- Buyer's Guide
Agency Aspect Hybrid Crossbody and Hybrid Messenger Review
A year in testing. Multiple continents. Unforgiving winter weather. Balmy summer sun. On foot. Two wheels. Cars. Planes. Buses. Outdoor hills. City streets. This review's been a long time in the making and encompassed a lot, but we're talking premium here, in quality and price. And that requires serious testing.
So what was I testing? A tag team from Agency Aspect. And who are Agency Aspect? Glad you asked, as they're a brand definitely worth knowing about, with some serious design pedigree behind the founders. Michelle Rose and Liana Delucca Johnson both met while working at The North Face. Michelle led the team for women’s outerwear design, while Liana was the resident expert in women's bags and has designed numerous packs, bags, athletic equipment and accessories. The pair clicked over their shared love of form and function, with the firm belief that women's technical gear could be both attractive and functional. And they decided to make this belief reality in their very own brand, co-founding Agency Aspect and launching their first two bags through successful crowdfunding.
The bags in question are the Hybrid Crossbody and Hybrid Messenger. On paper, they looked impressive. But how would they perform when put to the test? Agency Aspect were kind enough to hook me up with both bags in order to find out...
- Name: Hybrid Crossbody and Hybrid Messenger
- Brand: Agency Aspect
- Format: Sling and messenger
- Measurement: Sling: 7 x 18.5 x 5" (H x W x D); Messenger: 11.5 x 23.5 x 4" (H x W x D)
- Capacity: Sling: 5L; Messenger: 13L
- Weight: Sling: Around 0.5 kg; Messenger: Around 1.4 kg
- Zippers: Water-resistant YKK® zippers
- Material: Genuine leather, 100% nylon CORDURA® fabric
- PriceCrossbody: $249.00, Messenger: $299.00
Who It Suits
Want a honed blend of form and function, with pieces that perform well while looking stylish in work, travel and play settings? You'll probably like these bags. Do you eschew pared-back, minimalist bags in favor of a variety of pockets and organization options in your carry gear? You'll dig these bags.
Who It Doesn't
If bold tactical aesthetics are your carry passion, these bags probably won't hold much appeal. Also, if you plan on hauling heavy loads for extended periods of time, you'll be better off with a backpack for load distribution. And if you're planning to head up mountains, you'll be much better served with outdoor-focused gear. While the crossbody can comfortably roam further afield with small setups, the messenger isn't a great outdoor option for intense excursions. And they're not cheap, so if you're after a budget-friendly option, these aren't it.
Hop on Agency Aspect's website and they're clear about who the brand is aimed at (and I qoute): "Designed + Built for the Badass Woman". Right under that: "Merging Fashion and Function". Both these statements are certainly true, though arguably with a little flexibility for male or female users. The bags are understated and stylish, the material textures work well together, and the branding is pleasingly low-key. They suit a variety of settings and the sizes I'd say are fairly unisex.
I got my husband to try them on for size comparison and while he wasn't personally a fan of the styling, the sizing wasn't uncomfortable or awkward. So gents, take note. If you're intrigued by the look and functionality of these bags, don't pass them over simply because it's a female-focused brand. They might work for you. But as I said, Agency Aspect definitely designed these with female users in mind.
Both bags pack a lot of features in but still manage to retain a clean, uncluttered silhouette. If you need to keep things professional in a work setting but also want to take your bag out to lunch, to the gym, or around town, the Hybrid Messenger will do it all. The Hybrid Crossbody is also versatile in its aesthetics, adapting to sightseeing on your travels without standing out in that "I'm a tourist" way, accompanying you on a night out, or simply zipping around getting things done in your downtime. I think the brand have done really well in getting that technical/fashion balance right.
Ah, the construction. Where do I begin? Simply put, they nailed it. These bags look and feel expertly put together. Everything's neat and durable but with a luxurious undertone. You won't find any loose threads or fraying edges here. During use, I never had any worry that a zipper would open accidentally, a snap would pop off or handles and straps would fail. Suffice it to say, there's nothing to be concerned about here. They're both really well made and more than durable enough to handle a variety of everyday and travel carry needs.
