Vagabond Traveler is a leather goods seller based in Oviedo, Florida. They sell briefcases, bags, wallets, backpacks, and even fanny packs, which are all made of leather (of course). They have a wide assortment of leather goods, and their website is easy to navigate and search for different bags and products. Vagabond Traveler is a seller of leather goods, but does not produce or manufacture the bags themselves. Their bags and goods are made in China, which helps to fulfill Vagabond’s goal of selling products that are affordable, but of a good quality.
BestLeather’s experience with Vagabond has been a little bit different from our normal relationships with leather goods providers. Vagabond sent us a bag to review a few months ago, but we decided to return it because of some manufacturing defects, and also because the bag was very similar to a well-known competitor. Long, our contact at Vagabond, was very responsive and sent us another bag promptly. This bag, called the L38 Messenger Laptop Bag on their website, is a messenger bag made for a 15” laptop and the bag that we will look at in this review.
The L38 is made from soft, full grain, four to five ounce cowhide that has been vegetable tanned. The color is struck through, which is admirable considering that many well known and reputable tanneries do not dye their leather all of the way through. Leather that has been struck through has been tanned and drum dyed until the color of the leather penetrates to the middle of the hide. If you were to ever gouge the leather, the color in the middle will be the same as on the outside.
Vegetable tanning is also a process that requires significantly more time in the tanning process and normally results in a leather that is a little stiffer than chrome or oil tanned leather. The leather used for the L38 is unusually soft and nice to the touch. It has sort of a fibrous feel to it, similar to suede. The color of the leather is “natural brown” according to Vagabond, but really is a light tan.
The L38 is meant to be a laptop bag. The bag is 15” wide, by 13” tall, by 3” wide. Because the sidewall is riveted to both the front and back panels, you lose about ½” of width on each end, so the bag’s useable width is really closer to 2”. This means you have room for a 15” or 13” laptop, and perhaps a book or two, or large notebook cover and that is about it, at least for the inside. The inside also has a small pouch for a phone, as well as a couple of pen sleeves.
The strap for the L38 is approximately 1 ¼” wide and is a single strap of leather, sewn to an equally wide strap of nylon. Though many people (myself included) prefer all leather straps, this is a smart idea because, unlike leather, nylon has virtually no stretch. This makes the strap significantly more durable than if it was just the single strap of leather.
The L38 is also equipped with two zippered outside pockets. They are 8” deep by 4.5” wide and will fit a myriad of items or accessories such as car keys, cell phone, mini tablet, etc. The back of the bag also has a zippered compartment that you could stuff a folded newspaper or magazine. With these additional compartments, the L38 has adequate storage for a day at the office or a day of meetings. If you are not of the minimalist camp though, and have to haul more gear to and from work, you might be better off with a wider bag.
The L38 is made to be durable. It is made with full grain, vegetable tanned leather. It is stitched with strong and durable nylon thread. A number of leather bag manufacturers use polyester because it is UV resistant and two to three times stronger than nylon thread. For those of us who are not planning on using our bag to compete in a tug-a-war, nylon is probably an adequate thread to hold the bag together, and one in which many quality manufacturers still use.
Where I feel Vagabond skimped on making this bag was the use of multiple pieces of leather. Many of the highest quality bag manufacturers try to use as few pieces of leather as possible in constructing a bag. The seams are the weakest link, and therefore, the fewer seams the better.
For example, in a very high quality bag, the leather for the back panel continues all of the way to the front flap of the bag, in one long piece. On the L38, the back panel is actually two pieces of leather sewn together, and then the top flap is sewn to that. The side walls are also separate pieces from the bottom, as opposed to one long strip from side to bottom to side. Again, this does not mean that the bag is going to fall apart, especially since it is sewn with nylon thread, but it does still reduce the durability of the bag.
Overall, the L38 is constructed well. It has rivets were they are needed the most–to support the stitching and areas of potential weakness. The sewing is straight and even, buckles and handle are centered, and the bag has an aesthetic pleasantness to it. I did notice several places where marks were made with fabric ink by the craftsman, and the ink was still there. This lack of attention to detail is a shame considering that the L38 is a good bag overall. Perhaps it was just an oversight on the bag we received.
The L38 is made with all metal, chrome plated hardware, including the zippers. One interesting feature with the L38 is how the main compartment is secured. The bag has two straps that are secured to a buckle, which is fastened to a push button snap that you can slide in to its closure and snap shut. As a result, you can keep the straps secured to the buckle, but still pop open the buttons and slide out the strap. Should you undo the strap from the buckle, and lose the snap button though, you would not be able to secure the bag closed. My preference would be to lose the snap button and just stick with a traditional strap and buckle closure. When I showed this design to my wife, she really liked it and even preferred it that way. Like most things, it is a matter of preference. Just do not lose the snap buttons.
One of the biggest advantages to many of the items that Vagabond Traveler sells is their price. The bags and goods they sell are less expensive than their competitors. This is due in large part to where the goods are made. The tradeoff is that you are buying an item that is not quite the best. It is good for sure, but not the quality that one lusts for. Knowing what I now know about high quality leather goods, I would save my duckets until I had enough money for the best and go with that. If you just don’t have the money though, the L38 or other bags from Vagabond Traveler will provide you with a good product that will last you many years.
The L38 Messenger Laptop Bag from Vagabond Traveler is a well-made bag, especially for the price. There are a number of details that could make the bag much better (i.e. using fewer pieces of leather to construct the bag, using polyester instead of nylon thread, etc.), but for the price it is a good bag that will provide years of service.