If you haven’t heard of Wotancraft, you’re missing out. They started handmaking bags at a leather workshop in 2009 in Taipei City with a focus on vintage military themes, and ever since, they’ve been nothing short of amazing.
I’ve previously (incorrectly) described them as using a post-apocalyptic styling, but in reality it’s influenced by WWII-era Swiss Army Bags. It’s described on their website, my fault. You know what they say about assumptions.
Wotancraft has generous use of military stylings, greens, browns, Cordura and leather. The construction is impeccable. I know it sounds clichéd, but it seems like they treat each bag as a work of art.
Many of the reviews you see for Wotancraft will seem like a marketing pitch for the brand. In their case, it’s because the products are that good.
These bags are keepers – you’ll rarely find used ones for sale.
My introduction to Wotancraft occurred last year when I received a pre-release copy of the Nomad, their travel bag. It quickly became my travel bag of choice, and went with me around Europe, snowboarding in the mountains of Austria.
This time, I’ve managed to get my hands on a messenger called the Wotancraft Lightning Rider in black leather. It’s been around since late last year, but I haven’t seen any reviews out yet, so hopefully, if you were waiting on one, this review should answer all your questions.
Table of Contents
Wotancraft Lightning Rider Specs
- Compatible with Wotancraft Accessory Pouches
- Designed for riders with a 3-point stabilising strap
- Expandable storage space
- Foldable main compartment – expands to 35 x 25 x 14 cm / 13.7 x 9.8 x 5.5″ (12 litres)
- Optional “quick-draw camera insert” (capable of fitting full-frame mirrorless camera system 1 body + 2-3 lenses)
- Padded laptop compartment – 35 x 25 cm / 13.7 x 9.8″ (fits 13″ MacBook Pro)
- Zippered front pocket – 25 x 15 cm / 9.8 x 5.9″ (fits iPad Mini)
- Internal zippered pocket – 18 x 20 cm / 7 x 7.8″ (fits passports)
- Internal phone pocket – 8.5 x 20 cm / 3.3 x 7.8″ (can fit iPhone XS MAX)
- Internal pen pocket 2.5 x 20 cm / 1 x 7.8″
- Weight – ± 1.2 kg
- Hand-crunched Italian cowhide leather – “battle-distressed”
- Ultra-strength bonded Nylon 6,6 thread
- Medical grade durable micro-fibre lining, less likely to fuzz after Velcro attachments
- Cotton fabric liner
- Zinc alloy & brass hardware, with vintage finish high-density EVA foam padding (backplate)
- YKK zippers with rustproof coating
Build & Appearance
With the Wotancraft Lightning Rider, you can expect to receive the following:
- Main bag
- Detachable shoulder strap
- Detachable auxiliary strap
- Cotton dustproof bag for storage
The construction of this bag is outstanding. When I looked over the bag for manufacturing defects, I couldn’t find a stitch out of place.
It may sound like an exaggeration, but even the studs used to join the leather incorporate tiny little Wotancraft logos or branding. The attention to detail is class-leading.
The closest I can get to a complaint on construction is that the little studs are slightly more shiny than the big ones. You know you’re nit-picking if that’s the best you can find.
The model I have is the black leather version. Unsurprisingly, it’s predominantly leather, except for a portion of the strap made from a nylon style webbing.
Wotancraft offers various versions of this bag in black or brown leather, along with leather/canvas options.
If you get the leather version, the leather is going to be stiff when you first get it. It’s the nature of any new leather product which has a little bit of wearing in to do, but this will soften with age.
The advantage of leather is that the wear adds character to the bag rather than detracting from it. It’s one of the reasons why I always recommend leather bags for longevity. You pay more, but they’re better value in the long run.
The styling is unique and won’t appeal to everyone. The distressed leather is a “love it or hate it” kind of look, but that’s precisely what Wotancraft are going for. They take risks with their product design to produce something that truly stands out.
The black leather design will have a broader appeal over their camouflage designs as they bridge from the military look into something that’s more at home in the boardroom or out on a photography gig.
They do have a lower cost plain black canvas version for those who are a little more budget-conscious, or not a fan of leather.
The quality and construction on the black leather version do come at a cost (other than on the price tag). Leather is heavier than many other materials, so the bag weight comes in at 1.2 kgs.
