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When I saw the first pictures of the Helikon-Tex Urban Courier Bag M I was actually quite intrigued. Reason for that was the fact it resembled basically what I would expect from a messenger bag for quite some time, and also (to a certain extent) what I have been using so far. Needless to say I wanted to get my hands on one of these to really test it out. Luckily the guys from Helikon-Tex (HTX) were kind enough to send me one and so I am able to give you a more detailed look about this bag.
Before we start, a quick overview and some basic specs.
The Urban Courier Bag M is a medium sized messenger bag, which can be upgraded with optional velcro based accessories. It features a detachable and contoured shoulder strap that is interchangeable with other HTX products, as well as a detachable stabilizing strap, in case you need more stability while carrying it. The bag features a main compartment with a laptop sleeve, a zippered mesh compartment and two sleeve pockets. Externally you will find two pockets on the sides with elastic openings, and a zippered compartment to the front and back as well as one within the flap.
- HxWxL: 27x10x36cm
- Materials: Cordura Nylon, Woojin buckles, YKK zippers
- Volume: 9,5L
- Weight: 760g
The Urban Courier Bag M
First and foremost some general observations. The bag you are seeing in these pictures is the M version of the Urban Courier Bag. It takes no rocket scientist to figure out the M stands for “Medium”. This also implies there is another version, and indeed there is. Helikon-Tex is also offering a L (or “Large”) messenger bag in exactly this style, but with a volume of 16L.
For EDC purposes the M version is big enough and suits my personal needs. If you are the type that carries more items with you, or prefer to have that extra room in case some more stuff adds up during the day, then you might consider the L version.
Let’s take a closer look.
Flap and front bellow compartment
Starting with the flap that covers the main compartment, you will find a large velcro area for your moral patches, insignia and the like. Right above it is a YKK zipper that opens up to a flat compartment within the flap. This compartment covers the whole inside of the flap and gives you enough space for smaller items like a wallet, headphones, mints and the like. If you carry a compressible windshirt with you, this will also fit in there.
Given the fact that the compartment covers the whole flap, smaller and lighter items tend to wander to the area above the zipper, so you might want to watch out for that. I had several occasions when I thought I lost something, only to find it up there.
The flap itself is secured by two strong Woojin buckles, which are strongly attached by bartack stitches. In addition to that you will also find velcro on the underside which attaches to a long strip of loop velcro on the frontside of the bag. The long strip gives you the option to close the flap even with an overloaded bag by attaching the velcro more upwards. Depending on how evenly or unevenly the bag is packed, it can happen sometimes that the velcro does not attach immediately – more on that later.
The frontside of the bag itself is featuring a bellow pocket which is closed by a two way YKK zipper. The incorporated folds blow up the more you put in, giving you plenty of room in there, while at the same time folding flat, if not used. A very nice and practical feature!
On the inside of this bellow pocket you will find a fabric that holds velcro accessories. It is not velcro itself, but a fleece like fabric that acts the same way as loop velcro, but with a nicer touch. Additionally to that there is a paracord loop in case you want secure items by a lanyard.
This pocket gives you the opportunity to mount additional velcro based accessories Helikon-Tex is offering. Examples being admin inserts, elastic webbing inserts and the like: accessories that keep your EDC organized and handy, if you choose to carry it that way.
Personally I use this pocket to carry my IFAK pouch with me, since it perfectly fits in there and is easily accessible.
Coming to the main compartment a look from the above will give you an idea what to expect: a laptop compartment to the back, a zippered mesh pocket to the front and two sleeve pockets to the sides. These sleeve pockets give you enough room to keep smaller items in place. In my case these items are some handkerchiefs as well as the compressed Windrunner shirt of Helikon-Tex.
The zippered mesh pocket leaves enough room for plenty of small items you wish to quickly identify. At the same time it is large enough to store bigger things.
The laptop compartment is lightly padded to protect a 13 inch laptop, but at the same time not too stiff to make the bag bulky as a whole. There is an elastic strap to keep your IT hardware secure if you wish to do so. You can attach this strap on the same fleece-like fabric that was already mentioned. Since this fabric spans all over the outer side of the compartment, you can also use this area to attach velcro based inserts.
Backside compartment and side pockets
The backside of the Urban Courier Bag features yet another zippered compartment. The inside is again lined with the velcro-like material. Hence you have another pocket that can be optimized with inserts – in this case a holster to carry a concealed firearm (at least if you are allowed to do so, and choose to carry your firearm in your bag instead on you).
