The 9 Best Messenger Bags
This wiki has been updated 35 times since it was first published in August of 2015. The way you choose to carry stuff around can make or break your day, no matter what you’re up to, whether it's traveling to work, traversing a college campus, or heading out for an afternoon of leisure. That’s why the messenger bags on this list are so great: they provide you with a comfortable, yet sophisticated, way to get a computer, tablet, and other crucial gear from here to there. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
July 23, 2021:
We bumped an offering from Wowbox that had poor long-term reviews and availability, but the rest of our suggestions have not changed. The Timbuk2 Command and Kenneth Cole Reaction Risky Business are our top cloth and leather options, respectively, partly because they come from brands that are well known to produce quality apparel. If you want something with more space and a lower price, the Lifewit Tactical Briefcase is a worthwhile, if understated option.
April 08, 2020:
During this round of updates, while the CaseCrown Campus, Timbuk2 Classic and Chrome Night Series Citizen were all removed due to availability issues, the Travelon Anti-Theft and Ibagar Canvas were also eliminated in order to make room for our new inclusions. Some of these additions are the Lifewit Tactical Briefcase – a multiple-pocket offering that’s substantial enough to double as carry-on luggage, the Sechunk Vintage Military – which doesn’t offer much protection to laptops but still makes a serviceable overnight bag, and the Timbuk2 Command – an excellent choice for urban professionals that’s well equipped with a host of compartments and features.
A few factors to keep an eye out for in this category:
Laptop Storage: This consideration is twofold. Firstly, quite simply, make sure that you select an option with a laptop slot that’s at least as large as your laptop. While 17-inch laptop compartments – like that of the Lifewit Tactical Briefcase or CoolBell Convertible – are quite common, others – like the 15-inch pocket on the 5.11 Rush Delivery – are smaller. So, make sure you select a bag with a spot big enough for your computer.
Secondly, as laptops are often both expensive and loaded with valuable data, you’ll want to keep them as safe as possible. So, with that in mind, look for well-fitting, cushioned laptop slots with padding to protect your computer. While some models – like the Sechunk Vintage Military – offer little or no padding, and others –like the Wowbox Bookbag – are much too loose to keep your computer snug and secure, there are also plenty of well-thought-out models on the market. The Timbuk2 Command features a cushioned laptop compartment that’s divided in two, so you can also pack a tablet, and it can even be unzipped from the bag, to allow for easy scanning at the airport.
Straps and Handles: Once you’ve established a shortlist of bags that are suitable to you, in terms of the space and compartments they offer, the next most important prerequisite to consider is whether a bag is properly equipped with straps and handles that make carrying it comfortable.
While all messenger bags, by definition, should have a shoulder strap, take care to select one that’s easily adjustable, and outfitted with some nice padding to keep it from agitating your trapezius in transit. Most options out there will also have some sort of briefcase handle, but some have even gone a step beyond that. The CoolBell Convertible, for example, has hidden backpack straps that can be easily unzipped at a moment’s notice, allowing you to spread its weight across both shoulders, and the Timbuk2 Command comes with an optional cross strap that cyclists can use to make sure the bag stays snug while they’re peddling.
Hardware: This is partially an aesthetic consideration, of course, but it’s also a practical one. While the bronze buckles on the Sechunk Vintage Military are a fitting look for the bag, unstrapping a belt everytime you need to reach for a pen or a piece of gum can be an annoyance. The Wowbox Bookbag demonstrates a solution for this problem with its sidepockets that, while appearing like traditional belt-style straps, are actually controlled by simple magnetic snap-on buckles – although the straps on its front still need to be fastened manually.
Plastic buckles – like those of the Mobile Edge Eco and 5.11 Rush Delivery – can be a more pragmatic choice, but could potentially be less durable and, in the mind of many users, less visually pleasing. The Timbuk2 Command has hardware that was thought out very well, supplementing an aluminum hook-and-loop system with Velcro support. If ever its hooks become bothersome, its under-flap Velcro strips hold well enough to do the job on their own. And if ever the Velcro strips are too loud, say in a library or board meeting, then the bag has silencer strips to take the Velcro out of the game.
Saks Fifth Avenue If budget isn't an issue and high fashion's your thing, Saks has a wide selection of messenger bags and totes from luxury designers like Gucci, Burberry and Prada – just to name a few. saksfifthavenue.com
Brief History Of Messenger Bags
In more modern times, utility linemen of the 1950s wore messenger bags to carry their tools.
