The Ultimate Full Grain Leather Messenger Bag Buyers Guide

the ultimate real leather messenger bag buying guide

Updated 02/10/22.

Here at The Real Leather Company, we love full grain leather messenger bags. But what does that really mean? And what should you be looking for?

If you’re thinking about buying a leather messenger bag, you already know there’s a lot to think about.

If you’re looking for something that lasts, you’ll be making a significant investment, and you want to make sure you’re making the right decision.

But there are so many decisions to make!

  • Do you want top grain leather or full-grain leather?
  • Do you need a luggage strap?
  • Do you need a 16-inch bag or an 18-inch bag to fit your laptop?
  • And what on earth is genuine leather?

We know you have so many questions before buying a leather satchel and at The Real Leather Company, we want to make sure you buy a bag that meets all of your needs.

Read on for the ultimate buyer’s guide to full grain leather messenger bags.

Which leather should you choose?

Now, this is one we get all the time.

Different leathers will alter the look, feel, price and ultimately, the durability of your messenger bag. It’s important you get this one right.

Here are the main types of leather you’ll see when browsing leather messenger bags:

Full-grain leather

This is the highest grade available. It’s the top layer of the hide and is not sanded or buffed. As a result, you’ll notice imperfections on the skin – that’s how you know its full-grain leather. As all the grain remains in this leather, full-grain leather has maximum strength and durability. Full grain leather bags are really designed to be with you for life.

As this leather is the most difficult for manufacturers to work with, you may find full grain leather bags more expensive.

Want to know more about full-grain leather? Check out The West End, one of our full-grain leather bags.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide The West End

Top grain leather

This is the second-highest quality leather available and the one we see most commonly in leather messenger bags.

This leather is very high-quality top skin but has imperfections removed. The surface is sanded and given a finish coat, which reduces durability slightly, but protects from stains. This leather is more workable for the manufacturer and a little more affordable than full-grain leather.

Think top grain leather is what you’re after? Check out The Sitka, one of our top-grain leather bags.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide The Sitka

Genuine leather

This is one to watch out for. Whilst it sounds high quality, genuine leather is actually the third class of leather. It’s produced from everything that remains after the top layers of skin are used for higher quality leather goods. Usually, artificial grain and dye is applied to make it look more natural.

Still reasonably durable and hardwearing, but not to the level or full or top grain, these leather bags are usually the most affordable.

Generally, we recommend you choose the best quality of leather that your current budget allows. The higher you go in quality, the longer your bag will last. If you’re looking for something that is going to last years, not months; go for something with full or top grain leather.

Does it fit your laptop?

This is one you need to be so careful with.

The key thing to remember here is that just because the bag is 15 inches wide, that does not necessarily mean it will fit your 15-inch laptop. What you’re looking for is the dimensions of the laptop sleeve.

Be sure to measure the diagonal screen size of your laptop (or go to your laptop manufacturers website), then look at the leather bag page for the size of laptop that is compatible.

We also recommend getting a bag that has a padded laptop compartment, just for extra peace of mind.

All of our leather bags have laptop size compatibility on the products page. If you’re looking at a bag somewhere else, be sure you know what size of laptop the bag fits before buying.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide Laptop

Can it fit all your gear?

We encourage you to think about all the gear you’ll be putting in your leather messenger bag before going ahead and buying.

Are we talking just a laptop and a few chargers? Or is it all your papers, files, books, gym gear, laptop and lunch?

If you’re looking for something that stores a bit extra, it’s a good idea to look for something that has a good internal organization system, extra width and more pockets on the outside too. In this case, we would recommend something like The Executive, which is a whopping 9 inches wide.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide The Executive

What look do you want?

A leather messenger bag makes a statement. It tells the world you’re a little more grown-up, maybe even a little more refined. But after that, what look are you going for?

Want something smart that tells people you’ve arrived professionally? Something like The Morgan can be great for this.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide The Morgan

Are you looking for something business casual? We find something very simple in design, perhaps in the style of The Oaken is great for this.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide The Oaken

What about something that tells people you’re rough, rugged and ready for anything? Something a bit more along the lines of The Distressed might be the way to go.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide The Distressed

What colors should you consider?

If you’re looking at high quality full or top grain leather bags, generally your choices will be between different shades of brown or black.

We find that black bags will go with everything, but if you really want to show off your style and make a statement, a lighter brown can really make an impact.

Although we do see many of our customers prefer lighter colors, be sure you pick a shade you are comfortable with and one that matches your outfits.

If you really want to stand out, something in a tan color like The Coven can really catch the eye.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide The Coven

Lightweight vs heavyweight

If you’ve never had a real leather bag before, you may find that it’s a little heavier than what you’re used to. Be sure to check the weight of a bag before buying.

We recommend weighing the standard everyday carry that you use now, perhaps your backpack or handbag; then compare that to the leather bag you’re looking at.

Whilst some bags like The Coven can be only 1lb, some bags like The Jumbo can be up to 7lbs.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide The Jumbo

If you’re going to be carrying your bag around all day, perhaps look for something a little more compact.

Do you need a shoulder strap or luggage strap?

Designed to make your bag easier to carry, shoulder straps are beneficial for most people.

Be sure to flick through photos from any leather bags to make sure an adjustable shoulder strap is included. Bonus points if it’s removable! Your leather bag can then double as a briefcase.

Luggage straps are another innovation that are a godsend if you’re travelling. Bags like The Belvedere are designed with back zippers so that your bag can slide onto a rolling suitcase handle. You then only need to pull along your suitcase, and not worry about your messenger bag.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide The Belvedere

Has it got quality hardware?

If you’re looking for something that is going to stand the test of time, be sure to consider the hardware quality along with the leather quality.

Brass hardware is generally considered a good option for buckles and closures. YKK zippers are considered some of the best available.

If you go for something like full or top grain leather, often the hardware will wear out before the leather, so be sure to go for something that is going to last.

See The Prime for an example of a messenger bag with quality hardware.

The Ultimate Leather Messenger Bag Buying Guide The Prime

Peace of mind guarantee

Whether or not you love your real leather messenger bag often comes down to individual taste. We encourage readers to choose a vendor that offers some kind of peace of mind guarantee. Therefore, if you order the wrong size or color, or even just change your mind, you’re looking at an easy return or exchange process – ideal for more expensive purchases like this.

At The Real Leather Company, we offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. If you’re not totally happy in the first 30 days, let us know and we’ll provide a hassle-free return and give you a full refund.


With real leather messenger bags, you really are going to get what you pay for. A cheaper genuine leather bag for around $50 will do a job for a while but will wear out and you’ll find yourself replacing it before long.

We encourage you to think of your leather messenger bag as an investment in the last bag you’ll ever need.

Since full and top grain leather gets better with age, you’ll likely find you prefer the look of your bag as the years pass.

At The Real Leather Company, we recommend you invest a little more in something special that’s going to be with you for the long haul.

Check out our collection of real leather bags here.

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