Also a neat little bonus.Take a look under both bags and you'll find two padded leather bumpers on the base. These provide welcome protection if you need to set the bags down on the ground, plus some added peace of mind if you're carrying tech devices.
The materials very much feed into the overall sense of quality and durability with these bags. The exterior of the bags features a combination of leather and 500D nylon CORDURA® fabric. The leather on the messenger has a textured surface to it (good for keeping visible wear and tear at bay), while the leather on the crossbody has a smoother, softer feel to it. Both look and feel good in their different ways. I think the materials work very well together and offer a nice visual and textural contrast.
The only real downside to the materials is that pet hair tends to stick to the CORDURA® fabric so you might need to do a bit of bag brushing now and then. On the plus side, the CORDURA® is on the back of the bag, so if you forget to check for pet hair it's unlikely people will notice it while you're on the go.
Inside both bags are lined with a textured red fabric that's almost waxy in feeling. The bright lining made it quick and easy to discern the contents of each bag and pick out items as needed.
Both bags feature water-resistant YKK zippers externally. These worked really well, moving smoothly when required but staying in place when not in use. No complaints here.
Both bags also feature a front external pocket that secures with a magnet and two side pockets with press stud fastenings. The magnets and press studs both worked well; again, no problems to report.
Both bags have coppery-orange metal hardware on the shoulder straps to adjust the length. It's a nice pop of color on the bags, though I did have trouble using these. I personally found the straps finicky to adjust, as I couldn't simply pull the webbing through the hardware. Instead I had to wiggle and push the webbing through enough to create a space for my fingers to then pull the slack through to the desired length. So if you want to cinch the bag closer to your body, expect to spend a bit of time doing so. I will say there's no problems when it comes to sliding the slack webbing through, it's nice and smooth and once you've hit your desired length, the webbing will stay in place so you don't need to worry about the shoulder straps self-adjusting in length.
Space and Access
For their slim profiles, both bags are surprisingly spacious. The 5L crossbody and 13L messenger both feature front and back compartments that are easily accessed through zippers. Plus with plenty of pockets on hand, you'll find places to stash larger and smaller items alike, allowing you to easily get to whatever you need on the go. If you're carrying the bags against your back, simply swinging them round to your front puts everything within reach.
I found the crossbody worked very well as a versatile EDC bag and travel bag. The bag offers plenty of space for storing smaller tech devices, a wallet, snacks, water bottle, passport, tickets, cables and any other smaller items you might want to carry on a flight or during day trips with smaller loads. I was able to carry the crossbody bag as a personal item along with a carry-on bag without any problems. And being able to quickly and easily swing it round to my front was great for accessing a passport, tickets and tech devices at airport checkpoints. Plus it fits under airplane seats super easily, so you don't need to fuss around wedging your bag in and out. Not to mention all your essentials are right there with you, rather than needing to access an overhead baggage compartment.
The messenger is large enough to store a range of work supplies or a combination of work gear and personal items. I've used it as an overnight bag to carry my laptop as well as a change of clothes and toiletries in the main compartment.
Pockets and Organizing
I love a good range of pockets on a bag and I think both bags do a great job in terms of organizing your gear. Externally they share the same pocket setup (think of the Hybrid Crossbody as a scaled-down Hybrid Messenger). A main compartment and separate large back panel compartment, two front side pockets fastened with press snaps, a central front exterior pocket that secures with a magnet, and a stealthy zippered pocket along the front interior of the magnetic pocket.
The pocketing differs slightly inside the bags. The crossbody has a decent-sized zippered pocket on the rear of the main compartment, while the back compartment has two slip pockets secured with Velcro tabs. Both compartments easily fit my tablet (19cm by 11cm) with room to spare. The front compartment also fits a small laptop (mine measures 26cm by 18cm).
The messenger has two slip pockets and a large zippered pocket on the front interior of the main compartment. There are no interior pockets in the back compartment as this is intended to be the laptop storage. I found both the front (main) and back compartments of the messenger fitted a 15" laptop. However, I'd recommend the back one for tech storage since it's padded.
