I'll start my review off with the first thing that comes to mind: this bag is awesome. The first thing that meets the eye when extracting it from the packaging is Hard Graft's careful attention to detail. For one thing, the bag is wrapped in a grey linen bag that bears the Hard Graft logo. This careful attention to detail is apparent in every area of the Flat Pack, and lends to the owner finding themselves dazing out and tracing stitched seams and leather with explorative fingers.
The bag slides out of the packaging easily, and feels very sturdy in hand. I expected something a little floppier, so I am pleasantly surprised by a little bit of heft. The strap comes separated, and requires one side to be fed through the buckle to create the length desired. I had a tough time deciding where on my back I'd like the bag to hang, but with the help of a mirror, adjusted it to lay right above the small of my back. I'll be using this bag to commute by bicycle and scooter, and would like to keep it secure from flapping around.
I can't say enough about the quality of the Flat Pack. The Italian Leather lends not only to the style of the bag, but also adds a certain ruggedness. Once I resign myself to let the leather get some scuffs, I look forward to the patina that will develop from use in the coming years.
Hard Graft's products are exquisitely styled. They walk the line between vintage and euro-modern style. The end result is different from everything else I've seen in this space. Their trademark X appears on the front of the bag, duly functioning an impact dampener for your iPad or Macbook Air inside, and increasing the rigidity of the bag, keeping it from being too floppy.
After finding the ideal strap length for my body, I loaded the Flat Pack up with my iPad and a magazine, two items I routinely bring to work. One side of the pocket accordions out for easy placement and access to items inside, but also allows the bag to be stuffed with much more cargo than I originally thought possible. I managed to fit an 11 inch MacBook Air, iPad, a thick magazine, along with everything I had in my pockets at the time, without any bulging or feeling that the straps were overloaded. At less than an inch thick, I'm not sure if the Flat Pack's cargo carrying ability is a testament to Hard Graft or Apple's product designers. I'll call it a tie.
The Flat Pack is meant to be worn over one shoulder and be angled across the wearer's back. An issue that I noticed with the bag's design is that the straps are attached at horizontal mounting points on the bag. This causes the lower strap to flex at about a 45 degree angle. While not a huge issue, I wonder that with a fully loaded bag, the strap mount can be placed under higher stress than intended. Perhaps mounting one of the straps to the bag at an angle would fix this problem, although then Hard Graft would have to sell two versions of the bag, one designed to be worn over either the right or left shoulder, so I can see why they went with a neutral angle.
A feature of the bag that shows that it was made with bicycle commuters in mind is the suede lining on the reverse of the bag and strap. The textured leather helps keep the bag stable on your back, and prevents it from slipping around and hanging to the side like a lot of messenger bags do.*
With bag slung over my shoulder, I hopped on my Vespa for my morning commute. Three factors make the Flat Pack an ideal small-load commuting bag.
1. The small size is able to hide in my body's wind shadow and avoid being blown around.
2. The bag sits higher on my back than most messenger bags I've used.
3. The suede backing keeps the bag from moving down the side of my body unlike more slippery materials like vinyl or regular leather.
An aspect of the Flat Pack that I don't like is the body-facing section immediately above the zipper. As the picture below shows, the seam where the suede meets leather is slightly folded in, resulting in a ridge that rubs against my skin and is a little bothersome. After a few days use, the ridge remains, but shows sign of flattening out. Whether it flattens out completely is a test for time, but I'm hopeful that it does.
I really like this bag. The styling is durable while still drool-inducing. I've been using recently it on my bicycle and scooter, and haven't thought twice about the safety of my items inside or, importantly, being accused of carrying a purse. I spent months pulling up Hard Graft's website and agonizing over the price (~$180 US Dollars at the time), and shipping cost (~$20) before making the purchase. I haven't regretted it a moment since.
*A new version of the Flat Pack uses Heritage leather on the entire body of the bag, and wool felt on the inner side of the strap, foregoing suede in both spots. While I can't comment for sure, I would imagine that using leather instead of suede on the portion of the bag that touches your body would allow the bag to slide around more easily, instead of sitting in one place.
Update - Sep 3, 2012
I recieved a few messages regarding the price of this bag. At the time of purchase, I bought it for £134 GBP, slightly over $200 US Dollars. It's been brought to my attention that this reflected the final clearance of the remaining stock before the Heritage leather version was launched. In any case, This bag is worth the price of admission, based on the bag's design and performance, I'd recommend it any any price.