Long-Term Hard Graft 2Unfold Review

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review1

I’ve been in love with the Hard Graft 2Unfold ever since I saw it featured on NotCot.com. I’ve owned the bag for about a year now, and its sturdy construction, surprising storage capacity, and terribly clever design have made it a joy to use every single day.

It took a while for me to muster up the courage and the cash to make this purchsae. The 2Unfold’s asking price is 459 Euro (approximately $700 CAD), so it is definitely an investment. The purchasing decision was also difficult because there are very few reviews of Hard Graft goods on the net — and only one good review of the 2Unfold that I could find — so there wasn’t much for me to go on before taking the plunge.

With that in mind, now that I’ve had ample time to put this bag through its paces, I thought I’d double the number of available reviews for prospective 2Unfold buyers. So without further ado, here’s my take on the Hard Graft’s transforming beauty.

Back2Back or 2Unfold

I knew that I wanted a Hard Graft bag because of the refreshing mix of luxurious materials and alternative design. But deciding exactly which of their bags to purchase proved was another detail to agonize over. The primary candidates were the Smoke Flat Pack, the Heritage Back2Back, and the Shore 2Unfold (which I bought, but is no longer available on the store).

The Flat Pack is a great lightweight bag with a secured zippered compartment, which sits right up against your back. The straps are adjustable but short, so the bag is meant to stay high on the back, like a smaller cycling bag. The Flat Pack is gorgeous, but I currently need to carry more stuff than that little bag will allow.

The Back2Back, on the other hand, is quite large — large enough to fit a 15–inch laptop alongside books or extra clothes. It also transforms from a shoulder bag into a backpack, which helps for carrying heavier loads. However, in practice, I thought the Back2Back would be a bit too large for an everyday carry. I just didn’t think I would need that kind of carrying capacity (and the accompanying volume) with me all the time.

The answer to my Goldillocks-ian predicament was the 2Unfold. If the Flat Pack was too small, and the Back2Back 2Big (sorry), then the 2Unfold seemed just right. The strap is desinged to be versatile, and it also has the ability to fold in half to reduce its size. It’s a pity that the Shore edition is no longer available to purchase, as I really love the mix of the leather on the front, and waxed canvas along the rear. You can still buy a version a gorgeous brown version (Heritage) or a terribly mysterious dark grey (Smoke).

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review2

Carrying Capacity

Before purchasing, I was worried that this would be a techie bag designed solely to fit the sliver-thin dimensions of Apple products . . . and not much more. In my experience, most laptop bags are so optimized for laptops that putting anything else into the bag can make it balloon. Fortunately, I’ve learned that the 2Unfold scales quite well, and without stretching.

This bag is at maximum storage capacity when it’s completely upright. Carrying it as a backpack, a briefcase, or a very tall shoulder bag lets me fit quite a lot into the vacuous, zippered main compartment. On a few separate occasions I’ve been able to stuff these items into the main compartment without stretching the leather:

  • two bottles of wine and a 13–inch MacBook Pro
  • 13–inch MacBook Pro, complete haircut kit, Nikon D40 with zoom lens
  • folded jeans, a wool sweater, and an iPad 2

The small zippered pocket tucked into the wall of the main compartment holds cables, earphones, and USB keys very nicely. This zippered compartment is actually the most secure section of the bag, so I also use it for storing my passport while travelling.

The only downside of the main compartment is its top-loading design, which requires you to do a bit of rearranging if you keep a number of different items in the bag. For people who are used to unzipping a backpack all the way to access all of its contents, this can take a bit of getting used to.

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review3

The rear pocket of the 2Unfold is also sealed by a zipper, and it’s best used for the slimmer items in my daily carry. I stow my cleaning cloth, some tissues, and my Sony MDR-10RBT headphones in there. This rear pocket rests against my leg when the 2Unfold is a courier bag, and right up against my back when the bag is a backpack, so it’s also quite secure. Oh, and just in case you were wondering: this pocket is big enough for a 10–inch iPad, but not an 11–inch MacBook Air.

