Messenger bags were just once for couriers, but those days are long gone. As briefcases become increasingly too formal for many situations and backpacks become too heavy duty for the needs of many consumers, messenger bags fill a comfortable niche between the two. But what separates a messenger bag from a briefcase, and how do you find one that’s right for your unique situation?
We’re here to help you with those questions and more. We’ve identified 12 of the best messenger bags of 2020 and provided you with detailed reviews of each. After that you’ll find our guide which breaks down some of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a messenger bag.
- The Best Messenger Bags
- 1. Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag
- 2. 5.11 Tactical Messenger Bag
- 3. Egoelife Canvas Satchel Messenger Bag
- 4. Samsonite Columbian Leather flapover case
- 5. Sweetbriar Classic Messenger Bag
- 6. Kenneth Cole Reaction Laptop Messenger Bag
- 7. Mobile Edge Messenger Bag
- 8. Hynes Eagle Laptop Messenger Bag
- 9. Peacechaos Waxed Canvas Vintage Messenger Bag
- 10. Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag
- 11. Wowbox Messenger Satchel Bag
- 12. Berchirly Vintage Military Messenger Bag
- Messenger Bag Buying Guide
The Best Messenger Bags
1. Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag
Timbuk2 has spent three decades perfecting their messenger bags, and their flagship Classic model sits comfortably are top messenger bags as far as utility is concerned. These man bags are especially smart in their organizational design. Everything you could need is readily in reach, and pockets for both your phone and water bottles are neatly laid out for ease of access.
There's also a double loop cam buckle to keep dangling straps out of your way while on the go. The entire layout is designed with the center of balance in mind so it's easy to carry with you on long trips even when heavily weighed down.
2. 5.11 Tactical Messenger Bag
Stylish messenger bags are always in high demand, but this shoulder bag for men can also be a great choice if you want something tough, utilitarian, and rugged. At least that's the philosophy behind the 5.11 tactical messenger bag. The military design is more than just an aesthetic. Whether you're looking for a dedicated military messenger bag or a computer messenger bag, this is tough and durable enough to suit your needs.
The multi-layered approach to the main compartment offers a lot of versatility for organization, while a dedicated admin panel gives you easy access to all your tools regardless of what field you work in. A luggage handle and padded laptop pocket are also smartly built in.
3. Egoelife Canvas Satchel Messenger Bag
The best messenger bags are the ones that set out a goal and execute smartly. That's the case with the Egoelife LB-BBPHF18, a model that seeks to prove that quality doesn't have to come at a premium. While it's not overstuffed with features, this bag can be had for under $25, and it combines durability with a decent amount of space.
It's large enough to hold a slim 14" laptop comfortably, and it's suitable for work, school or hiking. And the unisex design ensures that these are equally stylish choice if you're looking for messenger bags for women or men.
4. Samsonite Columbian Leather flapover case
Samsonite is a name synonymous with professionalism. Their leather bags and briefcases are an emblem of iconic craftsmanship, and they maintain that reputation with their Columbia man working bag. These professional messenger bags are crafted from genuine and lightly treated cow skin leather, and that means that each comes with its own unique imperfections.
The rear pocket is zippered and tightly sealed to protect it complete from the elements, and it comes with an incredibly generous amount of space for holding files and folders. The middle compartment is large enough to easily hold a laptop up to 15.6 inches in size, while the front flap comes with an organizer that can be adjusted to suit your individual business needs.
5. Sweetbriar Classic Messenger Bag
The Sweetbriar Classic may be cheap, but it comes with a classic style that matches the look of traditional bike messenger bags. This vintage messenger bag is available for less than $25, and it makes use of velcro enclosures to give you easier access to your belongings than you'd find in zippered messenger bags. The design here is pretty simple. A major compartment is accompanied by large side and front pockets that are spacious enough to hold just about any water bottle.
While they doesn't come with complex organizers or additional cushioning for your laptop, these canvas messenger bags meet all your basic needs and do so in style while only costing you a pittance. Just don't expect the level of innovation of protection that you'd find in the more expensive models on our list. This bag is all about the fundamentals.
