring 15 x 11 x 4” and featuring a central padded laptop compartment, this bag fits most standard-sized notebooks.
Another notable feature is that, while its exterior is leather, its interior is lined with a soft green canvas. This makes it easy to clean and dust out, and ensures that small items won’t get lost or fall out through the bag seams. Many customers have remarked on the quality of this bag’s build and workmanship, as well as that of the leather itself. This is the perfect choice, or gift, for a graduate, retiree, or professional.
Time Resistance Leather Satchel – The Time Machine
Are you a fan of the classics? Then do travel back in time with The Time Machine leather satchel. Featuring a semi-patent sheen finish and old-world British stitching, this vintage Italian-inspired bag is a winner. Constructed from durable full-grain cowhide Vachetta leather in a deep chocolate shade, it’s both stylish and made to last.
If you wish to mix things up, you can easily detach the shoulder strap to adapt The Time Machine into a briefcase. Another unique feature is its double-breasted exterior pockets, each of which is large enough to hold small electronics, like phones and tablets. On the back of the bag, you can find another zippered compartment, ideal for flat valuables like money or documents.
To top it off, the interior boasts another two compartments sized for a 15” laptop, one of which features another fabric pocket. With so many separate compartments, it’s easy to organize your belongings in this bag. The upmarket cream canvas lining also keeps items safe from scuffing, getting lost, or slipping through the stitching.
Get 10% off your purchase on timeresistance.com by using “DM10” discount code.
Buffalo Jackson Ryder Reserve Bison Leather Briefcase
The Buffalo Jackson Ryder Reserve Bison Leather briefcase is decidedly retro, featuring heavy-grained leather, antique-style buckles, and classic nickel accents. Fans of Indy will love this vintage, Wild West-style bag. Those looking for a truly authentic leather bag experience will also appreciate its full interior leather and suede lining. No fabric or canvas here!
The artisan craftsmanship doesn’t stop there, either. Frilled leather pen pockets and small leather compartments for electronics are featured inside, and the bag has an adjustable leather shoulder pad for comfortable carrying. The two interior compartments are roomy, and one even boasts a leather strap clip to hold your laptop secure.
In terms of durability, the thickness and hardiness of the buffalo leather are hard to beat, as many customers agree. The designers have also placed rivets on all stress points, ensuring as little seam fray or warp as possible, even if you’re regularly carrying a heavy load. Just like many other leather satchels, you can detach this bag’s shoulder strap to adapt it into a briefcase.
Augus Leather Satchel/Briefcase Bag
In the 60s English schoolboy era, many leather satchels featured two straps so they could be worn as a backpack. The Augus leather satchel celebrates those roots with a modern twist. You can adjust its strap to be longer or shorter, as with most satchels, but you can also adapt it into two straps and wear the bag on your back. This messenger bag features various side and bottom loops to make the transition easy.
The designers even thought to add two shoulder pads to the strap, so it’s comfortable to wear either way. One of this bag’s most prominent features is its volume, though. Make no mistake; this is a very roomy bag! If you tend to be on the heavy-packer end of the spectrum, you’ll love the extra space. While it has little outside storage, bar a back sleeve pocket, its interior is much more organized.
Two compartments and a duo of small pockets allow you to arrange your essentials neatly. Plus, its accordion-style construction allows it to stretch open further, all while the exterior buckles ensure nothing bursts out. Unlike many other options, this leather messenger bag is even spacious enough to fit a sizable 17” laptop.
UBANT Leather Satchel/Briefcase Bag
Slimline leather satchels are a popular option for work, particularly in the office. The elegant UBANT leather messenger bag for men features a smooth, fine-grain leather finish, and comes in two tones: a sleek, dark coffee brown and a more chipper tan brown.
The interior of this bag is where it really shines, though, as it features multiple organizer pouches and pockets. There’s a designated spot for everything, including your pens, notebooks, and even your credit cards. It also boasts not one, but two compartments, fitting up to 15.6″ and 17.3″ laptops, respectively.
