An Architect’s Bag

August 19, 2013 — 64 Comments

There are many stereotypes associated with being an architect – our “over-the-shoulder” messenger bag is certainly one of them. In my particular case, I definitely fit the mold of the architects stereotype because not only do I have a messenger bag, I love the one I own.

Jack Spade Computer Messenger Bag

I wrote a post a while back titled “An Architects tool bag” where I listed the things I thought were paramount to me doing my job. In that post, I talked about the items that were in my office that I used the most often – that is not what this post is covering – I thought it would be interesting to show people what I carry around in my bag. I’ve seen posts like this before and while being a little bit voyeuristic, I typically find them interesting (I’m not going to think about what that says about me).

So … what is in my architect’s bag? Let’s take a look (if you click the photo, it will open up at a larger size):

What's in an Architect's bag?

  1. MacBook Pro 15″ – I got this computer for my birthday present in 2012 after being a lifelong PC user. Despite the fact that there are aspects of my Mac that I love, I am still struggling to learn how to use in some instances.
  2. 12″ x 50 yard roll of trace paper – I go through a lot of trace paper and I can’t imagine that ever changing – I do wish that I still had access to yellow trace, but the yellow doesn’t xerox as cleanly as the white.
  3. Architectural scale – I literally have dozens of these things laying about – they are like zucchini in the summer time, they seem to multiply on their own over night.
  4. Pencils – Ticonderoga Erasable ‘Carmine Red 425T and Prismacolor ‘Mediterranean Blue’ – I keep two different colors on hand, red to mark up drawings and make notes, the blue to add some color to my sketches (typically sky or windows)
  5. Sharpie Pens – ‘Fine Tip’ and ‘Ultra Fine Tip’ – Two of my heavy use go-to pens for sketching. I like to sketch with the ultra fine tip but I almost always go back over them with the fine tip to add some pen weight and profile lines. I don’t really know why it’s called a “fine tip”, it’s not particularly fine.
  6. Paper Mate PensFlair M – the first pen that has worked its way into my “all Sharpie pen” lineup. I’m not sure or when I started using the PaperMate Flair pen but it has replaced the Sharpie Ultra Fine Tip pen as my daily use pen. All you have to do is look at the quantities and you know this to be true.
  7. Medicine – Gas X (for bloating) and Sominex (sleep aid) – including these items on this list takes a bit of courage. I’ll admit that flying tends to make me bloated and I don’t want to be “that” guy poisoning the air on the plane. You’re welcome.
  8. Staedtler Mars – Drafting Dots – I used regular masking tape when I was in school but now that I’ve “made it”, I pony up for the drafting dots.
  9. Business Cards – I hand out a lot of business cards and so I generally keep a lot on hand. Ironically, I don’t hand out these cards to potential clients all that much, most of the time it’s at consultant and vendor meetings.
  10. Ice Breakers Breath Mints – again … you’re welcome.
  11. Aquaphor Lip Therapy – I hardly use this stuff but I keep it in my bag anyways. It’s pretty humid where I live and if I travel somewhere dry, I need this stuff.
  12. Tumi Delta Passport Wallet – a present from my wife to replace a wallet that I thought I had lost. I don’t like sitting on my wallet so I like the ones that are tall  so I can spread the contents out. Anything to make the wallet thinner (the economy has been helping make it thinner)
  13. Change – (7) quarters, (2) dimes, (2) nickels, and (5) pennies
  14. Headphones – Sennheiser IE4 ear buds – great headphones pure and simple.
  15. Portable Hard Drive – LaCie Porsche Design P’9220 1 TB USB 3.0 Portable External Hard Drive 302000 – I don’t like to keep to keep ‘Life of an Architect’ stuff on work computers (and I process a lot of photos and graphics) and so I carry around this portable hard drive.
  16. MacBook Pro 85w Magsafe portable power adapter with wrist bracelet rubber band – I have two chargers, one I keep at home and the other that travels with me. Despite the fantastic packaging that is associated with Apple products, I’m not aware of one that deals with the power cord. I took a rubber wrist band bracelet that my daughter had (and said she wasn’t EVER going to wear) and use it to keep my cord nice and tidy.
  17. Tumi Men’s Meridian Letter Padfolio – also a gift from my wife some years ago, this is what I bring with me to client meetings. There is room inside for a pad of paper, a pen, some business cards, and storage or loose papers.
  18. Black framed glasses – what did you expect?
  19. Moleskine Classic Soft Cover Large Plain Notebook – Black (5 x 8.25) – have literally have dozens of these things, and yes, I like to sketch in them.
  20. Rubber bands – size #32 – I buy my own rubber bands and I always look for the #32’s. Not only are they sturdy enough to wrap up a roll of drawings, they are superb for shooting at your coworkers.
  21. Stanley Powerlock Tape Measure – 30′ length – Surprised at how often I need this but I generally keep it in my car, it’s too heavy to tote around every day. Not sure why it was in my bag today.
  22. iPhone 5 – my sweet, new phone … that I love.
  23. CalculatorCalculated Industries ‘Measure Master 5’ – Calculated Industries actually has the latest version of their calculator available as an app, and I have it on my phone … I just need to remember that it’s there and I’ll probably leave the calculator at the office.

