Waterfield bags look new and last for decades. But can this beautiful new backpack hold as much as a messenger bag?
Can it convince frequent travelers, business commuters and others to switch from a messenger bag to backpack?
We review the Waterfield Staad Leather and bulletproof Cordera Laptop bag (the Stout version)
Company/Manufacturer: Waterfield Bags
Product(s): The Staad Laptop Backpack in waxed canvas or ballistic cordera, in slim or stout (reviewed here) versions is just one of many great bags from Waterfield.
Cost: $319 USD (slim) or $329 USD (stout)
Our Travel Gear rating: ****1/2 (Four and a half stars out of five) Highly recommended.
The bag reviewed in our article is made of black ballistic 100 denier cordera body with grizzly leather flap, accents and handle. Video review at bottom of page. And DON’T MISS OUR LOAD-OUT VIDEO to see how much this bag will hold.
The Staad from Waterfield is a beautiful bag with a fully tanned heavy leather flap meant to make this backpack attractive to business people carrying it into boardrooms and executive offices without embarrassing themselves, or looking like the intern fresh out of school. For this reason, I like the black body of the bag more than the lighter brown waxed canvas – although I admit to loving waxed canvas products in general over cordera, even ballistic cordera. The tanned leather flap is meant to look distressed and actually does look better over time. It is heavy and sewn onto another inner piece of leather and comes in three colors: Black, Chocolate and Grizzly (which is pictured here).
Much has been made of Waterfield’s new clasp which comes from the military and can be easily opened and closed one-handed, and is very secure. While I like Waterfield’s use of unique buckles and closures (My airline seatbuckle on my older Cargo bag by Waterfield still gets rave compliments!), one issue I quickly discovered was that there is no room to adjust the flap or buckle for larger loads. This is a problem if you’d like to stash something like a jacket under the flap for carry, or are used to overloading your bag and adjusting the flap to ride higher, since this bag cannot do so. When it is fully loaded, it can be a bit difficult to close, although otherwise the easy pull-and-release buckle works as advertised.
When you lift up the flap, You’ll notice one vertical zipper down the middle of the bag, plus two slash pockets. These slash pockets are meant for easy access when the flap is closed and the bag is slung on your back or shoulder – for easy access to boarding passes, wallet, ipod, phone, keys or ?, and they work surprisingly well. Waterfield always thinks about and places very useful pockets on their bags that travelers especially appreciate and you never think about till you use another bag by a different manufacturer and all of a sudden realize that they aren’t anywhere near as convenient or well-designed.
The yellow ripstop, waterproof fabric inside the bag is meant to help you quickly spot items stashed deep within your bag and works extremely well. I have been using a Waterfield Cargo bag for more than a decade with similar inside lining and can testify that it is both extremely durable as well as useful when rummaging for a receipt or cable dongle, at the bottom of my bag.
Interior pockets are placed on either side flap, above the outside slash pockets, and can hold hard drives, power cords, or even a square DVD burner. They are about 7″ square and larger than the outside slash pockets. They are held shut by velcro tabs but those may not be necessary since I can’t imagine carrying the bag sideways or upside down where contents might spill out. (The only item ever to wear out on my Waterfield cargo bag was a similar velcro closure after 8-10 years, although true to their lifetime guarantee, Waterfield has repeatedly told me to ship them back the bag so that they could replace it-I have been simply too busy using it to ever want to part with it long enough to mail it in!)
The laptop pocket is lined with extremely soft material and easily fits a 15″ MacBook, even with a “speck” cover (http://www.speckproducts.com/) which adds width. There is also an ipad pocket, which unfortunately will only hold one magazine if you don’t carry both a laptop and an iPad at the same time, and I wish this extra pocket was the full width of the bag rather than so much narrower like it is. The vertical zipper easily allows one to get down into the depths of the bag (which is about 6″ wide at the base) and access everything. If you’ve ever used a deeper backpack, you realize how hard it can be to access things at the bottom.
The zippers on this bag are all made extremely well and the bag has a nice taper so that even holding as much as it does, it doesn’t look bulky or cumbersome. There is a matching leather grab handle at the top and wick away material on the insides of the backpack straps and on the back of the bag. Unfortunately the straps are thin, like many inexpensive backpacks out there your kids might carry to school. They seem out of place on a bag of this quality. I would have expected much better carry straps for the price of this bag, like you see on bags at REI.
The back padding likewise is not very thick and when loaded, the laptop’s stiff shape can be felt on one’s back. Maybe this is because I am not used to carrying a laptop on my back versus carrying a messenger bag, but it is clearly not as comfortable an experience and makes me consider returning to trusted messenger bags from Waterfield (cargo) or Greenroom136 (Junkmonkey)! – Especially if you are doing lots of travel, this suspension may become an issue.
Fully loaded the bag still appears slim and, compliments to Waterfield, it holds everything I usually carry in a messenger bag which was a surprise for this size of backpack. If you prefer a backpack, but need a dressy, classy- look running through airports, or having meetings on the road, this bag fits the bill. You will not be embarrassed at all walking into meetings, or sitting with it in a suit at Starbucks. We created a load-out / packing video so you can see how much it holds and how I carry it.
