Sunday, August 06, 2017

Toward a Total Theory of the Messenger Bag: Volume 3, the Israeli Paratrooper Bag

Years ago—12 or more—I had many special needs. I rode my bike everywhere, with a 12-mile round trip to work, regardless of Portland weather, and I didn't spend a lot of time at home outside of sleeping and (rarely) bathing. This all meant: I needed to carry layers, for rain, for stench and a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes and rain off of my glasses; I needed to carry entertainment (reading material [Moorcock paperback?], music, my beloved pink handheld, maybe a DS, one or another notebook); I needed to carry bike locks; I needed enough storage space to pick up a sudden Gundam or Stikfa, or wedge in a thrifted Dreamcast; I needed somewhere to tuck my travel mug; at the end of my idiot nights, I often needed a six-pack of tallboys and a Totino's party pizza.

I had two bags at that point. One, my college LL Bean Turbo Transit backpack, big enough that I once lived out of it, travelling, for six weeks, magnificently ugly, but not strong against rain, and not convenient for getting into / out of without taking it off. Two, an early model Timbuk2 messenger bag, modified by its previous owner to use a length of seat belt material as its strap—a bag I adored, but found too big for some summer nights.

Thus it was that Tinzeroes and I betook ourselves to the local surplus store, where I first encountered an item listed as an "Israeli Paratrooper Bag". My first reaction: "Wow, evidently Israel's paratroopers need to do a lot of paperwork, because this bag is like 80% pen slots." My second reaction: "I really like this bag's look, feel, size."

Besotted with notions of kit-bashing and customization, and at a surplus store, I bought a couple strips of hook and loop fastener, a big buckle, and a length of wide, thick strapping. Once home, I grabbed a case of dental floss, my sewing kit, my pocket knife, and an X-acto blade from my model-building set.

I added the hook and loop to close the bag's flap more easily, and replaced the shoulder strap, sewing in as much strength as I could with floss. I added an attachment loop for a blinky bike light, and heat-sealed the straps where I'd cut them with my pocket knife, held over the stove's burner. The X-acto knife cut out one of the two main compartment's dividers, freeing up space and lightening the bag a bit (but I think it was mostly just doing something for the sake of doping something).

Even for summer use, it was never quite big enough. With anything at all in it, it was a little too full for much more than a six-pack, and even the most wadded-up hoody would more or less fill it. And since I hadn't tested where to put the velcro, if the bag was too full, I couldn't close it. Rainy season ruled the bag out entirely for outdoor use: the thick canvas wasn't waterproof, or even really colorfast.

But I loved it. The experience of customizing it had only taken an evening, but had bonded me to it as securely as the shoulder strap was bonded to the bag's side wall.

The size was too small (14" wide, 11" tall, main compartment 4" deep), but every force that constrains my overpacking is welcome. The material wasn't waterproof, but it didn't promote gross back sweat as badly as a plastic bag on longer summer rides. Plus, the canvas was strong without being stiff or rough, meaning that it didn't tear up things it came into contact with (sweaters, for example) or wear through where it creased, with the exception of this one spot, after substantially longer than a decade.

The organization options weren't incredibly robust, but the flat pocket at the back wall was always a good spot for a U-lock, and the front pouch pocket always seemed to accommodate more than I'd expect. And a big empty main compartment is a must no matter what your needs are.

I still have the bag! I throw it in a larger bag sometimes if I'm flying somewhere I expect to be walking around a lot. It's also good for those late-night "need beer" rides. Most of my special needs from circa 2004 are no longer, but a good bag is a good bag. This is a good bag.

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