6. Kenneth Cole Reaction Laptop Messenger Bag
The Kenneth Cole Reaction series takes the designer sensibilities that the Kenneth Cole brand is known for and adapts it to the needs of fast paced urban dwellers. And in the case of this these cool messenger bags, they're eminently affordable as well. You'd be hard pressed to find brand name leather messenger bags for under a hundred bucks, but Kenneth Cole manages it while still packing in a few useful and uncommon features.
Security is a top priority here. This bag comes with both RFID protected lining to protect you from technologically capable thieves as well as magnetic enclosures to provide added security against more traditional thieves while still giving you easy access to your essentials. These features make this one of the best options if you're looking for a travel messenger bag.
7. Mobile Edge Messenger Bag
Ecologically friendly" isn't a feature you commonly see listed with messenger bags, but Mobile Edge has made it a cornerstone of their design sensibilities. The philosophy that's gone into building this bag is designed to minimize the carbon footprint of the manufacturer as much as possible. But eco friendly doesn't necessarily mean primitive. These are good messenger bags with a generous range of smart features.
Mobile Edge calls their interior an "integrated workstation", because it offers a range of different ways to organize your pens, accessories, and essentials, and the ID holder comes with multiple anchor locations so you can reach your identification with no fuss. Comfortable interior padding and velcro enclosures round out the smart and conscientious design of this bag.
8. Hynes Eagle Laptop Messenger Bag
Hynes Eagle's messenger laptop bags are simple in design, but simple isn't always a bad thing. For one, it manages to keep costs down to less than $25. For another, it manages to ensure a lightweight messenger bag that works well for school, travel, or the office. And the essentials are what you get. There's no overabundance of pockets or complex organizers.
Instead, these laptop messenger bags simply include a padded main pocket capable of holding laptops up to 15 inches in size and a number of other pockets for holding your other essentials. It's a streamlined approach that makes the somewhat uncommon choice of utilizing plastic buckles rather than metallic or velcro clasps.
9. Peacechaos Waxed Canvas Vintage Messenger Bag
Peacechaos' messenger bags for men are designed for people who want to live adventurous lives without worry.The canvas this mens satchel is made from is fully coated in wax to protect it from even the fiercest storms, but it's as stylish as it is functional. The weathered look of the canvas and the genuine leather straps evoke a look that's both vintage and timeless.
These aren't the roomiest bags around, but ample space for both a 14" laptop and multiple books means that they can serve capably as messenger bags for school. All told, there are seven pockets available for storing your important items, and the durable and waterproofed design ensures you can be confident they'll be safe.
10. Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag
The Command takes most of the sensibilities that make Timbuk2's Classic such a great bag and scale them up to meet the needs of more serious consumers. You get the same waterproof lining, durable design, and choice of different color schemes that you'd find with the Classic, but it's built from the ground up to be used as a travel bag.
You have reachable access to your passport and small electronics as well as a flip-up main pocket for checking your laptop through TSA more easily. And the inclusion of a pass-through makes it easy to shackle it to your rolling luggage. It's also one of the most stylish bags that Timbuk2 offers today.
11. Wowbox Messenger Satchel Bag
There's a vintage elegance to the Wowbox that's arguably unmatched by any of the other models that made our list. The combination of leather and canvas makes it resemble a large handbag or vintage suitcase as much as a messenger bag, and the combination of strap and handle ensure that you can carry it either way depending on your preferences.
And despite its aged look, it's designed to last. The canvas is durable, the leather well treated, and the hardware accessories designed to be resistant to rust. And you can count on your belongings being safe from thieves thanks to the combination of both zippers and magnetic clasps protecting the main compartments.
12. Berchirly Vintage Military Messenger Bag
There are few bags on the market with a design as rugged as this tactical messenger bag from Berchirly. The weathered canvas exterior is more than just an aesthetic sensibility. It's rough and durable and built to last, making it ideal for professionals like photographers or handymen who find themselves having to tote around a lot of gear for long periods of time.
