When I initially reviewed the Stuart & Lau Cary briefcase, I mentioned how it was, in a lot of ways, a modern take on the classic Filson Original Briefcase. Modern materials, layout and everything else.
As time has worn on I have come to the conclusion that the Cary is better, but the Filson has my heart.
Cary is about 40% better than Filson when it comes to the functionality and usability of the bag. The Cary has better sized pockets, zipped internal pouches — it has padding, affordances for devices, phones, and so many other small touches that it is easier to use. The Cary accurately reflects a bag designed for a modern professional living in a major city.
When I used it to both car commute, as well as taking express buses it was perfectly suited and never in the way. Sure it got a little heavy at times, but that is more user error than bag design fault.
The Filson is highly usable, it’s not a bad bag by any means. But it’s barely designed to carry electronics. It has pockets, but tip it upside down and everything is a mess. It carries more comfortably with weight, while not being nearly as organized as the Cary. But it shows its age — not as much as a hard-sided Briefcase from the 70s, but well, yeah.
What we are really talking about is the difference of a bag designed a long time ago with small refinements, and one designed today. But not only that, the materials reflect the vast difference in how modern each bag is.
The Filson is made with heavy twill, and bridle leather. The twill will fade, get dirty, snag, wear, and eventually at some point degrade. It’s heavy, it is floppy and it’s natural. The bridle leather will stretch, it will sage, it will tear, it will break down and eventually fall apart. I’ve seen it on these bags. All the while it will look fantastic. It will also conform to your shoulder and hands over years of use.
The Cary is sleek nylon and a modern smooth plastic like leather. It won’t show wear. It will look new most of it’s life. It is most likely that a seam will give out first, rendering the bag in need of emergency repair. But that won’t happen for a while. It won’t age.
And all those modern materials mean the Cary won’t patina, I suspect it will look great until basically one day it falls apart. Filson will basically look odd until you damage it a bit, sorry patina it, and then it will look fantastic and continue on until we no longer carry anything but mints.
The Cary will give the impression to those around you that your life is neat and tidy. Your home right out of Architectural Digest or Dwell depending on your proclivities. Your life a veritable Apple Store, before those got bad.
The Filson will lead people to wonder. How do you use a bag that long? What has it seen, what have you seen? Why that bag? Do you notice how beat up it looks? Do you care? Do you live in a log cabin, or are you an executive so busy with work that you don’t notice you’ve worn your bag down?
I love the Cary briefcase, but I don’t use it because the Filson fits who I am. I am not someone who needs perfect, I like a bit if imperfection because that’s far more interesting than perfection.
But I also like durability and a good story. The Filson, like GORUCK bags bring that to the table. Perhaps the ultimate testament to the Filson is that every morning I struggle to chose between it and the GORUCK GR1.
This is not an essay to steer you towards the Filson, but rather to explain why I use the Filson even though it’s not as good of a bag as the Cary. You should buy the Cary, most people should.
Except me, I’m not most people.