Waterfield ZIP Laptop Briefcase Review — $219

UX (user experience) is a big topic in the Bay Area. And it’s not only important with software, but also with the briefcase that carries your hardware. It’s real meta. I like that.

This briefcase I’m about to tell you about has the perfect UX.

It’s the second iteration of Waterfield’s ZIP Laptop Brief, and it’s clear they paid close attention to the smallest details. In fact, my first draft of this review began with, “Wow, wow, wow. This bag is amazing!”

I still feel that way.


Deciding to Buy

The positive user experience started even before I made the purchase. When you’re buying online, it’s often hard to get a sense of the spatial aspect of products, but Gary, the founder of Waterfield, makes hands-on videos of everything they sell. His video overview gave me the sense of the size and dimensions, and I felt like this was the right product before I’d ever handled it myself.

I wanted a briefcase for my laptop and tablet and a few extras, but I didn’t want a bunch of unnecessary pockets that would complicate storing and finding things. The ZIP matches those criteria perfectly. It’s super sleek, just the right amount of bag and nothing extra.

Now I carry it when I travel, and I put my most valuable things inside. There’s not a bit of waste in the design, which might be a problem if you’re hoping to carry a lot, but it works great for my style.



I’ve ordered and used a lot of Waterfield bags, and this is the first time I’ve strayed from the waxed canvas with grizzly leather (which I’ve loved, and which is still an option for you, but this time I wanted a change).

The ballistic black is a cool synthetic textile. It’s clean but also sturdy and feels like it could take a lot of wear (though admittedly I haven’t had it long enough to verify that). It’s also incredibly water resistant. The leather accents look great with the black, giving it a bit more class. Personally, I like the look, but you can make that call yourself from the pictures.

The front pocket is hidden. The back looks super sleek–all black without significant seams. I just like the visual appeal overall.


Traveling with It

The grip on the inside of the shoulder pad clings, so it stays on well. If you want extra security, it’s comfortable wearing across your chest with the brief at your back. And the whole strap is removable, for when you want to be more streamlined. Oh, and it has a strap designed to slide over your luggage handle, making it an easy extra.

The zipper has a watershed design so you can carry your electronics in the rain without worry. I even tested this out: I put a tissue on the inside and then drenched the zipper with my water bottle, but nothing got through. I was surprised and impressed.

When the briefcase is zipped up, it’s thin and doesn’t take up much space. And it’ll even stand up on its own, though not too stably (depending on the weight and position of what’s inside).

The zipper also lets you open the briefcase 180 degrees, so it’ll lie flat on a table. This makes it TSA friendly, ideal for getting quickly through airport security. I’ve found this to be helpful when using the bag as a workstation too. It makes it easier to access things when you can lay it all the way open like that. And when you’re ready to go, you just grab the handles and everything folds to the inside. I love how simple and functional it is.


Delightful Details

This second iteration of Waterfield’s ZIP has only gotten more refined. For example, the zipper is positioned to one side, directly above the laptop slot, making it easier to access your primary item.

Another of my favorite UX design features is that you can charge your laptop while it’s still in the bag! They cut out a little notch to accommodate the power cord even while the bag is zipped up. What a clever thing to think of!

Oh, and as usual, Waterfield uses a gold inner liner, which not only looks good but also reflects light really well, making it easier to see your things (unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to the padded parts, which are the hardest places to see things).


Where to Put Stuff

On the inside, it has a couple padded pockets for power cords or a mouse. Next to these is another of my favorite features–a dedicated spot for your digital pen, where it won’t get lost.

On the opposite side are two additional padded slots, a larger one for a laptop, and a smaller one for a tablet. There’s also a velcro strap to keep them in place, but that’s a feature I generally don’t bother to use.

Between these two halves, there’s enough room to squeeze an extra shirt or other odds and ends.

The outside has a zipper guarding a pocket that rests flush with the side, but it’s designed to expand to accommodate more stuff if need be. It’s a good spot for your keys, wallet, or emergency floss.

The zippers on both this compartment and the larger one give me confidence that my stuff will never fall out, no matter what kind of turbulence we go through.