There you have it – a sneak peek into my bag. If you want any of these items for your self – or maybe you just want to see what they might cost – the links above will take you to the right place.

I think it would be sort of fun to see what other people – designers, students, contractors – anyone who carries a bag – has in their bag. If you feel so inclined as to share, just send your pictures in to me and I’ll post it here on the site. All you need to do is copy the format I have above (don’t worry about adding the numbers to your image, I’ll take care of that for you. Take a picture of your bag closed, and then one with all the contents spread out on some surface, with a description of the contents. If your pictures are in focus, chance are extremely good that they’ll show up here on site. I think this could make for an extremely interesting photo essay.

Just email them to me at bob [at] lifeofanarchitect [dot] com

Bob AIA signature


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  • Hallie

    Do you use a pencil case? Otherwise, where do you keep your pens and pencils? (for the record, I’m currently in high school so I cannot imagine going without a pencil case)

  • shijree

    Thank you Bob. I was creat wish list on amazong, and i’ll buy tools one by one.

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  • Tom

    I’m looking for a bag for my (architect) son. Can you tell me exactly which Jack Spade bag is pictured in your post? I’d like to get it by Christmas! Thanks.

  • Do not forget 🙂

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  • Robert Moore

    I just noticed that my calculator is from Calculated Industries also, a Measure Master II, circa 1988. It’s older than my daughters that have graduated from college.

    • Wow – that is amazing. I’m glad you still have it, it’s almost ready for the Smithsonian

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  • timmmahhhh

    I’ll be darned I still have the image from the research blog project. Those with back issues, don’t try this at home.

    • Patrick

      That’s an impressive amount of stuff!

  • Lisa

    Thank you for the pen recommendation. Sharpie pen quality has been going down really quickly, so I’ve been looking for a suitable replacement. Hard to find, those were dang good pens.

  • Pred

    just please change Mac (monopoly based with closed OS) I mean there are no architects using Mac those are for fancy designers only. 🙂

    btw. nice site.

    • I am an architect AND a fancy designer

      btw. thanks

  • Industry Portage Co.

    Bob, love the blog and thankful for this post especially. I’ve been working with an architect to create THE architect’s field bag. I’m not a fan of the messenger style bag but the one we have in development has a messenger bag-style flap that also acts as a pocket to carry oversize items like 11×17 binders. Hopefully you or another architect on this thread would consider getting a ‘beta’ version for a test drive! ~RJ

    • I do like to help people …

    • Reef

      Hi, I am an Architecture student at UWA and have just designed an Architects field bag for one of my design units. I have had to investigate it quite thoroughly and built a 3d model and made basic blueprints for a prototype. On Sunday I will have to launch it on the web as a blog with a downloadable pdf as part of the submission requirements. If you are interested you can have a look. MOBILE_STUDIO

      • Industry Portage Co.

        I would love to take a look! Please send me the details!

  • nbc

    Before mobile phones developed voice recording I would carry a small recorder of some kind. Perfect for capturing thoughts while driving and keeps one from having to do too much scribbling while walking around on a site visit with an owner, contractor, superintendent, etc. all talking at the same time. Still prefer my little Sony to my iPhone in that regard.

    Pencil sharpener.

    Engineer’s scale.

    Carpenter’s pencils. Sketching on plywood kills sharpies, and sharpies bleed through almost all types of paint.

    Corkscrew and/or bottle opener.

    Handles on the bag are essential, especially if you fly often or have to meet with the “bankers” on large projects. Messenger bag tells them you’re just the messenger.