Messenger bags were originally designed for carrying mail and other postal dispatches. They generally feature a long strap, so they can be worn over the shoulder or crossbody, and come in a range of materials.
Over time they have been known by a number of names, including courier bags and carryalls. In America, members of the Pony Express were some of the first to carry messenger bags. They were followed by bike couriers as methods of transportation evolved. Members of the military also used a type of messenger bag for carrying maps.
In more modern times, utility linemen of the 1950s wore messenger bags to carry their tools. The De Martini Global Canvas Company designed a bag, which allowed them to keep their tools close at hand, yet conveniently out of the way, when climbing utility polls for repair work. These messenger bags were made from cotton and lined with a waterproof fabric. They had internal pockets to hold invoices and a double strap closure system to keep everything secure.
The De Martini messenger bags also became standard issue for many messenger companies in New York in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time, they weren't available in stores and were given to messengers by their employer. It was easy to tell which company a particular messenger worked for just by looking at the color of their bag.
Messenger bags started to become a fashion accessory in 1984, when John Peters redesigned the De Martini bag. He remade it out of nylon, instead of the original cotton, and added attractive buckles, reflective strips, and accent binding.
Benefits Of A Messenger Bag Over Backpacks
It can be difficult to find a backpack that gives off the same stylish vibe as a great messenger bag. Many people also feel that messenger bags are more trendy in today's fashion climate than a traditional backpack. In addition to being a more convenient way to carry a range of items, messenger bags can make a nice fashion accessory, which perfectly compliments your personal style. There are even a number of messenger bags specifically designed with the business professional in mind, and a high-quality leather or suede model wouldn't look out of place on the shoulder of a person wearing a blazer or suit.
Messenger bags are also more functional than backpacks. The average backpack has one larger compartment that you toss all of your items into, with just a few exterior pockets for small items. Many messenger bags come with a divided interior, allowing you to keep folders on one side and a laptop or tablet on the other. Messenger bags are better for those who often need quick access to a pen or other item they like to carry in a bag. Backpacks require one to take the pack completely off the back to access the interior, whereas a messenger bag can just be swung around to the front without having to be removed.
For those who often commute on busy subway trains or walk through crowded areas, security can be a top concern. Because of a backpack's design, a nefarious person can easily reach into one of the pockets, or even get at the main compartment, without the wearer ever noticing. A messenger bag sits safely at your side or can be swung to the front, where you can see if someone tries to reach into it. Most also feature a top flap that adds another layer of security.
Types Of Messenger Bags
For professional use, satchels and briefcase messenger bags are best. Satchels closely resemble traditional briefcases, but are softsided instead of hardsided. They feature two vertical straps with either snaps or buckles to keep them securely closed and are often made from some type of leather or suede. They will feature a top handle, and most have removable shoulder straps. Briefcase messenger bags are thicker than other styles and can stand up on their own. They are usually made from leather, as well, have a large number of organizational pockets, internal and external, and feature a similar closure system to satchels.
They feature two vertical straps with either snaps or buckles to keep them securely closed and are often made from some type of leather or suede.
Vertical messenger bags, often called murses, have a longer height than width and come in a range of fabrics. They can come in any of the styles as other messenger bags, but there is some debate in the fashion world over whether or not men should carry them.
If going for that rugged look, consider a military messenger bag. These are most often made from canvas, are very durable, and inspired by previous military designs. Many have leather straps or other elements and may feature a replica military badge or patch. Some also have military lettering. The interior may or may not be divided.
Saddle bags are identified by their rounded front flap. Other than having a rounded frontal flap, they can feature the design elements of any of the other messenger bags, but commonly have a bare look with minimal, or no, external pockets.
Inspired by the original messenger bags of the utility linemen, organizers feature a number of pockets for those who need organization in their life. With a lot of easily accessed external pockets, they are great for fishermen, hunters, anybody who carries a lot of little items. They are most often made from canvas, cotton, or a synthetic fiber. Another bag for the practical-minded is the camera messenger bag. These will come with an internal compartmentalized, and often padded, divider designed to contain a range of different camera components and accessories. The majority of their pockets will be on the inside, with just one or two external pockets for most-used accessories.