We’ve written a lot about backpacks on the Strategist. Whether you’re looking for the best travel backpacks, laptop backpacks, or even a backpack with wheels, we’ve got you covered. We’ve also rounded up the best good-looking backpacks for work. The difference between those bags and commuter bags is that, if you’re walking, biking, scootering, mopeding, or riding the subway, your backpack needs to be a little bit more functional than if you’re hopping in your car to go from your garage to a garage at the office. A good commuter backpack has to hold everything, while not being too heavy or uncomfortable on your shoulders. It has to be secure, and able to stand up to surprise rain showers, which not every backpack can do. To find the ones that will work, we spoke to commuters who take all different modes of transportation, from their own two feet to a Revel scooter, about the bags that help them get from point A to point B. Here are their recommendations.
Best commuter backpacks for $100 or less
Staci Jacobson, who bikes over five miles from Bellevue Hospital to her Astoria Boulevard home every day, does it with this laptop backpack. “It holds a decent amount,” she says. “I typically carry my meals for the day, a book, my helmet, a change of clothes, and sometimes shoes.” All of that can get heavy, but she says the padding on the back and straps helps. Her favorite thing about it is the shape. “It has a good structure to it,” Jacobsen says. “When it’s heavy I’ll fold it up and put it in the bike basket and it’s typically able to bounce back.” She says it’s not always waterproof, but for under $30 it’s still a pretty good deal. It also comes with a USB port, laptop sleeve, water bottle holder, and luggage strap so you can use it on multiple modes of transportation.
Timbuk2 is probably already a brand you associate with commuting. Founded by a bike messenger in 1989, the company started with their classic messenger bag (a version of which we’ve reviewed and loved). Thirty years later, they have a number of different options, including backpacks, which the cool people we spoke to say are great for all different types of commuting. Jimmy Standley, the president of Solé Bicycles, says his No. 1 recommendation is Timbuk2. It’s also a favorite of Veronica Hendrix, Revel’s senior manager of customer service, who specifically likes this roll-top version. “I ride a moped with it comfortably, as well as the subway,” she says. “When the train is crowded it’s just small enough for me to place it in my lap.” She says it was the perfect companion for an hour-and-15-minute moped ride from Harlem to Gowanus. “The backpack wasn’t heavy to the point that it weighed me down at all.” The weight, of course, largely depends on how much you put in it — and this thing can hold a lot. “There are literally a million large/small compartments to store any and everything you need from keys to computer and everything in between,” Hendrix says. “There’s also a hidden water bottle compartment in the back that fits my water bottle comfortably.” Even stuffed to the brim, it feels comfortable thanks to the cushiony straps, she says. She’s also a fan of the roll top and the reflective materials, which are essential for commuting at night. If you’re interested in other Timbuk2 styles, Jordan Sanchez, a barista at Blue Bottle Coffee in Tribeca who bikes to work, previously told us the Grid Pack is great for commuting, and we’ve heard the Tuck Pack is just as good a work bag as it it is a grocery bag.
Tiffani Gibson, the senior manager of corporate communications at Lime, is a fan of this Samsonite backpack, particularly because of the highly visible reflective stripe down the middle. It also has adjustable padded shoulder straps, a USB port so you can charge on the go, a padded tablet sleeve, a padded phone compartment, three credit-card slots, a water bottle holder, and a slip pocket.
Best commuter backpacks for $200 or less
If you are looking for something completely weatherproof, Gibson recommends Rains. She says it will work for commuters riding scooters, bikes, or mopeds. “When it comes to commuting on a micro mobility vehicle, it’s important to not only choose a backpack that is comfortable, but bright in color because of the visibility it provides,” she says. “It should also be weather-resistant and large enough to hold all of your essentials.” The Rains comes in more than ten colors, including this bright yellow that drivers won’t be able to miss, and it has adjustable straps so you can wear it the most comfortable way for you.
You can often find Pia Velasco, the senior beauty and fashion editor at Hello Giggles, biking around with this backpack in tow. “I CitiBike almost everywhere, so I put it in the basket and strap it in,” she says. “It fits perfectly. If I do use the subway, it’s an easy backpack to take off and put on.” She’s never had a problem riding with it from her apartment on 84th Street all the way down to the World Trade Center. Although it’s technically a diaper bag, all that really means is it has plenty of room and compartments for everything you need. “It holds SO much,” Velasco says. “This is what I love the most about it. It fits my laptop, two bottles of wine, all my chargers, makeup bag, a change of clothes, my wallet, and any other shenanigans I may have with me. It’s my Mary Poppins bag.”