If you're looking for a bag to use primarily for bike commuting, check out our Top Pick winner, the Chrome Buran, which is more comfortable, more adjustable, and much more waterproof.
Patagonia Half Mass Review
Cons: Not very water resistant, shoulder strap is difficult to adjust, too small if you have to carry a lot of bike stuff
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Patagonia Half Mass is a fantastic bag if laptop protection is your highest priority. This bag has a good set of features but fell behind others in this review primarily due to the lack of water resistance and difficulty in adjusting the shoulder strap. If these aren't important issues for you, you are likely to love this bag that comes in one 15 liter size that's great for taking to the office.
The Patagonia Half Mass is more comfortable than the Manhattan Portage NY bag, but substantially less comfortable than the Chrome Metropolis. The padding on the main strap utilizes breathable mesh padding. It's easy to slide around and is symmetrical for use over right or left shoulders. The stabilizing strap quickly unclips and switches for right or left orientation as well. Another benefit of this design is that the stabilizing strap can be configured more like a hip belt rather than T-strap. Some testers found this more comfortable and secure when riding bikes. The briefcase style handle is padded and super ergonomic.
Storage & Organization
If you need to sacrifice internal space for a bike lock, mechanical bike pump, and an extra tube, you might benefit from a bag that's a bit bigger. However, at fifteen liters in volume, this bag is a great size for quick around-town ventures. We didn't find many things to complain about with the layout of the pockets and organization. Many of our testers found this bag to be an excellent balance between Spartan simplicity and pockets in excess.
The Patagonia Half Mass has two external pockets that can be accessed without opening the flap. The zippered flap pocket is a great place to store small things that need to be retrieved quickly such as boarding passes, ID cards, or bus passes. Magazines, papers, and folders fit neatly in the open back pocket that is secured by a small piece of Velcro. The back of the bag is supported with rigid foam and keeps your documents wrinkle free. The straps for the front flap wrap under the bag and offer a great place to stash a bulky jacket or blueprint tube. A water bottle pocket on the side completes the external organization scheme.
Shaded by the main flap, two small daisy chains (composed of four loops each) live below a large zippered pocket (this pocket is a littler smaller than a novel-sized book). Inside of the front of the bag, a number of pockets provide storage options including three pen/pencil sleeves, one phone-sized pocket with a Velcro strap closure, a zipped pocket for big enough for keys and change, a large Velcro pocket for things like calculators, and several other open vertical pouches. On either end of the main compartment, there are two open pouches. See the laptop protection section below for a discussion of the dedicated laptop sleeve.
The design of the laptop sleeve is similar to the one found on the Osprey FlapJack Courier. The back of the sleeve is padded with a thick piece of foam that gives rigidity and structure to the back of the bag. Critically, the sleeve itself terminates above the bottom of the bag keeping the laptop compartment floating above the ground. Further, there is a relatively thick piece of foam along the bottom of the pouch providing a second layer of defense against vertical drops. The edges of the pouch are guarded with more thick foam. Finally, a thin piece of foam protects a laptop from the contents of the main compartment itself. This was one of the most heavily padded laptop compartments of any in the review. It fits a 15in Macbook.
We gave this messenger bag a 6/10 for style. We think that other bags like the Timbuk2 Classic were much more stylish and would look better in a wide array of environments. The Patagonia Half Mass maintains a moderately technical look thanks to the contrasting zipper colors, external water bottle pocket, dual daisy chains, and prominent reflective strip. The bag has an outdoorsy look that we generally think is consistent with the Patagonia brand. If you want to label yourself as someone who loves to adventure in and protect the outdoors, this bag might be just the style you're looking for. Available in four colors, you'll have options ranging from a more serious black to the lively "Andes Blue" seen in our photos. If you love this outdoorsy style, be sure to check out the Osprey FlapJack Courier that scored higher and nearly won our Top Pick award.
The Patagonia Half Mass returned from the head-to-head waterfall test with its strap between its clips as the second lowest scoring bag. The fabric is coated with a DWR treatment to help ward off light precipitation, but this didn't have a chance against a raging waterfall. Our test was certainly extreme, but our reviewers agree that they would think twice before using this pack anywhere that showers are common.
Aside from the merely water resistant fabric used for this bag, there is another key design feature that affords water entry into the bag. The shoulder strap terminates right under the main flap. Water hitting the strap will be funneled into the pack. Aware of this issue, Patagonia installed a small line of defense by folding a small fabric flap back on itself creating a channel to repel water away. The problem with this design is that the water will eventually have to go somewhere after collecting at the flap, and unfortunately that somewhere is into the body of the bag itself. A simpler and more effective solution would have been to sew the shoulder strap slightly below the top of the bag. However, this wouldn't have looked as sleek.
One nice feature is the design of the flap straps. Like the Timbuk2 Classic, the straps for the flap wrap under the bottom of the bag and are sewn to the back. This means that when the flap is cinched, the straps compress the bottom of the bag even when it's loaded with just a few items. Patagonia incorporated this design into this bag with one key difference; they added a plastic slide that lets the straps compress the bottom of the bag independently from the front flap. Depending on your use, this could be either positive or negative. If your messenger bag contents vary greatly, you'll probably wish this system was easier to adjust. But if you use the bag with a few things that are the same day after day, the compression adjustment on this bag will be welcome as you can just "set it and forget it" to the size you prefer.
A large reflective strip on the back of the bag and two small strips on the shoulder strap help increase visibility at night. The shoulder strap also has two spots to clip a bike light or accessory pouch. However, we found this bag works much better for walking than it does bike riding. If you often transition between wearing the bag high while biking and low while walking, you will agree that the shoulder strap on this bag is too difficult to adjust. The bag needs to be taken completely off to adjust the strap length.
That said, one tester has used this bag for years and loves the shoulder strap design. He cited past experiences with easy-to-adjust shoulder straps slipping on him. He preferred the security of Patagonia's strap design. If you want something that's going to be durable and won't slip on you for any reason, this could be an excellent bag for you.
Another caveat about the strap on this bag is that it did not adjust small enough for some of our slender testers. While it worked decently for them while strolling about, it would have not have been tight enough for bike commuting.
Like many other Patagonia products, this messenger bag is made primarily from recycled materials (in this case 600 denier polyester). We consider this a noteworthy feature and applaud Patagonia's efforts to care for the environment. The Patagonia Half Mass product page also includes a link that shows the suppliers involved with the production of this bag. If you are concerned that the products you buy are manufactured by fair means, you'll probably appreciate Patagonia's transparency. Although the material is quite sturdy, it will not be quite as durable as some of the other bags in the review, like the Chrome Buran, that are made with 1000 denier fabric.
The Patagonia Half Mass works great if you're looking for a good laptop bag to carry your stuff to the office. If you don't mind sacrificing water resistance and the ability to adjust the strap on the go, this will be a great bag for you. Several people we talked with rave about this messenger bag and use it as their briefcase every workday of the year. However, it wasn't our favorite because it didn't have as many cool features, wasn't as waterproof, and wasn't as comfortable as other bags that we tested. That said, it offers the best laptop protection of any product in the review.
For the price, this is a decent value, but most of our testers would opt for the Timbuk2 Classic, our Best Buy winner, because it is more stylish, has an easier-to-adjust shoulder strap, is more waterproof, has better pockets, and retails for the same price.
The Patagonia Half Mass is a great bag, but it isn't the best. If you just carry your stuff to and from the car, you probably won't miss some of the comfort features of other bags and this will be a great fit. But if you're looking for a good bike commuting messenger bag, we suggest you look at our full messenger bag review for a complete showdown of superb bags.
— Jeremy Bauman