Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a tradition of picking out a new backpack every year. It became something I looked forward to that made going back to class easier after a long, wistful summer. I remember going to the store with my mother and picking out my favorite one, slowly walking up and down the aisle, comparing all the features of the brands. It became something that I look back on with fond memories and warm gratitude, creating a love for quality and design in an item as simple as a backpack.
A few years ago, I went online to start my seasonal tradition of research and comparison prior to purchasing something that would be my companion for at least a year. I had previously used the Abingdon Messenger Bag from J. Crew for the past two years, swapping one out only for the other color. To this day I still believe it is the best carryall for the money; however, after two years, it was time for a change. Enter Herschel Supply Co. and their cost-effective goods.
As a student, money is often tight and I’ve found myself unwilling to spend a pretty penny on a “buy it for life” kind of pack, such as the GORUCK GR1, which may just be the greatest backpack on the market to date. The only problem with it is the cost: $300 dollars is a hefty price tag.
Instead, I purchased the Herschel Little America at the end of 2011, and have been using it actively since it arrived at my door. When I first bought it, it was $99, though the price has gone up slightly as the company’s popularity increases. It arrived in a neatly-packaged white box with a handwritten letter from the founder saying thanks for purchasing and believing in the brand, along with a bag of stickers and a few patches.
The first thing that struck me was the level of thought put into the design and subtle details of the bag. From the signature red trim stitching on the outside of the flaps to the contoured shoulder and back padding—which adds a great deal of comfort when carrying heavy loads–it’s readily apparent that the pack was clearly designed with aesthetics in mind.
The Little America is built sensibly, and many of the worries I had when first using it were quickly put to rest after a few months. Originally, I was concerned that the straps would rip off since they’re purely decorative and serve no function other than giving the pack a vintage look and feel, though they’re real leather. Additionally, I was apprehensive about the drawstring as the only means of opening and closing the deep, 24 L. mouth of the bag. I’ve never had a problem with it, not even a little fraying.
I use the Little America as my EDC bag, and I’ve been hard on it. I’ve taken it on day hikes and have had it fall in a river and almost get washed away. I’ve used it to carry my textbooks and laptop daily and thrown loose supplies in the depths of the wide open mouth and haven’t had a tear in the nylon. It’s the perfect bag to use for daily life: just throw what you need in the mouth and pull the string, and you’re good to go.
However, the bag isn’t built for any sort of hard use in any regard. After two years of using the bag, I’ve recently ripped one of the straps (clearly visible in one of the photos). It handles weight well but the Little America certainly has its breaking point, and once you hit it, things start to go wrong.
The straps are built to be comfortable, not to last. Once they start to fray, a tear is soon to follow. The stitching on where the straps join to the main body of the bag could be stronger, as could the horizontal bits of leather that keep the smaller, buckled straps from flying all over the place. Once the leather gets wet in any regard, the straps start to dry out and shrivel up, becoming brittle and weaker than they originally were.
On that note, it’s important to consider that the bag is not water resistant in any way. The drawstring method of closing works well for general purpose but if it starts to rain, you better find some cover fast or whatever you have stored is going to get soaked. This is also important to remember about the breathability of the padding in the back. While they offer a cooler carry on a hot day, they also allow water to seep through and reach the center compartment, subjecting the contained items to water damage.
At the end of the day, I believe the Little America to be a fine choice for an everyday carry pack but not for anything more. It’s stylish and simple, yet functional and comfortable. It is available in many colors and styles and has a price tag for the frugal, yet sacrifices build quality and overlooks long term use for affordability. At the end of the day you get what you pay for, but if you properly maintain the bag, you may just score one heck of a deal.