These Highly Functional Commuting Backpacks Will Give You One Less Thing to Stress About on a Work Day
Riding your bike to work isn’t quite as thrilling as cycling between vineyards in southern France, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it in style.
A commuting backpack needs to score high on both fashion and function. If you aren’t driving to work, you’re likely toting your laptop alongside a lunch container, drinking vessel (or two), extra shoes or clothing layers, and all the other items that make up your everyday carry. Plus, weather is unpredictable and public transit can be horrifying, so your bag should be both water- and stain-resistant (or at least dark enough to keep them hidden).
Jimmy Hayes, co-founder of the bag and accessories company Minaal, has six key things he looks for in an ideal commuter bag. “Start by figuring out your needs and work backwards from there,” he recommends.
Practicality first: Consider whether the bag will survive your commuting conditions without any unexpectedly busted seams or zippers, allow easy access while you’re on the move via both zipper arrangement and organizational features, and protect your belongings from the weather. Envision yourself wearing the bag on a crowded bus or train — are you knocking people over? Can you adjust it to hold easily or (shudder) put it on the floor knowing it will survive?
“To stay productive and professional, you need to feel calm and relaxed in any situation,” Hayes said. “Could you bring the bag straight to an 8 a.m. presentation without batting an eye? Could you fit everything you need to put you at ease? Could you take it on a plane for a weekend trip? If you can carry it everywhere without feeling out of place, you're already halfway to finding an excellent commuter bag.”
This is a highly subjective category and our style may not be yours, but you can safely peruse the catalogs of any of these brands and come out of it with a quality bag.
Nike Run Commuter
One of Runner’s World’s best running backpacks for commuting, the Nike Run won’t quite go fully incognito in the office but does offer enough easy-access side pockets and reflective straps to make it worth it. Hopefully your coworkers will just be impressed that you went running.
To buy: zappos.com, $60
One of our favorite travel backpacking brands also offers a slew of laptop backpacks. The bestseller on eBags is the Cyber, which boasts a slew of pockets and all the comfort of Osprey’s trail engineering for your morning trek. It even has a blinker light attachment for when you’ve been at the office a little too late.
To buy: ebags.com, $130
STM Goods Myth Pack
The Myth Pack earned its name because its designers believed it was debunking the myth that backpacks can’t have both style and substance. To prove their point, we appreciate the contrasting colors in the black and wine designs, breezy back ventilation, and protective suspended laptop sleeve to keep your tech safe from jostling.
To buy: stmgoods.com, $120
Pacsafe Vibe 25L Econyl
Concerned about both pickpockets and microplastics? Pacsafe’s new Econyl line uses fabric made from discarded nylon materials, including fishing nets, and includes all of Pacsafe’s extra safety features like anti-slash materials and locking zippers.
To buy: pacsafe.com, $120
Thule Pack 'n Pedal Commuter Backpack
Outdoor Gear Lab’s editor’s choice for laptop backpacks, this bag is built for biking but will take the bus just as easily. The super-protective detachable laptop sleeve can be fully removed for extra space, sitting alongside bike-friendly features like a helmet net, reflective stripes, and a rain fly.
To buy: rei.com, $160
The travel team at App in the Air are big fans of the Parker for its durable construction and clever features like a detachable rain fly, magnetic pocket, sternum strap, and reflective mesh panels.
To buy: ebags.com, $175
Atlas Supply Co. Wing Tote Pack
Proving their talent for unearthing hidden gems, Emma Suojanen of Atlas Obscura tipped us off to the Wing Tote. “Aside from the shared name, I adore this minimalist bag for so many reasons — the first being it’s a backpack, a tote bag, and crossbody all in one,” she said. “The adjustable straps make it easy to transition between styles, which helps when moving through crowds, navigating the subway during rush hour, or going to events after work. This bag is the perfect size with all the right features; it fits my 15” Macbook Air with room to spare and has pockets for all my essentials (including a subtle outer pocket for easy access to my phone).”
To buy: atlassupply.co, $95
Petunia Pickle Bottom Work + Play
If your closest coworker is a little more pintsized than most, this diaper bag backpack has plenty of parent-friendly features without sacrificing style. Whether or not you’re carrying your sentient bundle, no one around you will suspect how many times you’ve been covered in bodily fluids today.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $179
Holly & Tanager Armored Leather Professional
This structured leather bag swings from backpack to tote with just a few easy strap hook adjustments. The brand upgraded their Professional backpack to add armored leather that’s both water- and scratch-resistant, but kept its many organizational pockets and stylish design.
To buy: hollyandtanager.com, $550
Everlane Modern Snap Backpack
Everlane has earned its reputation for well-made basics and the Snap Backpack is no exception, with classic styling and just two pockets to house your belongings in whatever fashion you see fit.
To buy: everlane.com, $68
InCase City Compact
If you want something that can still hold a laptop but keep a shallow silhouette, one of Wirecutter’s favorite laptop backpacks fits the bill. Both Wirecutter and Outdoor Gear Lab also praised its cousin the Icon, if you’ve got a larger load you’re looking to carry.
To buy: incase.com, $100
Bellroy Classic Backpack Plus
Bag review site Carryology is a big Bellroy supporter, and the pleasing pod shape of the Classic Backpack Plus makes this well-designed bag appropriate for almost anywhere your workday takes you.
To buy: bellroy.com, $179
The joy of this backpack is in the details. Classic gold hardware and premium leather complement functional features like internal water bottle pocket and an included wristlet for when you’re just running out to lunch.
To buy: pmaibrand.com, $449
Lo & Sons Hanover
Lo & Sons’ weekender wins praise across outlets, and they’ve applied their winning expertise to backpacks with the Hanover. The standard model fits up to a 13” laptop, while the larger Hanover Deluxe adds space for up to a 15.6” computer, larger front pocket, and a side water bottle sleeve Bonus: It’s made from recycled polyester, so you’re staying sustainable. If you’d rather a bag that converts into a briefcase, check out the Prospect instead.
Hanover: loandsons.com, $128
Hanover Deluxe: loandsons.com, $148
Briggs & Riley Kinzie Street 2.0
If you’ve invested in one of our favorite suitcase brands and want the backpack to match, Briggs & Riley’s recently revamped Kinzie Street 2.0 line has got you covered. Expandable and convertible options mean extra flexibility combined with Briggs & Riley’s high quality build and lifetime warranty.
To buy: ebags.com, $229–299
Tumi Alpha 3
Is a luggage list complete if it doesn’t include Tumi? Business travelers frequently opt for the Alpha 3 series, which includes multiple variants of the Brief Pack and enough pockets to carry everything you could possibly need.
To buy: tumi.com, $425–725