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Your MacBook needs a brand-new bag

Review: WaterField's new Essentials Collection offers streamlined designs such as a messenger bag for your laptop, with more affordable prices than the brand's usual, while still offering high-quality materials and construction.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

WaterField Essential Messenger Laptop Bag

4 / 5
Very good

pros and cons

  • High-quality, rugged materials
  • Perfect build and construction
  • Lovely color options
  • Gold liner makes it easy to find contents
  • Handcrafted in San Francisco
  • Basic grab handle
  • Relatively expensive

Part of my work commute includes a few miles of bike riding, so I collect and transport my gear in a messenger bag or a backpack. For the past few weeks, I've been taking a minimalist approach, with my gear packed in the dark green WaterField Essential Messenger Laptop Bag.

WaterField launched its new Essentials Collection in August, with four new lightweight bags, handcrafted in the US and more affordably priced than its flagship options. The Essential Messenger Laptop Bag is available for $179 in four accent color options: black, green, blue, and red. You can also purchase a cross-stabilizing strap for $10, which was not a part of my testing sample. 

WaterField Essential Messenger Laptop Bag on pavement

The green accent color looks fantastic on this messenger bag.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Tour the Essential Messenger Laptop Bag

WaterField sent along the WaterField Essential Messenger Laptop Bag with the green top accent color. The accent color appears on the top of the bag and the lovely Forza textile material is very well sewn into the black ballistic nylon of the bag.

On the front of the bag is a zippered front pocket that extends across the full length of the bag. The bag's main inside compartment also has two large pockets, along with a key tether. That lovely traditional WaterField gold lining is present, too, so finding your gear is quick and easy.

WaterField Essential Messenger Bag with flap pocket open

Room for a phone and a laptop. 

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The front flap compartment is held securely on the bag via magnetic Fidlock buckles. We've seen some interesting securing buckles from WaterField over the years and the Fidlock is another unique design. The buckles are made of durable plastic and slide together securely with the help of very strong magnets. The buckles have a clever angled design that keeps the buckle from sliding open. As for the slide mechanism, there are stops on the upper component so they close just one way. In general, you can maneuver the buckle fairly easily with a single hand.

WaterField Essential Messenger Bag open buckle

Keep the front flap secure with strong magnets.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Lifting up the front flap reveals the main large carrying compartment with a gold liner in the main compartment and in the two interior pockets found at the front of the bag. Along the entire width of the back side is a padded laptop pocket that fits medium-sized devices like the 14-inch Apple MacBook Pro, Microsoft Surface Pro 8, and Surface Laptop 4. I happen to have a Surface Pro 8 and can confirm it fits in that space nicely. I also tested a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with the Brydge 12.9 Max Plus keyboard and found the size perfect for mobile work.

Also: WaterField Air Travel Backpack review: Perfect bag for hands-free business travel

The bottom of the main compartment opens up to about a 3-inch width so you can carry a water bottle, headset, charger, and other gear comfortably. The back of the bag is completely covered in padded fabric and should rest comfortably against your back as you sling it on. There is a single grab handle along the top of the back, but it's not ideal for carrying the bag over long periods of time. The shoulder strap is the way to go.

WaterField Essential Messenger Bag open with gear inside

A Surface Pro 8, Amazon Kindle Oasis, and Sony headset packed inside the bottom compartment.

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Lastly, there's a soft seatbelt webbing bike strap secured to loops on the back. A metal cam-lock buckle secures the two ends of the strap and supports quick and easy adjustments when the strap is across your chest.

Bottom line

WaterField Designs makes some of my favorite bags, designed and built to last for years (or decades), while maintaining good looks and form. The Essential Messenger bag is the company's most affordable and accessible bag yet. The best part is that it doesn't compromise on its US-made quality, materials, and design features. I personally love how the green highlight looks, and the distinguishing gold lining is both stylish and useful for sorting out the gear that's inside.

Alternatives to consider

While I highly recommend WaterField Designs bags since they are so well-built and last for years, here are some other options to consider:

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