Men’s Leather Backpack

Like I mentioned in my article and video about weekender bags, a leather backpack is a necessity for every man because it’s the type of bag that fills a lot of gaps in your bag arsenal – like when you work in a more casual environment and a briefcase would be a little odd. Or when you need a bag for groceries, going to the coffee shop or you’re going on a trip and putting your laptop and other personal items in a weekender bag won’t fit or will be a little too rough on them.

You want your backpack to do a couple of things:

  1. It should look classy and have a timeless design.
  2. It should work with dressy and casual outfits (not with suits, though, more on that in a minute)
  3. Hold at least a 15” laptop
  4. Should be comfortable – of course.
  5. Should last you a long time

I think a lot of guys assume that a backpack is the one bag they need, no matter what they’re wearing and doing. This is mostly true, but with two massive exceptions.

  1. If you’re wearing a suit or blazers often, then a backpack should never be worn with any of these outfits because the shoulder straps will ruin the shoulder pads and wrinkle your jacket all over the back. Wearing suits or Blazers = carrying your bag by the handles and never anything else – which means you need a briefcase. Unless you’re going for the IT guy look, please don’t wear your backpack (or messenger bag!) with these outfits. Even a nice backpack, like the ones I’ll be highlighting, won’t look right with those types of outfits.
  2. If you’re needing a backpack for camping, lugging around your camera equipment or things like that, then you’ll need a specialty bag/backpack. You wouldn’t take a sedan off-roading, so please don’t do the same with your backpack. So if you have specialty items you need to carry around or are wearing suits or blazers often, then you need a bag specifically designed for those contexts – like a briefcase or camera bag.

What Material Should Your Backpack Be?

If you’re looking for something classy and functional, leather is the only option. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some nice fabric or nylon ones, but they just don’t look right in as many scenarios as a leather backpack and they’ll wear or stain very easily.

Remember, you want your accessories to show you’re a man who cares about the details, and wearing a great outfit with anything but an equally classy backpack just looks like you missed the mark a bit. Think of those college kids you see with their Swiss army backpacks and sloppy suits running around conferences.

What Color Should You Get?

I like black, gray or cognac. But remember, as I said in my weekender bag story, this is the only time you need to match your accessory to another accessory – so whatever your weekender bag color is, your backpack should be a similar color. It doesn’t need to be perfectly matching, but black for black, brown for brown, etc. The reason for this is because your backpack will often be carried with your weekender on short trips, so you want some cohesion here.

I would honestly go for black because brown tends to show a little more scuffs and scratches, but if you really want to work a nice patina into a backpack, then there’s definitely no substitute for a brown backpack.

The Best Men’s Leather Backpacks

So let me tell you the state of the classy and timeless backpack industry or genre right now: It’s pretty awful out there. There’s so much crap out there. I’m not kidding when I say that just in the last year, I’ve tested at least 50 backpacks from every major and minor designer out there. There are so few brands that make a clean, nicely-designed and sharp looking backpack that won’t look silly or dated within a year or two. Aside from the ones I’ll show you, every other backpack missed the mark in some way or another.

This Is Ground – Venture Backpack

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Buy the Venture backpack

You might remember these guys from my wallets video/article and they’re back with hands down, the best leather backpack I’ve ever tested. The design is simple, classy and very well thought out. The Italian leather is really soft and supple with just enough stiffness to maintain the shape well. It’s just really nice to hold and use.

It has a lot of pockets and slots for all your items, including cables and chargers without feeling like it’s wasting space. It has two main compartments, one that is padded for your laptop and tablet or notebook, as well as some awesome pockets along the opposite side. Then the second big compartment is nice and wide open for whatever you want to put in there. I also really like this top zipper slot for your phone or wallet that is deceipity deep. My clients said they really liked this feature.

I know it sounds small, but their shoulder straps and back padding are the perfect width and very soft. I was worried that the thinner shoulder straps would dig in if there were some heavier items in the bag, but this isn’t the case.

