Review: Levenger Bomber Jacket International Pocket Briefcase

Levenger Bomber International Pocket BriefcaseIt's fair to say that I've tried a few dozen alternatives over the past year for carrying index cards, from the expensive and slickly-produced to the cheap and home-grown, and everything in between. To tell the truth, I haven't had much luck with many of them. Either it takes too much time to find my "primary" cards (e.g., Combined Actions, monthly calendar), or the writing service is not conducive to note-taking, or the form proves ill-fitting to my carrying options, or the feel of the case is not to my taste (the latter being quite subjective). Of course, anyone familiar with paper-based planning products is quite familiar with Levenger, a company with beautiful and thoughtfully constructed products for even the most discerning among us. It was therefore with some cautious optimism that I embarked on a week-long test-drive of their new Bomber Jacket International Pocket Briefcase.

This pocket briefcase is constructed almost entirely from quality "bomber"-style leather, so named because the material is well-known from those jackets worn by WWII fighter pilots. If you're not familiar with this, it's a slightly rubbery pebbled leather, rather rustic in texture and appearance. The dimensions of the briefcase, closed, are about 3/4" greater than that of a standard 3x5" index card, and just a little larger than a pocket-size Moleskine (which, incidentally, would make an appropriate journalling companion for it). Once open, you will note that the left side has three tiered credit/business card slots, the bottom one with a transparent ID card window and a thumb-hole for raising the card. Behind that is a stash pocket, and behind that is a large pocket for index cards. At center is a long pocket for a pen, and at right is the primary note-taking area. Cards are gripped tight within the half-inch high leather pockets, top and bottom, and behind that is another large pocket for index cards. The product is also a wallet, so you can open it up to store your money, receipts, or smallish folded papers.

Briefcase held open

I should note, to begin, that my personal tastes tend towards the rugged but refined. That isn't, in itself, a contradiction: it's quite possible to find high-quality products that stand up to a beating, and whose manufacture lends itself to usage both in the boardroom and in the great outdoors. Thankfully, this briefcase fits the bill admirably. The white contrast stitching is superb, the leather is strong but thin enough not to be bulky, the stylish brownish plaid fabric on the inside meshes well with the overall look, and the product looks like it could be tossed in almost any kit to withstand the usual bends, compressions, and pointy objects. I've carried it in my cluttered knapsack, my packed guide bag, the inside of my parka, and even in my back pocket, without any noticeable deterioration in its appearance.

For the HipsterPDA users among us, it affords a variety of options, since one essentially has four different areas to store cards: the easily accessible stash pocket; the inner left pocket; the inner right pocket; and the note-taking area. For my use, I decided to keep my priority cards in the stash, my secondary list-related cards in the inner left pocket, my tertiary cards (those not often used) at inner right, and about five blank and lined cards in the notes area. I settled on this particular formation because it's far easier to extract the inner pocket cards at left, since they stick out about about 1/3". At right, they are buried behind the notes area, and aren't quite as easy to extract. A small arched cut for one's thumb wouldn't go amiss here.

At first, I was a little disappointed in the storage capability of this briefcase. In my experience, about 30 cards seems to be the "sweet spot" for carrying all those cards that one typically needs. Without keeping some in the wallet area, I was barely able to thrust about 20 cards in the briefcase without jamming them in too tight. But after several days of use, I noticed the leather had stretched somewhat, and now I'm pleased to note that it accommodates all the cards I tend to use.

So how is it for note-taking? Well, I tend to think while pacing, and stop occasionally to jot down my ideas. To that end, I found that I had to bend the briefcase backward so that my left hand could provide support from behind, and my left thumb could extend over the pen pocket to steady the surface. This does work, but it revealed two slight problems. First, the wallet pocket arches open behind at the bend, which may detract from its outside appearance over time with a slight bowing of the leather. Second, even with all my cards, the surface wasn't particularly solid, especially with the 1/3rd of the writing surface that extended beyond the bent-back left side. I should note here, however, that I tend to write quite firmly, and this may not be an issue for most people. I've mentioned this to Levenger, and they mentioned that additional support behind the notes area may be an option in the future. Of course, if one writes with the product open on a desk, none of this should prove of any consequence.

