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What is the difference between briefcases and messenger bags?

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    What is the difference between briefcases and messenger bags?

    I need help understanding this. Why would somebody choose one style versus the other?

    I'm toying with the idea of buying one. I bought a Brain Bag in March and really like it. But the main reason I bought it was that it made life easier schlepping my stuff from my car up to my office then back to my car. I'd have to park, nagivate a little grassy hill, then go up a few flights of stairs. The backpack is much more comfortable for this than something slung across one shoulder.

    But we're moving our clinic to a new location in a week and getting from car into the office couldn't be much easier. Park about 30 yards away, walk into the building and our front door is right inside the lobby. No stairs, almost no walking. I'll still use the Brain Bag for things like airport travel, etc..., but as an EDC, I think I might prefer the horizontal organization of a briefcase or messenger bag compared to the vertical orientation of a backpack.

    I was strongly thinking of the Empire Builder, but I watched dufus' video review and the things that bug him about the bag would more than likely bug me, too. The bag I get needs to be a pleasure for me to engage in on a daily basis, I don't want things that bother me every time I interact with the bag. And on the Empire Builder, having to move the strap out of the way, having the bag's material in the way of the velcro closure of the brain cell, that stuff would drive me nuts. But I don't want anything smaller than the EB. I"ve got a 15" macbook pro and I tend to carry a bunch of stuff. Might just stay with the Brain Bag, but I want to look at my options. I guess the Super Ego is one, but again, not sure about what differentiates a messenger bag from a briefcase.

    In general, I tend to think of a messenger bag as something that's rather capacious and unstructured, and that is designed to be worn cross-body and tight to the torso so that it doesn't flop around while you're carrying stuff while riding your bike. With a briefcase, I think of a much more structured bag, likely with integrated laptop protection and paper-management details, that is suitable for a more formal office setting (and more likely worn over one shoulder rather than cross-body). I think that TB messenger bags share more similarities with TB briefcases than they do with models from other companies like Chrome or Timbuk2, whose messenger bag styles look much more bike/casual/grad school.

    Why would someone choose one style over the other? I think that has to do with the person's needs, where and how the bag will be used, and the individual ethos of the owner. Do I want a Cadet briefcase for conferences? Yes, absolutely. But would I want to carry a "briefcase" to work every day? No, because my work environment doesn't require it, my needs are much better met by a backpack, and because I would feel weird being "Badger who has a briefcase."

    I'd say, look for the bag that meets your needs and don't worry about what it's called.


      Thanks Badger.

      Yeah, I'm not concerned with labels, was really trying to ascertain what the functional differences were between a Tom Bihn briefcase and messenger bag. I might order a Super Ego to try it out. One thing for me, I'm not a big fan of the center strap with the inserts, just has a cluttered aesthetic to me. I know most probably love it.

      I just wish the Empire Builder didn't have the design issues it appears to have. There's a brand new one on ebay right now with a great 'buy it now' price ($130) and the current bidding is only in the $90s. But I just don't think I'd be happy with those design characteristics.


        I agree with Badger that a messenger bag is typically less structured - more floppy - than a briefcase. To me, the defining feature of a messenger bag is the big front flap, which traditional briefcases don't have. With the Empire Builder and Zephyr, etc, TB has kind of morphed the messenger bag into a hybrid with a lot of briefcase features. I think a Cadet and a Western Flyer are slightly closer to a traditional briefcase. A bit more streamlined, with all the organizing features on the inside, since there is not a flap to cover pockets and slots like on the Empire Builder.
        Last edited by kmcg; 06-24-2012, 04:39 PM.


          Interesting comment about the Western Flyer more closely resembling a briefcase. Wondering, has anyone used the WF as an edc?


            Originally posted by Badger View Post
            ...and because I would feel weird being "Badger who has a briefcase."
            LOL! But I soooo get this.

            I agree about the briefcase/structure thing. I really like my Co-Pilot but even it feels a little weird sometimes (it is a mini briefcase as far as I'm concerned). And my Synapse has it's place but even it is a little two structured for me. (Briefcase on my back?!?)