At the end of the day, I still like messenger bags over backpacks. That said, most backpacks either do not look very professional or do not hold very much. There aren’t many that can do both well and we have bought and tried dozens upon dozens. Am I proud of this bag? Yes. Will I use it? Of course. However at the price, I would have expected the ability to load more items under the flap (with an adjustable buckle), better straps and even a large hidden pocket on the outside of the bag hidden under the straps and wick away padded area to stash and secure items such as passport, plane tickets, etc. – Lacking these I still gave it 4.5 stars. I love it.
One thing I am sure of, this bag can probably be handed down to children and they might even be able to pass it down to their children as well. That is how good Waterfield bags are made. I am a huge fan of the company and their products. Anyone who raves about Tom Bihn or Timbuk2 has never owned a Waterfield bag – Once they do, they will never go back.
The only reason for 4.5 stars on my rating is due to the minor items above – The price tells me this is a classy upscale bag – Fixing these few items would indeed make me feel like I got a bargain for the price.
LATEST UPDATE: Almost two years later–
After almost two years, not of daily carry, but often carry, I offer the following observations. I still love this bag and it still looks like a million bucks. For the price it has held together well, although I still think the shoulder straps are a little thin and a little “short” (not very adjustable). Granted this isn’t meant to be a “trail pack” so I understand.
However, I also tend to overpack/carry a bit more than I should and this pack simply does not have much flexibility so I find myself switching back and forth much more than I should. Let me explain: If I am going on a trip, I change out my bag. If I need to carry my plugs/wires/dongle pouch, I change out bags. If I have any reason to think it is going to rain, I switch out bags.
I wish this bag had an adjustable dart/strap closure. What I mean is that the plastic dart that cleverly latches the bag shut is not adjustable so if the bag is even full, not overstuffed, it is impossible to latch shut. I have asked Waterfield (whose products I love!) to consider making the plastic dart/latch slide up and down on the nylon strap so there is a bit of adjustment when the bag is full and then latch it and cinch it down like so many bags I own. Even a little bit of adjustment would help greatly. So this limits the bag IMHO and causes me to switch bags frequently. This cool closure is actually a liability in my opinion because of it’s limitations and lack of adjustment.
The other issue I have is also with the design of the center latch/closure and how it is affected by the two inner pockets. The pockets are on either side of the vertical zipper and hold hard drives, ear buds, pens and more keeping these items up high in the bag where they can be accessed easily without everything falling to the bottom of the bag. So what’s the problem? These two pockets tend to create bulges, leaving open space right in the center of the bag where the latch closure is, making it almost impossible to press the hook over the bar so that the dart can slide through and secure the flap. Sorry for the “technical description,” but I’m not sure how to best describe what is happening when you have the bag loaded and are sitting in a coffee place or at the airport and trying to shut this bag so you can get up and go…you close the flap and press in the hook but the whole center of the bag depresses and you cannot push the hook in far enough to allow you to slide the dart into the hook/hole and secure the flap. In my mind this is a design flaw on an almost flawless, well-made bag. I have gotten to the point of trying to shove something into the center area right behind the zipper to press against when closing the flap. Unfortunately, things in the bag move around and shift and I cannot easily close the bag once again. Even when you lay the bag on the ground and even when you use two hands. This is clearly not convenient when running around and so I switch bags. It almost makes you look pretty lame at a business meeting as well when you pack up to leave and cannot close your bag and stand there struggling to pack up and go. I will try to post a video of the problem so it is easier to understand my issue and you can then decide if this will affect you or not.
Overall, still looks new, very well made tough bag that looks very urban, very professional, very executive-like, but limited in space (even the stout) without adjustment or flexibility to load for travel, and that has some issues based around the closure – No adjustment and being centered between the pockets that cause problems when trying to latch it shut even using both hands.
Is it worth $300+? In my opinion, No. Due to the reasons listed above. For that kind of money, I expect both a beautiful, well-made bag, AND convenience when I am required to carry a few more items ,or wish to close the bag with one hand when on the move.
UPDATE: Concerns about scuffs and scratches to the tanned leather flap–
One of the beautiful things I like about the Staad is that distinctive, nostalgic, distressed leather flap and how it tells the world you are experienced, well-traveled, classy but not seriously worried about how others see you. However, what about when you have to give a board presentation? You’ve already buffed the shoes, starched your best shirt, and are concerned about your leather Staad? (See pictures of our distressed flap above.)
Here is an easy fix.
All you’ll need is a soft bristle toothbrush, a rag, and a good-quality leather conditioner made of beeswax and lanolin – (I found mine at an automotive store for premium auto leather seats.)
- Softly brush the scuffed areas with the toothbrush to soften lines and remove dirt, etc.
- Apply leather conditioner using the soft rag or hand towel, again in a gentle circular motion starting with the scuffed areas but then continuing to apply the same amount over the entire flap. There shouldn’t be any excess when done.
- Let the leather dry overnight since it will have a “wet” look at first (like my image here).
- SHOW OFF YOUR “NEW” BAG TO THE WORLD – No more scuffs!