Navali Mainstay Messenger Bag Review

Navali Mainstay

Navali Mainstay Messenger Bag Review

It was just another day sailing the seven internet series. I arrived on deck at the Milk Farm to find a shiny Navali leather bag staring me in the face. At the time, I’d only heard the occasional shanty about this company. They were an enigma to me, and I hadn’t quite made the “Naval-i” connection yet – that they were seafaring lovers like this crusty old salt. A quick anchor at their website solved that little conundrum – we are, without a doubt, kindred spirits as e’er three swabbies could be.

So who be the other two, you ask? Jessica Miro and Jennifer Lockwood, two bright lasses who, shoving silly old superstitions back into Davy Jones locker from whence they came, made jolly good lady sailors of themselves from an early age. They practically grew up on the seas together, after a fateful meeting at a Ballet production of Peter & the Wolf. [ Me and Peter also go a long ways back, actually, so that’s just instant bonus points. I’m practically swooning over sirens here. But enough of that mermaid trail. ]

Sailboats on Lake Champlain

A Shanty

Lake Champlain, Vermont was to be the outset of Jessica and Jennifer’s grand adventure. After they’d fallen in love with the tides around their own home, they developed an insatiable appetite to experience more beautiful phenomena. And so it happened that best friends Jess and Jen decided to leave port and see the open world. Their travels would take them all across the globe in their time: from England to China to Mexico and especially Boston University, where Jen found the golden treasure she didn’t know she was always looking for: the wonder of a well-dressed man. It didn’t take long for the two to quit their dayjobs and decide – over a mouthful of coconut on a scenic Mexican beach – that they’d set up an enterprise for fashionable men’s accessories and leather bags. They only needed a crew, and a little wind in their sail.

Being so charismatic and resourceful, it wasn’t long before Jen and Jess checked the first piece off their list. A seasoned leather factory caught their attention while they were tasting wines in China, and by the time they left Panda country, they’d assembled the finest crew you ever saw. As for that wind they needed, that bit came in the form of a man living on a wharf in coastal Massachusetts. He purchased their very first bag: a classic canvas and leather mainstay. Turns out that mainstay sang to him like a siren, and unable to resist the urge for more, he came back for a boatswain just a couple months later. This man’s enthusiasm inspires Jess and Jenn to release a whole new line of leather accessories building on their previous models, and Navali leather proper was born.

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The Prize

We’re looking at the Navali Mainstay Messenger Bag here. For those unfamiliar with sailor jargon or pirate talk, a mainstay is a thick rope that stabilizes the two masts on a sailing ship – the foremast and the mainmast. These ropes had to put up with a lot – powerful winds strong enough that they were relied upon to push the ship forward, the weight of the creaking masts which held the sails, brutal storms ravaging the seas, and whatever other hellish monstrosities the open waters could conjure. There was a great deal to be feared in a frontier so mysterious and seemingly without end. Sailors who lacked confidence in a ship would usually reject generous offers to man it, and the ship would be burned. For a voyage to be successful, it was crucial that the mainstay – the cornerstone, the chief support – inspire enough confidence that people were willing to risk their lives sailing with it.

After a small amount of time with my Navali Mainstay Messenger Bag, I feel pretty pleased to say: it inspires.

I’m speaking generally here – leather and water usually don’t mix well together. You may have encountered this problem elsewhere. Perhaps you dropped your suede purse into a puddle, and some water stains developed that never quite went away. Or maybe you took your briefcase out into the rain, and it grew mysteriously dry and tough over the next few days. Perhaps your leather car seats have even attracted some mold. All of these can be consequences of wet leather. If I’m going out to sea, why would I want to bring something so vulnerable to good ole H2O out on a cruise with me? I’ve got one word for you. Pull-up.

That’s not an expression. I did a blog on Pull Up Leather recently. Long story short, this leather is ridiculously hard to kill, and not only looks seaworthy, it acts like it too. Pull up’s naturally imbued with heavy oils, is tarnish resistant, element resistant, and can hold sturdy even when neglected. It will scarcely ever need maintenance, but when you take the time to make sure it’s cared for, hardly anything will get past this hide. I should know – I’ve seen it firsthand. I puddled water on my Navali Mainstay and it beaded on the surface rather than absorb (this was without any extra protection). Fingernail scratches simply rub out. I pulled and tugged at this leather to stretch it out, and nothing gave. It is, quite simply, impervious to my mortal mischiefs.

Navali Mainstay Carbon

A Taut Ship

What’s even more bizarre is that my Navali Mainstay seemed to look even better after I tried to wear it out. Like any seasoned sailor, Navali leather looks best when it has an aged and rugged look. Although my Navali Mainstay is fairly new, it already looked like it had traveled the world when it arrived in my office. Riddling its surface were all sorts of natural marks and patterns and colors deeply embedded in the grain – it practically needed no breaking in. It was simply magnificent to look at. Jen and Jess’s fashion industry experience pays off well here.

So beauty and durability check off. What about the practicality? Ironclads were pretty tough back in their day, but nobody who’s not a Civil War reenactor would dare take those things out to sea. They’re archaic and not very easy to move around. Fortunately, Jen and Jess are keeping up with the times. The Navali Mainstay Messengers’s outfitted with as many pockets and compartments as a first class yacht. It’s roomy, accessible, and got a waxed canvas lining to boot, which has historically been used as a waterproofer by sailors. The inside is divided into two neat compartments. The first is a massive anterior compartment that takes up most of the Mainstay’s 15.5” x 11” by 4.5” interior space. The second is a laptop sleeve, protected by two convenient snap on strips and fits gadgetry up to 13” in length. Even better, both compartments are bolstered by reinforced padding at the base, so accidental drops won’t endanger your valuables. Top this off with a spacious brass zipper pocket and three accessory sleeves, and a closing flap that clasps magnetically whenever you’re done poking about inside. Honestly, it feels like they’ve thought of everything. On the outside, you’ve got the benefit of yet another larger brass zipper back sleeve and two side pockets, and a shoulder strap that I found very comfortable to wear even when occupied by numerous heavy objects. I try to keep lots of big books on hand as a rule, see.


The overall size of the Navali Mainstay runs at a 16″ x 12″ x 5″ dimension, which is just about where it needs to be. It’s pretty flexible, so it can store a great deal without compromising the bag’s integrity, and, when the situation demands, can fit in some pretty tight places, like the overhead compartment of your cramped American Airlines shuttle. It’s so versatile it’s practically an amphibian.

Worth its Salt?

So basically, this is a pretty awesome leather product. Something I’ll also got to say, I’m mystified by how Jen and Jess have managed to keep the price so low on one of these things. In the leather industry, you generally won’t find bags this great for any less than $200-300. Over at Navali, you can find this steal of a bag for an almost ridiculously affordable offer of $83.99. You read that right, and yes, I am also baffled. Short of those two magicking off of a Fairy Godmother, I really have no idea how they do it. It’s not “you get what you pay for” here. It’s almost literally “put a quarter in our gumball machine and you can have the gumball machine.” I’m totally okay with that trade.

Head on over to Navali’s website and have a look at this thing for yourself. Don’t let the monkey’s fist keychains or shiny cufflinks distract you. Especially not their waxed canvas bags. You can get lost in that sea of goodies. A sailor’s salute to ye, Jennifer and Jessica. I’m a Navali fan now.

Daniel Sutton