A few weeks ago, a representative from Navali contacted me about reviewing their canvas bags. Now, I’ve already got a canvas briefcase I’m rather happy with, but it’s not perfect and could use some improvements. So, I figured it’d be interesting to see what Navali offered for a casual briefcase versus the one I already used.
The first thing I look for in a briefcase is if it can actually carry my stuff. And I do tend to carry quite a bit with me (although, thankfully, I don’t have to carry things like paper files or huge thick notebooks). I typically use my briefcase for carrying at minimum these things:
- My 13” Macbook Pro (in a custom-made leather slipcase)
- My power adaptor
- My short umbrella
- My BlackBerry
- Pens, notepad, business cards
- Fujifilm X10 camera (sometimes)
- Light jacket (sometimes)
The Navali “helmsman” briefcase actually carries these items way better than my Filson 256. The two side pouches work extremely well to carry the X10 camera in one pouch and the power adaptor in the other. They snap closed with magnetic snaps that make it really easy to get into them. As you can also see, there’s some small flat pouches sewn on the front. Perfect for a transit card, pens or even a cellphone.:
On the interior of the main pouch area, the briefcase has a lot of room for a laptop and then some. There’s a divided off area with snaps to place a laptop (inside a sleeve), however, it’s worth noting that this area is completely unpadded. You’ll want to make sure you place your laptop in a protective case of some sort. There’s also a zip compartment on the front interior of the bag that’d best for placing loose items like pens, coins and business cards. There’s also two slip pouches along the interior that are probably good for holding notepads or a checkbook.
As you can see, I managed to fit a Barbour Liddesdale and a short umbrella in the main area. You could easily cram an overnight’s change of clothing in the main compartment. Maybe even a full weekend’s worth of clothing if you didn’t bring your laptop. There’s also a keyring on the inside, which is a nice place to put a spare set of keys in your bag.
I also appreciated that on the bottom of the bag that Navali placed a strip of leather along the base. This will give the bag’s canvas bottom protection as you constantly set it down. This is another feature that’s lacking on the Filson 256 that I wish they’d have included. The only improvement I’d make beyond this would be placing four brass studs — one in each corner — so you could set the bag upright on a flat surface. Regardless, leather on the base is a nice touch.
While we’re talking about leather, I have to say that the leather quality does feel rather nice. It’s smooth and doesn’t feel “rough” to handle. The bag handles are actually way more comfortable to use than the Filson 256’s bridle leather straps. The rounded construction feels much more nicer in the hand.
I also want to give Navali some points for very discrete branding. You’ll notice the strip of leather that’s between the handle’s sides in the photo above, shaped like a naval signaling flag: that’s it. On the interior is a blue label with their name on it, but the branding is done nicely and isn’t obvious. I’m a fan of that.
I do have criticisms, however, on this briefcase. The most noticeable one is the shoulder strap. The strap itself is actually super comfortable to wear and wide enough to stay on your shoulder. My gripe isn’t with the shoulder strap itself, but the fact that you cannot remove it. Also, because of the design of the top zipper closure of the briefcase, you cannot shove the strap inside the briefcase when not in use.
Now, the shoulder strap is attached really well and I don’t think anyone will have to worry about it failing on you. And if you’re the type of person who always wants the shoulder strap on your briefcase, then this is a non-issue for you. But it’s worth pointing out for those who want the option to remove it. I spoke with the Navali representative about this and was told that in future models they’re looking at having the shoulder strap removable. So, that’s something to look for in the future.
Another mild criticism I have about the briefcase is that the back has no “magazine” pocket — an open-ended pocket along the outside to shove a newspaper or magazine in and have easy access to while commuting. I use mine all the time on my Filson 256 and think it’d be a no-brainer addition to this briefcase. Then again, if you’re the kind of person who spends all your time on the iPhone on your commute, this is another non-issue.
In terms of construction, I found it to be very well made. The canvas is durable but lighter and has a softness to it — kind of a “washed” feeling. This is a complete contrast to the stiff canvas feel of the Filson 256. I know some people like the idea of “breaking in” their Filson, but it does make it tougher to get that “flexibility” from the canvas walls. If you’re looking to avoid that and want to be able to stuff your bag full immediately, then the Navali might be more up your alley.
