The Upgrade: The Canvas Bag Built to Last a Lifetime

The Upgrade: The Canvas Bag Built to Last a Lifetime
Filson and a new line from Saddleback Leather offer canvas tanks that'll take you to hell and back.
Saddleback Mountainback review

Many of us have that old book bag or backpack that we’ve had since middle school that looks like it’s been through a war. Just like Linus and his security blanket, it feels like an old friend. But it’s time to make a new friend – one that was made to match your ruggedness and sophistication. Whether you’re a young creative or a budding adventurer you’re likely in need of an upgrade.

Depending on your carry needs, the problem with a briefcase is that they can be limiting in what and how much  you can carry. Throw in your laptop and some paperwork and that’s about it. Since it’s a business bag, it’s primary purpose is to be used Monday through Friday.  If you’re hauling gear and files to and from business meetings or work in a more professionally-dressed office, a nice briefcase  is a requirement. But if that doesn’t sound like you, then a nice rucksack is good every day of the week and the weekend too.

Let’s assume you’ve outgrown that campus option and are ready to move on up. The choices then become leather or canvas. A legit full leather backpack like the Saddleback Front Pocket Backpack (while ridiculously beautiful) is going to cost you $600. The Bleecker Backpack from Coach is going to set you back almost $700. Some might argue that a bag that nice is a luxury, others might say that it's a necessity.

So let’s meet somewhere in the middle if you’re looking for an upgrade without the price of full leather. We’ve got you covered with two canvas options with leather trim that are far from ordinary: the Filson Rucksack and the Saddleback Mountainback line.

Filson Rucksack

The Filson Rucksack

I’m a huge fan of Filson products. C.C. Filson started the Seattle outdoor outfitter company in 1897 to support the huge logging community and the boom of the Klondike Gold Rush. Their goods are high quality and built to last a lifetime.

The Rucksack ($290) is available in Otter Green, Black, and Tan. It’s made of saddle-grade bridle leather and 22 oz. canvas. The solid brass zipper construction is a highlight but the buckles and straps are more akin to standard book bag hardware. There are two small bellows pockets and 1 rear stow pocket in addition to the main compartment.

The Filson Rucksack is a stylish and well-constructed backpack that reeks of class. Weighing 3 lbs, The 22 oz canvas is strong but slightly lighter than that of the Mountainback (and also not waxed). What results is a bag that is both sturdy and lightweight but has a bit more of a designer feel rather than an outfitter feel. If you’re shaky about the price, Filson’s lifetime warranty ought to help you sleep at night.


Will it get the job done? Certainly. Is it the workhorse that the Mountainback is? Maybe not.

Saddleback Leather Mountainback

Mountainback is the new 24 oz. waxed canvas and leather collection from the Saddleback Leather company in Texas. Saddleback is known for uncommonly thick leather and an obsession with quality. Their motto is “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.” And it’s absolutely true. We field-tested the Medium Gear Bag ($327), Simple Canvas Pack, ($367) and Rolled Duffel ($497).

Owner Dave Munson turned to Halley Stevensons Baltic Works in Dundee Scotland to source the greatest canvas sailcloth in the world. They’ve only been the dominant force in canvas since 1864. No biggie.

Quality of construction and materials are where the Mountainback really shines. The 24 oz waxed canvas is heavy, making it completely waterproof. The old bull leather is super thick at 5/16”. It’s put together by hand with solid copper rivets and 316 stainless steel hardware (used in the shipping and sailing industry). Mountainback uses double stitching and continuous filament polyester thread for the seams (used in parachutes and boat sails). The hardware on these is surprisingly impressive in person.

The unique aspect to the Mountainback line is the large, thick leather back each bag bag gets – giving you the strength and support of leather, while the bag as a whole remains flexible and lighter than a 100% leather bag.

There is a slight price to pay for all that heft though; it weighs in at 4.6 pounds.

The bottom line here is that the Mountainback isn’t meant to be refined. It’s made to be a tough-as-nails tank that will withstand constant abuse. It’s “over-engineered and as functional as a toothpick after a plate of ribs.” Saddleback offers a 100-year warranty on their products that encourages you to “Buy nice, or buy twice.”


At the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with either of these bags. The Filson has a more refined look and the Mountainback is a bit more rugged and looks like it's built to work. Filson has dependability you can expect from a time-tested company and Mountainback has that true handmade craftsmanship feel to it. Both can be trusted to look good, work hard, and only get better with age.

Jeremy Lahman is from Columbus Ohio. He has degrees from Otterbein University and The Ohio State University. Enjoys gear, travel, outdoors, tech, men’s style, and music. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @LahmansBeard.