A small point, but definitely a big deal for me, is where the shoulder straps are anchored to the bottom of the bag. See how they attach to the middle and bottom of the bag? This is awesome because it is supporting a good portion of the weight from the bottom of the bag, and not from the front side like most backpacks. I’ve definitely found other bags breaking, or the stitching coming loose at this exact point a few times, even after, what I’d consider, very light usage. While we’re talking about the straps, I love how they don’t have a bunch of extra slack on them. Even if you tighten or loosen them, you don’t have a bunch of excess strap flapping around. This is super annoying on a lot of other bags. Besides, your backpack should sit relatively high on your back, not on the lower part of your back or worst-of-all, your butt. I’m glad that This Is Ground knows this and doesn’t even give people the option!!

And if this bag wasn’t cool enough, it has a special, secret compartment in part of the bag for you to hide your valuables as well as the included Tile dongle, so in case you ever lose your bag, you can track it via the app.

I have it here in their cognac brown, which has such a nice, rich color and will just get better with age. But I also really like their charcoal black as well. Also, make sure to get the regular size, the mini size is small by a few inches and is much more geared for a woman.

KILLSPENCER – Special Ops Backpack 2.0

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Buy the KILLSPENCER Special Ops Backpack 2.0

If you want a backpack with a little more tactical edge to it, then the KILLSPENCER Special Ops Backpack is right up your alley. Just like with their weekender bag, their leather is really damn good. I especially love that they have it in this really nice Charcoal Gary color, which matches their weekender’s color perfectly. They also have it in black, which I also like a lot, they also make a nylon version, so it’s a great leather alternative bag, as well.

A note on the color in the image above – watch my video showing this backpack because that’s the actual, true life color. For some reason these images don’t represent the color correctly.

Like all their products, the design is well-thought out and classy and just like the Venture Backpack, their zippers are buttery smooth and the rest of the hardware is great.

The big pocket on the front is nice to have, but I’m not sure how safe it is if you’re utilizing it in a crowd. I know I’d be a little nervous keeping some valuables there.

The lining is also water and fireproof, so if you spill something inside (hopefully not), it won’t be such a disaster, for the bag at least. Another nice touch is the mesh interior pockets, which allow you to see what’s inside them. It sounds small, but trust me, it’s a very nice feature to have.


Matt & Nat – Dean Backpack

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Buy the Dean backpack

If you’re looking for a leather alternative backpack, then I really like this one by Matt & Nat. Out of all the faux leather backpacks I’ve seen, this is definitely the best.

I really like the unique but not overbearing design and the hardware is surprisingly nice and smooth. It has a big top-loading storage area, with a laptop compartment and an extra pocket as well. It also has this outter pocket for some of your smaller items which is nice to have.

The only downside is that the woven straps feel a little cheap and I don’t know how durable this bag is in the longrun, but for a relatively cheap bag, this is perfectly acceptable.

I have it here in black, but I also like their brown color, which they call chili. So if you’re looking for a leather alternative backpack, this is the best I’ve seen – by far.


Honorable Mentions

Valextra V Line Backpack

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Buy the Valextra V Line backpack

I liked it a lot, just like their wallets, but unfortunately it’s structure is too stiff and it looks like other designer bags that I just think look odd. It’s like wearing a box on your back, as opposed to something that’ll mold a little better to your body and it’s contents. It also just has one big compartment, with a pocket for a laptop and nothing else, which is a little annoying because then all your stuff will be banging around in it, or you’ll need some sort of organizer to then put into the backpack.

COTE & CIEL RHINE COATED CANVAS AND LEATHER

cote&ciel - RHINE COATED CANVAS AND LEATHER backpack Ashley Weston

Buy the Cote & Ciel Rhine backpack

It’s just a little too tactical looking for my taste. The front also looks like a little bit of a sad emoji. But for utility purposes, this bag is great! But it won’t fit a whole lot of stuff inside.

