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Road Tests

Road Tests :: Billykirk No. 166 Large Carryall

by , June 13, 2013

This particular Road Test has been a long one, covering some serious miles. Nearly six months in the making. The Billykirk No. 166 Carryall (“weekender” if you want to be fancy) has been my travel companion with me along several journeys…from the Catskills mountains of upstate New York, to the chocolate-scented town of Hershey, PA, out to the beautiful city of San Francisco and surrounding areas, down to Big Sur, CA for a week-long beach/mountain/redwoods excursion, and all the way across the Pacific to the Philippines for two separate adventures lasting about two weeks each (ranging from the most densely populated city in the world, Manila, and even a couple jaunts into the jungle).

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It has been a dream on each individual trek. Each with their own unique set of gear/clothing/packing requirements, and their own different methods of travel (planes, trains, buses, automobiles, canoes, tricycles, Jeepneys, etc). Simply put, this Carryall bag has made me entirely rethink my travel carry system. Read on.

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First, let’s touch base on Billykirk. We briefly covered them in one of our “5 Minutes with” series, which gave a quick insight into the brand. I first discovered Billykirk via a Carryology reader recommendation, and was intrigued within the first few moments of exploring their site. Straightforward, honest, simple. Handsome products and branding. They carry a wide selection of carry products, ranging from wallets, to shoulder/messenger bags, briefs, satchels, rucksacks and more. They’ve been at it since 1999, when they designed their first product…a 1970’s-inspired leather watch strap. Having backgrounds in design (furniture and clothing), their design aesthetic is simple and clean, one that can stand the test of time without compromising to fashion or trends. They’re also all 100% made in the USA.

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In fact, most (80%) of their products are handmade by a group of Amish leather crafters located in Pennsylvania, a group of folks who are known for producing extremely high quality leather products (“some of the hardest working folks on earth”, Chris explains). Hats off to that. The remaining 20% of production is handled by other US artisans. Another thing, they’re particularly great guys to exchange emails with. Funny, cool, relaxed (absolutely zero pretentiousness or stuffiness), yet serious and caring about their brand/products/service. It’s been my pleasure to swap several emails with Chris over the passing months. Looking forward to the time we can meet up to hang out (who knows, maybe a Billykirk Shop Visit coming up in the future). To learn a bit more about Billykirk, the partnership of Chris and Kirk, two brothers based out of the East Coast of the USA, check out their “About Us” page.

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I reached out to Chris one evening, and within less than 24 hours I received an email…they were all for exploring a Carryology Road Test of one of their products. Great news of course. But it was no easy task for me to decide which product would be best to test, as there were so many fantastic potential candidates. I was really tempted by the leather No. 273 13″ Laptop Sleeve/Folio as well as the leather No. 236 Schoolboy Satchel. But, the one that really kept popping up for me was the canvas Carryall, since I’ve been wanting to Road Test a weekender-style bag for a while now. I was particularly in love with the “Sienna” and “Olive/Black” color options, shown above, respectively (more like in absolute lust). They sadly were out of stock of these two colors.

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Chris suggested the black on black color option, which is normally my go-to preference for most products. I really dig the black on black, but those other two richly saturated color options really just scream to me. Simply a matter of taste. And there are plenty of different styles/colors of the 166 Carryall to choose from. Eventually, I may sell the black and purchase one of these colors once they’re back in stock. First world problems. Either way, it was absolutely not a deal breaker. The black is rich, dark, and…well, black black (not 90% gray). Just the way it should be. Classic and classy. Hard to beat all black on black, with the subtle dull-silver hardware details. Chris sent one out right away, and I tore open the neatly packed parcel the moment I laid eyes on it. Inside, they also included a handwritten note along with a small branded cotton bag which contained a cast metal Billykirk hat pin, leather key fob, round pin, and some other nice treats. Dig that.

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Build and Quality:
First thing you notice upon inspection is that this bag is built right. It is made up of two very nice base materials to start with. Acres upon acres of black leather sourced from Chicago’s Horween Leather and the main fabric is a US-sourced black water-repellent canvas (read: water-repellent waxed cotton canvas). Likely Martexin Original Wax from Fairfield Textile/Tradition Textiles, the oldest producer in the US (but that is just my personal speculation). As far as the water-resistant nature of the material, this stuff beads up water on the surface without leaking through into the main compartment, as you can see below.

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The hardware is a solid, dull-finish nickel-plated brass. Feels great on the fingertips, almost perpetually warm, and doesn’t appear to be failing anytime soon. The interior is made from a rich brown durable nylon lining, with an appearance more like a nice cotton blend rather than synthetic nylon. The addition of the detailed leather luggage tag is a great extra, and shows their level of attention to their products. This leather luggage tag would be sold as an accessory for $30-$50 from other brands, but it is included here. Build-wise, I haven’t found a single flaw (loose threads or anything) or any modifications that I would personally make to the production (I have a keen eye for this as it is what I do professionally at factories for my clients). The stitch lines are straight, tight and even…something that can’t be said for most bags in this sector. At $350, you’ll have to think about this purchase, as it isn’t an impulse buy. But it also wasn’t an impulse design or build. Know that the quality materials, quality craftsmanship, and detailed design is what you’re paying for. This isn’t some disposable Chinese knockoff. Pay for quality once, then forget about it. This weekender should last the rest of your life, based on my personal thorough construction inspection and usage thus far. In the end, for a lifetime product, that price tag isn’t so bad after all.

