Far Horizon Traders Safari Bag Review – $290

The Far Horizon Traders Safari Bag is an adventure bag, no doubt about it. It’s not for professionals, it’s for badasses.

UPDATE: Read the six month checkup review here. 

Supple shoulder carried bags are difficult to get right. One one hand you need slightly thinner leather that makes the bag light and malleable yet the construction must be rugged enough to handle the abuse a true adventure bag will inevitably receive. And then it has to look good. Matt at Far Horizon Traders has nailed the formula down right. It starts with quality leather, classy suede, simple construction, and well placed rivets and thread.

I have to admit, I wasn’t completely a fan when I first received the bag. I’ve used – and love – heavy duty briefcases which are heavy full-grain monsters. Using a lighter bendy bag was a little disconcerting. I wasn’t sure if this bag was going to hold up like my 6 pound Saddleback Thin Briefcase. After using it for a month now, the Safari has resoundingly proven me wrong. In fact, I’ve come to love this bag because I can fit my books, MacBook Pro, DSLR Camera, chargers, pens, notebooks, and even a light jacket in it. Just cram it full!

A unique detail about Far Horizon Traders (FHT) is that you can get camel leather and water buffalo leather bags as well! If that isn’t cool then I don’t know what is. I want some water buffalo leather now.

Keep in mind that the criticisms in this review were warmly received and have been acted up to make the bag even better. Props to FHT!

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opening

When I opened the bag the first thing I noticed – and this is very important – was the smell. The bag was wrapped in plastic to preserve the smell so when I removed the plastic I was engulfed in a gorgeous leather odor. This went on for days as the leather smell subsided with use. Although you can still easily smell the leather if you give it a good sniff. The delicious smell was constantly commented on my other and often was the first thing they noticed about the bag.

The reason the smell is important is because it indicates the quality of product used. It doesn’t smell nauseatingly chemically manufactured. It’s just good leather.

The bag is constructed using a two layer method where the layers are glued together and then double stitched with strong polyester thread. This type of thread will not fade with use so it is ideal for long lasting products.

The interior of the Saraha is very nice sued while the exterior is a lovely golden honey color. In the sun there is a lush sheen. No plastic looking leather here. I don’t know which tannery produced this leather since the bag is made in Mexico, but it is nice.

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Here you can see that rich honey color leather in the sun. I have also been impressed with the nice patina it is picking up from my jeans as the bag rubs. It’s not turning blue or anything but rather a slightly darker honey color. Lovely.

it is handmade

While the fundamentals of the construction are completely sound, there is a noticeable element of humanity. A stitch line might not be perfectly straight or the edge isn’t impeccable smooth but WHATEVER! It’s an adventure bag. If you want something immaculate, go to Basader. If you want something affordable you can use on a regular basis without worrying about it, get the Safari.

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FHT is not messing around with cheap faux closures. The “aged” brass buckles are plenty sturdy to stand the test of time and are well anchored with rivets. If you have ever tried ripping riveted leather apart you should try some time. Not easy. I like a bag that can take handle being used and abused on a daily basis.

Far-Horizons-Trading-Serengeti-bag09 All the good things aside, one of my long term concerns for this bag is the durability of the shoulder strap clasps. I can easily have three thousand dollars worth of electronics in my bag at one time so it makes me nervous when the clasp doesn’t look up to years and years of carrying ten or more pounds of gear. A $250 bag should inspire confidence with its hardware.

However, it is easy to have a leather worker fit stronger clasps to the shoulder strap. You can buy them from Amazon. Make sure they use rivets instead of sewing for extra strength, or both! You can even do it yourself.

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pockets

The Safari has a lot of pockets. Two large interior pockets, four pen pockets, two medium pockets (point and shoot camera size), two exterior pockets with post closures, and finally one big pocket on the back. I prefer to carry things in the back pocket that won’t wear as the bag rubs against my back. You can see that there is a lot of room for more.

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handle

The carry handle is great. The inside is a cushy material – I’m not sure what, maybe neoprene – it feels very comfortable to carry. It is reinforced with a flexible plastic shank that keeps the handle from tearing the leather with use. This is well riveted in to disperse the load to the entire top of the bag. The two straps securing the flap also serve to translate load from the top flap to the bottom of the bag, which is much more durable. Clever.

