We’ve spent a lot of time looking for adult backpacks at the Strategist, and though we’ve found the best travel backpacks, laptop backpacks, even backpacks with wheels, we decided it was finally time to dive into the world of practical-yet-stylish work backpacks. These are backpacks that hold everything you need to make it through a day at the office, from your laptop to your packed lunch, yet still look stylish enough to take to dinner once you’re off the clock. The best work backpacks also look professional, with the same swagger as a briefcase, but are as practical as the backpack you brought to elementary school, even when stuffed to the brim. So to find the best backpacks for work that actually look good, we talked to stylish professionals about the bags they rely on, Monday to Friday.
Diane, an anesthesia resident and co-founder of La FemMD, first learned about Dagne Dover from a friend, and now, she relies on their Dakota backpack in Onyx. “I wanted something that looked unique and modern while also being functional, durable, and versatile,” she says, adding, “The style is perfect since it’s made of almost a scuba-like material that wears well but also maintains a sleek minimalist design.” It’s also super comfortable and light, a benefit when you’re working 28-hour shifts: “I can keep my laptop, charger, coffee, notebook, small lunch bag, and toiletry essentials without any issues. It is also incredibly easy to clean.”
If you like that minimalist design but want a backpack that’s even more scuba-like, Danish company Rains makes a series of waterproof, polyurethane-coated backpacks. This rectangular one has both a clip flap and magnetic-snap closure and is long enough to hold a large laptop.
Another handsome black nylon option is this backpack from Tumi, preferred by model and philanthropist Petra Nemcova. In addition to being “cool, super practical, and durable, each bag in this collection saves up to 17 plastic bottles from ending up in landfills,” she explains, since it’s made with recycled materials, including recycled ballistic nylon.
Caleb Thill, a New York City–based content creator, swears by his black leather backpack from Montreal brand Want Les Essentials, because it’s, “Definitely work and business-appropriate while having a bit of edge.” And though the all-leather version of this backpack is sold out, a black nylon version is still available.
“I really stand behind my Haerfest backpack,” made of nylon with rubberized fabric straps and pockets, says Guillaume Viau, DJ, producer under Flight School, and founder of Daily News Project. “I’ve been using this one style for over a year now, traveling all over the world, and it’s still in great shape. They really did find the perfect balance between functional and stylish.”
Laura Medalia, the New York City–based software engineer behind the Instagram account @codergirl_, calls the backpack from Bartaile, another women-founded startup that got its start at Wharton, her favorite bag right now: “It’s a sleek, thin, black leather backpack that can be converted into a tote or hand held bag. It matches with all outfits, has a snug case for my laptop, and works with so many dress attires.” Unfortunately, the all-leather backpack is currently sold out, but the black nylon version with leather detailing is still available.
Alexis Teichmiller, host of The Laptop Lifestyle podcast and affiliate manager for Convert Kit, got her go-to backpack from Atlas Supply. “I bought this bag because of how many compartments it has,” she explains. “It can hold my laptop, books, camera and so much more. I even named my bag Blanche, because I love giving everyday things a personality.” But it’s also available in black or a spectrum of brown shades, in case you’d like something a bit more subdued.
If you’re looking for vegan leather, content strategist and branding stylist Libby Bartley recommends her backpack from Matt & Nat. In our roundup of best work bags for women, she explained, “Ethically made and manufactured with sustainable resources, the bag features adjustable straps, expandable gussets, and pockets for laptops and smartphones. Not only is the bag multifunctional for work and play — it’s a long-lasting investment.”
Though it first made an appearance in our roundup of the best backpacks for college students, this Briggs and Riley backpack is grown-up enough to merit inclusion on this list. According to Sube Zia, manager of Ambassador Luggage in Manhattan, it’s “ultra-lightweight, laptop-oriented, and comes in different colors,” and durable enough to withstand everyday use.
Grub Street writer Nikita Richardson calls her M.R.K.T.’s felt backpack “a master class in good design. It features a front and back pocket, adjustable, magnetic button closures, another pocket under the flap where I keep my pens, and the inside of the bag expands like an envelope, so I can fit a small umbrella, a water bottle, my makeup bag, a notebook, my large wallet, a magazine or two, and my sunglasses.” And though the exact style Richardson uses every day is no longer available, this slightly larger version has much of the same functionality and is made of that heavyweight, eye-catching felt.
For a practical and cost-effective work backpack, we’ve recommended the Baggu drawstring backpack in the past, which is made of canvas and comes in a rainbow of colors, including lilac, nautical blue and white stripes, and, of course, black. As Lauren Schwartzberg writes, “Yes, it’s a more casual canvas, but the thinner straps make it seem less ‘I’m coming from class’ backpack-y and more ‘I have a job during the day, but this is good for my back and also convenient’ backpack.”
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