Just how do you tell a good bag from a bad one? With a history that stretches just over a century, Chapman knows a thing or two. Their chief executive David Chamier told us what separates the wheat from the chaff in the world of bags.
What's it made from?
These days most bags are actually made quite well. The real difference is in the quality of the materials and fittings used. We use high-quality materials such as bonded cotton canvas (the traditional material used for fishing bags, being strong and waterproof), solid brass fittings, English bridle leather and military grade cotton webbing. Leather and canvas both hold up well. As long as they are both good quality, both should be similar in terms of longevity.
How long will it last?
Lower quality bags will tend to use synthetic materials (which look OK when new but do not age gracefully), alloy metals, vinyl instead of leather fittings and a looser weave webbing, which may fray or break quite quickly. We use heavy duty brass zips and traditional failsafe fastenings like English cast brass buckles. Cheap zips and fastenings can break very quickly and make the whole bag useless.
What do you need it for?
For a man's bag, a key question is what am I going to use it for? Is the shape and construction of the bag suitable for this purpose? If you want a commuter bag to take with you to work, are you travelling on the Tube or by bicycle, for instance? For the former, you need a thinner style to avoid obstructions, for the latter a more bulky rucksack style would be more suitable. Beyond that, it's really down to how much you are prepared to pay to get the quality materials and fittings mentioned above, which will largely determine how long your bag lasts. Also remember that although in theory it's nice to have loads of little pockets, details and features, are they robust and will they actually get in the way of the main purpose of the bag?
How often will you use it?
In theory a bag can last indefinitely, but in practice this will depend how often the bag is used and in what conditions. If you use a bag every day and subject the stress points to repeated use and abuse, eventually the bag will wear out. The stress points vary between styles and users but will often include the base corners, shoulders and fastenings of the bag.
How can you look after it?
Canvas bags should never be washed in a machine! They should be cleaned in soap and water and left to dry naturally. Metal fittings can be kept shiny with metal polish. Leather fittings and leather bags in general can be maintained by occasionally cleaning with a damp cloth, left to dry naturally and then polished with leather cream. It is also possible to spray certain materials with Teflon, Scotchguard or similar if you want to add some extra water resistance but this will depend on the material used to make the bag. Bags are both functional and matters of taste. As long as your bag does the job, the rest is down to you.