At The Strategist, we’ve spent a lot of time searching for adult backpacks (though some of us feel strongly that they are never, ever okay). That has led us to the best travel backpacks, laptop backpacks, and even backpacks with wheels — but the world of practical yet stylish work backpacks is a different beast.
The work backpack should be sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of everyday use but elevated enough to say, “I am a professional, and this is how I want colleagues to see me.”
Finding a backpack that holds everything you need to make it through a day at the office (or running from meeting to meeting) that won’t make your boss do a double take is more art than science. So to find the best options out there, at a range of price points, I asked stylish professionals which backpacks they rely on to be office appropriate but that look good enough to carry in their off time too.
Best under $100
An Eastpak backpack is timeless and unassailable. They’re straightforward, practical, durable, and come in a huge range of variations and colors — and, at $65, this padded version I carry to meetings and on business trips is well under $100. It’s a no-nonsense bag that doesn’t have that many straps or complicated zips. When a bag gets too “designed” with doodads and gizmos, that’s when I don’t feel comfortable carrying it in a work context. This backpack also has a secure, padded laptop pocket and can withstand lots of wear and tear.
Jules Bakshi, the founder of Brooklyn dance and mindful-fitness studio Good Move, says she is almost always carrying this mini-pack from Colorado-based Topo Designs. The compact size makes it practical for everyday journeys, but it also fits all of her work gear, including “a water bottle, snacks, first aid, and a light extra layer,” she says. “And it’s cute, too.”
When musician Sharon Van Etten told The Strategist about her favorite things, she included this Béis backpack that replaced her old Jansport. “It’s smaller than my Jansport, so I don’t feel like a freshman college student hitting everyone in the head,” she says, adding that it’s still very roomy. Its main compartment can accommodate notebooks and headphones, there’s a back pocket for a laptop, and its two exterior pockets can hold water bottles or, after work, “a couple of beers or a wine bottle,” she says.
Tiffani Gibson, the senior manager of corporate communications at Lime, recommended this Samsonite backpack for riding on a scooter, but I think it would work in pretty much any situation, including professional ones. On the outside you get a simple, clean look (plus a highly visible reflective stripe down the middle), and on the inside there’s room for everything you’d need for the workday. It’s outfitted with a padded tablet sleeve, padded phone compartment, water-bottle holder, slip pocket, and three card slots. It even has a USB port, which is perfect for a work-from-anywhere environment if that applies to you.
Although he did not purchase this Cotopaxi bag for work, science teacher and running enthusiast Joey Anderson finds its lightweight and cheerful colors perfect for carrying in and out of the classroom. He got the bag for a recent summer trip to London to fit his belongings while he ran eight miles from Clapham to Hampstead Heath’s mixed swimming ponds. But he found that afterward, it “doesn’t look lame walking around the city.” It looks just as good in his classroom this school year, despite the fact that his students rag him about the bold blue and yellow. “It’s always good to have a talking point,” Anderson says.
Dustin Sposato, the communications manager at data-focused nonprofit Project Evident, says he was very happy with his Everlane backpack for a few years, but it eventually started to break down. When it did, he wanted to get something a little different — and ideally more durable. Sposato ultimately landed on this Cordura Backpack from L.L.Bean. “I grew up in Maine and always had L.L.Bean backpacks as a kid, so it felt like a natural pick,” he says. “They’re super-functional and last forever. My mom still uses one I had in elementary school. This one felt ‘adult’ without being overly sleek.”
Best under $200
“This bag is like the cotton tote of backpacks,” says Lee Glandorf, a brand strategist. The minimal exterior is made from a durable waxed canvas, and the interior is smartly divided up with a padded laptop sleeve, a spacious main compartment, and a floating top-accessed pocket that’s the perfect size for keys, a wallet, sunglasses, or other smaller items. It also works as a stealth carry-on. “It doesn’t scream ‘traveler’ when I am heading to and from the office on a trip,” says Glandorf.
Lime’s Gibson also likes this Rains bag; its water-resistant material makes it especially good for a rainy day. It has a laptop pocket inside and a hidden phone pocket on the backside, and it comes in many neutral colors. And if you’re looking for a slightly cheaper option, the brand has a mini version that’s $110.
Style influencer Bethany Everett-Ratcliffe recommends this vegan-leather backpack. She likes that it’s “sleek, stylish, and structured” but also super-functional. It has a separate zippered back compartment to keep your laptop secure, a luggage sleeve, as well as several zippered pouches inside the main compartments that help keep the rest of your belongings organized. It comes in work-appropriate black, white, and brown, but if your company is a little more relaxed, it’s available in yellow and purple too.
Freelance beauty writer Pia Velasco calls this her Mary Poppins bag. “It holds so much,” she 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 technically a diaper bag, but you’d never know. “The black vegan leather makes it a little edgier and cooler than your typical backpack,” Velasco says. “It feels more New York than middle-school hallway. Working in beauty, I’m constantly jumping around the city and meeting with a ton of beautiful, well-dressed people, so I need my backpack to be somewhat stylish. I feel totally comfortable taking it with me everywhere.”