An additional front pocket and back zippered pocket complement the offerings. Despite all this, it’s still a very compact and ergonomic bag. The comfortable strap padding and leather carry handle only add to its appeal. If you want to use it like a briefcase, you can – simply remove the strap by detaching the strap clips from the loops on the exterior of the bag.
What To Know Before Buying a Leather Satchel
Leather satchels can be expensive, making them an investment, not just a straightforward purchase. Be sure to read up on the eccentricities of them below, to ensure you buy the best leather satchel for your needs.
Leather & Materials
Satchels and messenger bags are made from a variety of materials, including leather and canvas. However, the finish, type of leather, and combination of materials varies drastically from bag to bag.
Types of Leather
There are three main types of leather to choose from:
- Full-grain leather is completely untouched leather that’s been aged and dried without the use of chemicals. As a result, it’s heavy, tough, and may have blemishes, but it’s the most long-wearing.
- Top grain leather is the top layer of the hide, and is chemically treated, reducing blemishing and giving a smooth finish. It’s the most commonly-used option for leather satchels and messenger bags.
- Genuine leather is whatever is left of a hide after the top layer is removed. As such, it’s less durable than full grain or top grain leather, though it may be treated to look like either.
Waxed, suede, polished, patent, dyed — leather can be finished in any number of ways. While shinier options look more upmarket and businesslike, rougher finishes give off those Indiana Jones vibes. Unpolished leather is also often easier to maintain than its shinier counterparts, much like an untamed beard.
Besides the exterior materials, many bags are lined inside — be it with more leather, suede leather, or another material. So, if you prefer an all-leather bag, make sure you check the product’s specs and photos to find out what its lining is made from. Many companies and artisans line their bags with canvas or linen to cut costs and bag weight, instead.
Aside from the actual material the bag is made from, consider its accents. In particular, find out what its buckles, zips, and rivets are made from. Stainless steel, nickel, and brass are common, as are cheaper, less-durable alloys. Zippers should be metal, not plastic, the seams should be well-stitched, and the interior lining should be of a high quality if you wish the bag to last a long time.
From rustic to modern, sleek to gritty, there are a number of satchel and messenger bag styles from which to choose. While traditional or retro options are common, you can also find some interesting out-of-the-box designs. The type of leather used and its details make the bag stand out, so do choose according to what fits your style.
Factory or Artisan-Made?
Most commercially-available bags are factory-made. However, many leather bags — including satchel and messenger styles — are hand-made. Leather artisans and craftsmen cut and stitch each bag by hand, perhaps even engraving or embellishing them beforehand. Sometimes, they may even dye, polish, roughen up, or otherwise treat the leather to give it a bespoke, aged, or antique look.
Most satchel and messenger bags feature a front flap, but flap lengths do vary. Some bags have full-length flaps that cover the entire front of the bag, but half and 1/3-length styles are also popular. Regardless, both bag types often feature exterior straps and a buckle to keep the flap secure.
Besides a flap, one or two front pockets are also a common sight on messenger and satchel bag styles. You can also expect to see a back pocket to store flat items in, and occasionally, some side pockets, too. However, the pocket styles do vary, meaning they may be small, big, solo, duo, buckled, or zippered.
Inside, satchels will likely feature additional compartments, sleeves, and pockets for organization. A laptop compartment with padding and lining is a must if you need to carry yours with you. But also be aware of the size of the laptop pocket. Most satchels are built to fit a 15” laptop; few can carry anything larger. So be sure to measure before you buy if you have a 15.6” or 17.3” laptop.
A bag’s strap affects the height at which it sits and how ergonomic it is. Ideally, look for a leather satchel with a height-adjustable strap, which will allow you to adapt it to your height and preference. Shoulder pads also offer extra comfort, while detachable strap clips let you use the bag as a briefcase if needed.
With so many eye-catching, covetable styles out there, it’s challenging to pick the best leather satchel for your needs. However, the bag’s build, quality of finish, and durability should be your central deciding factors. Luckily you don’t have to figure it all out on your own – our top picks are undoubtedly some of the longest-wearing options out there.