(I should here take a moment to mention that I've also tried the Levenger ballistic nylon pocket briefcase, and it's stiff enough for writing in one's hand -- a excellent option if you don't want all the frills of a folding wallet product.)

The pen pocket is wide enough to hold most slimmer, shorter pens. A full-size Pilot G-2 will just barely fit, if one clicks it open (and perhaps cuts off the clip), but it does seem rather bulky. A Fisher Space Pen or a de-clipped G-2 Mini would prove preferable options, if you can't find a slimmer pocket pen. For the purposes of this review, Levenger was kind enough to send along their new Pocket Pen, which looks stunning and fits perfectly. (I'll have other things to say about this pen at a later date.)

Size comparisonA size comparison, from left to right: Lamy Al-Star fountain pen, Levenger Pocket Pen, the Bomber Pocket Briefcase, a pocket-size Moleskine, a Pilot G-2 gel pen.

Now, although I personally carry enough kit bags, laptop cases, and knapsacks every day to accommodate anything smaller than a poodle, I imagine that most people here are very concerned about portability. As mentioned, this briefcase, folded, is just a little larger in width and height than a pocket Moleskine. Its thickness, however, is obviously influenced by how much you stuff into it. Briefcase and Moleskine, side by sideMy current setup is about 3/4" thick. Yes, it does fit into my back pocket and into my (largish) shirt pocket, but it is rather bulky. However, Levenger has produced a fairly slim wallet here, especially when one considers all its components -- its expanding girth is up to you, which is no different than any other type of planner product.

When one thinks of quality leather products, price is often of primary concern. To tell the truth, I'm actually amazed by how inexpensive this product is -- currently $48 at the Levenger online store. I've seen many quite inferior plain leather wallets (yes, the type you probably have in your pocket right now) going for several times this cost. In fact, one company sent me a similar index card wallet a few months ago with a much higher price point that wasn't nearly as well-made. Thankfully, the price here isn't indicative of any scrimping of quality in the materials or the stitching, and --considering the many years of usage that one might derive from this product-- it seems to be quite a bargain.

The Verdict:

With the Bomber Jacket International Pocket Briefcase, Levenger has produced a stylish but rugged product that should hold almost everything that a HipsterPDA user might need, from index cards to a pocket pen, from notes area to a stash pocket, from business and credit cards to a deep wallet for money and other loose paper items. The quality and thought that went into the product are self-evident: the materials are top-notch, the layout is both intuitive but flexible, and the design can accommodate as much as --or as little as-- one typically needs. While the briefcase has some minor issues for those who like to write in the palm of their hand (and whose needs are probably better served by other Levenger products), I can certainly recommend this product for those who are still questing for their "ultimate HipsterPDA" case, especially at its attractive price point.

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What a great review Doug. I

What a great review Doug. I believe I saw this little gem in their latest catalog. It's definitely drool worthy and if it weren't too close to the holidays I'd be on my way to ordering. As such, I've added it to my holiday wish list. Thanks for giving us the scoop on this new toy.

*drools*
/innowen

Because Your'e Worth It....

Treat yourself inno, after the manual and NaNoWriMo you deserve a 'Pocket Briefcase' :D

Big Wallet or Small Organiser...

Nice review, just a few points... ;)

"This pocket briefcase is constructed almost entirely from quality "bomber"-style leather, so named because the material is well-known from those jackets worn by WWII fighter pilots"...

I believe the USAF jackets were made from good quality goat skin whereas the RAF used sheep. Any idea which type of leather Levenger use?

I imagine that most people here are very concerned about portability"...

