What Is a Utility Bag?
A utility bag is the descendent of the postman’s satchel, the linesman’s shoulder bag, and the carpenter’s toolbox.
You can think of it as a severely over-engineered briefcase. The central pouch is wider and deeper, more like a hard-sided tool bucket than a messenger bag or briefcase, and the handles are longer but still loop-style rather than shoulder strap.
Classifying a utility bag – as opposed to other, related types of luggage – mostly comes down to the durability and functionality of the bag, and a few key characteristics:
- Rugged exterior made of stiff but flexible material
- Long half-loop handles (usually leather)
- Large central pocket – deep and wide, to accommodate tools
- Multiple exterior pockets with flaps/buckles
- Tough, hard bottom that sits flat
You can find utility bags at hardware stores as well as luggage stores, though they’ll be utilitarian and not particularly stylish. For a slightly more upscale look you can find canvas or leather models that don’t have the big labels or brightly-colored nylon typical of tool companies.
In either case, the utility bag is defined by its construction as much as its size: tough, durable, and top-opening; the kind of bag you can carry like a lunch pail and reach into like a toolbox.
What’s It For?
If you don’t work on a construction site, the point of a utility bag may not be immediately obvious. Why bother, after all, with something that looks like a bulkier, less businesslike briefcase and doesn’t have the shoulder strap of a messenger bag?
The easy answer is performance. You can beat the heck out of a good utility bag in a way that you wouldn't want to throw around a briefcase, and you can carry much heavier and bulkier loads than you could in a messenger bag. That makes it a great go-to when you have more to carry than just a laptop and a couple stacks of paper.
As far as style goes, a nice leather or canvas utility bag can be everything from your day-trip bag to an impromptu picnic bag. Have one around for when you need a convenient carrying case and don't want to think too hard about it.
What to Look for in a High-Quality Utility Bag‘
The Schiphol Utility Bag from the Blue Claw Co. luggage store is an example of everything you want from a utility bag. It's also one of the only ones out there that's designed with both style and function in mind — most tend to be functional but not very stylish, with bright colors and fake-looking nylon webbing.
The Schiphol is on the rectangular side, which lets it pass for a rugged-looking briefcase, but still packs plenty of cargo room at 17″ x 13.5″ x 6″. You can carry a laptop, a weekend's worth of travel clothes, or a good-sized toolkit in there equally easily.
Other key features for a utility bag that the Schiphol from Blue Claw Co. has include:
- Tough exterior — waxed 15oz. canvas, in this case, flexible but rip-proof
- One large, flexible interior pocket
- Two exterior gusset pockets for small items
- Oversized zipper (YKK on the Schiphol)
- Leather handles/straps — comfortable to carry, durable, and stylish
- Brass buckles/rivets
- Double-stitching where the leather meets the canvas
- Leather bottom (waterproof and rip-proof, even with a heavy load)
Not every utility bag is going to be quite as fashionable, and they don't have to be — but it's nice to have one that you can take on a date or a casual business event as well as to a construction site or farm. It saves you getting two separate bags for two separate purposes, and as long as you're not doing a full suit-and-tie presentation a Blue Claw Co. utility bag should be dressy enough for most wardrobes.
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