- Buyer's Guide
Bedouin Foundry Barbarossa Messenger Review
Does the Bedouin Foundry Barbarossa find that all-important style/function balance? Let’s find out…
Often when reviewing a product, I find myself spending time diving into the history of a brand. Digging into their social media and finding out what makes them tick. With Silas at Bedouin Foundry, it’s obvious from the get-go what they’re about. Their words say it best:
“At Bedouin we believe in quality. We believe you should buy a bag that lasts a lifetime. We do not believe in disposable fashion and an endless replacement cycle; buy quality and buy it once. We are extremely confident of the quality and workmanship of our bags, that is why we offer a lifetime guarantee on materials and workmanship from normal wear and tear. If you look after your Bedouin bag it should last generations, in fact it will get better as it gets older.”
This pure, simple, and honest foundation is one of the many reasons I love what comes out of their Somerset workshop. Bedouin Foundry are, for me, the epitome of craftsmanship. There is a reason that we have collaborated with them twice! They continue to create a nuanced collection of wonderfully made and thoughtfully designed pieces. Not only do they make these works of art. They stand behind them. Without further ado, we tested the smaller messenger in their lineup, the Bedouin Foundry Barbarossa.
Who It Suits
A fan of heritage style, premium materials, and understated aesthetics.
Those who value modularity and the ability to change the interior organization.
Those who want a bag to be passed down through the generations.
Who It Doesn’t
If you’re looking for ultralightweight, or X-Pac, or a similar ultra-modern urban vibe, the Bedouin Foundry Barbarossa might not be the one for you.
Luxury in your hands
Now, I suppose I should confess to being a sucker for anything waxed cotton. I’m a country bumpkin from rural England and I grew up with the smell of waxed cotton from my dad’s Barbour being the signal that adventure was afoot! Often a soaking wet adventure, but an adventure nonetheless. When I pulled the Bedouin Foundry Barbarossa out of its patterned dust bag, I was instantly transported back to my hometown, by my dad’s side again. The smell of Halley Stevensons 12oz waxed cotton, combined with the feel of the Italian leather accenting, is an engaging tactile experience that everyone needs to enjoy. Aesthetically, this bag is as timeless as they come.
In many ways, it reminds me of a fishing tackle bag. It is big enough to be useful, but it isn’t cumbersome to transport or use. The profile of this 15L (approx) messenger is subtle, and much like all of Bedouin’s products, the materials undulate effortlessly. There are no “sharp” edges or pointy lines here. I found it comfortable to carry both across my body and just on my shoulder.
While it is steeped in heritage materials, there are touches of rebellious modernism throughout the bag. The lining, in Bedouin Foundry’s signature crank pattern, adds a vibrant touch, and makes it efficient to discern the contents. The indestructible Cobra buckle is a fitting addition to keep the contents secure and adds an air of invincibility to an already robust piece. Using this buckle, from Austria, is an experience in itself, and hugely satisfying in action. I also find the Cobra really easy to use with gloves on, a feature which is very welcome at this time of the year! The buckle is adjustable with a slender piece of cotton webbing, which theoretically allows you to secure more to the bag. One could easily slip a jacket through there and adjust accordingly.
The same cotton webbing provides a simple, comfortable strap. At 38mm wide, I found this to be the right size for the loadouts I carried. I think if it was any bigger, it would take away from the subtlety of this bag. The whole exterior edge (along with the laptop sleeve and the two front slip pockets) is bound with the same rich Italian leather and completes the seamless aesthetic.
There are three color choices from Bedouin for the Barbarossa: Black, Khaki and Tan, and the bag I’ve been testing: Navy and Cognac. All subtle, understated, but elegant palettes. The branding is simple, an embossed “Bedouin: Made in England” on the leather of the padded top flap, and an artistic label stitched to the inside, which is flanked by a small Halley Stevensons patch. I love the thoughtful construction, and one design choice that stands out in particular is the “scoop” opening. This not only protects the contents from inclement weather or debris out in the field, but also adds to the seamless opening and closing of the bag. There is no jaunty flip of the top, or stopping point when you hit a seam, it just moves naturally. This handmade masterpiece is charming and endearing to use. It truly feels like it has been loved into existence.
