Friday, 12 April 2013

Review: TRAKKE BAIRN messenger bag

I recently purchased the Trakke Bairn messenger bag (referenced at the bottom of my 2 February 2013 post).

Trakke is a small company in Glasgow that hand-makes messenger bags and backpacks aimed at cyclists primarily but also walkers/hikers/outdoor adventurers!  The man at the helm is Alec Farmer and the man at the (sewing machine) wheel is a former sail maker. Their philosophy and aesthetics focus on producing bags that are robust and functional, with a nod to local heritage -- most conspicuously displayed in the use of Harris Tweed. (I love the blog entry written by one of the weavers!)

So after a few weeks, here are my thoughts and impressions on the Bairn messenger bag.

Appearance / Construction:

The fabrics are gorgeous: top quality waxed cotton (a heathery purple in colour) and certified Harris Tweed in a black and white houndstooth pattern. The two fabrics complement each other beautifully.  From the website photos, I expected the bag to be constructed mostly of the waxed cotton, with the Harris Tweed used as inserts or decorations e.g. just the outer flap. Instead, it is mainly Harris Tweed, with the canvas used as trim. Even the inverted pleats (which won't be seen much) for the front pockets are constructed of the tweed rather than the canvas.

The Harris Tweed label is very prominent, centered on the front of the outer flap.  I suspect all the bags in Trakke's range that feature Harris Tweed use the same labels, i.e. regardless of size. For the sake of proportion, I could wish that the label was smaller or, alternatively (if it has to be this size), placed on the back of bag.


There are two gussetted pockets on the front of the main body of the bag, which are covered by the outer flap when the bag is closed. The pockets are of waxed cotton but, as noted above, the gussets are tweed.

The interior is lined with black canvas and there is a zipped pocket on the inside of the bag, at the back.

All of the buckles used on the bag are made of highly-polished stainless steel, which has a nice weight and feel. These are in a "buckle and slide" design: one end inserts into a slot in the other end, and then rotates to settle in one place. They remind me of car seat buckles somehow, even though the way they work is nothing like that! (This sequence of photos shows me unbuckling them to open the bag.)

The Bairn does not come with a stability strap as standard. As Trakke makes its bags mostly according to demand, I contacted Alec by e-mail before purchasing and asked if it would be possible to have a stability strap added to my bag. He said of course it was and we negotiated a surcharge for the extra material and labour. I am impressed with how this was done (Take Note, Timbuk2!). There are two buckles inserted into the bottom seam on the back of the bag, so that you can choose whether to attach the stability strap to go under your left arm or under your right, depending on whether you are using the main strap over your right shoulder or left, respectively. This is a thoughtful feature.

However, examining this when I unpacked the bag quickly revealed a major problem: my bag came with the main strap fixed for use over the right shoulder which (a) is not the default for off-the-peg messenger bags, (b) isn't what I'd have expected (if I'd thought about it before ordering - which, to be fair, I didn't), and (c) wasn't a special request on my part. I am right-handed and wear messenger bags over my left shoulder so that I can access the bag with my right hand as needed.

Playing around with the set-up highlighted the fact that, attached as it is, the portion of the main strap that goes over my left shoulder is the double-thickness part, since the strap has to feed through a ring on the end of the bag and then double back to insert into a slide buckle which adjusts the overall length. No matter what length I adjust the strap to, I have more weight and bulk over my shoulder than would be the case if the strap had been attached correctly and the slide buckle itself hits me either over the collarbone or shoulder blade.

This situation may not be a deal breaker but it's annoying and, frankly, should not have arisen had the strap been fitted the usual way.  On inspection, I think detaching the strap, swapping it round and re-affixing it is straightforward. I haven't done any sewing in over 25 years but if I had a sewing machine robust enough for this kind of work (upholstery gauge needles, the right thread, etc), I'd have a go at it myself. I may ask a local repair shop to do it. On the other hand, I strongly feel that Trakke should sort this out at no charge and will be contacting them about it.

Useability / Comfort: 

The strap mis-affixment [yes, I've coined that word] aside, the bag sits well on my back, whether full or empty or in-between. It is not as flexible as my Michaux Club Commuter nor as rigid as my Timbuk2 Custom Messenger. Goldilocks would say it's just right.

The size is smaller than the Timbuk2 Classic Messenger XS (reviewed here) in terms of width and height (28 x 20cm versus 32.5 x 22.6cm) but is significantly slimmer in depth (8cm versus 13cm). Capacity is 5 litres (versus the Timbuk2's 8 litres).  I can fit most of my everyday items in it but will no doubt put a little more thought into what I really need to carry on a given day than I need to with the Timbuk2. This is not a bad thing!

With regard to the two gusseted pockets on the front, I thought at first these might be just a wee bit too small for what I need but in fact I've had no problem fitting my clunky set of keys, mobile phone, tissues, lip balm and card/ticket case in them. These are my most essential items to have readily to hand, so this works for me.

The black interior lining is not ideal for seeing the contents, but most of my need-in-a-hurry items, which also tend to be the smallest things I carry, fit into the outside pockets, so the dark main interior is not a huge problem.

Based on my experience with the Michaux Club and Timbuk2 bags I own, what is glaringly obvious about the Bairn is what's missing:
  • no pocket on the outside that is easily accessible on the move
  • no place to fit a small bike light
  • (not a deal breaker, but...) I'm missing the organiser pockets of the Timbuk2!

