I've been using Wotancraft's Ranger bag for 25 days and it is only now suitable to give you this review from my personal experience. My Ranger was with me all the time during my business trip to Taipei and Shanghai, as well as daily uses after I came back to Hong Kong, in rainy days, hiking and beach side BBQ, etc.
The soul behind Wotancraft is James, whom started researching about 5 years ago to create a camera bag he would use. I had a great time visiting James and chatted about his creation for about an hour. The name and logo of the company bears a resemblance of the Warcraft role-playing game logo, but James never knew about it when he named the company. Wotancraft means in every sense a desire to achieve perfection in craftsmanship. "Wotan" the old high German form of "Odin", is a major god in Norse mythology who is associated with battle, victory, wisdom and magic. James would like his company to be a powerful one almost achieving a mythical status through highest possible quality standard. He believes careful craftsmanship is better than mass production. Let's see how much details are being put in this US$449 all purpose bag.
Ranger's distressed and nomadic look is not only defined by its unique navy grey canvas and dark brown leather mix, but also the carefully aging processes done to the material. For example, to achieve the effect, the canvas was washed, wrinkled, brushed and stained before a final wax coating was put on it. Although this aging thing sounds a bit superficial, but the minute you start to use it, you literally skip the honeymoon period trying to use the bag carefully, it feels like you've been using it for a while and it is part of you. I mean it, not to worry a bit about scratches on leather, nor to spend time intentionally distressing it heavily in order to feel a personal ownership.
The look is just one of the many carefully planned features of a Ranger. A lot of the satchels you see in the market have those two straps coming down from the top over the flap, they are there mostly for decorative purpose and not designed to function. Ranger's straps are there because James wanted to solve one problem, to carry a jacket when you don't have an extra hand. I'm sure many of you have the same problem, the places we go to take photos can have huge temperature differences, nobody wants to carry a larger volume bag just to take care of the jacket. These straps became very handy because they are extra long yet adjustable, I could tie my scarf or slide my leather jacket beneath them with zero efforts during business trips. On rainy days, I also carry a retractable umbrella like that for quick access.
Let's talk about external pockets. There are two side pockets for small stuffs, I wish they were big enough to put my iPhone though. The two front pockets are large enough for small cameras like my Natura Classica or Olympus EP-3 with pancake lens. One problem with these front pockets is that there is no flap to secure the contents inside, I might have to stitch a leather flap with snaps by myself someday so that I can feel safer to put camera or keychains in them. This is obviously a point for improvement.
Behind the front pockets is a zip pocket large enough to put your iPad, this became my quick access pocket to important things like my Traveler's Notebook. Now these three pockets are behind the bag's leather flap, but you don't need to unfasten the snaps to access them, just quickly pull over the flap to reveal and retrieve, very handy and speedy!
Gear protection. Heavily inspired by WWII aesthetics, Wotancraft highlights Ranger with aluminum buckles and brass snaps on the outside, but gets serious with gear protection on the inside. The removable MK.I pouch, using the same material as military hovercraft's air cushion on the surface, sealed by YKK water-repellent zipper, is almost 100% waterproof. According to James, he is planning a MK.II version which is completely seamless with even better waterproof features. Well, waterproofing is not what I'm looking for, but you can see how dedicated he is to the details.
On both the MK.I pouch and the external bag, there are hidden velcros. They are there to make sure your MK.I pouch is fixed firmly inside the bag, but when they are not needed, the velcros are hidden to prevent scratching on your equipments. The inside of MK.I pouch is made from high density foam covered with very smooth micro fiber cloth, making camera retrieval a low friction effort in addition to the heavy duty protection. Four dividers are provided so that you can create your own suitable compartments. I can put 3 cameras inside: Canon F1 with 85mm f1.2 lens, Voigtlander R4A with Nokton 35mm f1.2 lens, Olympus EP-3 with 12mm f2.0 lens.
So literally you have 3 layers of protections. Waterproof anti-shock MK.I, external waxed canvas bag with zipper and the leather flap. For my daily use, I actually don't need the MK.I pouch, I usually put a slimmer Artisan & Artist inner pouch to carry 1 camera, the Ranger immediately shrinks into a transit friendly casual bag.
Here's some more smart features of the Ranger. For a large bag like this, it takes time to unzip all the way and resistance at the two corners is inevitable. If you are not a zipper person like me, you can leave the canvas cover half zipped half opened, this can be achieved by folding the cover in half, it snaps in place by itself because of the built in magnets, it makes cameras accessible yet secure inside, very smart design. If you are an insecure person and always want to zip up everything, speedy access is still possible because there is a small leather tab you can leave dangling outside, with just one quick pull of the tab, both zipper heads fly open in split seconds! James nailed it, satisfying men's desire to access their tools with speed, imagine this design on a pair of jeans :)
A final note on features. There is a laptop compartment inside the canvas bag, suitable for my 13" Macbook Air or 15" models. There are small pockets for pen and accessories sitting behind the laptop compartment as well, although I don't use them that much.
I have to mention the weight, which is important to photographers. My Saddleback briefcase medium size is a heavy 2.95 kg monster, I love the bag but I just can't use it to carry cameras, it is killing my shoulders and spine. Wotancraft's Ranger is 1.72 kg without the MK.I pouch (which is 0.52 kg by itself). The reason why it is slightly heavier than a typical canvas bag is that wax was not only coated but actually soaked thoroughly into the canvas, you can see I had no hesitation to leave my Ranger on a wet football field in one of the photos. The softness of cushioned canvas also makes it more comfortable to body than hard thick leather used on the Saddleback briefcase (well I know, Saddleback's was never designed for photographers anyway).
The shoulder strap. Beautiful piece of craftsmanship, it feels very comfortable hanging down the shoulder or diagonally crossing the body. Even though its length is adjustable, I still found it a bit too long coz I like to carry weight close to my center of gravity (I'm 5'8" last time I checked 20 years ago). So I did a little modification to suit my need. There are two small built in D-rings near each end of the shoulder pad, I stitched safety hooks on them with scrap leather, giving me an option to shorten or quick releasing the strap in 5 possible lengths. Now I can carry my Ranger comfortably as a messenger bag or as a clutch bag.
If you are new to Wontancraft's Ranger, I must remind you to use sand paper to blunt the buckle pins coz they are very sharp. I also found that some of the leather edge finishing paint may fall off, I have no problem with that because it helps to give the distressed look I like about Ranger. In any case, Wotancraft is serious about quality, according to Wotancraft and both distributors I know (one from Hong Kong (Annie Barton), one from Netherlands (Vintage 217)), they are fully committed to give Wotancraft users complete satisfaction, just shoot them an email if you need support, they are all decent and nice people as far as I know. Again, Wotancraft is not a corporation but just a few artisans behind doing what they enjoy most, you can expect friendly services and dedication to details. I would give Ranger a 9.5 out of 10 score as a cool stylish and function rich camera/casual bag.
During my discussion with James in their Taipei showroom, he told me that he is designing a future add-on to the Ranger bag, a strap to convert Ranger into a backpack! I need that James! Especially in a long day I need it to be a backpack, then it is perfect!
A week ago, Steve Huff reviewed Wotancraft's City Explorer Paratrooper camera bag, check out his video below.