Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger Bag: 9 Month Follow-Up

I’ve owned the Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger Bag now for 9 months, and it’s become my favourite satchel for daily carry of my cameras and as a laptop bag. Here’s a detailed update on the Harvey Messenger.

Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger: 9 months later

Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger: 9 months later

Filson 70193 Harvey Messenger Bag (Magnum Black)

I still use my Billinghams frequently, but the Harvey goes out the door with me most of the time now.  I’ve come to appreciate its slightly larger size over the Billingham Hadley Pro, its additional pockets for better organization, and the light weight, waterproofed cotton that keeps the weight down. Often, I go to client meetings with a 13″ Macbook Pro.  This bag has quickly become my go-to carrier for that duty, and by keeping the camera insert inside, I can both carry my laptop in the padded sleeve and still have a camera with me, in the bag.

Padded laptop sleeve, ideal for 13" or 15" laptops

Padded laptop sleeve, ideal for 13″ or 15″ laptops

The great Magnum photographer, David Alan Harvey, designed this bag for Filson.  (BTW, I would highly recommend a copy of his phenomenal book, “based on a true story”.  I bought a copy recently from Mr. Harvey’s Burn Magazine group, and it brings back the power of the photo essay).

As many enthusiasts of photojournalism and street photography know, Mr. Harvey is a minimalist when it comes to equipment, which usually means one camera, one prime lens.  With that in mind, the photo insert that he designed reflects that sensibility:  it’s one padded insert that can be divided into two equal spaces, or the divider removed and it’s one large open space.

Padded Photo Insert:  one divider to create two compartments

Padded Photo Insert: one divider to create two compartments

It can easily hold a couple of my Fuji X-Pro1 cameras, each with a prime lens (like the XF 18mm on one and a Touit 32mm on another body).  In fact, I couldn’t imagine a better photo insert than the Harvey design for carrying two, relatively light rangefinder form cameras.  I’ve also carried one Fuji X-Pro1 with a prime and a Leica M3 with its prime, and that works great too.  Mr. Harvey writes a bit about his design philosophy on his bag, here:

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Testing the Filson Harvey Messenger bag in Venice

A post shared by David Alan Harvey (@davidalanharvey) on

And here’s a short promo video about the Harvey Messenger, where Mr. Harvey talks about the bag, as well –

The insert makes it obvious that Mr. Harvey truly designed this bag, and it’s not merely Filson using his name for cachet.

Going out repeatedly with just one or two prime lenses, and one or two cameras, when using Mr. Harvey’s bag, is a revelation:  the reduced choice and lighter load forced me to use the one or two tools I had at my disposal, and I tended to move around my subjects much more, to look for new ways of seeing the scene.

Also, walking for four to eight hours at a time wasn’t a burden, with such a light load.  So I get the idea behind the minimalist insert.

With that said: Having the ability to divide the inserts into two asymmetrical compartments or even having a second divider (so that three compartments can be created) would have created a lot of versatility, and still not overload the photographer.

But overall, for street photography and as a daily carry, I’m happy carrying a single camera with one prime, or perhaps two cameras with two primes, at the most.  It’s funny to say, but yes, I think a camera BAG actually taught me a valuable lesson!

Besides, when I really do need three lenses or more, it’s usually when I’m on assignment.  At that point, I’m not even considering messenger or satchel style bags.  I choose boxier, camera bag designs like Billingham’s 225 or 335, or one day I might try Filson + Magnum’s McCurry Sportsman.  Their deeper designs makes it easier to access the equipment from the top.

Billingham 225 SLR Camera Shoulder Bag – FiberNyteSage

Billingham 335 SLR Camera Shoulder Bag – Khaki

Filson Mccurry Sportsman Bag One Size Magnum Black

I’m very appreciative of the additional small pockets the Harvey Messenger has, over my Hadley Pro and certainly over my Brady Gelderburn (the latter is not a camera bag, but a fishing bag).  The easy to access smart phone and pen pockets on the back are handy, and the slim, end pockets are fantastic.  I place spare batteries and SD cards in those.  And the hidden, zippered pocket inside continues to be a secure place for my wallet.

Back view:  mesh document pocket, and dedicated pockets for phone & pens

Back view: mesh document pocket, and dedicated pockets for phone & pens.  Slip pockets on each end

If you’re looking for a more formal looking bag, you’ll be better served by the appearance an urbane Artisan & Artist or country estate Billingham, which have a neater, more rigid appearance.

