One of my favorite parts about the leather industry is the fascinating history behind many of the its traditions. It’s amazing how some of the smallest details of classic bag designs can have the most interesting backgrounds. Mission Mercantile is a company that really seems to share this passion for history, and their Steamer Backpack demonstrates this perfectly.
ABOUT MISSION MERCANTILE
Mission Mercantile is a new brand, launched in fall 2015. They operate out of their own factory in Leon, Mexico– Blue Artisan Group. We recently reviewed Mission Mercantile’s Stateroom Weekender, an incredibly tough overnight bag made entirely with full grain veg-tanned leather- just like all their products. Learn a bit more about the company in my recent interview with Chuck Bowen, one of MM’s founders, who is passionate about serving “mission men and women” who love leather goods.
Many of Mission Mercantile’s products hark back to inspiration found in days gone by. The Steamer Backpack in particular was designed after the steamer bag – a sturdy, flat-bottom bag built to be packed into a larger steamer trunk that was loaded onto a train or steamboat for lengthy travel. The steamer bag was, in fact, perfected by Louis Vuitton in the late Victorian era.
The Steamer Backpack also has its roots in vintage mail sacks, many of which were mainly canvas but reinforced with sturdy leather at the bottom and top, where they featured a similar belted closure.
This backpack certainly has an eye-catching look, with its wide swath of solid waxed canvas and unique belted closure. The bag instantly looks like there’s a story behind it…so prepare to have LOTS of people ask you about it wherever you go.
CONSTRUCTION & FUNCTION
The Steamer Backpack is made with full-grain vegetable tanned leather and thick waxed canvas. In accordance with its steamer and mail sack roots, it has a heavy, flat leather base with subtly squared edges, all held together with contrasting stitching and heavy rivets. It weights in at about 3 1/2 pounds, which is a nice medium weight for such a sturdy bag. Seeing as the bulk of the bag is canvas, it wears very comfortably for daily use.
The waxed canvas has survived several spring showers with no issue. There are three canvas color options and a total of six leather and canvas combinations at this time. The pictured backpack is Oil leather with Dirt canvas.
The bag is unlined with the exception of the top flap, which is lined with matching canvas. It measures around 14″ x 6″ x 18″, making it large enough to carry a laptop and school or business essentials. There’s also enough room to pack for an overnight trip. The bag is tapered, however, and is belted at the top, so larger items don’t fit in as easily as some wide-opening backpacks. Its tapered shape also makes it look kind of funny if there’s lots of stuff in it, but this isn’t an issue unless you have a habit of overpacking.
The ideal setup for this bag is to have your laptop and folders/notebooks at the back, and then chargers, wallet, and other small items at the front where they’ll sink down to the bottom and maintain the backpack’s nice tapered look. There’s a key strap and a hanging zippered pouch at the back, which works beautifully for keeping small items that you want to access quickly.
The Steamer Backpack has padded shoulder straps that are adjustable (about 6″ of adjustable length). The detachable straps attach at the bottom to two D-rings on either side, and a centered O-ring at the top. There’s a nice sturdy handle at the top, as well. The handles and solid brass hardware pieces all feel very sturdy and well-made.
The bag closes via a long belt that starts on the back of the bag, runs through three rectangular brass loops, and secures again at the back with a tuck lock. The belt closure with a quick release tuck lock is a nice compromise – it adheres to the aesthetic of vintage mailbags without requiring the user to padlock its contents every time. Still, the belt closure requires a little more patience than most backpacks, but its unique aesthetic is totally worth it.
The Mission Mercantile Steamer Backpack is another impressive piece from this young company’s product line. It’s a gorgeous, unique bag with heritage roots and a great story that just begs for more chapters. At $345, it’s priced very fairly for top-of-the-line materials (full grain leather, solid brass hardware, 18 oz canvas, etc.) that will last a lifetime and more.
*Keep an eye out next Wednesday, June 1st for an AWESOME giveaway from Mission Mercantile!*