The pockets are all well placed for easy access and the combination of zippered and slip pockets provides flexibility for storing various items.
You've got a few options for carrying the bags. Sling them cross-body over your back, carry them on your shoulder, or even keep them cross-body on your chest (this might look a little odd with the larger messenger but it's handy if you're concerned about pickpockets in crowded spaces).
The shoulder straps are nice and wide and distribute weight fairly well considering they're single straps. However, you won't find pads on either strap. Not a problem with the crossbody as you're unlikely to stuff it very heavy. If for some reason you need to carry a heavy load in the messenger for an extended period of time, you might start to feel it. However, help is at hand as the messenger comes with a removable waist belt to help stabilize and secure the bag to your body for better carrying comfort. As I mentioned earlier, the shoulder straps aren't particularly easy and quick to adjust, so you may need to spend some time getting them to your preferred fit.
On a related note, while I was able to adjust the messenger to sit snugly against me, the crossbody still felt a little loose during active use on the shortest strap setup and it would have been nice to be able to cinch it closer to my body when getting active. I will note here that I'm not well endowed in the chest department, so if you've got larger assets or a larger frame, you might get a more snug fit with the crossbody bag. Additionally, it will sit nice and snug if you're wearing a bulkier outer layer.
Both bags also feature padded grab handles that are fast, comfy options for when you need to grab and go. Additionally, the messenger has a luggage passthrough on the back that lets you secure it to wheeled luggage.
So how do these bags handle more inclement weather? I'm pleased to report, like water off a duck's back. In the times they've been caught in rainshowers or snow, they've kept the contents safe and dry. But what if they really get a drenching? Well, I left them out in drenching rain for two hours to find out (and trust me when I say with bags this nice, it pained me to do so).
Afterwards the CORDURA® fabric did look and feel saturated and when I opened the bags up there was a hint of dampness coming through the lining. However, I will repeat this was non-stop heavy rain for a solid two hours with no shelter. And I'd say they still performed really well given the circumstances.
At the end of the day, you aren't going to leave your bag in a downpour for two hours, so you'll have plenty of time to head for cover before you need to start being concerned about your gear.
Alternatives to Consider
These bags are kind of in a class of their own in terms of form and function. So it's hard to find direct comparisons. I'd say if you're keen for alternative options then check out our roundup of great EDC slings and messengers where you might find pieces that strike your fancy.
Excellent construction and quality materials
Understated aesthetics suit a variety of work and play settings
Versatile designs adapt to multiple uses such as work to gym, overnight trips, leisurely outdoor day excursions, and general EDC use
Plenty of pockets and dual compartments for easy gear access and organization
Not So Good
The strap adjustment is time-consuming and finicky
The bag quality is reflected in the price; they cost a lot of money
I really like these bags and for the most part found them adaptable, functional and easy to use. The only major drawback I experienced with the bags is the finicky strap adjustment. For future iterations I'd love to see this switched out for a quick-adjust option that was faster and easier to use and allowed the Hybrid Crossbody strap to cinch in a bit more. And a removable shoulder pad for the messenger would be a nice addition for users who need to carry heavy loads for long periods of time.
You also can't talk about these bags without mentioning the price. At $249 for the Hybrid Crossbody and $299 for the Hybrid Messenger, they're certainly not cheap. However, I do think they're good value for money. To me, these bags fit in the category of "Buy once, hurt once, benefit from many years of happy carry." Would I recommend one over the other? That very much comes down to your particular load and use cases. I enjoyed using the messenger but my personal favorite is the crossbody. I don't need to carry large loads or a laptop every day and the crossbody is versatile enough to move easily between urban, outdoor and travel environments with smaller loads. In fact, it's now my go-to option for carrying smaller loads. However, if you do need to carry larger loads or a laptop each day, and you're sticking to more urban environments, the messenger will obviously suit your needs better. Either way, I can definitely recommend both of them. If you're happy to part with the money, you get a lot of bag for your bucks. These pieces are a noteworthy first effort from Agency Aspect and I'm eager to see what they come up with next.