What is a Satchel?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 January 2020
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The satchel refers to any type of bag that is used to carry mild to moderately heavy items. A satchel frequently has a single strap that is worn across the back and over the shoulder opposite to the bag. These types of sacks have been used for centuries. Today, you may find the satchel used as a book bag, as a messenger bag, or to carry many other things. You could look at most laptop carrying cases as satchels, and most briefcases, especially those with a shoulder strap, as variants of the satchel.

Unlike the briefcase or laptop carrier, the satchel may simply be made out of cotton canvas, and doesn’t necessarily feature a zip closure. Sometimes the satchel simply has a flap of cloth that fits over the opening portion. It might have a snap closure, but many just hang loosely. A tote bag, another variant of the satchel is frequently open on top. Yet it may be only loosely related to the satchel because it features handles instead of the shoulder strap.

Messenger bags, which have been carried for several centuries needed a firm closure, and are usually made of more weather resistant vinyl, especially in modern times. Especially when you are in a hurry, on bike, horse or even on foot, you don’t want anything, particularly letters, forms or money, leaving this form of satchel. The modern messenger bag usually has a zip closure in order to keep items secure.


The book bag, conversely, is more unsecured, with perhaps a single flap of cloth that can be easily moved or opened so you can get to your books quickly. Of course, again, without a secure closure you can run the risk of losing books, homework, and supplies. You might want to look for a book bag satchel that has a covering fabric flap that can be zipped or fastened. This will additionally provide a little foul weather protection.

The backpack is a derivative of the satchel, but instead of being worn over one shoulder, it is worn on two shoulders, keeping the weight evenly distributed between shoulders. This can be more comfortable for some. Of course, when the bag is carried on your back, you have to take off the backpack whenever you need anything, which can be inconvenient.

There’s been some suggestion in past years that children who use both book bag satchels and backpacks may be inhibiting their growth and creating later spine and back problems. The weight of carrying many books can be onerous, especially for young children. To this end, many children now have rolling backpacks, much like rolling suitcases, that don’t create shoulder pain or back issues. Still some kids and adults prefer the satchel as more convenient, and getting a rolling backpack down a crowded school hall can be quite a chore.


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