It's also generous with the pockets available. In addition to a plus sized main compartment you'll also find one additional inside bag and four outside bags. While it might not come with dedicated organizers, that gives you a lot of flexibility to make this bag match your specific needs.
Messenger Bag Buying Guide
Messenger bags are undoubtedly in style, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the right choice for everyone’s needs. And even if you decide you do want to invest in a messenger bag, you need to ask yourself what specs and features are most important to your needs. Our guide covers all the bases so you can shop for your perfect messenger bag with confidence.
Backpacks vs Messenger Bags
There’s no such thing as a perfect bag for every situation. The most distinct competitor that messenger bags have are standard backpacks. There’s a reason why backpacks are so popular with everyone from high school students to world travelers. But messenger bags, once reserved mostly for bike couriers, are becoming popular in practically all the fields where backpacks once reigned supreme. So what advantages do they bring? Accessibility is the biggest selling point of messenger bags.
Most of these bags are designed so all you have to do is flip up the top flap to access your most important belongings, and even messenger bags with multiple compartments tend to prioritize the ability to grab whatever you need seamlessly, with the zippers in place typically being optional and secondary. And the ability to swivel the bag from your back to your shoulder further facilitates that ease of use while also making it more easy to keep safe from potential thieves in crowded environments like trains.
Messenger bags are also typically seen as being significantly more stylish than backpacks. The utilitarian nature of backpacks bring their own advantages, but there are few options on the market that look quite as cool as a well-made messenger bag. Not only do messenger bags lend a little more swagger and credibility to your street look, but they’re also a far more viable substitute than backpacks if you need something that will work as your carrying bag in the office.
That doesn’t mean that backpacks aren’t without their distinct advantages. The most notable is that the denser design sensibilities of backpacks mean that they can hold more things, and they typically provide more exhaustive and thoughtful storage organization options than messenger bags. That makes them great for professionals like photographers who have a lot of gear and don’t need to reach it quickly. If you’re looking for a mobile workstation, backpacks tend to win out.
That goes hand in hand with the other advantage of backpacks: comfort. While there are plenty of modern messenger bags that will feel great during your daily commute or around the office, the fact that they sit over a single shoulder means that their weight distribution isn’t as good as what you’d find in a backpack. Since a backpack is stabilized over both shoulders, not only can it carry a lot more, it will feel a lot more comfortable in the long term.
In short, backpacks and messenger bags are both great in particular situations. If you have a smaller amount of gear to carry and you don’t need to carry it in strenuous conditions like hiking, a messenger bag might be a better choice. But if you’re looking for the ability to comfortably carry as many things as possible, you may want to check out our guide to the best backpacks of 2020.
Briefcases vs Messenger Bags
Briefcases have been an iconic component of the white collar business look for years, but formal standards aren’t what they used to be. That means that not only are messenger bags becoming a more accepted part of the 9 to 5 office dress code, but the lines between messenger bags and briefcases are beginning to blur.
So what is the difference between a briefcase and a messenger bag? Fundamentally it just comes down to how they’re carried. Briefcases traditionally have a handle at the top, while messenger bags make use of a shoulder strap. But the distinctions between the two are far less rigid than they once were. Most briefcases come with shoulder straps, while many satchel style messenger bags offer an additional handle.
The big difference today is one of purpose. Messenger bags employ a more casual and trendy design, while briefcases tend to be more upscale and professional. Messenger bags are also less tightly organized, providing less compartments that aren’t as structured but do provide you with more flexibility in how you want to use them.
If you’re looking for something more formal, a briefcase is probably the way to go, but messenger bags are appropriate choices if your office employs a looser dress code.
Who Do Messenger Bags Benefit?
Messenger bags are for more than just messengers, but that doesn’t mean the same model is going to be right for everyone. Here are some of the most common groups who can benefit from messenger bags as well as what you should prioritize depending on your needs.
Messenger bags were popularized by bike couriers, so it makes sense that they’re a good choice for bicycle riders. Whether you’re actually a messenger or you simply commute by bike, a messenger bag is an ideal choice. While a backpack may sit more comfortably when standing upright, the mobility and center of gravity of a messenger bag is far easier for the logistics of riding a bike.
