Vintage Swiss Army bread bag.

Detail from a vintage Swiss Army bread bag.

I found these great vintage Swiss military bread bags at an Army-Navy surplus store the other day. Amazingly well-made. I was immediately drawn to them aesthetically, and seeing how I’ve been building up a vintage Italian road bike as of late, I thought they’d be perfect candidates for panniers. The steel and honey leather accents would match my Brooks saddle and leather handlebar tape. They were also a far superior alternative to what I’d found online. With the exception of the thin shoulder strap (which I probably wouldn’t use anyhow) everything about them just works.

Swiss Army Canvas Bag.

Swiss Army bag shown with open flap.

But would they stand up against abuse? I wouldn’t be carrying too much of a load on my bike as they aren’t really roomy enough to carry too much. Still, I’m betting these things could last through a war, and though Switzerland has a long history of neutrality, I’m sure they would survive one.

Swiss Army bread bag button.

Detail of one of the buttons.

I put it to a test of my own. I first inspected the construction, looking for tell-tale signs that would let me know how sturdy the bag would be. The bag is made of tightly-woven heavy duty canvas, heavy duty saddle leather, heavy duty steel rivets, and a heavy duty clamshell lid of green vinyl. (Did I mention heavy duty?)

Swiss Army bread bag.

Shows the vinyl cover for rain protection.

Most bags with a significant amount of weight tend to give out at the seams, but these are built to last. The stress points (namely, the places where the seams would tear due to stress, especially the lip of the bag) have been reinforced several times, even double-and triple-stitched. These bags are inexpensive, and although a weight weenie wouldn’t even think about adding them to their bike, someone who wanted a well-built bag should take a second look. I thought they’d make great gifts for a few of my friends who ride bikes and bought several.

Leather and Canvas Bag.

Leather and stitching detail.

The bag was made in 1971 by Walter Wyss, a company in Horgen, Switzerland. Sattler is the name for an old, traditional profession. Sattler’s make fabric and leather products for equestrianism, carriages and cars. After a three year of apprenticeship, you can still become Sattler today.

Leather and Canvas Army Bag.

Made by Walter Wyss in Horgen, Switzerland.

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14 Comments

  1. Matt
    Posted December 19, 2009 at 7:55 AM | Permalink

    Hello,

    Do you have a pic of them on your bike?

    Thanks,

    Matt

  2. Posted December 20, 2009 at 12:06 PM | Permalink

    Hello Matt, Yes, I will load up some images of my bike with the bag. Thanks for your comment. David

  3. Dirk
    Posted February 9, 2010 at 10:06 AM | Permalink

    Hello mate,

    I was just wondering how you are gonig to strap them to your bike?

  4. Posted February 9, 2010 at 6:42 PM | Permalink

    Hello Dirk,

    I hang the bag from the top tube — if you look at the photos you can see the leather loops that are long enough to fit a narrow tube like mine (an old Italian steel frame) or a wider tubed bike like a mountain bike. The actual bag is very narrow (about 2 in.), so unless you have a lot in it, your knees shouldn't bump into it while riding.

    I'm still in the process of converting two bags into pannier bags. I'll probably place them on either side of my back wheel and attach them to a rear rack using the belt loops on the vinyl side (so as to be protected from any water kicked up from the wheels).

    – David

  5. satbhajan
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 4:42 PM | Permalink

    I love these bags, such a classic look. Great idea to use them on your bike.

  6. Posted March 1, 2010 at 12:45 AM | Permalink

    man that first photo with the swiss stamp + hardware detail is just amazing. it's good to see great details of something worth paying attention to.

  7. coppedgeb
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 1:12 PM | Permalink

    David- These are a great find- any suggestions on where to find them in SF?

  8. David Vega
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 5:12 PM | Permalink

    I found mine at an Army-Navy Surplus store. My guess is that they're fairly common, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding them at most stores.

  9. Helen Amundson
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 11:11 AM | Permalink

    I have one of these bags but it is stamped GAG ZBL 8 8 instead of
    Walter Wyss. Also there is a tag inside with the name Breitenmoser ,Thomas and on the other side of the tag it has 206.68.
    246.AA8? I’m not sure if th 2 is a Z and if the AA is an upsideV. What can you tell me about this.

  10. Helen Amundson
    Posted July 26, 2011 at 11:11 AM | Permalink

    I have one of these bags but it is stamped GAG ZBL 8 8 instead of
    Walter Wyss. Also there is a tag inside with the name Breitenmoser ,Thomas and on the other side of the tag it has 206.68.
    246.AA8? I’m not sure if th 2 is a Z and if the AA is an upsideV. What can you tell me about this.

  11. Pranav
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 3:20 AM | Permalink

    Hey All,

    I have had the honou, i would say of using this bag. I also happen to have another Swiss military bag, which is a larger back pack. However i lost this bread bag last year 🙁

    These bags have been an inspiration for the paper bags i designed myself.

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.22024516

  12. Andreas
    Posted January 7, 2015 at 2:23 PM | Permalink

    @Helen: This number is the social insurance number in Switzerland: 206.68.246.AA8 (AA is worng, it must be numbers). Mister Thomas Breitenmoser was the owner of the bag; '68' indicates the year of his birth.

  13. Posted January 13, 2015 at 12:35 AM | Permalink

    This kind of material is best for luggage bags also. I am sure the manufacturer will put their attentions toward this material also. thanks

  14. Posted May 9, 2015 at 10:34 AM | Permalink

    man that first photo with the swiss stamp + hardware detail is just amazing. it's good to see great details of something worth paying attention to.
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