The weight difference isn’t huge, but it’s still a 20% premium over nylon bags. From my perspective, however, it’s worth every gram.
On the exterior of the bag, you’ll find the usual assortment of features – such as the shoulder strap and grab handle typical of most bags.
The grab handle is leather. It’s comfortable and seems to be soft enough for everyday use. The shoulder strap is adjustable for both cross body and over shoulder lengths depending on your preference.
The shoulder strap incorporates a retention strap making it suitable for cycling or motorcycles. This prevents the bag from moving around unnecessarily while you are riding.
The Lightning Rider came ready to carry across the right shoulder (retention strap), so I switched this to the left, which is my preference.
In conjunction with these straps, you’ll find two expansion straps and a front pocket. The front pocket is a reasonable size and would suit wallets, keys, or even small speedlights. Wotancraft indicates this will fit a small tablet like an iPad Mini.
The expansion straps on the exterior allow you to expand the bag to fit a gripped full-frame camera. The camera insert collapses, so you don’t have to take it out of the bag which is a feature I like.
The expansion capability is a good design that works well with the aesthetics of the bag. The black leather also does an excellent job of disguising the expansion crease in the leather.
The leather expansion straps are a little stiff when you first get it so expanding the bag is a bit cumbersome. This is typical of leather – it will soften in time – so this is more of an observation than a complaint.
As a regular traveller, I would like to have seen some form of luggage pass through on the rear. I like having the ability to put down my bag and wheel it, but those who don’t travel won’t care much about this.
Secondly, it doesn’t have a standard method of attaching a tripod. You could probably attach one to the straps, so it isn’t a dealbreaker, but you’d need a single clip to loop around the tripod legs.
Finally, if you like carrying a water bottle, you’d have to consider taking one inside your bag. This may not be ideal for some users, but I don’t tend to carry one around personally.
Wotancraft promotes the Lightning Rider as having some modular capability. That said, the interior of the bag is still functional with the baseline capabilities I would expect from a laptop bag, so purchasing add-ons isn’t mandatory.
Within the bag itself, you have a laptop compartment along with a smallish zipped compartment, a pen holder and a phone-sized pocket. Why a phone-sized compartment? Well, if you’re riding on a bike, you won’t want a phone in your pocket.
The zipped compartment is excellent, suitable for a wallet or other small laptop accessories you may want to carry in your bag. It would fit a small laptop charger and a mouse but not the large bricks found with some laptops.
If you’re purely a laptop user, this will suffice as the main compartment offers a fair amount of room for any random things you want to throw in like headphones and laptop accessories.
If you start to explore the optional extras Wotancraft offer, it’s a lot more functional. At a minimum, most photographers reading this on a camera website are likely to buy the camera module.
Aside from that, you can add lens wraps, hidden zipper pockets, battery and SD card holders, cable modules and various other options. The advantage I see with this approach is the ability to shift the use case quickly from one type to another.
As an example, they have a module specifically for camera batteries and SD cards, along with a similar version for laptop cables. Transitioning from one to the other is a simple case of swapping them out.
If you like having everything in one accessory pouch, the medium accessory pouch will work for most laptop users. If you’re happy to use pockets, then you should be able to go without it. There is more than enough storage room.
I found I can fit everything I need with the cord organiser and hidden zipper pocket module along with the rest of the pockets, but I do have a smaller HP travel charger.
As with the rest of the bag, the quality of these modules is high, using a short hook velcro that’s more durable.
The short hook velcro on the camera module is the best I’ve seen on a bag. It’s almost suede-like in appearance.
The dividers are high quality and double as lids to protect gear at the top (from knocks or zips). This, again, shows the attention to detail that’s gone into the Lightning Rider.
As mentioned earlier, the storage on this bag extends. I’ve provided two flat lays to show the flexibility of the bag for both lighter and heavier carry options.
The Wotancraft Lightning Rider can transform from an everyday laptop bag carrying my 13″ HP Dragonfly and a Fujifilm X100V to a dedicated camera bag capable of carrying a gripped Sony a7 with pro glass like my 24-70 mm f/2.8 and 135mm f/1.8.