So what should you look for in a messenger bag to wear with you on your bike? Comfort should be your top priority. Adjustable straps that are well padded can make your life much easier. And if you live in a part of the world where rain is relatively frequent, you may want to consider investing in a model with reasonable waterproofing.
Carting around kids often also means carting around a pretty extensive inventory of things you never otherwise had to worry about. Parents of infants will understand the necessity of having a dedicated bag for diapers, but even moms and dads of older kids recognize the amount of additional necessities they accumulate over time.
While there are a number of dedicated diaper bags made in the messenger bag format, you don’t need to invest in a specialized model. Just look for bags that prioritize space and accessibility. Larger bags with fewer but larger pockets and enclosures that can be flipped up easily are going to bring you the most value as a parent.
For many students, custom messenger bags are replacing Jansports as the style of choice in the classroom and on the quad. Not only are messenger bags far more fashionable, but they allow you to reach your books without having to spend as much time rooting around.
The right bag for a student will depend largely on their grade or major. If you find yourself regularly lugging heavy books back and forth between your classes, something larger and more durable is always the way to go. Canvas messenger bags are great for this, but you may want to look at slightly more sophisticated models that offer organizational features for the main pockets. If you’re mostly just carrying a laptop, you can look for something a little lighter and leaner.
As laptops become a more reasonable option for gaming, video game messenger bags are also coming into style. Even modestly sized messenger bags are usually enough to handle the relatively modest amount of gear that serious gamers need to carry with them, and the fact that it hangs right over your shoulder means that expensive gaming laptop is better protected.
When shopping for gaming messenger bags, protection should be your chief priority. Smaller bags are great here, but be careful to make sure that the main pocket is large enough to safely accommodate your laptop, and check to make sure that the laptop pocket’s padding is sufficient. Consider models that include internal zippers in addition to the outside enclosure if you find yourself regularly traveling in crowded space where you could be a target for thieves.
If you’re squeezed between two other passengers on an airplane, the compact size and easy accessibility of a messenger bag can be a huge advantage. Messenger bags have become one of the top choices for business travelers needing carry-on luggage due to their flexibility and relatively slim profiles.
When shopping for a professional travel bag, you’ll probably want something that will work well in the office too. That makes leather a top choice, but consider something that matches your sensibilities and the expectations of your job. Practically any messenger bag you’ll find should be small enough to work as carry-on luggage, but there are a few conveniences that can easy your trips through the airport. A pass-through can allow you to link your messenger bag up to your rolling luggage, and look for bags that give you particularly easy access to your electronics for an easier time at security checkpoints.
So what’s the right material for a messenger bag? That really depends on your needs. But the following options are the most common choices around.
- Constructed from cotton, canvas manages to be both exceedingly durable and exceedingly light. Most canvas offers a level of water resistance as well. That’s made it a popular choice for messenger bags for decades, and canvas models cover everything from pure vintage to highly modern designs.
- Leather is a classically stylish and professional choice that will work in most offices. Not only is it a durable choice, but it ages well too, often gathering distinguishing features the older it gets. Just keep in mind that leather bags tend to cost more and require a bit more upkeep than other options.
- If you’re working on a tight budget, you may want to look towards polyester. This cheap synthetic plastic isn’t as durable as canvas or leather, but it takes well to dyeing and can hold its colors very well. A polyester messenger bag probably won’t last you a lifetime, but you won’t need to pay much for the privilege of getting one.
Is there a style of pack more stylish than the messenger bag? Probably not. Everything from the shape to the way it hangs over your shoulder makes it stand out apart from traditional backpacks and briefcases, but each of the bags on our list offers something apart from just making you look cool.
Whether you’re looking for a tactical bag built to military standards, a workhorse bag for carrying around your work tools, or something simple to take with you from classroom to classroom, there’s a model here that’s capable of meeting your needs. We hope our reviews and guide can help you find a messenger bag that’s perfect for you.