Take your shot
While this isn’t exclusively designed as a camera bag, it serves that purpose with great aplomb. The removable crank-patterned padded inserts not only each include a hidden pouch, but they also encourage you to make this your own depending on your shooting itinerary, camera size, and personal preference. I think that speaks to Bedouin Foundry’s “buy it nice or buy it twice” philosophy. There is no doubt that their craft is exceptional, but they want this bag to work for you, whatever that may look like. It might seem like a given to have customizable dividers in a bag, but these are thoughtful, intelligent, and intentionally designed to BF’s specifications, and you can feel that when using them. This isn’t a trend they’ve decided to follow, but an improvement they felt necessary over their first iteration of the Barbarossa (sans dividers).
When used as a camera bag, it fits a surprising amount of equipment. Usually, I run with a mirrorless, two lenses, spare batteries/cards, pocket rocket, strap, etc. It’s not a full setup by any means, but enough to give me most of what I would need on a day-to-day assignment. The Barbarossa manages this with consummate ease, and I really trust putting my expensive equipment in here. That sentiment can’t be underestimated when the contents of the bag are your livelihood and your wife works in insurance. Elegantly lined with a padded cotton drill crank pattern, you’d have to really do something wild to damage your gear.
Aside from my EDCC (Every Day Camera Carry), I also managed to load it with my drone setup comfortably. And most surprisingly to me, a 100-400mm zoom lens (plus teleconverter). In all of these camera loadouts, I also had my iPad Pro along for the ride in the padded sleeve. This bag essentially allows me to run a mini studio out in the field. All while hiding my expensive cargo in a glorious waxed cotton and leather disguise.
Make your own messenger
The Bedouin Foundry Barbarossa is truly a flexible bag, and I see it being useful for many different situations. It is sleek enough to be an EDC for the office (13″ tablet/laptop users). It is rugged enough to take with you into the wild. And it is functional enough to be a go-to camera bag, like it has been for me. I fit a jacket/vest, 26oz insulated water bottle, mask, hand sanitizer, gloves, notebook, pen, knife, wallet, and keys when using it as a standard EDC. You can create more room by taking the dividers out, but I quite like them and their little hidden pouches.
The pouch pocket on each divider is surprisingly spacious and useful. As I first ran my eyes over the bag when it arrived, I thought it was a “cool” idea. But I didn’t see it being useful past the odd camera filter or battery on occasion. How wrong I was.
They fit a notebook and pen, car keys, snacks, mask/hand sanitizer, and many other things I haven’t tried! I found myself leaving the dividers in more often than not because of the simple yet useful organization they offer. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t precisely measured pockets for individual items like you may find in a dedicated tech bag. But they are practical nooks that I have found myself using regularly. In fact, I think they are so worthwhile precisely because they aren’t limited to a specific use case. The versatility of this bag has given me more reasons to use it. And as such, great joy in doing so.
Heirloom-Worthy: A Bag For Life
If you handed the Barbarossa to me and told me it was from the 1950s, I’d believe you. However, in the same breath if you handed it to me in 2050 (all being well!) it would be just as apt. It is an heirloom-worthy piece and with some simple care, this will accompany you on many adventures. I have been using this bag for three months now, and I have enjoyed every moment of using it. It’s starting to show some beautiful patina, and that is only going to get better over the coming decades.
However, all in all, I think the most telling thing about the Barbarossa is the story. Maybe it’s just because I’m English, but there is something special to me that this has come from another person’s hands, ready to serve my needs. That notion makes you want to use this bag, and not let it just become “another” in your collection (we all do it!). That feeling of intentional design whenever you use it is really quite noticeable.
Not only that, I think it is excellent value for money. For under £300, you are getting a beautiful piece, handmade by a master craftsman, with luxurious materials, and a lifetime warranty. I think that is very hard to beat in this day and age.
Now, if I were to put the romantic notions of waxed cotton, sumptuous leather, and my motherland aside, this bag is more than just functional and stylish. It is, above all, mine. I hope it will be for many years to come.