I have noticed that the straps, both the main strap and the stability strap when in use, tend to ride quite high on my chest - almost under my throat!  (See photo above.) It hasn't been uncomfortable (yet!) but I do find myself tugging it, wishing it rode a little lower.

Finally, a word or two about the buckles. In practice, they work quite well. The one niggle is that the stainless steel buckles... well... clang when they touch. The only time you can guarantee they can't touch is when they are firmly fastened together.  The situation where the problem is most obvious and annoying is when I let the outer flap fall down over the front of the bag -- where it does stay put quite well -- without closing the buckles, which then dangle and clink against each other. So while the buckles are very classy (both modern and elegant) and completely functional, they're perhaps not 100% practical.

My use of the Bairn to date suggests that it may be best suited to being out all day on foot, not on a bike. This is not because its design precludes cycling per se; it's just that, with just a little bit more attention to detail, the bag could be very well suited to cycling... but it's not.  I've used it on one 25 mile cycle ride -- it was fine so long as I didn't need to get into it frequently.  Off the bike, it is a beautifully made crossbody bag that I prefer to hang just above my hip (rather than strapped higher up onto my back as when cycling).  This is somewhat disappointing as Trakke market themselves as being in tune with the needs of cyclists (in particular, road tested by cycle couriers), with their workshop next to (and sharing some space with, I believe) a bike shop. So I find it strange that the Bairn is missing some of the fundamental bike-friendly features that I think it's only reasonable to expect. Perhaps Trakke view this bag as more of a fashion item in their range, a bag that's not expected to fulfill all the functions of a cycling bag... perhaps a woman's everyday bag instead, akin to a handbag? If that's the case, they are seriously missing a trick and needlessly partitioning their target market.


I love this bag. I want to love it even more. If I can get the main shoulder strap swapped round to what it should be, the infatuation could develop into something serious. However, for the perfect relationship between bag and cyclist, the bag really ought to have an outside-access pocket and a strap to mount a blinky.

I'll post an update soon with more detail on the bag's practicality once I've worn it more on the bike, hopefully with some photos. For now, though, I find myself grabbing this bag when I'm off to a gig but reaching for the Michaux Club or Timbuk2 when I'm off out the door for a ride.


Cycling-specific design features:  6 / 10
   [Promising but not quite delivering. No pocket that can be accessed on the go. No blinky strap.]
Usefulness e.g. accessibility and comfort: 7 / 10 
   [Reservations as noted above. Possible QA issue with shoulder strap fixed wrong way round. Otherwise, the bag is practical, comfortable and beautifully made.]
Durability:  10 / 10
   [With this hefty waxed cotton and Harris Tweed construction, I predict it'll last as long as you do.] 
Attractiveness:  10 / 10 
   [Should appeal to both the fashionista and the traditionalist.]
Value for money: 10 / 10 
   [The bag as standard costs £125. For a hand-made bag of this quality, that is tremendous value. I paid an additional £30 for the stability strap.]

Overall:  43 / 50

But only just.  The durability and quality scores manage to edge out the design/accessibility issues.

ETA: I've just run across another blogger writing about the Bairn. Her photos are just sooooo gorgeous, here's a shout out to Natalie Fergie at


UPDATE 8 May 2013:  TRAKKE have fixed the shoulder strap! See full details here. 


  1. I'm left handed. I wear my messenger bag, a crumpler, over my left shoulder...

    1. Greg, you are a superior being!

      I'm very dominant right-handed. I can't even conceive of twisting to the left to get something out of a bag.

      Do you ever wear a messenger on a long ride, or just commuting? I am toying with taking one on next week's York-Hull FNRttC... I may regret that!

  2. A very interesting review.
    When I was thinking about getting a Bairn, the thing which was really important for me was that it's an all-British product and not one mass produced by piecework in a big factory with one person doing all the straps and a second doing the gussets, but with some quality of process, if you know what I mean.

    I agree to some extent about the lack of an exterior pocket, I have been using mine for the last couple of days and yes, having to go into the main bag every time is a bit of a pain. But, and it's a BIG BUT, having been pickpocketed in France when someone "dipped" my zipped up bag, I lost money, cards, valuables (but thankfully not my passport) there is a real downside to accessibility.

    I am wondering about fixing some sort of exterior pocket onto the strap, not for valuables - for the pickpockety reason - and to be honest if my phone goes off and I don't get to it in time well I am not actually that important so it can be dealt with later, but for keys, lipsalve etc.
    The strap webbing is quite firm, and I think it would "carry" an optional external pocket quite well.

    1. Hi Natalie

      I am totally with you on the all-British angle, more because I seek to buy locally and to support traditional crafts than out of any nationalism. Not that I thought that's what you were saying. I love knowing one person made my bag (I think it was James, not sure).

      Good point about the pickpocket risk. What I'm envisaging however is a kind of stealth pocket. The so-called "Napolean" pocket on Timbuk2 bags is pretty good - you'd really have to know it was there, to know it was there, if you see what I mean. And my other messenger (which is East London born and bred) has a pocket underneath the outer flap - again, you'd have to know. And I think both/either would be tricky to get into without jostling the wearer. But maybe I'm under-estimating the skills of pickpockets...

      Loved your post on your Bairn. Quite jealous that you've been to Trakke in person!

    2. P.S. Would love to hear how you get on with implementing an on-strap pocket on some sort! I love seeing people develop solutions. :)

    3. Possibilities -

      (works as a concept but not in reality because the strap needs to feed through the back and the trakke strap is stitched down.


      Which seems the best so far because it attaches vertically on the strap and would be noisy (big fat velcro) for a thief to remove.


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