            My very very favorite bag is the Swift. Lots of unstructured room, but it has those two marvelous huge pockets. It is The Perfect Bag. Really like my Cafe Bags as well, but the Swift is the best.
            WhiteStar in Colorado
            LCB (Azalea/Sapphire, Turq/Wasabi), MCB (Plum/Cayenne), Swift (Cork), Co-Pilot (Iberian), Synapse (UV), Citizen Canine (Kiwi/UV), Shop Bag (UV), key straps and pouches galore!


              The new photos of the WF with the back pocket are making me a bit twitchy. I can't justify the purchase yet, but I'm thinking about it. The WF is small enough that I think I'd be fine with just the shoulder strap, whereas the TriStar can be too heavy for my shoulder. I keep thinking about how accessible travel documents would be from a WF on my shoulder.



                Originally posted by conejo23 View Post
                Interesting comment about the Western Flyer more closely resembling a briefcase. Wondering, has anyone used the WF as an edc?
                I considered this but went with a conventional backpack. I am confident it would work but with the EB and zephyr available, why bother?


                  Originally posted by lonestar6 View Post
                  I considered this but went with a conventional backpack. I am confident it would work but with the EB and zephyr available, why bother?
                  Well, for the reasons outlined above for why I'm avoiding the Empire Builder. I think that video review really hit on some flaws in the design. For the life of me it makes no sense why the shoudler strap hook is on the FRONT of the bag and not the side. So every time you're lifting that front flap, the shoulder strap is in the way and you have to manually move it. Over time that would drive me nuts. I was strongly considering an EB, now, no way. And the Zephyr is too small.

                  But I don't think the WF would have enough organization capability for me. Might have to try out a Super Ego. Or, gasp, try a briefcase from a different manufacturer.


                    I have a Zephyr and love using it. I travel with it nearly every week and it's truly my mobile office. I love the fact that it sits up straight, allowing easy access to everything. There is an amazing amount of structure: the pockets under the flap, the zipper pockets on the front, the big pockets on the back (I always use them as pockets for things I want to grab easily). I use it with a MacBook Air or an HP Elite Book, so the Zephyr is a good size for me. My guess is that an Empire Builder would work well for the OP.

                    I just looked at the video review and I have a couple of comments about the issues that bothered the OP. When I put the Zephyr down, I always flip the strap over the back of the Zephyr (the bag is not on the strap). In that position, I have no trouble accessing the front or back pockets. As for the issue with the Brain Cell, if you attach the Brain Cell using the clips, it's in a perfect position and easy to open and close (and a cinch to get the computer out of the bag at airport security). I think dufus had the Brain Cell in the inner part of the big compartment instead of at the outside (where it would be if he had used the clips), and that may have caused his problems with the enclosure.

                    As for the Western Flyer, I haven't used it as a daily briefcase (but I travel with it nearly every week), although I think it would work. On a couple of trips when I didn't want to carry a laptop bag, I used the Western Flyer with the Brain Cell for the computer and a Freudian Slip to provide more organization.
                    Last edited by wennefer; 07-08-2012, 02:14 PM.
                    Owner of Burnt Orange/Steel Daylight Briefcase , Burnt Orange/Steel Aeronaut 45, Black Dyneema/Wasabi Pilot, Crimson/Steel Western Flyer, Forest/Steel Zephyr, Olive/Cayenne Ristretto for iPad, Olive/Cork/Steel and Cardinal/Hemp/Steel Imago, Plum/Wasabi Side Effect, Nordic/Ultraviolet, Linen/Steel and Conifer/Steel SCB, Steel Breve, Plum/Black Swift, Steel FJN, and various packing cubes, organizer pouches, caches, and other odds and ends.



                      I won the Super Ego on ebay and have been using it for a few days in lieu of the Brain Bag. Honestly, I do find myself liking the horizontal orientation of this bag more than the backpack. Again, if I had to traverse much distance, or a bunch of stairs, etc..., I would keep using the BB, no question.

                      I could see myself staying with the SE, but I decided to order an Empire Builder (Navy/Wasabi) and it arrives Thursday. I'll either keep the EB and sell the SE, or return the EB and keep the SE, but either way, I'll be confident in which one would be the better fit for me.

                      Looking forward to trying it out!