Since we are already on the outside, the two pockets on the side should be mentioned as well. These can be found on either side of the bag and feature a strong elastic opening. The pockets themselves are folded, so if the elastic webbing tightens up, the pocket itself folds flat. These are big enough to hold Nalgene sized canteens, although it becomes a tight fit with the bigger ones.
With all the features described to hold your items, it is worth taking a look on how to carry these with the Urban Courier Bag.
Besides the obvious carrying handle on the upper back side of the bag, you will find a very large shoulder strap which is not only contoured, but also heavily padded. It is clear that carrying comfort was in mind during the design process and I have to agree that most messenger bags feature mediocre shoulder straps.
The shoulder strap of the Urban Courier is attached by two strong Woojin buckles. These are strongly attached by box and bartack stitching. The buckles are also used in the way that the female parts are on the bag and both male parts on the strap. This gives you the option to reverse the contoured strap, in case you want to carry the bag on the other shoulder.
With the strap going through an additional loop buckle, you can hoist the strap quickly by pulling.
The shoulder strap itself features three wide loops on the left and right on both the upper and lower side. As a result you can firmly attach additional pouches on it.
The downside of the shoulder strap is the missing mesh padding, you typically find on shoulder straps. More on that down below. According to Helikon-Tex you can interchange the shoulder strap with other products of the company, if you wish to do so.
The backside of the Urban Courier Bag also features a stabilizing strap. This gives you the option to firmly position the bag on your body, when riding a bike for example. In order to attach it to your liking, or needs, there are four webbing loops in the corners of the backside. As you can see from the pictures you can attach it on the one side by a metal clasp which is covered by Nylon fabric, and on the other side with a split bar buckle that can be attached to the prefered loop.
The quality of manufacture leaves no room to complain. Helikon-Tex improved in that regard quite a lot over the last few years. The combination of quality materials and clean manufacture leaves an overall good impression.
The seams are all straight, I did not find a single loose thread and as far as I could tell all the stress points are reinforced with bartack stitching. The rubber tubing on the zippers gives the whole bag an additional clean look. According to the manufacture info, this bag was put together in Vietnam and in my opinion you can see the rise in manufacture quality as a result.
The moment I received the bag it was put to good use in my daily EDC routine. It accompanied me throughout the day and the busy streets of Vienna. The whole concept and layout of the bag quickly found my liking since it offered exactly what I needed when it comes to messenger bags: that is a balanced number of pockets and compartments, no overkill in organisational features which one uses only half of the time, in combination with the right size. I tend to carry my small items in additional organizer pockets, so I can quickly switch my EDC from bag to pack and vice versa. The Urban Courier Bag M offers enough room to do that.
Everyone who wishes for more features can upgrade and individually optimize the bag with all kinds of accessories by HTX.
What I particularly appreciate is the front compartment made in the style of a bellow pocket. The option for it to expand to the outside prevents the whole bag of becoming an uncomfortable to carry “ball” when being full. Normally these kind of compartments blow the bags up, but in this case you gain actually space.
This has some negative side effects as well however: I wish the hook velcro on the flap would be of a larger area. With a full front compartment the flap sometimes does not fully attach. Luckily there are the buckles to tug everything down.
Another thing worth mentioning is the shoulder strap. As much as I appreciate the contoured shape and heavy padding, especially when carrying heavier loads, this would need some mesh padding on the underside. In summer this leaves heavy sweat marks on you, when you normally would not have them. The sole Nylon construction with the padding acts like one large insulating layer.
Is there such a thing as a perfect messenger bag? I think not, you will always find a thing or two to complain, but I have to admit though: the Helikon-Tex Urban Courier Bag M comes quite close to what I am looking for in a bag. Of course this is my opinion alone and others might disagree. Nevertheless I think it is a very good balance of the KISS principle and a pragmatic offering of pockets and compartments that are of actual use.
This in combination with the possibility to upgrade the bag makes it worth considering, if you are looking for a new bag.
Manufacture and “bang for the buck” is great with this one. I will however try to find another shoulder strap, especially for summer time. With these standardized Woojin buckles, it actually should not be a problem to find some. In fact, if you own a Laptop briefcase by HTX, you can actually switch the straps.
With that being said, I want to thank Helikon-Tex for giving me the chance to write this review. Many thanks to you as well for reading. As always I do hope I was able to give a thorough look into the bag.