Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Wallet Scoring System

I have had more a few scoring systems in the works since the beginning of the site and over time, some have been scrapped and others have been tweaked.  The scoring system for wallets has been tweaked a few times and yet I never put it out because I was always afraid that I was coming too close to reviewing something related to fashion.  I know nothing about fashion.  I can't even match clothes (this is the one way in which being required to wear a suit is a good thing--I don't have to worry if my pants and jacket go together).  So I was hesitant.  No wallet scoring system.  But over time reviews of wallets have been among the most viewed articles on the site and folks have requested more of them and scores for them.  With that in mind, I am finally ready to unveil the scoring system for wallets. But remember, this is not a fashion review, but a review of how they work. 

As with all of the scoring systems on the site it is provisional, and subject to change.  It is also evaluating something from my perspective only.  There are many finely made wallets that I do not like and thus they would receive a poor score.  I do not know or care about the fashion statements wallets make.  I want it to work well.  As with almost every item I carry I want something as small and light as possible so long as it still works.  I am merciless on my wallet and it returns the favor, so I want it to be as tiny as I can get it.  The giant purse wallets that women sometimes carry baffle me.  Hamburger wallets aren't my favorite--their stacks of cards are annoying and can cause pain. But at the same time, I want something more than a rubber band and a paper clip (which is what a lot of the Kickstarter wallets seem to be made of these days).   With that said, here's the scoring system, again out of 20.

All of the scoring systems can be found under the Reviews tab above.

Imports from other scoring systems:

Design: how something would appear in blueprints or in CAD.

Fit and Finish: how something is made, the ability to translate the design into a real object with as few errors as possible.

Materials (from the bag and pack scoring system): the quality of the fabrics/leathers/zippers etc.

Carry: how the wallet rides in the pocket.

Accessibility (from the bag and pack scoring system): how easy it is to get things out of the wallet.

Unique or altered for wallets:


Generally wallets come in a few flavors--there are what I (or more accurately my wife) calls the Spiderman wallets, then there are the classic bi or trifolds, then there are the hardside wallets, and last there are what can only be described as the inventor wallets--the contraptions from Kickstarter.  Only a few of these are categorical failures in my opinion.

The Spiderman wallet, a fabric wallet with a velcro or snap enclosure is just not a good design.  Here is a classic example of what I mean by "Spiderman wallet".  I am sure they are functional and they hold a lot of stuff, but that's the only thing a wallet needs to do.  It also has to look a certain way.  I hate to write that, but it is true.  These fabric wallets look childish, wear poorly (they last forever, but look like a shirt on the highway after about 10 minutes), are conspicuous to open and close, and just don't fit as part of things an adult carries.  Additionally, I'd probably prefer the super hero themes to the dull parade of black, brown, gray, camo, desert camo and green (and why exactly do I want a wallet that is hard to find and blends in if I drop it in the grass?) we are treated to with these wallets.  At least the super hero themes are interesting.

Classic wallets are fine, like this Bellroy bifold, the Note Sleeve:


Whether made of leather or other materials (like high tech sail fabric) these designs seem to work, though I can't see a reason to carry a trifold.  The design necessarily makes the wallet thick and bulky.  It basically tells folks where your wallet is and if that doesn't happen it can make you sit lopsided.  I am sure there are good trifolds out there.  I just haven't seen one.  

Hardside wallets are something I have always been conflicted about.  Clearly they can't be back pocket wallets (most wallets should be back pocket wallets), but for folks that need a lot of durability, they may be the only way to go.  Personally, I am not thrilled with the idea of a hard side wallet, but unlike the trifold or the Spiderman wallet, I can see how they can be useful.

The "wallets" that I have no real experience with are the card-and-band wallets from Kickstarter.  They come in all sorts of configurations and they all seem focused on the design limbo game of how low can they go with materials and still call it a wallet.  I am not sure if I could pull one of these off, but they don't seem per se bad.  They all, almost uniformly, tend to be expensive for what your getting.  After all many seem like nothing more than a credit card with a woman's scrunchy. 


