Some people have bag problems, some people have pen problems, some people have pencil problems. I have all of the above, but my main weakness is portfolios. I’ve tried a huge swath of them, from the super-inexpensive Lihit Labs “Bag in a Bag” to the pricier Bellroy A5 Zipfolio. The thing I love about portfolios is that you can own several of them and use them all, because they each come in various sizes and therefore have different use cases: a larger one that holds a legal or A4 pad to take to a meeting; an A5 portfolio that’s a bit more portable for journaling in a coffee shop or toting around your planner; or even smaller “pocket-sized” portfolios like the Nock Co. Hightower designed to hold a pocket notebook and a few pens. Portfolios slide easily into a bag, or if they have a zipper, you can carry them alone as your bag if you just want to grab something small and head out the door. Options truly are endless!
So what have I been using lately? Zeynep at Galen Leather was kind enough to send me one of their A5 Zipfolios in “Crazy Horse” brown leather, which is a rough-looking (in a good way) material that I’ve been lusting after for a long time. Though I love the pocket-sized Traveler’s-style notebook covers she sent me a couple years ago, Galen Leather has flown under my radar since and I’ve not taken the opportunity to explore their expanded product line. The company has absolutely exploded in popularity over the past few years. They’ve even begun to offer a range of wood products in collaboration with Walden Woodworkers’ Co., including a Writing Box and a Covered Pen Tray and other desk accessories.
So let’s take a closer look at the Zipfolio, and what distinguishes it from other available options. For starters, a key attraction for me is the size. A5 notebooks are my personal sweet-spot, which I use for most writing both at work and at home. Other sizes will fit, however, including the Jibun Techo 3-in-1, which is my current primary journal/planner/notebook that I’ve been using since January. A few other attributes that make the Zipfolio a no-brainer recommendation for me include:
Sturdy Construction. Galen Leather’s take on the Zipfolio provides thick-yet-supple leather and a sturdy zipper for a relatively inexpensive $119. It may not be as polished or “corporate” looking as something from Bellroy, but that’s the aesthetic, and in any event you will get a ton of mileage out of this portfolio. If you tend to be rough on your leather products, go with Galen, and consider Crazy Horse leather, because it hides scratches well. Scuffs and dings are part of the look!
Practical Modular Layout. This portfolio strike a balance between customizability and capacity, on the one hand, and practicality on the other. It holds just enough stuff to allow you to use it as a true grab ‘n go daily carry without getting silly, like other modular systems I’ve seen where you can pack so much stuff into them that the portfolio not only becomes too fat but risks damage to your pens and other items because it’s so crammed full of stuff that rubs together. Here, you have seven elastic loops that are well spaced: four of them are attached to a removable panel and plainly intended for pens or mechanical pencils, with the other three larger and more versatile. As you can see from the pictures, I’ve used them to carry anything from highlighters to headphones/Airpods to a microfiber cleaning cloth.
Extra Space for Added Notebook Versatility. One drawback to the Bellroy A5 Workfolio was the relatively tight fit if you wanted to use a standard hardcover A5 notebook such as a Leuchtturm or a Midori. Since I don’t regularly use the slim softcover notebooks, the Galen Leather Zipfolio works better for me. (Galen Leather designs most of their products specifically to fit Leuchtturm, Baron Fig Confidant, Hobonichi Cousin A5, etc.) Even though it’s not A5, this Zipfolio fits my Jibun Techo well.
Versatile Left-Side Pocket. The Zipfolio is marketed as an “A5 Notebook and iPad Mini Folio”, with a lined pocket on the left-hand side that will protect small tablets such as a Kindle Fire 7 or an iPad Mini. While I might slide in a tablet for a trip, I think this would bulk up the Zipfolio too much in an everyday carry situation. Fortunately, the left-hand slot can also easily hold a pocket notebook, folded sheets of writing paper, or even a soft-cover notebook like the recently released Studio Neat Totebook!
A Brand with a Great Story. While I may not write about the people behind the products as much as the products themselves, Galen Leather has a compelling story. I won’t spoil it for you but please do make the time to read it. (Link here to their site.)
Takeaways and Where to Buy
All Galen Leather products I have owned over the years have thoroughly impressed me, from Traveler’s-style notebook covers, to a 40-pen zippered album-style case, to this Zipfolio. What I really like about Galen’s overall product line is their rugged durability. Compared to the Bellroy Workfolio, the Galen Leather Zipfolio just feels more durable and a bit less fussy, even though Bellroy products are also designed to last and age better than most smooth leather. If you’re someone who obsesses over gouges and scratches on your smooth leather products, however (like yours truly), the Crazy Horse leather option is excellent.
To view their full range of goods, visit the Galen Leather website. They are a family-owned business located in Instanbul, Turkey, and many of their products are made to order, so shipping will not be immediate, but my Zipfolio did arrive fairly quickly. For those who would rather go a more familiar route, Galen Leather also maintains an Amazon store, and the A5 Zipfolio is one of the products featured there.
Disclaimer: I received the product featured in this review free of charge, for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. Many thanks to Galen Leather for providing this product for review, and making this post possible!