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shoulder strap

Developmentally, the strap design is behind the curve. if you shorten the shoulder strap the shoulder pad is no longer able to fit on your shoulder but instead is blocked by one of the brass adjustment pieces. It ends up awkwardly on your chest. This is a silly design flaw which seems very easy to fix by moving the adjustment part of the strap away from the middle of the strap where you shoulder goes. After a while the narrow strap can start getting uncomfortable with no pad.

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Update from Far Horizon Traders:

We will be addressing the strap issues in particular with the next batch, with a standard buckle similar to the ones for the front strap buckles and holes for adjustment.  I’ll make sure to have them make me several extra straps, so they can be replaced on satchels that have the slider adjustment if customers wish.  The buckle clasps for the straps will be addressed as well.

Sweet! It’s great to see FHT ready to make their product even better.

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zipper

There is one other detail worth noting. The metal zipper where your laptop goes. If you spent many thousands on a laptop would you like hearing it get scratched every time it went into your bag? I don’t. It makes me cringe. I am super careful not to run my laptop against the zipper seam. I wonder, what is the point of the zipper?

It scratches you laptop… It hangs out the side the bag rather stupidly… It doesn’t stop your laptop from flying out (the top flap does)… It’s just asking to break after years of use. I don’t get it. Get rid of the zipper and spend more on the shoulder strap hardware is what I say.

Let me be clear, your laptop won’t look like it was eviscerated in gravel behind a raging bull after putting it in the bag once. But over years of putting it in and pulling it out I would expect visible wear from the zipper on my costly laptop. Cut that sucker out of there if you get a bag with the zipper and you like your laptop minty.

Update from Far Horizon Traders:

In theory the zipper is for extra security, particularly for a laptop, so you have the ability to flip the flap open to access your immediate goods in the open compartment, while still holding the items in the rear compartment secure in case you’re fumbling with the bag or at an odd angle.  Or you just don’t want everyone in the train station to see your camera gear while you’re getting out your tickets.   I do have quite a few customers that are looking for that feature.  However, if that metal zipper is scratching the laptop, then it will need to be addressed.

Apparently Coeur d’Alene, Idaho isn’t dangerous enough for the benefits of that feature to jump out at me. Expect new non-scratchy models soon.

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The side pockets are handy for smaller items such as earbuds, charging cables, or sunglasses. the closure on the side pockets use a push through post to secure the flap. It’s not the most secure closure ever so don’t put anything valuable in them. I find things that just barely fit, meaning there is friction when you put it in, are best.

Several other popular briefcases such as the SBL Thin Briefcase and the Basader Messer do not have side pockets which means you have to open the whole briefcase up to get at your earbuds, this is annoying. Having them so easily accesible is a great feature.

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Best Leather conclusion

In summary, it is good (assuming the changes). For $290 this is a good value bag. With the modifications that FHT is making it will serve well for quite some time.

Working with FHT was a pleasure and I am sure you will enjoy their service.

Check them out.

UPDATE: Read the six month review here. 

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10 Comments

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  1. Hey T.J., do you happen to have any pictures of yourself wearing the bag? I’m trying to judge its external size. Thanks!

    • Hi Nate! That is a great point! I will take some and update the post! Thank you for asking!

      • Thanks! I’m really close to pulling the trigger on the Safari but I’m worried that it’s simply a bigger bag than I want to carry around. Generally I only need my laptop (a 15″ MBP, I’m figuring that yours must be a 17″), a charger, headphones, and my iPad.

        Do you find that the bag looks and feels good even when it’s pretty empty? It seems like the straps might be designed in such a way that they fold the bag up when cinched.

        Thanks again!

      • Hey Nate. I just realize I took the pictures I didn’t upload them. They are coming!

      • BTW, I use a 15″ MacBook Pro. Pictures are up!

        I think the bag looks good full and fairly empty. A totally empty bag is like a sports car with no fuel, a little anti climactic. 😉

    • Hey Victor, I’ll do a followup review soon. Are you thinking about purchasing one?

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