I’ve gone through several laptop bags, always looking for the optimal solution. The Waterfield ZIP Laptop Brief has been my favorite of the lot, and I’m grateful to have found it.

It’s thin and sleek, has sufficient pockets for what I need, but doesn’t go overboard like a lot of its competitors. It’s simple, functional, and looks great.

Most of all, it’s a bag I love using.




Waterfield Rough Rider Messenger Bag – $335 to $355

WaterField Designs is a small studio operation in San Francisco, California, that was founded by Gary Waterfield in 1998. They make everything from gadget sleeves to handsome tote bags to Surface Pro covers, and their small, local operation allows them to quickly get multiple styles and sizes up and running (like sleeves for both Apple and Android devices), and they also crank out covers for random electronics like the Apple Superdrive, Apple TV, or even your wireless keyboard.

Waterfield Logo and Front Pocket

They also make some good bags, from a well-designed backpack to several different gadget pouches to the subject of this review, the Rough Rider Messenger Bag.

The black trim peeking out from under the flap.


The leather itself is from a (local to Waterfield) Sonoma tannery, and the bag is full-grain, slightly distressed, and scratches easily, in the best possible way. You can tell from the softness right out of the box that this bag will patina beautifully. The interior is unlined, allowing the softness of the leather’s underside to shine through.

You can see some character already starting to form ...
You can see some character already starting to form …


The bag is constructed from four large pieces of leather; three make up the bag itself (except for the sides), and the fourth is sewn onto the third (back to back) so that the inside of the flap is also the full-grain leather. The shoulder strap crosses under a second strip of leather to come off the bag at an angle, allowing the bag to fit against your body in a cross-body style very easily (however, if you prefer to sling the bag just over one shoulder, it will rest a bit awkwardly). The front flap attaches to the bottom with snaps, and there are two sets, allowing the bag to be stuffed more fully and still close. There is also a leather shoulder pad, and this is removable, depending on your preference.

A laptop, plus a view of the canvas pockets.
A laptop, plus a view of the canvas pockets.

The Rough Rider also has four pockets, though I found two of them to be in a curious location. On the inside of the bag, there are two waxed canvas pockets that are suitable for pens, cords, or some small goods; they could open far enough to accommodate my MacBook charger, for example. The other two are located on the outside of the front of the bag. They are almost a neoprene-like material (this is the color trim), so they are quite soft on one side. The other side backs up onto the exterior leather itself. On one hand, it is quite a shame to cover up the beautiful leather that is under the pocket. On the other, with the bag being fairly narrow, there is not exactly a plethora of space inside the bag, and the additional organization and storage is quite helpful. Once again, these pockets are quite narrow, but with the soft neoprene on one side, they are ideal for tablets, e-readers, or your smartphone. All in all, I would be curious to know if it was possible to make the bag slightly wider, put the second set of pockets on the inside somehow, and then let that nice leather be on the outside of the bag where it belongs.


The construction of the bag is very solid.  Even though there is not a rivet to be found, the bag uses sturdy thread throughout and I had no worry that the bag itself would not last as long any other.  However, there were a couple rough cuts on the bag, especially where the larger pieces of leather connected to the sides.  The sides were not burnished, which allowed me to see that the leather was not struck (dyed) all the way through.

You can see the glue, uneven corner, and difference shades in the layers of leather.
You can see the glue, uneven corner, and difference shades in the layers of leather.


iPhone (in sleeve), two notebooks, headphones, power adapter, and my MacBook.

The bag holds much more than its thin profile suggests. It will take a laptop, notebook holder, charger, pens, and a second book or two with no problems. It is not designed to be a bag for students or lawyers, but it is a perfect EDC size. I could load it up perfectly for a day of writing at my favorite coffee shop, and I also discovered that its size made for a handy “Daddy bag,” with the interior pockets helping me to keep the various necessary items for a day out with my kids organized and neat.

BestLeather Conclusion

The WaterField Rough Rider is a solid bag at a good price. It holds the right amount of things to make it a good choice in a fairly crowded field of challengers, and it has the added bonus of being constructed in (and using materials from) the USA. Check them out here.
Waterfield - Rear