One of the problems with a wallet is that you have to use it, carry it, sweat on it (oh wait, that's just me, the sweaty Italian), and manipulate it every single day, multiple times a day.  Its not like your knife or your flashlight, which absent some gadget fidgeting, you might not handle on a daily basis.  Other than my phone, nothing I carry gets handled as much as my wallet.  And so a wallet needs to be durable.  Leather is a great choice as it wear well--typically looking better as it gets older (until a point).  The sail fabric wallets also wear well, though not as nicely as the leather versions.  The Spiderman wallets have a hard time though.  They will last forever, but they will look okay for about ten minutes.  Then they look like something you pulled out of a lake while fishing.  So by "durability" I mean both the ability to last and the ability to look nice over time.  Its a difficult feat, but lots of folks have figured this out.  


This category is looking at how well the wallet retains its contents, not how well a wallet sticks in your pocket.  That's covered by Carry.  Some wallets, like the Big Skinny, do this very well thanks to special material in the pockets and sleeves.  Other wallets, leather wallets, have the unfinished reverse side of leather to hold stuff in place and that works well.  The issue arises we we get to more high tech wallets, like the hardside, Spiderman, and card-and-band wallets.  They need some pretty clever engineering to keep stuff in place. 


This category is looking at a wallet's pockets and how well they are laid out.  Some wallets, like the Bellroy Note Sleeve:


do great things with just a few pockets.  Note how the diagonal cut on the front pocket allows you to show your ID without having to remove it.  That's genius.  Other wallets just load up on pockets without consideration for how they will be used and this, it seems to me, is a sign of poor organization.   


So I decided that in order to best explain how a good wallet works, I needed a concept that captured what we all want in a wallet--the Mary Poppins bag:

We want a wallet that is small and easy to carry, but capable of holding a ton of stuff.  So this category will look at the size of the wallet compared to the amount of stuff it can hold.  Obviously hardside wallets will do comparatively worse here, but even with a hardside wallet good design can lead to an efficient wallet.

Hopefully this will work out well.  I like wallets and I am particularly fond of my Bellroy Note Sleeve.  I have a few wallet reviews in the pipeline and they will get the scored treatment from now on.  Up first--the Obtanium Wallet.   


  1. Hey Tony,
    I was on a multi-year search for the perfect wallet and have found mine. Maybe this is a concept more people might love. It is a very slim hard- card protector covered by a silky smooth leather binding that will allow for some additional cards/photos and it has a location for your cash. I realy love it to the extent that if mine ever wears out I will only buy another one of these. I have mine for about 2 years now, always on me and it looks brand new and as stylish as the first day:


  2. I always liked the security of tethered wallets. Like this one.


  3. When are you going to get an Allett?????

  4. I'm carrying a cheap cardholder with a bill clip on one side. It is enough for around town, but if I travel, I'll want the full old-fashioned one. I have too many cards for family health insurance, car insurance, license, 3 credit cards just in case, hospital ID card, and can live with having most of those with me. Cell phone has replaced my folded list of phone numbers and tiny calendar card. Wish I could have photos of some of my cards in place of actual ones.

    1. For the various times I EDC'ed ID cards, credit cards, spare change, money, ad nauseum I went from using a little custom tactical titanium money clip from Anso, a handmade Peruvian coin purse, a coin purse shaped in the face of a kitty made from beads, various billfolds, chain wallets, money belts, wrist cuff belts, keychain coin purses, sneaker zippered pouches, etc.... I found change is good and variety made life interesting. In my lineup of EDC I still change it up but the rotation only happens every few years rather than in a few months.

      As an aside I made the mistake of using my cell phone of seven years for storing ALL my contact numbers and info till it was broken beyond repair and got hosed. But it was a blessing in disguise when I realized almost 95% of the numbers I managed and had I never called on a consistent and regular basis anyways.

      Nothing beats the good ol' minimalism of a mini address - phone book. Inconvenient, yes, but it forces the discipline of minimalism and is cheaper to boot. If you don't want the cheap little book from the dollar store you can always go for a premium fancy shmancy Rite To Rain or Field Notes booklet. FWIW.

  5. Any plans to review Barrett Alley's Disciple Wallet? I have one and it is my all-time favorite. Love the site!