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The method of opening up this water resistant Carryall is a bit unique. It’s inspired by vintage doctors’ bags, with two aluminum stays hidden under the canvas that create a stiff clamshell-like opening at the top that shut (almost *snap*, but not quite) snugly on themselves. Then the two leather straps keep everything closed up tightly. Now because of this clever system, which is kind of fun and a pleasure to use, you have to pack with this in mind, as you need to make sure your belongings will be able to be “cleared” by the two shutting jaws. Hasn’t been a problem for me, but should be mentioned.

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On my recent 12-day trip out West, I easily packed the following items in this bag; one pair of 16.5 oz. Tellason denim jeans (very, very thick denim, waist size 35″, so they take up some serious room / basically the equivalent of two pairs of “regular” jeans), another pair of size 35″ thick 14.75 oz. denim jeans, 2 short-sleeve button down shirts L, 2 long-sleeve button down shirts L, 5 cotton tshirts L, 4 undershirts, 5 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of Ex Officio boxers (though I probably could’ve only packed 2), and a size 12 pair of Danner Mountain Trail Light boots (quite bulky). Plus some other random stuff I’m sure I’m forgetting. All that stuff, and it closed nice and tidy, in a relatively small package too (20″ long, 14″ tall, about 8″ wide but can expand to 12″ish).

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I was really impressed by the amount it could hold as I was planning on bringing two bags for luggage, but only needed the one. Plus, it forces you to bring the necessities and pack minimal, which we’re huge fans of here at Carryology. The addition of the drop-in organizer is clever as well. The two drop pockets on this panel are decently sized for small accessories like a digital camera, charging cord, smartphone, etc. The D-ring for key attachment is something I usually don’t love and find to be a bit of a waste in bags, as my keys are always where they should be…in my pocket hanging from my Mega Dangler. But for a weekender, you’re getting away from home, so the keys have a nice little out-of-the-way spot to hang out and onto until you need them once you return back from your adventure and are standing at your doorstep. The leather tag inside is a great touch too, with the style number handwritten for product identification (“166 BLWR” = 166, black, water-resistant). The Made in USA tag stands proudly here as well. The little details.

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The removable leather shoulder strap is pretty simple, I must say. And that is what makes it so nice. At first, I thought I would need to add an ugly padded strap sleeve to the black Horween leather strap. After a trip or two, I realized that it wasn’t necessary at all. The real surprise was how comfortable one leather strap could be, even with 30+lbs of gear packed away in the cavernous main compartment. It is more comfortable than you’d expect, primarily because there is a pseudo-suspension thanks to the leather’s slight give. Though the leather is extremely thick, it has a slight bounce (just a little bit) while you’re bustling through an airport to catch your layover flight. This minor amount of stretch/slack provides shock absorption for your tender shoulder muscles after a long day of travel. Definitely wanted to note this, as it was a bit of a shocker to me. Intended? Maybe, possibly. Successful? For sure.

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However, I mostly ended up using the two Horween leather grab handles to pull it down out of overhead bins and out of car trunks, then continued to carry it this way until I arrived at my stopping point. The two handles are rounded and are thickly padded with leather to make hand-carrying a breeze. A nice fit in the hand. I wouldn’t recommend carrying a fully loaded weekender by the handles for any serious span of time or distance across ground…but we all know that anyway. Realistically, you’re not going to be carrying your fully packed weekender for more than a minute or two at any given time. Only the in-between moments (from the front door to the car’s trunk, the trunk to the hotel lobby, the taxi drop-off point to the airport to baggage check inside, etc).

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Aesthetics are subjective of course, but I chose this bag from the site based on its form factor (weekender) and, admittedly, its great looks. 99% of the time we can tell if a bag will be great by the web photos and research we’ve done ahead of time, but there is always that slim chance where you’re surprised and it all turns out to be smoke and mirrors, a poorly made bit of carry. In this case, this bag appeared to be fantastic, and turned out just as expected, if not better. So the looks…I think it is equally as handsome as it is functional. The quality leather and details really give the large Carryall a professional jet-setter aesthetic, which is basically the point in a weekender bag. Kind of like the perfect pair of boots or the perfect pair of denims, this thing has style without being overly “fashiony”.

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The element of “style” is born directly from quality, materials used and simple lines. Rather than tacky add-ons or attempts to try to look good, it just does. Certainly received a compliment or two on the bag during my travels. Though as I have said before, I’m not fishing for bag compliments, I’m searching for functional carry. But, it’s nice to at least mention the random compliments in a review I suppose, since you’ll very likely experience the same thing.

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It also transitions well from being a masculine bag to a suitable woman’s travel bag, as my girlfriend has borrowed stolen it from me more than once to go on day trips with her friends and such. She also loves it. To wrap it up, I’m looking forward to seeing how the materials will age over the years, developing a well-traveled patina on the US-made fabric, leather and hardware, from the hard wear I put it through. Again, kind of like the perfect pair of denims. This thing will only get nicer.

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Steve McQueen and Indiana Jones would get in a gentleman’s fist fight disputing over the rightful ownership of this product. In other words…we like this thing for many different reasons, for the same ones we speculate they would as well.

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The Billykirk Carryall (weekender) carries a boatload of gear to be ready at a moment’s notice for whatever type of travel adventure you throw at it (be it a weekend trip to the beach, upstate to the mountains, or a two-week expedition into the jungle), is incredibly well-made from premium-quality US materials by hard-working highly-skilled US artisans, and looks dapper as all Hell. A great collection of traits, which combined makes this a timeless classic bit of American carry that we can fully get behind. We tip our Amish hats to Chris and Kirk at Billykirk, as well as to the rest of the products in their impressive range. (We hope to Road Test another Billykirk carry product here shortly, so stay tuned.)

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