I would also warn against using this bag in a downpour (hence why I always carry an umbrella), as the canvas isn’t exactly waterproof. Granted, most briefcases aren’t waterproof (unless you get a waxed canvas), but it’s something you should know.
So, what’s my final verdict? I think the Navali briefcase is a good value. It’s $104.99 on their site, which is less than half the cost of a Filson 256 and way cheaper than a lot of other designer canvas bags.
The bag’s probably best suited for those of you in a business-casual environment. While I wouldn’t recommend this bag if your job requires you wear a suit and tie to work each day, I would say that it’s probably going to fit in most work environments nowadays where the dress code tops out at a sport coat and jeans.
The bag’s plenty durable for trips and has enough room to carry most of what you’d really want to hang off your shoulder. Navali also has a weekender bag ($124.99) that I think is worth taking a look at and two types of messenger bags, a satchel and a rucksack. They’re aiming to sell directly to the consumer rather than sell wholesale to retailers, which means you can get their products without any of the markup.
If your budget is around $100, Navali ought to be a maker your look into for a bag.
And, look, a contest: Navali’s Facebook page is holding a trivia contest and giving away a free card-case wallet. All you have to do is “like” their page and answer the question correctly (seriously, not that hard). So, go check it out and enter to win a one.
For a good three to four month stretch I spent a lot of time looking into getting a better briefcase. I looked at all sorts of models, makers and materials and read way more reviews and threads on StyleForum than I probably needed to read.
While I was content with my leather briefcase, there were a few things I wasn’t entirely happy about. It was heavy, it was hard to stuff extra things into (like a change of clothing or a jacket/sweater) because of the interior padded laptop compartment and I wasn’t a fan of the rigid dividers.
Plus, I wasn’t really sure that I needed a leather briefcase anymore — it felt like overkill for the new job. I couldn’t really bring it with me casually to carry stuff for a day trip, nor could I even fit my Fujifilm X-10 in it (and that’s a pretty small camera, too).
I felt that instead of going with a leather bag, I’d look into canvas instead. The obvious choice is to go with Filson. Everyone who has one raves about it. I’d seen them several places and thought they certainly could do the job. But I looked around some more.
In the end though, Filson was the only one that really impressed me. I’m sure others will rave about their preferences, and that’s fine. But I trusted the Filson name, the large volume of support it has from others who have had them for years and the design appealed to me in several ways.
I wanted one with a zip-top so I could seal it and make sure nothing valuable inside would fall out. I also wanted a flap to cover the zipper so it could keep water out in the event I got caught in the rain. The side stash pockets were a nice bonus on the outside of the 256 model and the interior’s dividers worked well enough for my needs.
I’ve been using the bag since April and the stiffness of the cotton canvas is beginning to go away. The bridle leather straps are really great (probably the only thing I was really worried about), but they probably could use some leather conditioner soon.
My biggest gripe though is the shoulder strap, which doesn’t stay on my shoulder very well and the shoulder pad is virtually worthless. I also feel the strap is too long and has a lot of excess leather that kind of flaps around when it’s set on the shortest hole on the adjustment buckle. I’m considering finding someone to make a new custom strap for me that’ll be more useful.
As far as being able to carry my stuff, you can see the images below that I’ve stuffed it really damned full of things. I put a Barbour Liddesdale, a Macbook Pro 13” with leather sleeve and power supply, notebook, mini umbrella and my X-10 camera all in the bag’s interior. Probably overkill, but it does fit and that doesn’t even include the exterior pockets.
I was impressed enough with the bridle leather straps on the briefcase that I also decided to pick up a 1.5” wide belt from them, too. I found that skinner belts just didn’t look right on denim that had wider loops, so this belt worked out just fine. As far as sizing goes, I just went true to size (i.e.: I wear a 34” trouser, so I bought a 34” belt).
As far as belts go, a lot of people make great leather belts, but I felt the price of this one was very reasonable at around $50. I wear it almost daily. It’s a really dark shade of brown, but I don’t mind much about that. It looks good, feelts great and does its job.
If you’re looking to buy something from Filson, then please take a look at Hilton Tent City. Use code FSNREG11 to get 15% off all Filson products they stock. Plus, you get free shipping on orders over $50. That’s pretty much the cheapest price on Filson products you’ll find on the web (and, yes, I spent a lot of time looking). Their site is a little old, but they delivered quickly and I didn’t have any problems with them. They even have Filson’s “Red Label” tote bags in stock.