Breaking in a Saddleback Briefcase


hen I got my Saddleback Briefcase, I went on a process to break it in so that it’s more manageable as an every day bag. Out of the box, Saddleback products are beautiful but very stiff. My last bag, the messenger, took a solid two years to break in. I’m hoping to accelerate the process this time with my briefcase.

Edit: There’s a lot of commentary online about how this is cheating the aging process. There are methods to truly doing this and will create an immediate aged look. I’m not trying to accomplish that with my briefcase. Instead, I’m looking to break it in quickly so that it’s truly functional as an every day bag. For a bag that’s marketed to fit Apple products, I’m pretty sure most users aren’t mountain climbing with their briefcases. This method was intended only to do the initial break in, like a new pair of baseball gloves. It’s the years of use that will later add the patina.

The following procedures may void your warranty. Do so at your own risk. Shh… don’t tell Saddleback about this, my warranty is probably void now. I didn’t buy the bag for the 100 year warranty. I bought the bag because I know this is one I don’t need to baby and it was built to take the beating.

Break in procedure

  1. Stuff the bag with books, magazines, and as much weight as you can. Hang it for a couple days. This will stretch out the bag a bit and loosen it up. I had double finding a place to hang that much weight so I rigged up a 2×3 that saddled across two saw horses and hung my bag on that.
  2. Rub a thin layer of rubbing alcohol on strategically placed areas you want “distressed.” Fold up the bag and make as many wrinkles as you can. Check out this great article by Chamberlain’s Leather Milk.
  3. Drag the bag in some dust and gravel. My basement has a pile of concrete dust and chips from a demo project. I roughed up the bag in the mix. This creates scratches in the leather and will scratch up the hardware a bit. Go slowly so you don’t create more damage than you want. Some people recommend using sandpaper but I’m not a big fan because it creates artificial scratches.
  4. Clean it up with a damp rag to remove the dust and gravel. Spray the bag down with some water. This is going to dry out the leather and cause damage. On lesser products, I’d be afraid of causing structural damage but as a testament to Saddleback, their products are so rugged this barely puts a dent in it. Let the bag dry out completely.
  5. For the next couple days, keep massaging the bag. Bend it, fold it. Toss it around. At work, I keep it under my desk as a foot rest. My shoes then rub up on it all day long.
  6. Repeat this procedure as many times as you’d like until you get the desired effect. The alcohol, dust rub, and wetting and drying is damaging the leather. It’ll make the leather brittle and crack. Again, my bag showed no signs of this.

Daniel Hoang Saddleback distressed

Clean and condition

Now that your leather is broken in, distressed in some areas, and thirsty for necessary oils, it’s time to condition it back to life.

  1. Use Clamberlain’s Leathermilk cleaner to clean up all the grime. You want the leather pristine.
  2. Use their leather conditioner or water protector. The latter will darken the leather slightly.
  3. Rub the edges of the leather with some beeswax. I use Otterwax which is a blend.
  4. Let the bag dry out overnight and buff it to a shine with a cloth.

Daniel Hoang Saddleback Edge Finish

Other approaches

The best way to get that aged look and beautiful patina is to use the bag. Here are a few ideas to really wear in the bag.

  1. Fill the bag with stones of varying sizes and roll it around the yard. This will create wear on the inside and create a tumbling action.
  2. Fill the bag with construction tools and and use it at a job site. I’m a DIY remodeler so it’ll likely be my home or friends home.
  3. Expose the bag to water. Walk in the rain. Strap it to the hull of your kayak.
  4. In the Summer, leave it out in the sun for some UV exposure. Use the bag as a cooler for Summer picnics.

Here’s my briefcase after the break in. It slouches and just flops down because it’s so soft. The scratches are barely visible after the two coats of conditioning. Now off to soak in some rays on a sunny day. 

I also didn’t like the handle in the briefcase. My messenger handle was made of just leather and had a pleasant creaking sound when it moves. The briefcase handle has a small pvc pipe in it to hold its shape and to give it strength. It also made it really rigid.

I tried a coping saw but that cut the leather. I then used some tin snips to cut kerfs in the ends of the pipe. Using some needle nose pliers, I was able to twist and snap off pieces. Eventually, I was able to use a pair of pliers and muscle it out. 

I’m sure I’ve completely voided my warranty now but I think my briefcase is now officially broken in, edges dressed, and the handle soft. For a basically brand new bag, it feels like I’ve had it for years. Now to use it daily and build the character naturally.

Published by Daniel Hoang

Daniel Hoang is a visual leader, storyteller, and creative thinker. As an experienced management consultant, he believes in a big picture approach that includes strong project leadership, creative methods, change management, and strategic visioning. He uses a range of visual tools to communicate business challenges, solutions, and goals. His change strategy is to build "tribes" of supporters and evangelists to drive change in culture and organization. Daniel is an avid technologist and futurist and early adopter.

5 thoughts on “Breaking in a Saddleback Briefcase

  1. I personally loved my bag when it didn’t slouch as much as it does now. I still love it now, though. I guess I can see the benefit to both sides. It’s really user preference.

    That and the thought of doing all that to my bag just kinda hurts. Like nails on a chalkboard, haha!

    Fun read, though!

    1. Thanks for the comment Randy. There are briefcases that hold their form a lot better as it ages. Me, I want mine to melt and form into whatever I’m carrying.

      I didn’t buy a Saddleback to baby it. The benefit of the bag really showed up when you clean it up and it looks/functions just like day one.

  2. I find it a bit hilarious how upset this makes some folks. 🙂

    These are neat tips — I won’t go this far with my satchel, but there are definitely a few ideas I’ll adapt just to ease that stiffness a bit. Thanks for the cool description of your process!

    1. If you do everything minus the rub it around a pit of gravel, it actually works really well. The scratches all went away when I conditioned it. I have a two year old messenger that aged naturally and my brand new briefcase feels as broken in.

      Thanks for the support. I thought I was the only person that has ever bought washed jeans.

  3. Love it! I’ve had mine about five years. Still looks brand-new, and I don’t baby it. Tomorrow, it’s gonna get traumatized! Just a little…

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