AER Fit Pack

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Buy the Aer Fit Pack

Even though it’s not leather, I really love this backpack because it’s so utilitarian. This is the perfect gym backpack, though, and even has an extra compartment for your shoes, which comes in handy a lot.

Mulberry Multitasker

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Buy the Mulberry Multitasker backpack

Love their leather products, including their weekender bag, and this one can be used as a shoulder bag and top handle bag, but it’s a little bit small in dimensions and just has a big pocket to put everything in. Organization isn’t so great with this one and it’s slight on the smaller side. While my top choices are 17” or more in height, this one is 15” which is right on the edge of looking like a girl’s backpack.

So that’s it. Those are honestly the best backpacks I could find – anywhere in the world. I’ve been working on this story for ages and I was shocked to discover these were the only ones good enough to recommend. Everything else was a weird size, didn’t have good storage, had a big ass logo on it, crazy contrasting stitching or just something was off about it. If you make leather backpacks and want to prove me wrong, then please contact me and prove me wrong!

Leather Wallets

Like I said in the series Intro Video, the things a man carries on his person projects and influences his life and personality in ways he may not notice. And this is no more true than with the little piece of leather or fabric that he carries every single day – his wallet.

I’ve seen it all when it comes to how men carry their cards and cash. I’ve had clients with no wallets who just carry a bunch of loose or rubber-banded cards and cash in their pockets, while others carry these massive monstrosities that I wince at just thinking about how uncomfortable it must be to sit on something like that all day.

As I mentioned in my 10 Most Overlooked Style mistakes ebook, full pockets ruin perfectly good outfits. I see it all the time. The sad part, is a lot of wallet manufacturers continue to sell these massive and bulky things they call wallets. I often wonder what man would see these and think this is something they should carry everyday for the next decade.

I’m going show you the different wallets I recommend to my clients.

There’s a few things that every gentleman’s wallet should be:

  • Clean & classically designed
  • As thin or small as possible
  • Understated in color and material

So let’s get into the different types of wallets that are best for you and determine what to have and why.

Bi-fold or Bill Fold wallets

These are the ones you probably envision when thinking about wallets. These typically go in the back pocket, but some men carry them in their front pockets. I don’t advise this, though, because it’ll leave a very noticeable buldge and, depending on the pants, a very odd square fading on the leg.

Valextra – Simple Grip Spring

Valextra Simple Grip Spring Wallet Ashley Weston

Valextra Simple Grip Spring Wallet Open Ashley Weston

Buy the Valextra Simple Grip Spring Wallet

The only word that comes to mind when I hold this wallet is luxury. The textured leather and construction feels, pardon my french, so [email protected]#$ing good. I really love the classic design.

This wallet is the thinnest of all the billfolds I’ve seen, which is important because if a wallet is thick while it’s empty, imagine what happens when you start filling it?

The thinness is made possible by nixing the bill slot and using a spring-loaded money clip in the middle. There’s other wallets similar to this by other designers, but they were either not great quality, had a logo all over them, or just had an odd pattern or design.

If you want something almost as thin as a card wallet, but with the ability to hold cash, this wallet is the best I’ve ever seen. That’s on top of it’s impeccable attention to detail, like the hand lacquered piping along the edges that’ll keep this wallet looking new for a long time. If you can’t tell, I love this wallet.

In the video, I have a special edition Petroleum blue, but I also love their dark blue, black and gray colors, as well.

Buy the Valextra Simple Grip Spring Wallet

Bellroy – Low Down

Bellroy Low Down Wallet Ashley Weston

Buy the Bellroy Low Down Wallet

If the Valextra wallet isn’t your speed then definitely go for the Low Down.

I’ve recommended this wallet to a few friends and clients and they’ve held up amazingly well, even after a year of daily use.

The tapered corners and shorter height help make it feel less chunky and big. And the leather is sturdy yet supple without a hint of shiny or glossy-ness which plagues a lot of wallets.