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review4

The front of the bag gets a little more interesting. The pair of pockets along the bottom are sealed with two magnets; these magnets are just strong enough to keep your stuff from spilling out, but much quieter than your standard velcro seal. I use the larger one for storing cleaning cloths and charging cables, while the smaller one stores my iPhone and a portable battery. These pockets are sewn onto the bag as external pouches, which means they remain easy to access even if the rest of the bag is chock full of stuff. However, I’m also careful with them, since the magnetic seals are really only good for keeping stuff in — not for keeping thieves out. I take a very big risk every day by assuming that other people don’t want my sexy, white microfibre cloth, because it’s right there for the taking.

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review7

There are two other zippered pockets along the front of the 2Unfold: one seals vertically, and the other horizontally. The horizontally sealed pocket is best used for loose change, keys, or pocket pens. The vertically sealed pocket is surprisingly spacious, and I use it for miscellaneous items: hand sanitizer, moisturizer, hair gel, and a small LED flashlight.

Carrying Weight

I prefer carrying a courier bag because I like quick access to my gear, but with heavier loads, a backpack really is the best bet for saving myself from back pain. The leather and waxed canvas construction of the 2Unfold means that it isn’t a light bag, but it also isn’t as heavy duty as a Saddleback Leather Briefcase.

I’ve read that the ideal weight for a courier bag is about 10–15% of my body weight, so I should be able to comfortably carry at least 16.5 lbs of stuff (keeping in mind that the bag itself weighs 2.2 lbs). My everyday carry weighs about 7–8 lbs, which is just about comfortable enough to let me use this bag however I want.

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review8

Vertical Briefcase

Carrying the 2Unfold as a tall vertical briefcase is great for short commutes to the office. There’s much less sway in the bag when you hold it right at the top, and the handle just feels reassuringly sturdy. The handle is extremely comfortable to hold, and one bonus for frequent travellers is that it wraps around the telescoping handle of carry-on luggage as well.

Clutch

The 2Unfold clutch is the one “mode” of the bag that just doesn’t work out for me. Turning the bag into a clutch requires emptying the main compartment, folding the top handle over the magnetic pockets, and pushing the bottom handle through the loop in the top handle.

The bag looks terribly chic like this, but it just doesn’t feel practical enough. It’s an awkward contortion of an otherwise lovely design. Clutch mode prevents easy access to the main compartment and magnetic front pockets, and the thick leather seems to strain against this fold. Holding the clutch is fun, but setting it down will cause the bag to unfold almost instantly. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to make this mode a little more practical, but it just hasn’t worked out for me.

Shoulder Bag / Courier

The 2Unfold’s strap, made of vegetable-tanned Italian leather and German wool felt, is as tough as it is beautiful. Each end of the strap has five notches, and the bag features a buckle on both of its sides. Buckling both sides of the strap to the bag will set the 2Unfold up as a courier bag, while looping the strap through one of the bag’s top handles will turn it into a backpack. I’ve put this bag strap through its paces in all sorts of configurations over the past year, and it’s still as sturdy as ever. It’s a great piece of kit all on its own.

Given the choice, I prefer to carry this bag over one shoulder because it’s just that much easier to access my gear while walking around. Even then, there are two choices with the 2Unfold: vertical shoulder bag (for 15–inch laptops) or smaller courier (for 13–inch laptops).

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review9

Setting the 2Unfold up as a shoulder bag requires you to use two leather bands along the sides of the bag to loop the strap ends through. These clever little bands are an ingenious detail as they help the bag retain its upright shape. It took a while, but the shoulder bag mode has actually grown on me over time. All compartments are easily accessible — especially the main compartment, which suddenly feels like a huge pocket. The shoulder bag is great for walking around with groceries in tow, and can be worn over one shoulder or across the chest.

