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The Bellroy System Work Bag Review

Before writing this review, I went back to all of my previous bag reviews to see how often I claimed I had found the “bag to end all bags.”

To my surprise, I found very few bag reviews of my own from the past. In fact, this is the only bag review I’ve ever written.

This shouldn’t surprise me — I’ve used a Booq Mamba Messenger every day since 2009 to tote my belongings back and forth to school or the office. Either I’m picky or I’ve never found a proper replacement for my now-torn-and-tattered Booq Mamba.

So, fortunately, I’m not overstepping my younger, more naïve self when I say that I’ve found the “bag to end all bags.” I have finally found a replacement for the Booq Mamba. Bellroy’s new System Work Bag has the perfect array of features for me, and I’ve been giddy each day I get to use it.

High praise — perhaps even cliché praise — but I have friends who can attest to my enamoured love for the Bellroy System Work Bag.

I promise. I love it.

Wait. There’s a Bonus…

Curated List of Must-Have Apps

We spend an inordinate amount of time sorting through hundreds of apps to find the very best. And based on our own usage, plus the feedback of our readers, we have put together a short list of our must-have, most-used apps in 2019.

You will get…

  • The current list of The Sweet Setup’s top 8, must-have apps.
  • A special, pro tip for each app to help you save time and become more of a power user.
  • A hidden feature of each app that you may not have known about.

These apps work on iPad, iPhone, and Mac. And they range across several different categories but are mostly focused on productivity. We hope this will help you get the most out of your devices and your day.

This guide is available for FREE to our email subscriber community. And you can get it right now. By joining the Sweet Setup community you’ll also get access to our other guides, early previews to big new reviews and workflow articles we are working on, weekly roundups of our best content, and more.

GET THE LIST


Bags are very, very subjective in nature — one can fit a specific individual perfectly and can be a torment for another. While I’m no bag expert with a host of “bag factors” at my disposal, I’ve been able to nail down a few things that make my ideal bag different than someone else’s.

Mode of Transportation: I think your daily mode of transportation is one of the single greatest factors in determining the right type of work bag. If you ride a bicycle to school, a dangling messenger-style bag probably won’t work as well as a backpack. If you walk to the office, a briefcase may due to the trick, but a messenger bag might be a better option if you need to grab items from the bag during your commute. If you’re like me and drive yourself to work each day, then briefcase/backpack/messenger may not matter — you’re not actually having to carry the thing much at all. I drive a vehicle to work, so size, weight, and carry method take a backseat to other factors.

Occupation — Uniform: I might be a snob, but I’m not particularly fond of wearing a backpack with a suit or sport jacket. Backpack straps slowly damage the structured shoulder of any tailored jacket, thus deprecating the very look you’re trying to imbue to your clientele. You could go full-on Mike Ross and sport a messenger bag with a suit jacket, but I’d still be hesitant myself. The only bag I’d carry in a suit or sport jacket is a briefcase. In short, if you have an occupation that requires a specific attire, your bag will often need to match said attire.

Occupation — Aesthetics: Fashionista aside, a bag can very easily imbue a specific message to your clientele. I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking into a tax meeting with a dairy farmer sporting a Tumi briefcase. Again, depending on your occupation, your attire — wardrobe, bag choice, shoes, etc. — all give off a message, and your attire should align with your end end goals and vision. I speak about this from the point of view of a professional, but I think it holds true for most occupations — “Dress for the job you want” should mean “don’t overdo it” as well.

These are the three factors I weigh heavily every time I consider a bag (which feels like all the time). The Bellroy System Work Bag meets all three of my core criteria wonderfully — the main reason for why the System Work Bag has become my de facto, everyday bag.

Editor’s Note: The Bellroy System Work Bag was provided by Bellroy for the purposes of review.

Design and Materials – Exterior

Bellroy’s System Work Bag doesn’t break the bank at $195 and this almost solely due to the materials used.

The System Work Bag weighs in at 2.31 pounds and measures 13.8” x 20.5” x 5.1”. These measurements nicely house a 15” laptop, any sized iPad, and a variety of belongings that you’d need for your daily carry. I’ve crammed in a 12.9” iPad Pro, Midori Traveler’s Notebook, a pair of Beats Studio 3s in their case, a FujiFilm X-Pro 2, and even a Yeti coffee cup in the inside without having to extend the G-hook enclosure to bulk mode. This bag can carry a ton and will hardly bulge if you overload it.

The System Work Bag sports a water-resistant, non-toxic fabric with nylon grab handles, leather details, and a sturdy metal closure hook. Normally I die for genuine leather, but leather doesn’t meet the “Occupation, Part 2” criteria I mentioned above. This water-resistant fabric is the perfect blend of a durable and understated material.

I watched a Chase Reeves review of the Peak Design Travel Duffel bag, wherein he complained about the duffel’s grab handles and how they aligned in your hands (and Reeves was entirely correct in his analysis — I’ve tested the grab handles on the Travel Duffel myself and they are very poorly designed). Bellroy’s System Work Bag nails these grab handles.