There’s one thing that bothers me a little and it’s the contrast stitching. I wish it was the same color as the rest of the wallet, but it’s an admittedly small quibble since it’s close enough in color that most people would never notice.

The black and charcoal are the colors you should go for. I normally like brown, as well, but their brown and blue colors were too loud.

Buy the Bellroy Low Down Wallet

Octovo – The Purist

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The Purist is constructed of thin, high-quality leather and features a simple but efficient design.

I love the angled slots, which diminish bulkiness and make it easier to access the cards. Even when full, this wallet is still quite slim.

I’m not the biggest fan of the two-toned leather lining, but it’s not enough to sway my recommendation.

My only concern with this wallet is the outter leather. Shiny leathers, like this, tend to show every little mark or stain on them. If you’re a little rougher on your wallets, I’d probably go with the Bellroy.

I’d recommend getting their black and chestnut colors.

Folded Card Cases

I didn’t include these in the video because they’re a little more niche than a bi-fold wallet or regular card case since they fold like a wallet, but can’t hold much cash. I still like them a lot and some clients prefer them over the non-folding card cases, so I thought best to include them.

Louis Vuitton – Pocket Organizer

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Buy the Louis Vuitton Pocket Organizer

With smooth, coated edges and the different interior pockets, my clients really love this wallet. I’ve even given them as gifts a few times. I think the design, pocket placement and textured leather really stands out and feels great in the hand. Just a warning, it’s a little thicker than the other card cases, so if you’re looking for super small and thin, you won’t get it with this one. It feels more like a wallet than a card case.

Buy the Louis Vuitton Pocket Organizer

Valextra – Folded Card Case

Valextra Folded Card Case Ashley Weston

Valextra Card Case

Buy the Valextra Folded Card Case

Just like with their bi-fold wallet and regular card case (below), the leather is awesome and the design so classic and thin that it’s hard not to love it. I especially like how they keep the logo very small and out of the way, unlike some other brands…

Buy the Valextra Folded Card Case

Coach – Card Wallet

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Buy the Coach Card Wallet

If the other options are a little pricey, you will love this one. I love the textured leather and the construction is quite good. A lot of times, Coach misses the mark, but they nailed it with this card wallet.

Buy the Coach Card Wallet

Card Cases

These are for the guys who want the slimmest wallet-ish thing possible and don’t have the need to carry much cash. Or, as I’ll touch upon later, as a secondary, going-out wallet.

Valextra – Card Case

Valextra Card Case Ashley Weston

Buy the Valextra Card Case

Just like their bi-fold wallet. This card case is super luxurious, thin and well-constructed. There’s not much else to say, I actually like this one because it has 6 slots, so you won’t have to stack a lot of cards in it. Most other card cases have 3 or 4 slots so you’ll have to dig through your cards to find the right one.

Buy the Valextra Card Case

Bellroy – Micro Sleeve

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Buy the Bellroy Micro Sleeve

If the Valextra isn’t your thing, this is a great alternative. Just like their bi-fold wallet, it’s a super durable, thin and features a unique and logical design.

The card slots with different orientations, make it’ easier to pull out your cards and squeeze the sides to expose the center pocket’s contents. I also love the curved edges since it’s easier to slip in and out of your pocket and not catch or snag on anything.

Just like with their Low Down wallet, though, I wish the stitching wasn’t so contrasting. I only like the black or blue steel colors because the other options are either two-toned or really loud.

Buy the Bellroy Micro Sleeve

Octovo – The Slice

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Soft, supple leather and classy as hell. Unlike with their bi-fold wallet, I actually like the two-tone top pocket because it’s just a little nice surprise and doesn’t scream at you.

Black is the best color for this wallet, and just like with their bi-fold wallet, I question the durability of the leather if you’re rougher on your wallets, but I really, really like the clean and simple design.

