To be honest, I really haven’t carried a backpack since college. My last “backpack” was a cross body military style sling bag I used a few years ago.
For the last few years my everyday bag has been a messenger bag. About two years ago I decided that I wanted a backpack for my trip to Spain. I wanted something that would leave my hands free to hold a camera.
As useful as my military style cross body sling bag was it was too utilitarian. I wanted something more stylish. After some research I came across Carl Friedrik.
A Quick History
Carl Friedrik was founded in 2012 by Swedish brothers Niklas and Mattis Opperman. Frustrated with the lack of well-designed, quality leather products, they decided to make their own.
With Mattis’ background in industrial design, their designs follows a Bauhaus, less is more, form follows function design. You won’t find hundreds of unnecessary pockets, only the essential features that add value.
The Bowen Backpack: Updated Design
Founders note: After over a year, the Carl Friedrik team compiled feedback from their customers and ultimately set out to release a completely redesigned Bowen Backpack, providing more comfort, utility and style without sacrificing its original minimalist design.
Keep in mind that the backpack featured in this review is of the original Bowen. Visually, they’re different, but inherently have the same DNA as you will see below.
Related: You might like Campaign Briefpack by Stuart & Lau.
Style & Design
The Bowen, all-leather backpack features two main compartments, a wide zipper to access the main compartment and a separate laptop compartment. The front features a vertical pocket for frequently accessed items.
Inside you’ll find a deep zippered pocket, two fabric pockets and two pen holders. It also has very comfortable and adjustable leather straps. The back part of the backpack is padded and includes an integrated leather strap to slip over the handle of your rolling suitcase for easy traveling.
The backpack is available in three different colored leathers; cognac, black and chocolate, with a red, grey or orange lining. I chose the cognac with red lining to match their Swanfield wallet which I purchased earlier.
The backpack is beautifully designed with a sleek, minimalist look. Nothing fancy, yet “fancy” enough to stand out. It easily holds a 15” laptop in its separate padded laptop pocket.
The main compartment is roomy enough for a large water bottle, books, etc. The large front pocket is perfect for carrying items like earbuds, charger or any other small item.
Quality & Construction
The backpack is constructed in a specialist leather goods factory in Porto, Portugal out of Italian Vachetta leather. Vachetta leather is a premium cowhide leather that has a buttery soft appearance that can feel very good against the skin.
This type of leather is often seen on high-end handbags. It also features heavy duty Raccagni zippers. Every tooth in the zipper has been individually brushed and polished.
The updated design features a main compartment that is accessible via a wide zipper and includes a built-in padded section for safely storing a laptop.
The shoulder straps incorporate refined leather detailing and padded mesh to maximise comfort. The leather front features a vertical zip pocket for frequently used items. Inside, the backpack contains a zip pocket, two fabric pockets and two penholders.
- Leather: Vegetable-tanned Vachetta leather by Artigiano del Cuoio. Tuscany, Italy
- Lining: 220gsm technical nylon canvas. Milan, Italy
- Hardware: Custom made, matte gun-metal-finished hardware. Portugal
- Zipper: Symmetrical, individually polished, silver-nickel-finished zippers from Raccagni. Bergamo, Italy
- Width: 12.5″ (32 cm)
- Height: 15.3″ (39 cm)
- Depth: 5.9″ (15 cm)
- Weight: 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg)
What I Like
This has been my everyday bag for the last five months. The beautiful leather and minimalist design goes well with everything from a t-shirt and jeans to a blazer and khakis.
The laptop compartment holds my 15” laptop perfectly and the padding inside offers really good protection. The two inner fabric pockets are great for carrying my wallet and a pair of sunglasses.
Initially the leather was rather stiff, but in a short time it has gotten much softer and has broken in beautifully. A day doesn’t go by without someone complimenting me on my bag.
What I Don’t Like
I’ll be honest there’s very little about this bag that I don’t like. The one main thing that I would change is the placement of the front vertical pocket.
The pocket opens from the left side of the bag and as someone who is right-handed it makes it a bit difficult to get into it when I swing the bag off my right shoulder. Being that most people are right-handed I’m surprised about the placement of the pocket opening.
I think a horizontal center pocket opening would work for either left or right handed users. The other minor things would be a few more pockets in the main compartment.
The one large pocket it has inside is deep and you basically end up having to dig through it to find something. I think multiple, shallower pockets or slots would have been better. Finally, a key holder. A key holder is a must.
Pre-order the updated Bowen and get 10% off. Ships October 15.
In the end, if you’re looking for a minimalist bag with style and functionality, you can’t go wrong with the Bowen All-Leather Backpack.
Have you tried out Carl Friedrik?
Let’s continue the discussion over in the Gentlemen Within Private Facebook Community.
Looking forward to seeing you in there.
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