Ok, buckle up, because this bag is something special. When it first came out, I was in Italy, and I was rather annoyed (but a little thankful) there was no place I could go and see Hardgraft gear in person. This bag looked so tremendous when it dropped, I told myself if I left Italy with no new bag, I would buy this. And that’s what happened.
Hardgraft’s H Small Messenger Bag was one of the first in what seems to be a new line of gear. All of this gear features a variant of Xpac I had not seen before, which has a cotton canvas facing on it. It’s best to read how Hardgraft describes this bag (the annoying capitalization is them, not me):
The H Small Messenger Bag we’ve designed EPITOMIZES perfectly the TIMES WE LIVE IN RIGHT NOW. It’s SMALL ENOUGH not to be a burden on daily outings, but LARGE ENOUGH to hold everything from book, phone, iPad mini, iPad 11″/Air, camera, water bottle, and hand sanitizer… Its use of future-proof and sophisticated HIGH-PERFORMANCE MATERIALS juxtaposes the design that is firmly grounded in VINTAGE ALPINE GEAR.
That feels like a lot of bullshit, but I am here to tell you that I am not sure I could describe this bag better. It’s like: what if you made an overly simple bag, in a near perfect size, with the best possible materials. Well, you effectively would end up with this bag, wouldn’t you?
Size & Materials
This bag measures in at 11” x 8” x 2.5” — it has built in about 0.75” of expansion — giving it a capacity somewhere around 3.6L. It’s small.
The color I have is “classic natural” and it features the cotton canvas facing laminated to Xpac making it look like a canvas bag, but with the waterproofing (and added durability) of Xpac. Look, let me be clear about something: I don’t like most Xpac, but I fucking love this Xpac. This is easily the best material I’ve ever seen used on a bag, it’s not even close.
The lining of the bag is Italian Wool, and it just feels tremendous and cozy. It’s like you want to let your gear ride in this bag, because it must feel great. Anyways.
The strap is a cotton webbing, and is very pliable. The plastic hardware is very high grade, but the color is slightly off from the accents (it’s coyote) which tells me these are mil-spec hardware, as you could get a closer color match with a cheaper grade plastic. So I appreciate the selection of such a nice quality buckle, but am a little annoyed by the color mismatch.
I’ve been using this bag as my dad bag since getting it, and loaded it up and took it to the office on a few trips as well. It’s pretty small for the office, and while you can squeeze the 12.9” iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard into this bag, it’s such a tight squeeze that it’s a poor experience and I would not recommend it. The iPad Mini fits great though.
This bag sits somewhere between the waist-pack-carried-as-sling and a small messenger. It’s smaller than most messengers you’ve seen or handled. But the design of it doesn’t make it look small, and it carries really well. When Hardgraft says they designed it to stay out of your way as you move through the world, yep. The strap material and how it doesn’t slip about, the canvas face keeping the bag from being slippery, and the positioning of the straps — this bag hugs your body and stays right up against it. It’s very good.
As I mentioned, the bag does have an expansion with two button snaps at the edges of the inside of the bag. This allows the bag to expand depth about three quarters of an inch, and adds about an inch overall to the width of the bag. It doesn’t look any bigger or smaller when you are, or are not, using the expansion. This detail seems rather unnecessary to me and could have been left off.
The biggest thing missing for me on this bag is a grab handle. The only areas to grab onto this bag are the shoulder strap, or the small strip of leather running across the face of the bag — a bit which very much feels like a design detail, not something designed to be grabbed. This is not a deal breaker for me, and the bag looks much cleaner for not having a grab handle, but it does take some adjustment to get used to not having something like this to grab.
The thing about this bag though: I love carrying it. It begs to be carried. I get compliments on it all the time — including from my wife who has seen me carry a lot of bags over the years. This one is a crowd pleaser, I love the way it looks.
It carries just enough gear to be a good dad bag which is rather hard to overload. Here’s the loadout I’ve been carrying in it:
I had to work very hard on that load out, as I needed to not only optimize the gear I was carrying, but the pouches in which I was carrying everything. With all that gear in the bag, I am able to still add my iPad mini and a keyboard for it if I wanted to spend the day out. I cannot fit the Q2 in the bag with all that gear — though it does fit perfectly in the bag, when you drop about half the gear I have in the above loadout.
One thing Hardgaft has always done well is the interior. Here it is lined with their wool felt, which is a brown hue. It’s really nice and soft, with a small open top pocket and nothing else. This material, coupled with the outer material, gives the bag just enough thickness to be slightly padded feeling, while not actually being padded. So if you are careful with the bag, your gear should be fine for the occasional bump and such. The interior is dead simple, but really luxe feeling.
Look, this bag is a gem and an absolute winner for me. I can’t imagine a better bag in this size being on the market at any price. And yeah, the price here is rather nuts, at $475. In no way is this bag inexpensive, but in no way does it feel cheap at all. Is it worth the price? Yes. Is it better than similar bags at a fraction of the cost? No, they both carry things.
The main difference though, is that I am excited to carry this bag, to interact with this bag, and it’s one of those items which feels like a million bucks. I love it, and highly recommend it if your budget allows.