Phone Wallet

If you’re looking for a wallet that holds you cards, cash and phone, these are for you. Let me warn you, though, they’re the opposite of slim wallets. If you wear suits, carry a bag often, or don’t mind carrying your wallet in your hand, these are right up your alley.

I’ve had clients explain to me the joy of carrying their phone in their wallets – where it takes a little more effort and time to get to their phones. They say it makes their actions more deliberate and less reactive and schizophrenic. It’s almost like an excuse to take their time. One client explained the opening/unzipping his phone wallet like a sort of ritual. Like rolling up your shirt sleeves or doing something methodically.

I looked long and hard for good ones and even though there’s a lot out there, I found most of them to be lacking in one major area or another.

Bellroy – Phone Pocket

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Buy the Bellroy Phone Wallet

Like Bellroy’s bi-fold wallet and card case (above), the phone pocket is made from the same leather that is very scratch and blemish resistant with a buttery smooth zipper and an equally logical and well-thought out design. My clients who use this wallet really love it.

I love the pocket layout, where the phone fits in the main compartment and your cards fit in a bit of a floating divider, making everything easily accessible. It also has slots for extra SIM cards, small pens and a place to put your house key. They literally thought of everything.

They make two sizes – for larger and smaller phones. I only like the black, though, as the other colors have odd-colored zippers and pull tabs, and/or the color is just too loud and not befitting a proper gentleman.

Buy the Bellroy Phone Wallet

This is Ground – Stash, Phone Wallet

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Buy ‘The Stash’ Phone Wallet

After scouring the web for months trying to find other great phone wallets, I was so happy to find This Is Ground. Turns out that they’re located less than 5 miles away from my office! I got to visit them and they showed me all their goods and I was very impressed.

If you don’t like the Bellroy Phone Pocket, then go for this one. It cuts out all the extra frills and gives you just the essentials. Which is not a bad thing at all. Some clients noted how they preferred how this one opens flat over the taco-style opening of the Bellroy.

The leather is so supple and nice to hold that it really sets itself apart. It’s not as scratch/blemish resistant as the Bellroy, but this wallet will age and mature with you and have a much nicer patina.

The only downside is that the zipper tends to stick a little for the first week or two. My clients were definitely spoiled after using the Bellroy, but they all said it smoothed out after “working it in”, so it’s a minor quibble.

I love the Smoke (black) and Cognac colors the most. The Cognac looks amazing in person. The Stash comes in small and large phone sizes, as well.

Buy ‘The Stash’ Phone Wallet

 

So which wallet(s) should you own?

For my clients, I normally recommend they get a bi-fold or phone wallet and then a card case for when they don’t need to carry as much – like when they’re going out for the night or to a premiere or after-party, where seeing pocket bulges is a big no-no.

For a guy that likes his phone and wallet separate and needs to carry a decent amount of cards/cash with him, I’d say get a bi-fold and get a card case for when you’re going out for the night or just don’t need to carry all your stuff with you.

If you want to carry as little with you as possible and hate added bulk, get a card case. But don’t delude yourself and cram 15 cards into a card case and still think it’ll be slim. If that’s the case, you should just get a bi-fold, as it’ll do a better job of distributing that bulk in your pocket.

If you’re a guy who likes to carry everything all together, or doesn’t want to sit on a chunk of leather and cards, then the phone wallets are for you.

I think a man should have a regular, everyday wallet that can be placed into a breast pocket in your blazer or suit jacket and some form of a slim wallet that can slide into a front or back pants pocket when you don’t need everything – like when you’re going out for the evening, etc.

Just like with keys, you don’t need to and shouldn’t have to carry everything with you at all times. Most men/my clients love to say “But what if I need something in the wallet?”

The argument quickly crumbles when I ask them:
“So you’re going out for drinks with your friends, and need your gym, library, membership cards in case you need to go work out while reading a book at 2am?”

Most men know what kind of night they’re going to have, so don’t pull that BS of needing your tactical wallet with you at all times.