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review10

On days when I can leave my work laptop behind, I prefer to carry the 2Unfold folded in half as a courier bag. This reduces the carrying capacity of the main compartment enough that a 14–inch PC will no longer fit, but it also makes the bag much more compact. If the bag is unfolded on a train, you tend to have to hug it or rest it at your feet. However, the courier format is small enough for me to comfortably keep on my lap without bugging my seatmates.

To provide a frame of reference, I’m about 5’11 and 172 lbs, and I find it most comfortable to keep the strap as short as possible when carrying the bag as a courier. With all of the weight of my laptop and gear (about 8 lbs of stuff) slung low behind my back, I can walk around for most of the day without making my shoulders or back sore.

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review11

Backpack

This came as a surprise to me, but I realize now that I’ve spent most of my time carrying the 2Unfold around as a backpack. The reason is simple: my 14–inch work laptop doesn’t fit into the bag when it’s folded, and I’ve found that the weight of my laptop and documents is just a bit too much for me to carry the 2Unfold as a side bag on most work days.

The thing to know about the 2Unfold backpack is that it’s a bit of a hack. It’s a well-designed hack, but it definitely has its compromises. Setting up this mode involves unhooking one side of the strap, looping it through one of the top handles, and then buckling the strap in again. Thanks to the loop in the handle, the long leather strap suddenly becomes a pretty decent backpack strap.

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review12

The major caveat here is that putting the backpack on and taking it off requires a bit of practice. You start by lengthening one side of the strap, placing one arm through, holding the bag against your back, and then lengthening the other half of the strap to fit your other arm. It sounds complicated, but it takes about as long as it does to shrug a regular backpack onto your shoulders.

When taking the backpack off, you can’t simply sling the whole package off of one arm, as you would with a bag with fixed straps. Most backpacks have straps with set lengths, but the 2Unfold’s requires tension on either side of the handle to keep the straps equal in length. If you’re only pulling on one side of the strap, you just end up with one very long strap (like a shoulder bag). I tend to pull my right shoulder out of the strap, hold the bag up with my right hand, then swing the bag around so that it falls off my left shoulder and ends up in my left hand.

The good news is that the backpack is quite comfortable once it’s on properly. The leather-and-felt straps are quite wide, and I’ve been able to carry a good 17 lbs during weekend shopping trips. Long story short: if you need to carry extra weight, the 2Unfold can transform to accommodate — you just need to do a little bit of strap dancing first.

How’s It Holding Up After a Year?

I bought the 2Unfold to be my everyday bag for the foreseeable future, and it’s doing quite well in the durability department. The leather and the heavyweight waxed canvas are still in great condition, without any rips or tears. The only wear and tear I can see on the bag is cosmetic, and even that is simply adding character.

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review5

The front of the bag along the handle has turned darker from jean stains. Similarly, the canvas along the back has turned a little blue in some areas, though the tint is really only visible in certain light. I’ve also noticed that some of the glue that holds the minor leather accessories — the zipper handles, the edges of the rivets — is melting away in certain areas. The excellent stitch work still holds these pieces of leather together, but I did take the liberty of gluing everything back together again, just to preserve the clean original look.

I’m still experimenting with waxes for waterproofing the leather, but I’ve already been through a few heavy storms, and the 2Unfold has come out the other end relatively unscathed. Getting caught in a light rain isn’t a big deal with this bag, and more significant downpours just require a bit of patting off, and then drying at room temperature.

All told, I’m feeling confident in the lasting power of this purchase: it’s expertly made, the materials are durable, and it’s designed from the ground up to carry stuff hard.

HDM Hard Graft 2Unfold review6

Nice Hard, Would Graft Again

The 2Unfold is the kind of bag that helps me feel dressed up, even if I’m walking out of the door in a t-shirt and jeans. I love this bag for how it enhances my appearance, holds all of my favourite stuff in different modes, and feels so damn tough as I use it each day. I have a German friend who once said ”Ich hab’ kein Geld für billige Sache“ (I have no money for cheap things), and I think it encapsulates how I feel about having buckled down to make this purchase.

The 2Unfold is plenty spacious, but it never seems to have room for regrets.