I've wanted a cool messenger bag for a while now but everything I saw was either too expensive or not to my taste. So why not get a basic bag and modify it. I started with a Relic Tundra Messenger Bag that I picked up at a local discount store and although it was cool, it wasn't cool enough.
So, I thought that I could add some more utility and organization to the bag and make it my own.
Shortly after submitting this project, I was notified that I had won the Lifehacker Challenge for submitting the best customized messenger bag. Check out the writeup here.
Step 1: Outside of the Bag
Let's start with the outside, I found some cool leather belts with brass buckles at the same discount store and decided that the outside needed a more "saddle bag" look with a functional handle. These belts were lined with some sort of herring bone fabric that would work well for a replacement strap. The other leather on the front and handle had the lining removed. I stitched it all by hand with wax thread and a needle for mending sails. I made a handle by stitching it together and hot gluing a piece of rope inside to give it shape and attached it as shown. I even added pieces on the strap hinge and side to cover as much of the original trim as possible. I also added push through metal fasteners to replace the magnetic ones under the flap that will definitely stay shut.
Step 2: Back Pocket
Now the back pocket, nothing but a zipper, so it needed an organizer for writing tools and such. I've saved old bags for years and re-purposed the inside of a binder bag for the panel that holds pens and such. I cut and sewed it to size and installed snap buttons to hold it inside the back pocket.
Step 3: Replace Zipper Pulls
I changed all the zipper pulls with 550 para-cord.
Step 4: Velcro Straps to Front Pockets
I added Velcro straps to the inside front pocket to keep the contents from jumping out.
Step 5: Inside the Bag
Now the inside, The bag didn't have a zippered closure for the inside so back to bag junkyard for an old binder cover (all I had was black) that I sewed from the inside. I also sewed panels of Velcro from an old camera bag and their foam separators to keep things inside in order. It keeps a water bottle, and smaller items where they can be easily reached. (I hate a messy bag).
Step 6: Contents
Contents, inside front pockets travel journal and Rhodia sketchbook.
1. Aluminum water bottle, 2. iPad 2 in Gumdrop case, 3. Rhodia sketchbook, 4. Ear buds, 5. IPad power cord, 6. Cell phone, 7. Wallet, 8. Extra power pack for Cell and IPod Touch, 9. IPod Touch, 10. Something to warm the cold nights, 11. Stanley power tape, 12. Traveler's journal, 13. urban survival kit*, 14. Canon G9, 15. Swiss Army blade. Back pocket not shown: Complete set of writing tools.
*Urban Survival Kit (4"x6"x2" zippered pouch): Whistle, pocket flashlight, signal mirror, pocket saw, zip ties, 550 para-cord, Leatherman Micra Multitool, razor blade, exacto blades, duct tape, water proof writing paper, pencil, aluminum foil, zip bag, trash bag, Krazy Glue, safety ear plugs, fire starting kit, lighter, water purification tablets, safety pins, first aid kit, medical scissors, $15 cash and coins.
Well that's about it. This will give you a better picture of what one may need to survive the urban jungle.
Good Luck, The Toolman