    • 1. love that you have a corkscrew/ bottle opener (not sure what that says about me … )
      2. I happy for people to think I’m the messenger, I’m sure it only happens until they receive the bill 😉

  • Benjamin Felbrich

    Wow you have so many cool products, you must be one amazing architect..

  • Hermien Greeff

    Love your comment regarding your scale ruler!! I bought only 1, ever, but currently own about 6. Weird!

    • there are 5 people working around you that are currently looking for the scales …

  • Bill Reeves

    I’ve split many of those items into two pouches. Maybe I need to combine. I carry a computer bag and a pouch. For meetings I don’t carry my laptop, but I do carry it home at night. The only thing I carry that is different is two flat scales, one architectural and one engineering. Very handy in finger pointing meetings.

  • Myrna Domínguez

    This is what’s inside my backpack today. I’m also an architect.
    Greetings from Mexico.

    • Myrna Domínguez


  • I love how you arranged the items on the table, too.

  • Let’s see what I have in my bag today:

    01. IKEA Briefcase – I’m not a rich firm owner like Mr. Borson, so $15 in the kid’s school section is my speed

    02. Absolutely seal-tight thermos – Must keep the design process fueled and the documents dry

    03. Magazines for the train – I’m old school

    04. Totally unique & wacky folio case – This one was acquired in Tokyo

    05. Kindle – For reading on the train, and at lunch

    06. Earphones – Paul Frank…I’m a consummate professional like that

    07. Pack o’ Pens – These are for sketching mostly, or color coding things. A few pencils, eraser, sharpener, et al.

    08. Self Indulgent Retro Hipster Ball Point Pens – Who could resist?

    09. Small Scale – Architectural (free at the convention)

    10. Large Scale – Engineering

    11. Sketch Paper – Just fits, with the engineering scale inside

    12. Sketchbook – Duh

    13. Drafting Dots – Required

    14. Post-its – I keep thinking I’m going to need these, but have yet to open them

    15. Material samples for Project “A” (Metal & color chips)

    16. Material samples for Project “B” (Metal – I’m curious why these metal shards always seem to make it through airport security)

    17. More Material Samples for Project “B” (Brick, composite wood, & polycarbonate panel)

    I also had lunch in here today, but I already ate that.

    • I think we really know who makes the big bucks here … Mr. “I got my folio case in Tokyo” …

      I also thought about going with Mr. “I got two lamps on one desk” …

      • Hey while you were flashing your little AIA Young Architect of the Year certificate, I was on all expenses paid trip to Japan as the Center’s HOGI Fellowship winner. Don’t hate me because I got good sushi.

        Oh, and the lamps are IKEA too. #boom

    • Jess Hopkin

      I have sticky notes too, I’ve been carrying small ones and bigger, lined ones around since I started my degree last year and haven’t used a single one. I think if I take them out I’ll end up needing them.

      • It’s a completely irrational fear. But you’re right, as soon as you don’t have them, you’ll need them. Guaranteed.

  • Amanda

    Great list! I have found an umbrella, flashlight and swiss army knife have also been very useful to have in my bag.

  • Matthew Stanfield

    Interesting post.

    My stints as a perpetual bag carrier wax and wane, but when i do carry a bag it is generally not a messenger bag. I used to carry a messenger bag all the time, but found it cumbersome (maybe i have the wrong bag) and it started to cause problems with my shoulder. So i switched to a handled bag that clips to my bicycle’s rear rack. I generally have to use my bag for multiple purposes, so it is generally empty so i can load it for whatever task i need it for. Whether that be a client meeting, site visit, or a trip to the library to return the load of books my children have checked out. Hence the current contents of my bag: 1) A six inch scale 2) Chapstick 3) A small towel (You may be thinking Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy right now, but it really is for post bike ride / pre meeting purposes).

    • a small towel for “pre meeting purposes”? Hmmmmm, you might need to explain that one for me

      • Matthew Stanfield

        For wiping the sweat off my brow after a cycling to the meeting location. (The post bike ride and pre meeting were meant to go together, though i can see where the confusion may have come from).

  • Smart Gusto

    This is my bag =)
    Whats inside?
    -notepad(scribble everywhere!)
    -pointy pen
    -perfume to go

  • ToTheMoonNeil

    One thing I cannot do without, especially in the field, is a laser distance measurer. You need a tape for some things, but nothing is easier and faster and more accurate than just hitting a distance with a laser.

