A Vintage Filson Briefcase Computer Bag Review

A quietly vibrant city tucked into the northwestern corner of Washington State, Seattle has been home to many industries. Grunge music was born in the drizzly gray that Seattleites are so used to and with it came the article of clothing that Seattle has become most famous for: the plaid flannel shirt. A simple design born in the mountains, worn by loggers and people who just enjoy being warm, the plaid flannel shirt has been around since the beginning of Seattle when the timber industry took root in the abundant forest growth surrounding the sleepy city. And, it was because of this growing industry that Clinton C. Filson moved from Nebraska to Seattle and began outfitting loggers in flannel shirts and workwear. C.C. Filson is as much of a Seattle institution as grunge, rain, and logging. Filson was there from the beginning.

C.C. Filson

Clinton C. Filson was a Nebraskan working on the railroad in the late 1890s when he decided to uproot himself and move west to Seattle. Hearing of the growing logging industry in the Pacific Northwest and the gold rush in Alaska, he moved to the Emerald City and started a logging outfitter — designing, manufacturing, and selling quality and heroically durable goods was his specialty.

He began specifically designing gear for prospectors heading north to Alaska — clothing, blankets, sleeping bags, and boots. This was the beginning of Filson as we know it — then known as C.C. Filson’s Pioneer Alaska Clothing and Blanket Manufacturers.

In 1899, he shifted his focus to hunting, fishing, and logging. And thus, C.C. Filson was born. The company remained in the Filson family until 1981 when it was sold to Stan Kohls, a skiwear designer who brought the production up from 35 to over 250 goods, all the while refraining from modern technology so as to retain the authenticity of the product. Quality. Durability. American made.

In 2005, Filson was bought by Brentwood Associates and then sold again to Bedrock Manufacturing Co., out of Texas. Though ownership of the company has changed hands numerous times, their attention to quality, craftsmanship, and durability has never fallen by the wayside. Filson products are built to last.

the story of my bag

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My father bought one of the first generations of briefcases released by Filson in the early 90’s. He is a doctor and therefore works obscene hours — both at the office and at home. Lugging patient files around was something he knew he was going to have to do and, knowing he was going to have to do it every day, back and forth, he wanted something that was going to be up for the job. Filson became his top choice and he bought a large briefcase/computer bag — one of the first of the line. When he purchased the smaller Original Briefcase a few years ago, he gave me his original Filson bag.

Since he bought the bag, it has been all over the globe. It has toured Europe multiple times, it has felt the moisture of a Seattle drizzle, it has felt the heat of Arizona, braved the snow of B.C., been in two-seater planes, been strapped to the pannier rack of a bicycle, trekked through the forest on adventures — in short, there are few places that my bag has not been. It has seen the world.

And it wants to see more.

construction

A huge YKK zipper and double stitched leather means this thing isn't going anywhere.

A huge YKK zipper and double stitched leather means this thing isn’t going anywhere.

There is one word to describe the construction of a Filson product — bombproof. With a combination of oiled twill canvas and bridle leather bound by double stitching and a doubled canvas bottom, as soon as you even lay eyes on this thing, you know that it is not going anywhere. The Filson is built for life and everything that life throws at it along the way.

The roller buckle on the shoulder strap helps preserve the leather -- basically, this is how my strap is still functioning.

The roller buckle on the shoulder strap helps preserve the leather — basically, this is how my strap is still functioning.

The canvas is Filson’s own 22oz 100% Cotton Oil Finish Rugged Twill. 22oz. This stuff is beyond bombproof — it’s nuke proof. Well, maybe not quite that strong, but it will take absolutely everything you can throw at it.

The classic Filson handle. You can see how the leather looked when it was new as compared to how it looks used.

The classic Filson handle. You can see how the leather looked when it was new as compared to how it looks used.

The doubled bottom of the bag is a defining feature of Filson bags; basically, two layers of their canvas are stitched together, then used for the bottom of the bag. Two layers of 22oz canvas basically turns the bottom of the bag into 44oz canvas and will therefore take the abuse of a ridiculous amount of weight and pressure. You really can put anything in this bag and know that it won’t be going anywhere.

The YKK zipper is covered by a flap of oiled canvas for good security and water protection.

The YKK zipper is covered by a flap of oiled canvas for good security and water protection.

aesthetic

The Filson Briefcase is a classic look that really will not ever go out of style. Filson has mastered the definining canvas/leather combination that most other companies strive to emulate. The best part? It only gets better with age.

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With tan canvas and dark brown leather, the Filson bag has the feel of a rugged, yet collegiate workhorse. In other words, this bag is as at home in your office as it is deep in the woods of British Columbia or on the deck of a commercial salmon boat in the frothing waves of the Pacific or in a cafe in downtown Portland or Seattle. This bag really fits in all places with all styles; it is an aesthetic jack-of-all-trades.

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This bag has remained unchanged in style and aesthetic since it was released in the early 90’s. The new bags look identical to my vintage bag, and I really like that. The only difference is that my bag has obviously seen 20+ years of heavy use and wear, but I think the beautiful patina that my bag has devoloped over the years of use makes it look even better.

The patina that appears with wear is really the best aesthetic feature of this bag. The dirt, ink stains, wear around the edges, and scuffs and dull glow of well-worn leather give this bag life. In other words, this is a product that grows with you. As you use it, as you live with it; as you yourself grow, the bag grows with you. I really like buying a product that is aesthetically good when you buy it and even better after 20 years of use.

function

With a laptop sleeve, two separate document sleeves, copious amounts of pockets for pens, pencils, laptop chargers, and not to mention the cavernous space in between the designated pockets, plus the two exterior file pockets, this bag certainly is not lacking in space. Plus, it is comfortable to wear and carry and gives easy access to the main compartment. The function of this bag, really, is fantastic.

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Use it for school, use it for work, use it for life, coffeeshop runs, daily errands, travel, whatever your needs may be, this bag will meet it with a grin. And you’ll look classically rugged while doing it, so it’s definitely a win-win. The fact of the matter is that men who use Filson bags are 67% more likely to attract a female than men who don’t. *

*Though women do, in fact, dig men who wear Filson (as we are ruggedly handsome, yet stylish as well), this statistic does not reflect actual population, just the opinions and observations of a male with a Filson bag.

BestLeather conclusion

Because this is a vintage bag and personal to me, I obviously cannot recommend that you go out and buy this specific bag. I can however, recommend that you buy a new Filson bag.

Why? A Filson bag seems to transcend “bag”. It transcends “briefcase”, it transcends “tool”, it transcends “case”. The Filson bag really will become your companion, your friend. It grows with you, it lives with you, goes where you go, carries what you carry, and becomes what you are, essentially. For instance, if you are a businessman, the bag will wear with your documents. If you are a student, the bag will wear with your books and your laptop. If you are an outdoorsman, nature will imbue itself in the canvas. In other words, this bag is not just a bag. It is so much more than that. It becomes something that you appreciate more and more each and every day, as it grows with age and use and becomes better and better. This is a bag not only built and meant for life, but built with a life.

A genuine Filson.

A genuine Filson.

9 Comments

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  1. Awesome piece! I’ve really been enjoying your posts lately!

  2. Amazing write up Ben. I’ve been considering getting this for a while, and you did a great job reviewing.

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