Step aside, newsies. As the world becomes more reliant on mobile technology, messenger bags are more popular than ever. Originally designed for city-dwelling couriers, these bags fill a useful niche, doubling as both briefcase and backpack. In lieu of document-laden folders and bulky stationary, however, we’ve started filling them with our tech. And as it turns out, they’re the perfect size for schlepping laptops and other gadgets from point A to point B.
In many ways, this style of bag can double as a mobile desk. With the right assortment of pockets and organizational features, your office never has to leave your side. Messenger bags also remain popular with students, the cycling community and anyone who uses public transportation in their daily commute. For frequent travelers and business professionals, a durable messenger bag can be the perfect “personal item” for your carry-on, and a solid precaution against potential tech theft. Plus, if the bag’s laptop pouch is TSA-friendly, you don’t even need to remove it during airport security.
Are you an undergrad, freelancer, biker or businessperson? Heck, maybe you’re just a fashion-forward techie who wants a new pouch for your portables. Whatever the case, there are myriad messenger bags out there to satisfy your needs, and we’re here to help you choose the right one.
Here are the best messenger bags of 2020 at a glance
- KomalC 15-Inch Retro Buffalo Hunter Leather Laptop
- Jack & Chris Men's Genuine-Leather Briefcase
- NEWHEY Men’s Leather Messenger Bag
- 5.11 RUSH Delivery Lima Tactical Messenger Bag
- Mobile Edge Laptop Eco Messenger (17.3 inch)
- Timbuk2 Scumbags Origins Messenger Bag
- Filson 24-Hour Tin Cloth Briefcase
- AmazonBasics 15.6-Inch Laptop Computer and Tablet Shoulder Bag
Size & Style
Most modern messenger bags fall into the medium-size category; their compartments are usually designed for 10- to 17-inch laptops. Once you’ve settled on the general dimensions you need, it’s time to consider style:
- Briefcase: Similar aesthetics as traditional Mad Men-era briefcases, with semi-rigid panels, top-grab handles, built-in laptop sleeves and tons of storage compartments. Best for the business sector (and professional pavement-pounders).
- Satchel/Saddle: More stylish than briefcase-style bags and less rigid, but just as functional. Usually has vertical straps/buckles to keep the bag shut. Best for scooters and bikes.
- Military: Uses more rugged, military-inspired materials, such as canvas, brass and 1050D nylon; these bags were built to take a beating. Best for outdoorsy types with unpredictable lifestyles who require function over fashion.
The more you plan on spending, the more attention you should pay to bag construction and the quality of materials used.
- Leather: Nothing says “business professional” quite like leather; look for full-grain and top-grain options, which will stand the test of time. Often paired with nylon and canvas for additional weatherproofing.
- Rubber: Rubber bags might be waterproof, but they’re not as durable as other materials; not great for longevity.
- Nylon: Nylon bags are lightweight, tear-resistant and weather-resistant, which makes them great for the outdoors. They're also the easiest to clean.
- Canvas: Known for their ruggedness, canvas bags can take lots of abuse; they’re lightweight, water-resistant and made to last. It’s a durable, affordable material you can depend on.
How we picked
To find the best messenger bags on the market today, we culled recommendations from all over the web, focusing on product releases from the last two years. Next, we compared these bags to 2019 “best of” lists from websites that covered technology, fashion or a combination of the two. After narrowing down our picks for each category, we weighed recent product reviews against top-selling models on Amazon.com, taking authentic customer feedback into consideration.
Here are our favorite bags for 2020
Made from ethically sourced buffalo leather, this handcrafted bag is meant for laptops up to 15.6 inches. The rustic, vintage style is complemented by a charcoal black finish, resulting in a distressed look that is sure to please. There are two front pockets for easy access to your essentials (keys, wallet, phone, etc.), and several organizational compartments inside. It’s the perfect bag for shuttling stuff from one meeting to another, with panache.