    • see my response to William below, I discuss the absence of my laser measure.

    • Bill Reeves

      I end up with both a measuring tape and a laser measurer. The laser works great indoors. For outdoors or outside corners, I need the tape. Gone are the days to sending two people to do measuring.

    • timmmahhhh

      Same here Neil – I love my Hilti PD30.

      • ToTheMoonNeil

        I have a Bosch DLR130, its pretty small but very accurate up to a very long distance. I love it. It also has a very handy belt ouch, on those days I want to look super nerdy.

  • William J. Martin

    I carry almost exactly the same in my bag. I use a laptop bag instead of a briefcase or messenger bag. Lots of pockets to hold stuff in the right places. One thing I have that you don’t is a laser measure for field measuring, a torpedo level for site observation (inspection) work, and a sight level for documenting rough grading.

    I also have my special designing pencil (thick lead leadholder, Eighth inch diameter leads, I bought it for my first year studio and have had it ever since) AND my PURPLE crayon (as in Harold and the) … gr8 post as always!

    • Thanks William!

      I have a rule to keep things legit on this site and since I didn’t have my laser measure in my bag at the time I sat down to photograph the contents of my bag, it didn’t make the post. I have the Fluke 416D distance meter (my sister is the President of that company and I am a supportive brother) and since so many people from the office ask to borrow it, I don’t store it in my bag.

      A torpedo level?! … you are hardcore.

      • timmmahhhh

        Ah, missed this on the laser. Yeah gotta support sis.
        While on the Marvin Windows tour I bought an angle finder that works as a level and helps take out the guesswork on roof pitches. Fits a little better in the bag too.

  • Patrick

    Also, I’m impressed at the amount of stuff you’re able to fit in there. Got a picture of the bag all packed up? Here’s a shot of mine:

    • The first picture is of the bag all packed up – nice a compactly packed in there.

      So do you like the handles on your bag? When looking for my own, it was a conscious decision to avoid handles, I went with the “full-on” messenger bag look

      • Patrick

        I have a few traditional messenger bags (in fact, I have several bags altogether, that’s an o̶b̶s̶e̶s̶s̶i̶o̶n̶, er, story for a different time). I have been looking for a Jack Spade bag for a long time. I love the style and construction – what I don’t love is the price. It’s a hefty investment and hard to justify to my wife that quality costs money, especially when she doesn’t carry a purse so I can’t hold that over her head. I was lucky enough to find this one at Marshall’s for $70 and l liked the color blocking and the pockets on the outside. I use the handles mostly and carry it like a traditional briefcase. I was a little worried at first that with the big handles it may look purse like but then I realized since college I’ve always carried a bag (man-bag, murse, etc.) and being an architect we’re usually ahead of the curve and a little out-there so what the hell do I care?

  • Patrick

    Bob, great read. I’ve been meaning to do this on my own blog for quite some time (could be a fun topic for an architect version of #LetsBlogOff). As a habitual bag carrier myself, I’ve always wondered what other architects carry to gauge the amount of stuff I carry – specifically if I’m carrying too much. FYI, you win. Also, props on the Jack Spade bag. I love mine.

    • I don’t always carry that much, but It’s not to far off. It will be interesting to see if I get any takers on the request at the end of the post to send in photos and description similar to what I prepared so I can post them here. Hopefully I’ll get a few.

  • Robert Moore

    1. Your wife gives really nice gifts.

    2. I just can’t draw on white trace paper. Give me canary yellow trash anytime. Available at

    • She does give nice gifts doesn’t she? I think it’s because she knows that I keep things for a really long time – well beyond the time when they are falling apart.

      I’ll have to think about the yellow, I love it but I scan my sketches far to often to worry about which color trace I am packing on my person.

  • Dan

    +1 on the Gas X. Even though I rarely use it, I also keep some Imodium in my bag just in case.

  • Hallie

    Greetings from Sydney, Australia!! Currently in high school so I use my diary A LOT. Do you use one or do you plan everything on your phone?

    • I don’t keep a diary, between the blog and my work calendar, and my emails, I can pretty much recreate any day I want. Diary’s are definitely old school but there is something pleasant about them. It’s a good habit to form, keep at it.

    • Jess Hopkin

      I used to carry a diary too, even when I started uni (second year now, and at newcastle uni, not all that far from Sydney!). Upgraded to an iPad, much easier to carry at uni than a laptop and diary and cuts down on some of the stuff I carry.