It’s a flexible setup that gives you the best of both worlds. The transformation process is easy thanks to the removable insert piece leaving no camera residue.
I find this far better than attaching dividers directly to the bag as the transition doesn’t require ripping out the velcro dividers.
Wotancraft also included padding on the insert lid, ensuring you have 360 degrees of padding to protect your baby.
For everyday carry, the Wotancraft is capable of fitting:
- HP Dragonfly 13″
- Fujifilm X100V
- Laptop charger
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless headphones
- Business cards
In this configuration, it’s light with heaps of room to spare. I don’t even have to remove the insert or use the front pocket.
Expanding the bag provides you with a level of storage that will keep most photographers happy, and you don’t have to sacrifice your laptop carry to get there.
The Wotancraft Lightning Rider will comfortably carry a gripped full-frame camera with 2-3 large lenses.
In conjunction with this, I could still carry a flash in the front pocket. The hidden zipper pocket was large enough to carry an X100V.
Moving into photography-based usage, I can get away with:
- HP Dragonfly 13″
- Sony a7R III with Grip
- Sigma 35mm f/1.2 DG DN
- Sigma 135mm f/1.8
- Godox V860
- Fujifilm X100V
- Laptop charger
- Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless headphones
As the photos show, it’s a pretty substantial storage capability for a small bag.
Ease of Use/Comfort
Leather bags that fall into the “aesthetically appealing” category often suffer in the ease of use and comfort areas. They also involve compromises of some form, along with limited innovation due to the retro styling.
The Lightning Rider is excellent in this respect. There are elements Wotancraft incorporated in the bag that show innovation without compromising on styling, and that’s hard to do with leather.
The folding camera cube shows Wotancraft is conscious of the user experience. It ensures that you don’t have to remove the insert if you don’t want to, but still benefit from the smaller external dimensions.
It’s also not wholly unusable in its folded form, so you could still use it to protect a tablet or smaller camera.
I also like that it isn’t attached to the bag. It means removing it becomes a 10-second job, and it’s something you’re more likely to do as a result.
The only issue I encountered with usability was that the leather on the straps is a little stiff when the bag is new. This makes fastening and unfastening the straps a little awkward initially.
The leather will soften in time so it should only be an issue for the first couple of months. The strap doesn’t have padding, but it’s wide enough that you aren’t left feeling like it’s an oversight.
It might be a problem for some people, but I can’t help feeling it would have destroyed the aesthetics of the bag with little benefit. If it’s a dealbreaker for you, Wotancraft does offer some pads as an accessory.
Value for Money
Most leather products tend to be on the higher end due to the cost of materials, especially if they’re good quality leather.
At a shade over US$500 without the camera insert, the leather version of the Wotancraft Lightning Rider isn’t going to win any awards in the “value for money” category.
It’s not unexpected for a leather bag of this quality, however. If the cost is too high, the Cordura/leather version comes in at a more palatable US$289 and is also available in black if camouflage isn’t your thing.
The camera insert adds US$70 to the package and is not included standard. The cable organiser and the velcro pouch are all in the US$20-$30 range depending on what you want to add.
When you consider the price of the bag, these add-ons start to push the price up, and you could easily find yourself spending more than $600.
Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s an expensive bag, but given the leather alternatives in the same price range, I’d say that the Wotancraft is substantially better quality.
There are a lot of bags on the market that under-deliver and get by on their name, but Wotancraft isn’t one of them.
The other thing to consider is that a bag like this will more than double the life span of the nylon competitors, and it’ll look better doing it because it ages well. There are a lot of vintage leather camera bags that still look a couple of years old.
Wotancraft Lightning Rider Review | Conclusion
I’ve always preferred backpacks for everyday carry because they’re more comfortable for carrying camera gear. The Wotancraft Lightning Rider has changed my perspective of an everyday carry bag and tempted me back into the messenger territory.
It reminds me a little of my Fujifilm X100V. It’s the kind of product that shouldn’t make sense but does. It makes you want to take it at every opportunity.
While the design won’t appeal to everyone, the quality will. It’s hard not to appreciate quality when you come across something like this.
To me, it’s bags like the Wotancraft Lightning Rider that remind us to step away from the more well known commercial brands and see what else is out there before you put your hard-earned money into a bag.
You may find you’re missing out on something big.