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Review In Progress: Rickshaw Bagworks Custom Small Zero Messenger

Custom Zero Small Messenger


Anyone who knows me knows that I have yet to meet a bag I didn’t like. I collect bags like some people collect stamps: each one has a special purpose or an intriguing story and I can part with none of them (almost).

My newest bag, the Zero Small Messenger, custom made in San Francisco by Rickshaw Bagworks, is no exception. In fact, it is already, after one whole day of ownership, at the top of the all-time favorites list.  Here is why:

First, and for a lot of reasons (mainly hip and shoulder ones), messenger bags are my preferred bag type. I prefer to wear them very high on my back. There are many messenger bags on the market, and I already own several Timbuk2 versions. While Timbuk2 bags, in my experience, are super durable and incredibly functional, I don’t need all of the features that come standard on their bags: TPU liner, extra long clips, the baffling array of interior slip pockets, not to mention the deafeningly noisy hook and loop closures. When the redesigned Classic Messenger came out, I bought one in a hurry, hopeful that the changes would all work in my favor. This turned out to be partially true: the 2014 version of the Timbuk2 Classic Messenger has simplified organization, smaller clips and lighter fabric exterior. At the same time, it also has a new strap clip that for the life of me I cannot operate properly (as well as a non-removable strap pad that, along with the clip, prevents me from being able to wear the bag on either shoulder). Timbuk2’s customer service was terrific: they even replaced my first bag thinking that the clip was defective. Despite the fact that the replacement bag continued to un-clip itself and fall to my hip whenever it pleased, I remained hopeful, and decided that I needed the bigger version for better weight distribution, and ordered the next size up. Long story short: it didn’t work either. I still cannot keep this clip secure or wear it on both shoulders.

Chronic shoulder issues forced me to consign these bags to storage (that whole issue of not being able to switch shoulders with the new style bag), and I have been using my favorite camera bag, the Lowepro Passport Sling, as my daily bag. This would be fine, except most days it is a little larger than necessary, and I don’t like to carry extra weight when possible.

I do, however, carry my dslr and an extra lens with me daily, and messenger bags have always been great for this purpose. So I began researching other messenger bag options. Such is the brand dominance of Timbuk2 that I didn’t actually know that there were other options! I have no recollection of where or how I first heard about Rickshaw Bagworks. It must have been a Google banner ad. At any rate, following weeks of careful scrutiny of product images and customer reviews, I decided to take a chance on a Zero Small Messenger. I would have ordered one months ago, but hesitated because I couldn’t decide between small and medium, and could not find enough photos online to make a good comparison.

Eventually I settled on the small, and now that I have it, think it was the right choice. After all, I have other, larger bags for travel and serious camera gear carrying. I was primarily looking for a small-ish bag for daily use that would still be spacious enough for the dslr and extra lens as well as typical purse items.

Straight out of the box, I admired this bag’s quality. Nice stitching, tight seams, beautifully turned corners and folds on the bottom of the bag. The colors I chose looked much as I had imagined they would when choosing them via the website customizer. The add-ons were worth paying extra for: I love the removable strap pad. It has lots of cushioning and a very shoulder friendly shape that stays put. Also, the removable accessory pouch is well designed and has just the right number of pockets.  I  had clips added to my bag, and they are easy to clasp and unclasp. I have made them even less obtrusive by adding strips of hook and loop tape of my own in order to fix them to the bag when not in use.

I was thrilled to find that my camera (Canon 60D, hood reversed) and 35mm prime lens + hood fit easily inside my new bag. I should say, though, that I am a minimalist when it comes to padding for camera gear: I put a neoprene zoom lens sleeve at the bottom of the bag, and my Pocket Rocket next to it, and consider this protection enough for me. As I am very careful with my belongings, and plan to use this bag for daily outings and walking around, I am not worried about anything happening to my camera. Obviously, I would not send this bag packed thus through airport security, or throw it in the car trunk or on a bus rack.  My main priorities are ease of access and  reduced carry weight, and the Zero Messenger offers both of these.

I also love the two front pockets! Just the right size, and deep enough that there is no risk of anything wiggling out. I keep my phone in one, and my wallet ( a Coach Universal Tech Case from a few years ago, actually) in the other. The accessory pocket hold a lip balm, lipstick, a pen and notepad. There is still room for keys and a few other odds and ends. I think that I could also fit a small cardigan in the bag’s interior, either below or on top of my camera, if I tried. I would probably have to use the clips in that case.

The very best thing about this bag is the fabric. I chose the Performance Tweed, and have no regrets. Not only is it a beautiful pattern, but the fabric has a wonderful suppleness. It lays next to me like a soft garment, and makes no noise whatsoever. I love how soft it is. I doubly love the fact that I skipped the waterproof lining, because this makes the bag lighter as well as softer and more comfortable to carry.

If I had to find any fault with my new bag, it would only be that I wish it were just a smidge larger. But as it can comfortably hold everything I hoped it would, this is just a quibble.