The Harvey Messenger, on the other hand, looks like an old, soft, army surplus bag.  I’ve found during my 9 months of usage, that’s a good thing on the street – no one ever pays attention to my bag.  It’s always under the radar, and it doesn’t attract attention.  A good thing, when I’m carrying a few thousand dollars worth of camera equipment.

With 9 months of continuous use, I can say this:  I like the Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger bag even more now.  And even its minimalist insert, which at first I disliked for its lack of versatility, has proven to me that carrying a smaller load of equipment is sometimes the smarter way.

A note to readers:  Filson did not provide this bag to me, I purchased it at full retail price with my own funds.  This goes for all of the equipment that I review here.  This ensures my reviews are honest and free of influence from the manufacturer.

If you like my work, you might consider helping to support this website.  Click on any of the product links in the review.  With any purchase, a small percentage goes to this site, without any cost to you.  Thank You!

Filson 70193 Harvey Messenger Bag (Magnum Black)


4 thoughts on “Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger Bag: 9 Month Follow-Up

  1. So, which one do you reach for first when you hit the streets – the Filson Harvey Messenger, or the Billingham Hadley Pro? I’ve also got the Harvey bag and think it’s great, but I’m not there with the insert quite yet, in part because it can’t be fixed to the bag. That being said, I prefer this design to the bigger, stiffer inserts of the Hadley Pro. Velcro on the bottom of the Harvey Messenger insert may be my friend here.

    The other thing I’m not entirely ‘there’ with the Harvey bag is that the shoulder strap is too damn short. I tend to sling a bag over one shoulder, so the bag rests on my opposite hip, but the Harvey bag’s strap is too short to allow that comfortably. It’s great for hanging off one shoulder, which I guess also limits the amount of pointless photographic ephemera you carry with you, but I’d still prefer a longer strap.

    • Hello Alan;

      Thanks for commenting!

      I’ve owned the Harvey for a year now, and I’m using it much more than the Hadley Pro now, for my everyday carrying bag with a couple of X cameras or perhaps an M rangefinder. I also turn to the Harvey to carry my 13″ Macbook, because it has that convenient padded laptop sleeve, and my Hadley Pro doesn’t.

      I agree with you that the Hadley Pro insert is stiffer than the the Harvey’s. None of my Billingham bags have the soft, wrap-around feel of the Harvey or my old Domke bags. As the years go by, I’m preferring the softer style bag over the more structured types, like Billinghams.

      I do like the snap lid on the Harvey insert, because it’s fast and easy to use. When I’m shooting, I never do up the outer leather strap and buckle, but I always snap the insert lid shut, when doing street shooting. It still bugs me that the divider can only be placed in that centre position. Two rangefinder form bodies plus three lenses in total is not a heavy load, and being able to place dividers anywhere, plus having one more divider, would’ve made the Harvey insert much more versatile. But I’m learning to live with “just” two lenses for street shooting 🙂

      With my sloping shoulders, I always have to carry my bags cross-body (over one shoulder and resting on the opposite hip, as you describe). I’m about 5’9″, and the shoulder strap seems to work OK for me. The adjustment buckle is about 3 inches above where the strap is attached to the bag. At that length, my bag sits at around waist level for me. The top of the mobile phone and pen pockets are around my belt line.

      For city use, that seems to work well for me. Low enough that it’s easy for me to flip open the top to access my gear, but high enough that I feel it’s sufficiently secure walking crowded, city streets.

      • Yes, that’s what I’m coming to, too. I’m kind of leaning toward the Filson bag both as a less rigidly structured place to store lenses, and as an exercise in forced gear reduction. A bag that can take a deceptive amount of equipment means you carry a deceptive amount of equipment with you, where for the most part one or two bodies and two or three lenses is more than enough.

  2. Hey Alan;
    For my paid work, I’ve been using a pouch and belt set-up for the last two months. It’s not from any one manufacturer, but something I threw together from two different brands of pouches (a Billingham and a Domke, that I already owned) and then bought a padded Think Tank belt to use them.

    While it’s great for my paid location work, I don’t think it negates the use of a great messenger style bag like the Filson Harvey. However, I can see how the two carrying systems (pouch and bag) can complement each other. I’m going to try experimenting with both, next time I do some street photography.

    Best regards, Marco

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