Review: Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag

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When Peak Design announced their new Messenger Bag on Kickstarter, I had very mixed feelings about it. Designed in collaboration with Trey Ratcliff, the Peak Design Messenger Bag is one that’s even more beautiful in person than I believe anyone can do justice to in photos. As good as I am as a product photographer, its unique design doesn’t really provide great angles to make it look anywhere as good as it does in person. Like a good printed image, it needs to be experienced right in front of you.

The even better news is that it’s not just a fox on the outside, Peak Design has done quite a bit to push the innovation game with so many incredibly new and different features that make it stand out from the pack of other monotonous messenger bags out there. Yes, many of them really are monotonous and the idea of what a messenger bag is hasn’t changed for a while. This, and this major reason alone, was why I had such mixed feelings.

After a solid amount of playtime though, those feelings have mostly changed with the exception of my one big problem with the bag.

Pros and Cons

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Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Excellent idea for a buckle closing clip
  • Stabilizer Belt system to take the weight off your back is very nice
  • Lots of room for so many things
  • The best divider system that I’ve seen so far. Other companies should learn from this
  • Top zipper means quicker access to your gear, though I honestly barely used it
  • Top briefcase handle is excellent when situations in the NYC Subway get tight
  • Incredible water resistance that astonished me
  • Sling system is awesome. It kind of makes me feel like this bag should have been a sling to begin with.

Cons

  • Modifying the shoulder strap to work for customers who wear their bag on the right shoulder isn’t so elegant or simple
  • If the shoulder strap is modified, the stabilizer belt system needs to be modified.
  • Could benefit from better side pocket design
  • I’d love a smaller version for mirrorless cameras but that can also hold a 13 inch laptop at the same time.
  • Belt Stabilizer system works best if you have a thinner waist.

Gear Used

The Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag was tested with the Canon 6D, Sigma 20mm f1.4, Tamron 24-70mm f2.8, Zeiss Milvus 50mm f2, Sony A7, Sony 70-200mm f4 OSS, Sony 28-70mm f3.5-5.6, and the Adorama Flashpoint Zoom Li-On flash system.

Tech Specs

Tech specs taken from the B&H Photo listing of the bag for $249.95.

Material Waxed Kodra synthetic canvas with DWR coating
Poly-spun mixed twill interior
Foam liner
EVA foam dividers
Aluminum hardware
Type of Closure Fold-over front flap
Zippered access on flap
Dividers Padded interior dividers
Carrying/Transport Options Messenger strap
Top grab handle
Cross-body stabilizer converts to trolley strap
Strap Length Not supplied by manufacturer
Volume 823 – 1251 cu in (13.5 – 20.5 L)
Exterior Dimensions 12.0 x 17.0 x 7.0″ (30.0 x 43.0 x 18.0 cm)
Interior Dimensions Not supplied by manufacturer
Weight 2.5 lb (1.1 kg)

Ergonomics

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The Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag is one that suits both style needs and practical needs quite well. The only thing that could have made this even better is incorporating leather into the design. But as you see here, the design mostly is canvas with very subtle branding to it. On a personal note in terms of a design, I’m not the biggest fan of the stitching in the middle that goes right down and would have covered that with leather or something of the sort. But that’s just me.

The bag uses that clip to open and close it. It’s magnetic and has a very interesting and unique way to use it. You’ll need to pull down and away from you.

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The clip connects into one of these latches. When the bag closes, you just move the top flap up or down accordingly for the bag to get into these securely. You’ll feel it, and it’s probably the most genius closing design I’ve seen from a modern camera bag.

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Open the bag up and you’ll be treated to the main compartment. The top flap has a pocket inside where you can store things like a wallet, SD cards, a small notebook, pens, business cards, phone batteries, cables, etc. This pocket zippers to close and prevent stuff from falling out.

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The main compartment of the bag has dividers that can fold into many different configurations and only has velcro is specific spots for connecting. There is ample padding on the inside, though many photographers may want more and consider this a bit too thin for their needs.

If you’re a fan of Think Tank’s bags, this is thinner than theirs. Which means it’s thinner than ONA’s, Manfrotto’s and others.

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This is one of the dividers, and as you can see it can fold into many different ways. On the edges are the velcro, which makes the ease of use when connecting or storing these much easier.

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The front also has its own pocket in front of the main compartment. You can use this to store other random things you happen to be carrying around.

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The top of the bag has a zipper. You can use this to open the bag up from the top if you wish to access your gear from here. Here is where you’ll also find the suitcase handle in case you want to carry the bag like a briefcase. I found myself doing that much more often than I thought I would.

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The side of the bag is quite interesting. You’ll find these side pockets with a flap that you can connect something like a Capture Clip or the Lens Changer, The pockets are fair, but if you’ve got a bigger phone then there is a chance that you’ll be afraid of it falling out or being stolen easily. Tighter pockets would be appreciated here as would ones that don’t slant in an angle.

This is also where you’ll find the straps for the belt stabilizer system. They’ll store into little slots.

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Lastly, we have the shoulder strap. This strap is pretty much all padding that is stiff and designed to hug your body. It’s reversible, though not so practical for those of us who wear it on the right shoulder. It can be adjusted using a typical pulling and locking system that most bags have to only a certain point because of said fact that the strap is almost all padding. To further adjust it, you’ll need to use the clips that you see on the side of the image.

