Small Billingham Bags

A long time ago, I bought an Fuji X100s as a travel camera. I was searching for the “perfect” bag and after doing much research, I bought a Billingham Hadley Small. The shop I was in also had a Billingham L2 and I had to make an on the spot choice. I went for the Hadley as it’s just gorgeous and it would handle the load very well, but I was always wondering about the L2. Leo Laksi wrote a very informative post back in 2009 comparing the two bags, and I found myself hankering for a bit more flexibility from the Hadley. Did I make the right choice? These bags are not low cost disposable items, they are made to last a lifetime, and a lifetime is a long time to be stuck with the wrong bag. Last year, I saw an L2 pop up on eBay for a very reasonable price, used. I was lucky to snap it up at a bargain price and took possession. Now I could answer my own question about which one of these beauties would fit me best.

Small Billingham Bags
Billingham L2 and Hadley Small

The two bags are very similar in size and capacity. The L2 has the edge in volume of the main compartment, but the Hadley has two expandable front pockets that hold all sorts of accessories neatly segregated. The one advantage the L2 has over Hadley is the ability to add capacity in the form of Avea external pockets. These come in two sizes, and the large ones are a bit too large for the L2 in that they look unbalanced. The smaller Avea is a nice compliment, but for the price they really don’t add much in the way of storage capacity.

Small Billingham Bags

The base of the bags is a noticeable win for the L2. Lovely leather protective corners and brass feet which help to keep the bag stable when placed on hard surfaces. I really wish the little Hadley had those.

Small Billingham Bags

The interior of the bags is where the real difference shows, at least to me. The L2 has a smooth hard nylon finish to the interior, that is non removable. The movable dividers attach to Velcro strips along the sides of the interior. In contrast the Hadley has a plush finish that has a nice soft texture that the Velcro dividers stick to in any orientation or configuration. This makes the Hadley a little more friendly to tweaking the configuration. The top closures really matter to me. The L2 top is open and the only cover is the top flap. The sides are gussets to help provide some additional weather sealing. The Hadley has the same padding found in the main (removable) insert as a flap over the top of the main compartment. The main top cover is fitted over the top of this flap. Both bags use the post securing system, with the Hadley being adjustable via buckles.

Small Billingham Bags
I haven’t written this post as a one vs. another thing, because that isn’t so easy. I’ve now used both extensively, all over the world as my small travel kit bag. Each of them has it’s strengths, neither is perfect. The perfect bag would be a blend of these two, but as that isn’t available, you have to pick one.

For me the features I really like from the L2 are the ability to add Avea side pockets, the leather base corners and brass feet, and the slightly larger size. The Hadley wins on looks, the utility of the front pockets, the removable interior, the material of the interior and the top padded flap.

There is one thing that stands out about the Hadley for me.That is handling. Working out of the Hadley in developing nation street markets, or busy Eastern European tourist cities, or on Latin American subways, the Hadley feels more secure, and just smoother to work out of. Once buttoned up, I’m less concerned about losing stuff to light fingers or just dropping the bag and it landing on it’s top.

For me, the handling differences matter. I’d love to add a side pocket that can hold a bottle of water while walking around Istanbul, but the ability to comfortably work out a bag becomes the most important criteria. As a result, when I packing for a trip where I’m taking the small kit, I will instinctively reach for the Hadley. It isn’t perfect, but of the two, for me, it’s the closest.

I’d love a custom Hadley small to hold my Fuji kit. Take the bag as it is, make it a little wider so we can add Aveas and a touch more capacity, put leather corners on the bottom with brass feet, and ideally a small zippered back pocket for tickets and passport etc. like the Hadley Pro. That would be perfect. Probably.

More to come……

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