If a briefcase-style bag is what you’re after, there’s a lot to like about this one; Its anti-dirt design is made from top-quality crazy-horse leather. In addition to the padded laptop compartment, the bag has several zippered pockets to keep all your valuables secure, and does so in style. Bonus: The rear strap lets you easily attach the bag to rollable luggage, for all you jetsetters out there.
For a classic aesthetic with room for all your stuff, look no further than the NEWHEY Men’s Leather Messenger Bag. Made from high-quality cowhide and high-density waxed canvas, the outside is completely waterproof, allowing you full freedom to dash around town. It’s tough, too: the solid zinc-alloy rivets and buckles, combined with tensile stitching on the handle and shoulder strap, make for a powerful load-bearing combination. This two-toned bag is meant for the long haul, and the leather’s imperfections become even more ruggedly attractive over time. For less than $50, it’s a great value.
If you’re never sure what life will throw at you next, this is the messenger bag to get. Its ambidextrous design has something for everyone, from the water-resistant 1050D Nylon construction to the integrated quick-draw compartment and reinforced enclosures. The no-slip stabilizing strap is a welcome feature, keeping the bag close to your body for balanced load distribution. There’s even a water bottle pouch, for when your hustle leaves you parched.
For the environmentally conscious, Mobile Edge offers the minimal-carbon footprint Eco Messenger bag. The dedicated laptop compartment will keep your notebook safe, and there are plenty of other pockets (including a removable ID holder) for your accessories. The velcro panels are super functional, and the rugged design should be a hit with college students and business-minded jetsetters alike.
Timbuk2 designers worked closely with their founder (a former bike messenger and inventor) to bring back his original flagship messenger. Using Cordura Nylon as its “indestructible” base fabric, the improved design features an adjustable cross-body strap, internal organizer compartment, and safety-centric reflective tails. Bonus: according to Timbuk2, the bag is specifically designed to fit a six-pack in the main compartment. Nice.
Designed to handle all types of weather conditions, the 24-Hour Tin Cloth Briefcase is on the expensive side, but it should last a lifetime. Its waxed-canvas construction is meant to resist tears, punctures, water and wind, and the storm flap on top will make sure your laptop stays dry. The trolley strap on the back lets you easily slip the bag onto rolling luggage, making it the perfect travel companion.
With more than 11,000 five-star reviews (and counting), Amazon must be doing something right. This budget messenger bag offers just the basics (as the name implies), and nothing more. The main compartment holds your laptop, and the outer one holds organizational pockets for all your peripherals. You won’t find any extra features beyond that, but if you need a dead-simple messenger bag on the cheap, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth with AmazonBasics.
Other messenger bag features to consider
Before you buy, here are some additional features to keep top of mind.
Laptop security: This one’s important. Make sure the laptop compartment is the right size for a snug fit; some manufacturers even include inner straps to keep devices in place (You don’t want your laptop smashing to the ground as you remove the bag from your shoulder, do you?). Remember to check for adequate protective padding, too.
Shoulder comfort: If you’ll be wearing the bag on longer commutes, a comfortable strap is paramount; some shoulder straps are vertically oriented, while others are slightly angled. Padded straps are usually more comfortable, but adjustability is also a factor there. For additional stability while on the move, make sure your bag is equipped with a complementary stabilizing strap, which takes some weight off your shoulders, which is especially important for cyclists.
Weatherproofing: If you don’t plan on using the bag outside much, no biggie. But to prepare for the occasional squall, make sure your bag is properly weatherproofed. Look for overlapping flap closures, pocket cinches, waterproof zippers, and taped seams -- features that will keep your valuables dry. Nylon and canvas bags are worth a look for their excellent protection against bad weather.
Inner/outer storage: When it comes to organization options, one size does not fit all. Choose a messenger bag with all the storage compartments to fit your lifestyle--nothing more, nothing less. You’re going to want easier accessibility for some pockets than others, depending on what you use them for.
Personal safety: Some bags are equipped with reflective patches, badges or strips--a welcome feature for daily bikers. Safety first!
Not sold on messenger-style bags? Check out our top top picks for backpacks, cases and luggage.