They curve nicely around, laying on top of one another in your hand, and they never once feel awkward to hold. The nylon material is also soft to the touch and certainly won’t blister any office hands (like mine) during long hauling periods.

The closure strap is also made of nylon and is capped off with a sturdy metal enclosure hook. To close the bag, the opening of the bag folds down (kind of like an old fashioned paper lunch bag) and the enclosure strap loops into a plastic holster. If you’ve overloaded the Work Bag, you can loop the G-hook enclosure strap into a secondary nylon loop, allowing the bag to expand beyond its regular capacity.

I should also note: I hate two-buckle bags. Two buckles take twice the time to latch and unlatch, and oftentimes requires two hands to do so as well. The System Work Bag sports a single G-hook enclosure which can be latched and unlatched with one hand with ease.

The top of the bag that folds over like a paper lunch bag actually snaps together via stitched-in magnets at the top of the bag. Essentially, to close the bag, you push the sides of the top together and snap them shut via the magnet. Then, after folding the top down, the G-hook enclosure finishes it off. This magnet is helpful for keeping the bag’s top fold nice and neat as well as for keeping out the elements during a rainy day.

All zipper pulls and accent tags on the Work Bag are made of leather and, on my “Ink Blue” bag, offer a complementary bit of dazzle to the bag. The front leather tag is also the only spot where I’ve found visible branding (the second spot I found was on a tag in the far bottom corner of the interior of the bag). The aptly-named “Black” bag sports black leather tags.

Zippers are made of proper metal (not hard plastic), but I’ve definitely seen sturdier, brass zippers on other bags. No complaints here — the zippers match the bag’s overall aesthetic and build.

The System Work Bag sports two front zip pockets — one on the left that houses a few pen loops and a lanyard for a key set, and one on the right with a soft-padded pocket for your phone. A Field Notes memo book fits quite nicely in the left hand pocket.

On the backside is a full-width zipper perfect for flat and larger belongings. I imagine a thinner folio filling in the back pocket, or larger spiral-bound notebooks.

When you first open the back-side pocket, you’ll find the padded shoulder strap nestled nicely inside. The shoulder pad is comfortably padded and feels great on the shoulder, even with a heavier load on board. It’s not a very long shoulder pad — which is how I prefer it, but others may differ — and keeps the bag holstered along your ribcage or upper back.

The shoulder strap secures to the bag via stitched on nylon loops, which seem both insecure and futuristically questionable. Nylon loops like these almost always fray and tear away after a few years of use, so I hope Bellroy’s great reputation in the quality department holds up for the long haul.

There is a small zipper on the underside of the backside pocket, which can be unzipped to allow for luggage passthrough.

Lastly, and perhaps my only major complaint about the bag, the System Work Bag has the same water-resistant fabric around the bottom of the bag as well. This means there’s no levelled off portion on the bottom of the bag, which normally would allow the bag to stand upright on its own. Many briefcases — and even the Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag — have these levelled off bases, so I’m always disappointed when the System Work Bag falls over to one side after loading.

Design and Materials – Interior

The same material design language extends into the interior of the System Work Bag, which appear to be more of the nylon variety, continuing the water-resistant and durable material theme. All leather tags and zippers are made of the same material on the inside as well.

You’ll find a variety of organizational features on the inside of the Work Bag:

  • A laptop sleeve for up to a 15-inch laptop. Bellroy notes that there is a “tuck” at the base of the bag that ensures your laptop is supported by a cushioned area, providing extra security for your laptop.
  • A tablet sleeve, which houses my 12.9-inch iPad Pro with ease.
  • Two zippered off pockets on the opposite side, perfect for peripherals, dongles, and other miscellany.
  • Two “Pop Pockets” that extend into the middle of the bag from the ends of the bag, which are perfect for water bottles, spare shoes (per Bellroy), or for carrying camera lenses (per Josh). I also tend to put peripherals I need to access quickly into these Pop Pockets.
  • One large main compartment for housing all the stuff that doesn’t fit in one of the other organizational compartments. I usually leave my Beats headphones lying lazily in the middle of the bag, along with my Fujifilm X-Pro 2 camera.

Are there a million tricks hidden up the Work Bag’s sleeve? No, not at all. There are normal pockets for normal devices, and there aren’t any features that are made specially for the company’s other products (I think of Peak Design with this comment — elements are built into their bags that are designed to work specifically with the company’s camera accessories). The big black hole in the middle of the bag capable of carrying a boat load of stuff combined with the extendable roll top means you can load up your entire day’s belongings with relative ease.

