Saddleback has developed an impressive reputation for themselves over the last 20 years in the business of fine leather goods.
I’ve heard many people speak of their products with the sort of reverence reserved for true “buy it once, buy it for life” heirlooms.
Saddleback themselves have a lot of confidence in their offerings, boasting a 100-year warranty and over-engineering to the level of unbreakability.
Incredibly bold claims, especially for such high-wear items such as briefcases, luggage and duffle bags–the latter of which we’ll be reviewing here.
Over the last few months I’ve put Saddleback’s three-strap leather duffle and simple leather toiletry bag to the test. They’ve been packed to the gills for everything from simple gym bag duty to extended weekend getaways (in which they were thrown around indiscriminately).
I had some very real reservations as to whether Saddleback’s products could match their sales pitch. I’ve owned a number of leather bags over the years that claim to be extremely hard-wearing only to have them fall apart in short order with frequent real-world use.
Has Saddleback lived up to the hype? Are their products truly unbreakable? Is this stuff really worth the premium price? Let’s find out.
Duffle Bag Measurements: 19.25” x 11” x 9.75” (5.5 lbs)
Toiletry Bag Measurements: 9.75” x 6.25” x 6” (2 lbs)
Material: Full grain leather outer, pigskin-lined interior
Hardware: 316L stainless steel
Price: Duffle – $549, Toiletry bag – $209
Warranty: 100 years
Simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to Saddleback’s approach to construction. Huge swaths of leather and minimal seams mean points of failure are massively reduced compared to so many other bags on the market. You won’t find any extraneous pockets, zippers, snaps, wheels or buttons.
This is a bag that is purposefully sparse on features for the sake of long term durability.
The entire body of a Saddleback bag is made from one single piece of thick full grain leather that forms the top flap, wraps around the back and under the bottom of the bag, and comes up the front where it secures to itself via heavy-duty leather closure straps and stainless steel hardware.
The only seams on these bags are one on each end to secure the 1-piece side gussets to the main body of the bag.
The handles for the duffle are anchored to thick strips of leather which run from the front to the rear of the bag uninterrupted by seams.
This design not only leads to near fail-proof construction but it also adds protection, structure and support to the bottom of the bag when being carried by the handles.
The handles are made of thick rolled leather and fit very comfortably in hand. The single front strap and two side straps which provide secure closure are made of equally thick bands of leather. The handles and straps are all riveted and stitched to the body of the bag to ensure that these aren’t failure points if the bag is loaded down with a lot of weight.
The front strap features seven holes and the side straps have nine holes, allowing the size of the bag to be reduced or expanded to fit a variety of packing situations.
The stitching and hardware throughout is best described as substantial. Saddleback uses 316L stainless steel which is corrosion resistant and widely regarded as one of the hardest wearing metals available.
For stitching, Saddleback uses a UV-resistant thread which they claim is more commonly associated with harsh marine applications such as ship sail stitching. Suffice it to say, the little details of this bag should last just as long and be just as reliable as the leather itself.
A removable shoulder strap is included and is my preferred method of carrying the bag if I have any length of walking to do.
Shoulder strap attachment points are the one major points of weakness for any loaded-down duffle bag, and I’ve had several bags with stitched attachment points rip clean off the bag during normal use.
I have no such concerns of failure with the Saddleback products as the attachment points are secured to the bag by both stitching and rivets. Furthermore the strap is quite comfortable and secure on shoulder even with the bag loaded to capacity.
That’s it and that’s all. I’m not wholly sure what Saddleback intended these pockets to be used for, but in practice I find them largely useless.
Stuffing them with things only serves to reduce interior volume that you could otherwise utilize. I don’t use them at all in the duffle and I only use the toiletry bag’s internal pocket to separate my toothbrush from the main compartment (but could easily do without a pocket here as well).
Styling is an extremely subjective metric, but I find these bags to be incredibly handsome. This review features Saddleback’s tobacco color–a very rugged and raw finish which picks up scuffs and scratches quite easily.
Saddleback also offers a dark coffee brown color which has a similarly well-worn vintage aesthetic but in a darker, oiled finish. I specifically chose the tobacco finish as I wanted a bag that would highlight the wear and tear I put it through over the years.
For those wanting something less vintage-inspired and more refined, Saddleback has black or chestnut brown options that would look perfect even in the most classy, professional settings.
What I Like
My favorite thing about these bags are the construction and aesthetics. Ultimately those are the two primary criteria I need a bag to deliver on. Everything else is just fluff.
Visually I find these bags to be beautiful. In hand, I’m confident they’ll last a lifetime.
True heirloom products are few and far between. Anytime I can invest a little more money to buy something once and buy it for life, I’m in.
I put these Saddleback bags into the same category as something like Red Wing Heritage boots–extremely well-crafted products that you can plan to keep and use (as intended) for decades to come.
Much like my experience of stepping up from cheap boots to quality footwear, I can’t count the number of bags that have failed me over the years, nor can I adequately express just how nice it is to have a bag I can confidently count on each and every time I need it.
What I Don’t Like
The high price of admission for quality leather goods has always been a point of discussion and Saddleback products are no different.
However, I can say that I’ve easily paid well over the price of both of these bags on budget alternatives I hoped would work long term, only to have them fall apart with minimal use.
While I do believe the duffle is worth every penny, the toiletry bag is certainly a luxury and not a necessity. I’d struggle to justify the price of the toiletry bag based solely on its own merit, however it is nice to have a matching duffle + dopp kit set.
Price aside, my least favorite things about these bags have also proven to be positives in certain ways.
To say these bags are light on features is an understatement. Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to bags with zippers, dividers, pockets and pouches galore.
There is a convenience associated with all that extra storage that I found myself missing quite a bit initially. I’ve since shifted the way I pack to better suit the Saddleback products.
I’m also accustomed to every fabric or leather duffle I’ve owned collapsing flat when empty, making them very easy to store between trips. In contrast, the Saddleback duffle and toiletry bags cannot be flattened. Due to the thickness and stiffness of the leather, the bags retain their shape even when empty.
Between trips, I now store the toiletry bag and shoulder strap inside the empty duffle, and I leave the duffle sitting on display alongside the wall in my bedroom.
These bags are so beautiful that I don’t mind showcasing them, but the lack of ability to collapse this bag is a key point to note if you’re tight on storage space and don’t want a bag sitting out in plain sight 24/7.
Lastly, the closure system of three straps and buckles makes easy access a bit of a hassle. In a pinch you can undo the front strap and pull the top flap up enough to grab something packed near the top of the bag, but to get full access you’ll need to take the time to unbuckle all three straps.
That said, the lack of quick access also provides a relatively high level of strength and security.
There are no quick release clasps or snaps to fail during hard use, and if you tend to carry a duffle bag over your shoulder while traveling (like I do) then there’s no way anyone could unfasten the access straps without you feeling it.
For me, a duffle bag and dopp kit are my preferred luggage solution for all but the longest of trips. I may go on a 7+ day trip where I have to check a bag once every year or two, but a long weekend away is something I do every chance I get.
As such, duffles tend to get an enormous amount of use from someone like me.
I’m personally much more comfortable investing in a quality duffle bag I’ll use often than an expensive suitcase that rarely sees the light of day.
I also hate luggage that I have to treat delicately for fear of it failing.
If this sounds like you too–and you’re looking for a true heirloom-quality product that you can buy once and depend on for a lifetime–I’m confident in saying that Saddleback Leather fits the bill.