Although my briefcase will hold a poodle, three if I stand them on end, I still need to be able take my 'capture device' everywhere, therefore portability is still a concern. One that I am happy to see you have addressed nicely. Thank you Doug. :)

"When one thinks of quality leather products, price is often of primary concern"...

A top notch calf skin wallet will set one back 124.18 USD in the UK; a cheap bonded, a couple of dollars. Quality is never cheap.

Bomber Jacket Leather

Well, aside from the fact that I'm pretty sure it's made from the hide of a dead critter, I'm not sure which one it is. (Well, I'm fairly certain it isn't poodle.) I do know that it feels like quality material, and it's rugged enough that it doesn't suffer from marks and scratches easily, which is always a concern with many leather products. This briefcase fell into my heavy tripod bag the other day, and when I finally found it (after heaving the tripod to various locales), I expected it to be in tatters. Not so: still in perfect condition, although the cards were understandably a little bent.

all my best,
dj

Flip Pocket Briefcase good for small pockets

I bought one of the earlier International Pocket Briefcases, which was great except that it was about 1/4" too wide to fit in my aloha shirt pockets. Since only lawyers wear suits here , there weren't many alternative pockets for it. I then bought Levenger's Flip Pocket Briefcase, which doesn't hold as much as the IPB, but is 1/4" narrower and fits fine in my shirt pockets. Their standard Pocket Briefcase (no flap) was also too wide. But, yes, their leather products are first rate, and if you catch their sales, very good deals.

One extra that came with my FPB; an index card size Fresnel lens magnifier. Very handy when I forget my reading glasses!

Walter Ikehara
Honolulu, HI
-----------------------
Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.
B. Banzai

Does the flip pocket breifcase have a pen loop?

Does the Flip Pocket briefcase have a pen loop? It doesn't seem to, on Levenger's site.

FPB has no pen loop

No pen loop, but because of that, it is narrower (3.5") than the IPB (3.75") and also thinner. I like to use fountain pens anyway, so I keep a pen or two in my shirt pocket along with the FPB. I noticed that Levenger has a new case that fits a reading glasses, a pen, and has a pocket for cards, but it would never fit in my shirt pocket [A Pen & Your Glasses Eyeglass Case]. :-)

I found that a Parker Jotter ball pen is a great fit in the IPB, by the way. I gave the one I originally bought to my wife, who keeps it stashed in her purse.

Walter
-----------------------
Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.
B. Banzai

Question about both models

i have a question that applies to both the bomber style that was reviewed, and the flip style.

can these be folded back upon themselves for writing, like a wire bound steno book? or do you have to hold the cover open but not folded back?

thanks!

ISPB and Flip Pocket

Tom,

The international brief has a pocket that runs behind the credit card half and the 3x5 holder half. Even with the pocket completely empty, the wallet resists being folded completely over onto itself. [in my experience]

However, the flip pocket briefcase can be trained to do this after a few weeks of use.

Thanks,
Ryan

Flip pocket

I've been interested in the flip pocket briefcase. I don't suppose it has a pen loop, does it?

Also, I'm trying to work out (so far just in my head) a holder for a 3x5 card or cards that allows you to see or write on both sides of the card. You would have to lay it on a flat surface to write on it, and it may not turn out to be a practical idea. I think a plastic frame of some sort might be a start...
-Sarah

Flip Pocket Pen Loop

Sarah,

The flip pocket doesn't have a pen loop. You could clip a min-pen underneath the fold.

External loops never seemed to last up to the kind abuse that a 3x5 holder routinely experiences. That is why the design of the new pen pocket briefcase uses a pen pocket.

Do you think the flip pocket should have a pen loop/pocket? [at the expense of an increase in width]

Thanks,
Ryan

*I'm excited to see how your 'window writer' (?) takes shape. It sounds like a pretty innovative take on an index card holder. ;)

fpb

No, I don't think the flip pocket should be made wider nor do I think it should include the pen pocket, as that would add to the thickness. What about a discrete elastic strap in the crease for helping to hold a small pen in place? Haven't seen the flip pocket in person, so I'm just going by the photos on the website.