How I Tend to Use the System Work Bag

My day job is of the office variety, to which I drive about 13 kilometres one-way each day in a small Toyota Corolla. My everyday carry list varies each day, but there are a few elements that are fundamental to me:

  • A 12.9-inch iPad Pro, with Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil
  • A pair of Beats Studio 3 headphones
  • A Midori Traveler’s Notebook
  • A variety of documents that need to be transported to or from the office
  • Dongles and peripherals, such as a USB-C to SD card carder, Twelve South’s StayGo USB-C hub, and a charger for the iPad Pro
  • A small container or two for lunch
  • A mid-sized Yeti coffee cup
  • And occasionally, a Fujifilm X-Pro 2

I carry all these items to and from the office with ease, hardly ever expanding the top of the bag.

I’ve also used the System Work Bag as a daily travel carry bag, which is more of a photographic element for me personally. During our recent trip to Toronto, the System Work Bag became a camera bag with two cameras, two spare lenses (stored handily in the Pop Pockets), and a bunch of batteries and other accessories. I also carried a water bottle, a spare sweater for my wife, and some flip-flop sandals. When toting a camera around one shoulder, I carried the Work Bag on the other shoulder. Honestly, the Work Bag was a better camera bag than any camera bag I’ve ever tried, at least during the trip.

All this to say: I believe the Bellroy System Work Bag can be utilized in a variety of use cases and scenarios, and will do a better job at adapting to the use-case than most any bag out there.

Scoring the System Work Bag in My Special Criteria

Again, your criteria will be different than mine. Even when testing this System Work Bag in Toronto, friends of mine immediately noticed that the bag wouldn’t work for them. One gentleman likes backpacks, the other prefers sling-style bags, and another prefers smaller messenger-style bags that don’t put any strain on your back when carrying.

Your needs will vary.

But according to my criteria? The Bellroy System Work Bag scores high marks.

  1. Mode of Transportation: I drive a car each morning to work, so I need a bag that can carry lots of stuff while still keeping documents flat and in good shape. The Bellroy System Work Bag lays nicely on its side in the back seat, has a backside compartment for keeping documents flat, and can house my entire day’s itemized needs, including my lunch.
  2. Occupation — Uniform: During the summer months, our small accounting firm is very casual, sporting shorts, sneakers, and polo shirts. The Bellroy System Work Bag has a messenger-style shoulder strap for carrying across a shoulder, if I ever need to go for a long walk to the bank or post office. During the winter months and during tax season, I tend to wear a collared shirt with a sport coat and chino pants. The System Work Bag’s two nylon handles feel great in hand are ideal for carrying the Work Bag as a briefcase.
  3. Occupation — Aesthetics: Considering our summer and winter attire, the Bellroy System Work Bag succeeds in not “dressing up” a sporty look with shorts and a polo shirt, and it also succeeds in not “dressing down” a casual sport jacket with chino pants. One could argue the System Work Bag could be a tad more elegant if you want to carry it with a suit (Bellroy has a Designers Edition Briefcase just for this), but I don’t think too many folks would look sideways at this bag when carried with a suit.

Wrap Up

I’ve never found a bag that has checked off all these boxes so perfectly. I’ve hemmed and hawed countless times over countless bags, hoping to find an ideal everyday bag that fit my lifestyle and needs. Despite the revolving door of devices that float across my desk each year, I haven’t committed to a new daily carry bag since 2009.

The Bellroy System Work Bag is my first Bellroy bag (I have multiple Bellroy wallets and love the company’s attention to detail and quality) and I’m pleased to see the same detail and quality has carried on into their latest lineup of products.

At $195, I also think the System Work Bag is one of the most fairly priced Bellroy products I’ve seen. More expensive folios like the A4 Folio or the new Tech Folio will be considered great value for a specific person, but likely require a leap of faith when initially purchasing. The System Work Bag is completely different — at $195, it’ll feel easy to take a gamble on this bag, especially considering how easily it adapts to a variety of use cases.

My tattered and torn Booq Mamba Messenger bag has lived a good life and served its purpose. Perhaps no other product has provided such enormous value to me.

But thanks to the Bellroy System Work Bag, the Mamba’s days are finished. I now have a new everyday carry bag.

You can purchase the Bellroy System Work Bag from Amazon or directly from Bellroy.

Wait. There’s a Bonus…

Curated List of Must-Have Apps

We spend an inordinate amount of time sorting through hundreds of apps to find the very best. And based on our own usage, plus the feedback of our readers, we have put together a short list of our must-have, most-used apps in 2019.

You will get…

  • The current list of The Sweet Setup’s top 8, must-have apps.
  • A special, pro tip for each app to help you save time and become more of a power user.
  • A hidden feature of each app that you may not have known about.

These apps work on iPad, iPhone, and Mac. And they range across several different categories but are mostly focused on productivity. We hope this will help you get the most out of your devices and your day.

This guide is available for FREE to our email subscriber community. And you can get it right now. By joining the Sweet Setup community you’ll also get access to our other guides, early previews to big new reviews and workflow articles we are working on, weekly roundups of our best content, and more.

GET THE LIST