Today I’m taking a look at two buffalo leather bags from Kodiak Leather, a family run business that as started in 2014 by Jared Morse, who was frustrated by the lack of reasonably priced, rugged leather bags. If you’ve seen popular leather bags like Saddleback and thought, “Shouldn’t I be able to get a cool leather bag for less than 700 bucks?” then this might be the company for you — although they aren’t perfect.
With the reduction in price comes some concessions that certain purists might not love, but the price is right on Kodiak bags, plus they’re made of buffalo leather. That could be cool enough to tip the scales; let’s take a closer look at this review of Kodiak’s Satchel and Pilot Bag.
Kodiak’s Water Buffalo Leather
- Asian water buffalo
- Made in India with Indian leather
- 1.75-2mm thick
- Oily pull up finish
- Chrome and veg tanned
All of Kodiak’s bags are made with buffalo, and that doesn’t mean bison leather. This is Asian water buffalo that has been tanned in India, where the bags are made.
So, why buffalo leather? The company claims that it’s more breathable and resistant to damage from ripping, stretching, and excessive heat. Is it true?
Well, it really depends on the thickness and tannage of the leather to begin with. Cowhide comes in a variety of thicknesses: Saddleback bags are over 6 millimeters thick, a Thursday boot is under 2 millimeters. That’ll probably affect the durability more than the kind of animal from which it comes, at least when comparing two bovine leathers.
Then there’s the tannage. Vegetable tanned leathers tend to be less harsh on the hide and produce more longlasting leather. So if someone says buffalo is stronger than cowhide, you need to ask a few questions about the thickness and the tannage.
Kodiak’s leather is mostly chrome tanned and it’s 1.75 to 2 millimeters thick. So it’s not the toughest or thickest leather on Earth, but what is cool about buffalo leather is that the leather isn’t stretched as much, so you see a lot of the pebbly, natural state of the skin. In other words, an upside of the bags is that they look more like you’re carrying a piece of animal skin than is often the case with cowhide.
I’ve got two of their bags: the Satchel in Antique Brown and the Pilot Bag in Dark Walnut. (Both bags are available in both leathers.)
Both of these are oily pull up leathers, meaning they’re so full of oil and waxed that it produces considerable color variation; when I fold the leather it lightens, because the oils and waxes move around the leather.
The pull up is much more aggressive on the Antique Brown you see above, making for a really rustic, rugged look. If you go with the Dark Walnut you’ll still get pull up, but it’ll be a little easier to pull off in more formal environments.
Price wise they’re both $249, and while the Pilot Bag has more volume at 20 liters versus 17 for the Satchel, I think the Satchel is better made. Here’s why.
Kodiak Leather Satchel
- 16″ x 13″ x 5″
- 3 interior compartments
- 2 zippered pockets
- Rivets to reinforce stress points
- Front pocket secured with magnet latch
- No laptop sleeve
- Canvas lined
The main reason I prefer the Satchel is that is that unlike the Pilot Bag, it’s got rivets at many stress points: two on either side of the handle, on the closure buckles, the buckle on the pouch at the front of the bag, and the hooks on the strap, although not on the D rings to which the strap attaches. Those D rings are attached with a durable stitching pattern, but higher end bags will have rivets at every stress point.
All the hardware is brass and all the zippers — there’s a pocket just above the front pouch — are YKK, which somewhere along the line became the gold standard for zippers.
That’s not to say there are no breakable parts. Zippers are breakable, and the front pocket is actually secured with a magnet latch, but it’s still relatively tough. The interior is lined with canvas, has two zippered pockets, two main compartments, and a laptop sleeve.
[See also: my favorite waxed canvas backpacks]
Kodiak Leather Pilot Bag
- 18″ X 14″ X 5″
- 4 exterior pockets
- 2 zippered compartments
- 2 laptop sleeves
- No rivets
- Nylon lining
The Pilot Bag is a lot busier. It’s jam packed with pockets, there’s a zippered compartment on the back, a couple of magnet closure pockets on the front, and there’s a leather flap over the top of them that comes with its own zippered pocket. There are cinches on the side, and there are two zippered compartments on the interior, each with a laptop sleeve, one with flaps for your wallets and pens.
So you get more room for the same price with the Pilot Bag, but there are no rivets at all, which makes me less optimistic for the bag’s longevity. They sell these as heirloom pieces to hand down to your kids, but without rivets… I don’t know, I’m not convinced.
A lot of the edges aren’t finished either, which doesn’t really matter as much as people think it does for longevity — it just minimizes fraying over time ‚ but the lack of edge finishing and rivets can be seen as a cost cutting measure.
The magnet clasps under the flap, which is meant to help them stick onto the front of the pockets, also don’t line up well and are extraordinarily hard to secure, plus they’re very weak magnets.
Kodiak Leather Bags Price
Both bags cost $249. The Satchel is usually “on sale” with the “$249” crossed out for $229, but in my experience, the Pilot Bag always says $249.
Kodiak Leather Bags Pros & Cons
Here’s what you need to know:
- Nice leather
- Pretty inexpensive
- Nice, simple design on the Satchel
- Bags have logos
- No rivets on Pilot bag
- Magnets don’t line up well on Pilot bag
- No quick access pockets/compartments on Satchel
- Can’t be attached to rolling suitcase
- Second rate lining
- Multiple leather panels
The leather itself is pretty gorgeous. I think it looks great, it’s super oily, it has a ton of pull up, it’ll age well, it’s rugged looking, and the fact that it’s made from buffalo is extra cool. There are a ton of pockets, and they’re pretty inexpensive at $250, particularly on the Satchel, which has rivets and finished edges.
But I don’t love these bags. For starters, I’m no fan of the Kodiak bear logos. There are no rivets on the Pilot Bag. The lining doesn’t sit flat against the leather. The magnets are weak on the Pilot Bag. There’s no back pocket on the Satchel or anywhere to stash your belongings to which you need quick access. (The Pilot Bag is a lot better in that regard.)
Neither of them can easily be attached to the handles of rolling luggage, a feature many people like. It’s not vegetable tanned leather. They’re not made in the US, if that bothers you. It doesn’t bother me and they’re not priced like US-made bags, but it’s still a concern for some guys.
Lastly, people typically prefer leather goods when they have as few panels of leather as possible. (I can always tell a leather jacket is cheap when it has stitching along the chest instead of it being one piece of leather from shoulder to waist.) It looks cleaner, it gives the bag fewer places to tear, and it’s a sign that the bag cost more money to produce because it couldn’t be pieced together from scrap.
Both of these bags have stitching running down the middle. Not only does that look a bit inelegant, but to the trained eye it’s a signifier of a cheaper bag.
So, are they great bags? No. Are they only $250 for buffalo leather bags… yeah. And that’s not too bad. If the bag was over $400 I would be outraged, but here the situation is more that these bags aren’t the best bags on Earth, but they’re not priced like it either. You’re not getting ripped off.
So the price is acceptable for the quality and I think the Satchel is pretty solid value, but these are far from great leather bags.