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These hook clips connect to little straps on the shoulder strap. They’re secure, snug and help the bag to really hug your body.

This strap also doesn’t let your clothes underneath breathe well, so get ready for stains on your shirt during the hottest of summer days.

Build Quality

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As I’m writing this post tonight, it’s raining really hard here in NYC and I’ve even turned down meeting a friend for drinks just six blocks away because it’s pouring so hard. This gave me an idea to test the waterproofing of this camera bag. So not too long ago I walked into my kitchen and poured a glass of water on it. No, I really did…

It resisted the pour like a fricken’ champ. Almost all the water slid right off of it and only a bit was absorbed. The absorbed water didn’t even go through to the interior. For this, Peak Design should really be praised because the material doesn’t even feel super weather resistant.

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My biggest gripe about the bag has to do with the shoulder strap. It’s a bag clearly designed to be slung over the left shoulder. Because of the design being mostly padding, wearing it on your right shoulder requires you to reverse the entire strap. Reversing the strap is a painful ordeal that doesn’t make future adjustment of it on your body the simplest to do. In order to reverse the strap, you need to take the entire thing out and unthread it from the loops. Then you need to thread it back in the reverse way. Considering how thick the padding is and how you’ll need to thread the strap back in a way that makes adjustment simpler, it’s frankly the biggest pain in the ass about this bag.

Further, you’ll need to adjust the stabilizer system which I’ll be getting to in just a moment. Essentially, know that you’re going to need to change the buckles around and readjust it all to work accordingly with the adjustment that you made to the shoulder strap.

In a call with Peak Design’s CEO, I expressed my concerns about this. He agrees that it isn’t the most elegant design and to be honest, I really hope that they can come up with a better solution or additional strap. However, most of their customers wear the bag on their left shoulder.

I guess you can call me the odd man out, but every other bag I’ve tested has never given me a problem with ambidextrous use.

Ease of Use

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The Peak Design Messenger bag is overall quite comfortable to have on your back due to padding it has and once the sling carrier system is enabled as you see in the image above, it becomes an incredibly viable option for a photographer on a bike. However, accessing your gear now becomes tricky and what you’re going to need to do is slide the bag off your shoulder just enough to rest on your upper bicep or on your elbow, slide the bag to your side, access the bag, get your gear, close the bag up, and slip it back over your shoulder. It’s easier than you’d think, but requires practice to get perfectly. Still though, I’d recommend that if your Everyday Messenger bag is in this configuration that you have your camera out and on you. Using it with a strap works as does using it with the company’s Capture Clip.

Because of the way the bag will sit against your body in this configuration, it’s almost worthless to access your gear through the top zipper. Instead, go right for the main lock. Because of the design of the lock, closing and opening the bag will be simple for you, but not so much for someone looking to get into your bag.

If I haven’t said it enough, this locking system is brilliant.

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In the image above, you can see the belt stabilizer system at work. It’s genius–in fact I’ll go so far as to say that it’s brilliant because of how it takes the weight off your shoulder. However, it transfers the weight to your back; which I’m not exactly sure I want either.

The belt system, while quite good in concept, isn’t always the most practical when it comes to walking around. You see, to get the most of it you need to have a smaller waist and bigger hips. If you’ve got even the slightest bit of a beer gut (or in my case, whiskey) then it will slide off and onto your hips–essentially trying to be another belt right above the top of your pants. Unfortunately for me, I’m no longer in the army, have that body, and pizza has become my one true spirit animal (on some nights my best friend along with Netflix) and so our personal hang time has caused my gut to bulge. I ride bikes often and I can walk the entire island of Manhattan without breaking a sweat or getting tired, but that stomach won’t go away and doesn’t allow this belt system to work as efficiently as it can.

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However, If you’re blessed with being thinner, it will work. Still though, I would have loved a different way to take the weight off my back that worked for me. Don’t mistake me–it works, but nowhere as effectively as if this stabilizer system were hugging me tighter.

In fact, if this bag were a backpack, it may have even been my favorite backpack to date because of the stabilizer system and the fact that it allows you to swing the back around your waist to the front and back to behind you. However, that process isn’t the most elegant either.

Conclusions

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I like the Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag; and if I like it other folks will love it. It has a damned great build quality, it’s comfortable when properly set up, can carry lots of gear, has a great way to take the weight off your back, the best locking design I’ve seen thus far, and looks nice. Plus, it’s available at a fantastic price point.

But, respectfully, it’s not a bag for me. The ambidextrous design aspects are missing, I’ve got a little bit more to love on my body which causes some use complications, and these days I’m mostly using mirrorless camera gear. If you’re a mirrorless camera user, you’ll find that there is way too much space available and you won’t know what to do with it all. Plus, the bag is overall pretty big. On a trip to the Guggenheim Museum with a friend, even a security guard told me that the bag was really big; so I checked it in. If you’re a DSLR user though, then this will be a great–if not the greatest–option you have.

So what would have made this bag absolutely perfect for me personally? A better ambidextrous design, leather, a stabilizer system that works for my man curves (because real men have curves) and a smaller overall package. On a personal note, I’m sticking to the Tenba Cooper series for my mirrorless gear. But for DSLR gear, you simply can’t beat this bag and what it offers.

Phoblographer-Star-rating

The Phoblographer awards the Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag an Editor’s Choice award and five out of five stars. Want one? I recommend checking the B&H Photo listing.