We'll see how my "window writer" (I like it!) comes along. If I come up with anything remotely useful, I'll post about it.
-Sarah

me poor brain

Geez that was dumb. I see now that I had already asked about a pen loop on the flip pocket briefcase. Sometimes I don't know how I even remember my own name...

-Sarah

i have one of the older

i have one of the older leather international pocket briefcases. it's been a mainstay of my organizing for years. i've been tempted to use it for note taking and as a wallet, but have refrained. it was well worth the price i paid, about $40, and has lasted under heavy daily use for at least 7 years.

Where to carry it?

this is a really tempting product -- but how do you carry it? I can't imagine where a guy could carry this briefcase if he doesn't wear a sport coat daily. It's ideally sized for a breast pocket in a coat. However, it's too large for a rear pocket on pants -- perhaps to serve the dual purpose of being a wallet.

I don't want to get into the situation of carrying multiple diaries and briefcases -- as I'm sure to lose at least one of them, or leave notes in one, while carrying the other. I'd appreciate any suggestions from men about how they go about their daily routines with this or other diaries without a purse (wouldn't that solve most logistical problems!)

Thanks!

instead of a purse

not that there is anything wrong with a man carrying a purse ... in some locales, anyway.

my chinos have fairly large pockets, and carrying a pocket briefcase (the style without the cover) in the front pocket isn't too much of a problem. cargo pants are ever better. i don't think that carrying one in jeans would work.

i also have the shirt pocket briefcase (no pen loop) and it fits, ta-DAA, in my shirt pocket. but i think it looks too much like a pocket protector so i don't carry it there.

jacket pocket is the best, but like you said, men don't always wear sport or suit coats. i never do. maybe i need to get a fishing vest and load it up -- as long as i avoid the pocket protector!

a fishing vest for writers

with all of the wonderful ideas for journals and note-taking systems on these pages, you're probably on to something: perhaps there needs to be a fishing vest for writers!

I must admit to having been tempted on the purse thing a couple of times--but I suppose the business world (and my locale) wouldn't be terribly receptive :-)

given my forgetfulness, I'm loathe to pursue multiple journals, but perhaps I should give it a try. I'd be interested: do others here (men, that is) carry multiple journals in their daily lives?

Journalist's vest

Seen at Flickr

Or should that be cargo vest?

Vest Info

I originally was given one from Eddie Bauer as a gift and fell in love with it. It was my Man Purse !!

I wore it out !!

Then I got the Banananana Republic PhotoJournalist Vest of A Thousand Pocketses. I liked the EB Vest better, but the BRPJ Vest was the only thing available. I have worn out two of these. I have one I use occasionally and one extra I am saving for when the one-in-use wears out.

I do keep track of such things and can offer the following links:

-----------------------------------
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Body bag

If you are handy with needle and thread, here is an idea for an organizer vest type Uebervest at Flickr

I'm worried about the fit

I'm worried about the fit issue, too.

I'm currently using a duckster (duct tape hipster, 3.5 x 5 x 0.5 inches), and I like it a lot. But it's wearing out after 6 months, and it's proved its usefulness, so I'm willing to invest some money.

I carry it in my front pants pocket, along with a Fisher space bullet pen and my Swiss Army knife. These are women's pants, with standard size pockets, and everything fits fine. [I won't buy bottoms without pockets.]

I am debating getting the Int'l briefcase. I like the idea of sticking me driver's license and debit card in it and doing without a purse. But I worry that the extra half inch will make the briefcase too big.

--Liz

Witty science & science fiction t-shirts
http://www.printfection.com/cartesianbear

FYI: Flip Pocket Briefcase on sale at Levenger's

Just saw the red and brown Flip Pocket Briefcase on sale at Levenger.com this morning... Check the Sale section.
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Flip Pocket Briefcase
Price: $44 Now $29.95 Save $14.05
Item:AL5820
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Walter

-----------------------
Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.
B. Banzai