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Road Tests

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Messenger

by , May 2, 2012

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Messenger

We have already had a peek at some of the gear that Ethnotek produces. Previously we checked out their launch backpack. Glad to say, they are back, and this time it’s with a tidy messenger bag. For all of those unaware, Ethnotek includes some prime cuts of locally sourced and produced fabrics from a variety of tribes worldwide. I can’t help but feel that some of this inherent karma in the product is very capable of paying dividends. During the testing period, London shone with unseasonal sun and now that I have returned to my slog of work-related bags the rain has returned… Genuinely magic? Good product? Fine out more after the jump…

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Messenger

The basic premise of the Ethnotek messenger is the same as the backpack. Removable panels, in this case the bag’s flap, allow customisation options. You purchase the base model, a black nylon messenger, and then choose which native weave, print or embroidery you wish to add. The flaps are varied and offer some pretty unique patterns and styles. The fabrics are all sourced directly from the makers and the sales directly help the people who hand-make these fabrics.

This of course means very little if the bag does not perform. It’s good to have an ethical background but it is hard to be valid without well-performing products.

Initial Thoughts

I have to say that the messenger is stronger than the backpack we reviewed previously. It is tight, has some great details and performed really well for what I needed. Messenger bags are such a great yardstick on personality and tend to be great at dividing the carry community. It seems that a lot can be understood about someone from the messenger they carry. From an oversize architectural rendering carrying boutique backyard-made pack down to an Italian ‘travel’ messenger, with enough room between the hand-selected pieces of leather for a passport and wallet, they all have a place and their owners.

Most of us sit in the middle of these two extremes!

The bag looks on the smaller size. It is sized to fit a MacBook pro 15” and does this perfectly; it also has two padded bumpers to slim it down to a 13” MacBook. The side advantage of this is that if you have a mid sized laptop, like a 14”, it works really well with just one bumper used. Always handy if you have one of those non-Apple laptops.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Messenger


The main fabric is an 840D ballistic nylon with a solid coating. The lining is a combo of a lightweight (polyester?) and a hand-woven native fabric from Cham village in central Vietnam. The heavyweight lining in combo with a heavily backed main fabric and solid laptop padding gives the bag a great stand and hand feel.

The traditional fabrics on the flap are the only weak point. Unfortunately, without spray PU backing or water repellence on the facing fabric, they wick water like crazy. The lining on the flap seems to be waterproof/highly resistant, so I think that your gear is ok (and the laptop is protected by an 840D nylon flap), but the bag looks wet and those natural fabrics take time to dry.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Messenger

Bag Construction & Details

Ok, well there are some bag geek details here… The laptop sleeve’s closing flap is constructed as a main part of the binding and construction. Hard to explain without seeing it, but it gives the laptop sleeve a really built-in and tough feel. The add on flap Velcro is on the backside. It’s a decent connection and has no major alignment headaches or anything. There is a back external document slip that doubles as a telescopic handle holder too. Underneath the flap attachment is also a great hidden pocket. It’s about A4 size and would be perfect for funneling incriminating / protected dossiers over international borders…a fine feature for any bag…

On the front, there are some nice alternate angling Velcro panels, which means you can stuff the bag damn full and still have the Velcro closing tight. The double slip on the front is really good and actually big enough to cram a decent amount of stuff in. There is a zip pocket, penholders, slip pockets, document pockets and a padded laptop sleeve. All of it is well thought out and tightly integrated, no loose floating panels. Everything sits in its correct place.

The shoulder pad has some handy cycling stability straps, and they work for both lefties and righties. The lower webbing details and snap buttons on the shoulder strap all work as advertised. The hook is a little odd, but I think that’s just a preference thing.

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Messenger


The main issue is the Tri-Glide on the shoulder strap. It’s best used at a fixed length; it’s not so well suited for constantly changing the length of the shoulder strap. I prefer to be able to change the length easily on the fly. Being crammed in the tube and not able to sling the bag low in front quickly is a bit of a pain. It’s not really a big issue, just a little hard to adjust. Maybe I need to stop being so indecisive and pick a length already!!!

Road Tests :: Ethnotek Messenger

The Verdict

As you can see from the photos, taken while I was testing the bag, it was sunny and warm. Since then, things have changed… The ability to change the weather is a fine feature for any bag, but on this occasion I think it may have been a well-timed coincidence… There is no question that it’s a great pack. With the backpack there were a couple of points for improvement; with the messenger, that feeling is gone.

The bag has obviously been thought through. If you are into a well-built messenger (think Timbuktu, Crumpler, Eastpak (well some of the better Eastpak)) but also want to help the world a little, then this bag is for you. However, you must decide on what type of messenger user you are.

I can just fit my work gear into this bag. I take a 15” MacBook pro, charger, external keyboard, mouse, trackpack, drawing gear and books/diary/magazine into the office. Lets say the bag is at its maximum.

So the only real requirement from the owner is that you prefer a slimmer bag. This all depends on what you want to carry. If you are someone who compulsively overfills their bags (like I do) then maybe it’s a good option for a little enforced cutting back!

Big thanks to Jake for sending the sample out.

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