Seal Line Urban Shoulder Bag

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: A good design is let down by a couple of material problems.

The Long Version: I bought the small size of the Seal Line 'Urban Shoulder Bag' in July as I was looking for a replacement for my too-small ninja-turtle-inspired mec Flux sling pack. I wanted something small enough to not be annoying, but big enough to carry my daily necessities to and from work, and there are bonus points if it's orange. I'm not an inherently colourful person, but I have an orange suitcase, orange sling pack, and orange umbrella. So when I found this shoulder bag from a reputable maker of outdoorsy-gear, I knew it was for me despite a fair bit of sticker-shock.

There are two unique features of this bag. One is the material, a waterproof coated fabric that's very lightweight. The other is the closure system. Instead of the ubiquitous velcro or plastic snaps, it uses broad metal hooks on elastic shock-cord under the lid that grip the plastic lugs on the body of the bag. It's an elegant system that's essentially silent, and became easy to use once I got used to it. Inside the bag is an organizer panel that holds pens and other small items, a slash pocket at the back that's good for slim books (but not even small laptops), and a good-sized main compartment with a soft elasticized bottle-holder on each end. One side holds my water bottle, the other holds my flashlight and orange umbrella. As much as anything else, these two holders was the reason I bought the bag. 

The back has a ventilated foam panel that provides good padding for the contents of the bag, and makes it comfortable to carry. The shoulder strap and its pad are also remarkably unannoying, with the pad staying in place on the strap without any fuss, and the times that I've been caught in the rain the bag has proven itself completely impervious to the elements.

It feels like there's a "but" coming, doesn't it?

Unlike some other bags, this one doesn't stretch or change shape to accommodate its contents. If I want to carry something that's just a little too big, it won't fit. As much as I like the quiet hooks that close the bag, those plastic snaps on long straps do a better job of holding oversized stuff. Day-to-day this isn't an issue, but it's a nuisance on those occasions when it is. It wouldn't be the best choice for someone who can't choose what they carry - maybe that's why Seal Line calls it a 'shoulder bag' instead of using the trendier 'messenger' word.

Since I bought it to carry a specific load and it does it perfectly, I really can't complain. My reason for only giving it an 'average' execution score is that after only four months of use is has already shown some flaws. The inner organizer pocket with a zipper - there's only one - is made of mesh, which has started to rip at the bottom. This is about the only place to put valuables without them sliding around when the bag is set down on its back, so naturally it gets all of my pocket change, wallet, and occasionally my 770SW camera. I suspect that it's the camera that did the damage, as it's fairly heavy, but I think it just accelerated the inevitable.

The other materials issue is that some of the fabric trim around the front flap has come unstitched, and the bag is showing some wear marks where it creases. I don't mind genuine wear and tear, and there are enough Timbuk2 bags out there proving that this can enhance a bags' appearance. The colour of the Seal Line bag has faded a bit to a more muted colour, and I like that it has its own personality now, but the flaw in the stitching speaks to a bag that's just not as well made as it should be.

I wouldn't say that it's particularly better than the various MEC-branded carryall bags that I've used but only cost half as much. I prefer the Seal Line's styling, closure, and trust its weatherproofing, but no longer expect that it will last me forever. I'd be kidding myself if I ever pretended that my quest for the perfect bag was over, but at least I've found a really good one for now.


  1. Hmm...

    This blog is makeing me buy stuff... Not good!

    I've just been to MEC to try this as a daily-use replacement for my Lowepro Stealth Reporter D300.

    The Lowepro is fantastic, but not for the daily commute. In the SealLine I've fit my Nikon D200 with 28mm 2.8, a lil' Acer Netbook and an 85mm 1.8 in that corner pocket. We'll see how it goes...

  2. Sorry about your wallet - and whatever you do, don't read my Timbuk2 review. I actually like those bags (I own two) more than the Seal Line, although this is the bag with better weatherproofing. And those two bottle pockets on the inside are also pretty handy. I can see it being a really good match for your camera and two primes.

    (My favourite camera bag is still my Domke F6.)

  3. Looked at the Timbuck2, and the Montreal-made Cocotte (they make a "Capa" photo insert!) But I can't stand velcro flaps! Skritttch! Tear! Shred!
    The SealLine bag is a bit tight to get into while you're wearing it, but if I'm just swapping primes, it ain't bad. Also I'm not knocking people over while riding the bus anymore.

    The Domke and Stealth Reporter are of a similar configuration. It's the perfect style to work out of at a shoot/event.

  4. I hear you about the velcro, and you make a very good point. I was once limited to a single lens because I was unexpectedly on the other side of a No Entry sign, and the velcro on my Crumpler would have gotten me busted.

    I don't really mind the T2's velcro for an every-day utility bag. They add in flexibility what they detract in noise. But for a camera bag, or a bag with a fixed set of contents (which is how I use my SL bag) the silent clasps on the Seal Line bag are a real advantage.

    Thanks for the link to the Cocotte site, they look like a good Canadian option. (If you think this blog makes you buy stuff, you should see what it does for me...!)

  5. I want to see pictures of the inside, there a laptop sleve at all?

  6. Anon, there's no laptop sleeve, but there is an unpadded organizer slot / divider at the back that's able to keep one from flopping around.

    After a lot of agonizing, I settled on using the Seal Line bag instead of my many camera bags or Timbuk2 messenger bags for a weekend photography trip when the forecast was calling for intermittent but persistent rain. It never let any water in, and I could set it down on the forest floor without any fear of soiling it. I can't see my beloved Domkes performing as well, my Glass Taxi wouldn't have been as easy to work from, and my T2 bags aren't as well sealed. Granted, this Seal Line bag is really too small to fit everything I'd like to carry, but it does come in a bigger size.

    If they made camera bags, I'd buy one - but still use my Domke bags when it doesn't rain.

    1. I have the large model and have not had the wear issues you had and I've used it daily for about 2 years. The large holds my macbook fine with room to spare. What stands out for me is the fact that it uses a welding process as opposed to stitching, eliminating any possible leakage. Also it is a fine balance of durability and lightweight which is great when on longer trips or cycling. Oh, almost forgot the excellent back padding that is the best I've used due to its ability to allow air travel through. What I dislike is the hook closure system. It is too finicky to close easily and limits the amount of stuff I put in the bag, also it is difficult to adjust the length of the main strap compared to true messenger bags making it difficult to go through the bag while wearing it. Since I don't have a car and use only my bike, needed a bigger bag that would last the rest of my life and bought the king of all messenger bags, a Pac Ultimate. Do a review on that!

    2. Thanks for adding your thoughts on the bag.

      The Pac messenger bags do look pretty good. I'm always happy to have suggestions, but unfortunately this endeavour is self-funded…


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