“They’ll fight over it when you’re dead,” says Dave Munson, owner of Saddleback Leather, the maker of this gnarly backpack, as he explains about the qualities of each product it makes. “It’s your job to break this thing in for the next guy.” With the heaviest waxed canvas I’ve ever seen, stainless hardware, and wildly thick leather, the entire bag feels overbuilt and incredibly sturdy. It looks great, it’s comfortable to wear, and it has an ideal range of pockets. At a price point of $450, we know this bag isn’t for everybody, but for some people, it might be the last—and probably the damn best—backpack they’ll ever carry.
Nobody will buy this heavy-duty rucksack as their first backpack. You buy it after you’ve tried a handful of other options that sacrifice style, function, or durability, and now you want something that doesn’t sacrifice. Something that will last. The Mountainback five-pocket waxed-canvas backpack was built to be the most durable backpack on the market, and it’s definitely the toughest one we’ve ever seen. Twenty-four-ounce waxed canvas from Scotland makes up the bulk of this bag, repelling water and taking the brunt of the wear. Any leather pieces are old bull leather, thick and hard enough to last forever but gaining flexibility over time and use. A special polyester thread used in ship sails sews the whole thing together. In all stress points are top-quality marine stainless steel hardware and brass rivets that have been “hand hammered by a thick-wristed man.” The leather strap closure system on the pockets is something I am very surprised I haven’t seen anywhere else, as it is quick and efficient, easily opened with one hand and closed with two. In short, the team at Saddleback have scoured the world to find the toughest and most functional materials and designs, bring them back, and put them to use in this bag.
Internally, you have one flat back pocket and the large main compartment. On the outside, you have four flap pockets with leather closures, each of which has a small, flat compartment behind it as well. The two front pockets are much deeper than the side ones, easily fitting a 30-ounce Yeti bottle, but they fold over so they’re not too bulky when not being used. The compartment behind the pockets fits a passport perfectly.
The old bull leather used for the handles and straps is incredibly thick and takes some breaking in, which is great in the handle but without any padding can be a little tough on the shoulders. With a little bit of saddle soap and flexing the leather straps back and forth for a couple of hours, they softened up a ton and the bag got much easier to wear. Unlike some of Saddleback’s other backpacks, the straps are not removable on this bag.
While the bag isn’t advertised as being fully waterproof, the waxed canvas sheds water quite efficiently and all the pockets fold over to protect the internals from rain as well. I have been in a light storm with this backpack and nothing was affected, though I imagine if I was riding through heavier rain for a few hours, my things would be soaked.
So the final question remains, is it worth $450? Well, if you’re a Jansport guy, honestly, probably not. But style is important to me and I travel a lot, beating the hell out of my bags. I want to know that whatever carry system I am using can take the abuse. I want my things to get better looking as they break in and show signs of the adventures they have been on, not need to be replaced and start over every few months. With a lifetime warranty, the company has your back for the long haul. I have had this bag for only a couple months now, but it has come to three continents with me already and it is just starting to get broken in.