Content strategist Libby Bartley recommends her backpack, another vegan-leather option, from Matt & Nat. In The Strategist’s roundup of the best work bags for women, she details how much she likes about it, including that it’s “ethically made and manufactured with sustainable resources” and also “features adjustable straps, expandable gussets, and pockets for laptops and smartphones.” “Not only is the bag multifunctional for work and play,” she says, “it’s a long-lasting investment.”
When Strategist writer Jordan McMahon sought to find the very best laptop backpacks, he surfaced plenty of nice-looking picks, including this eBags backpack recommended by travel blogger Micki Kosman. It’s her go-to because it has a padded bottom, separate laptop compartment that easily fits her 15-inch laptop, many pockets for chargers and other electronics, and a larger main compartment for bringing gym clothes to work. Plus it comes outfitted with an easy-access compartment that lets you pull out your laptop without digging through your bag. Kosman has the light gray color because it’s a neutral that hides dirt well, but it also comes in black.
Sube Zia, the manager of Ambassador Luggage in Manhattan, says this Briggs & Riley backpack is “subtly good looking” and appealing to those who prefer a style that’s more business casual than utilitarian. The “ultralightweight” bag comes with useful pockets for holding a laptop, headphones, notebooks, and other daily necessities. Plus its outer is made with a micro-weave nylon fabric that’s durable and water resistant.
A good work backpack can accompany its wearer all day — not only to the office but also to the gym and happy hour. Life sciences consultant Jonah Robison swears by this Aer Duffel Pack, which features an antimicrobial lining and separate shoe pocket to keep sweaty gym clothes isolated from his packed lunch, clean clothes, and other work gear. The laptop compartment in particular is “extremely well padded, with a separate tablet sleeve and water-resistant zippers to keep tech gear protected.” It’s worth pointing out that with a 21-liter volume, “it is not a small bag,” Robison says, but it more than pulls its own weight. “Other bags seem to be too small to use for work and the gym or so big you feel as though you’re calling attention to yourself. I’ve also used other bags that have too many organizational tools, which just lead to increased weight and to you storing way more than you need.”
Best under $300
Former Strategist writer Chloe Anello has the large version of the Dagne Dover backpack and says it was great for her long, two-hour commute from Beacon to downtown New York. “That backpack was my favorite for lugging stuff back and forth,” she says. She also owns the medium size but says the large is the way to go if you are transporting a lot. In addition to her laptop, “it fits a water bottle, a lunch, my over-the-ear headphones, snacks, my wallet, and my keys,” she says. “Literally everything imaginable.”
Traveling nurse Ashley Breckinridge carries this decently priced all-leather backpack every day. She notes there’s only one pocket on the inside, but it’s still roomy enough to fit all her essentials: her Kindle, iPad, wallet, planner, makeup, and sometimes even her scrub jacket. Plus, the bag has two small outer pockets that can hold a phone, AirPods, and more. While she loves how cute and versatile it is, her favorite thing about it is how the leather looks and smells.
“This bag can hold everything,” says Kevin Murray, an operations manager at REI. Peak Design originated in the photography world, so the interior of this cavernous yet portable 30-liter bag is outfitted with padding, pockets, and interior structure to keep all your gear secure. “For days when I need to bring my office with me, a full change of clothes, extra snacks, so forth, this is the bag,” Murray says. He likes how it has both top- and side-entry options, keeping even the fullest loads easily accessible, as well as built-in external straps that can be stowed away when not in use. “It keeps the same clean look whether it is stuffed full or almost empty,” he says.
“I live in Los Angeles and am starting a hotel company based in the Great Smoky Mountains,” says Ryan Abraham, a hospitality entrepreneur who needs his backpack to work in both settings. The Scandinavian vibe of this Sandqvist number —with its roll-top main compartment and easily accessible side-zippered laptop sleeve — feels right for the city and the wilderness. It’s also water resistant, made from 100 percent recycled polyester, and comes in plenty of color variations.
Photographer Alice Gao likes her Lo & Sons backpack for work and travel. It’s not super-fashionable, but your boss won’t call you in to talk about the “office dress code” either, she says, and it’s large enough to fit all her photo gear and a laptop. On a business trip, it will also easily attach to your carry-on thanks to the back sleeve that slides onto the handle.
Best over $300
Architect turned tech entrepreneur Lori Cheek says people compliment her on this backpack “on an almost daily basis.” She loves the look of the gold detailing and relies on the expansive storage space because, as she puts it, “my office is literally in my backpack and I’m always working ‘on the go.’” One of Cheek’s favorite features is the separate zipped compartment that fits her 15-inch MacBook Pro “perfectly,” but she adds that it also “fits everything else I need to successfully run my business and live out my bag from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., five days a week!”
The Hitch is reminiscent of a grade-school bag but upgraded in glove-tanned leather and built to last. Professional home stager Sean Donovan of Sean William Styling says that its practicality and style can’t be beat — and for times when he feels goofy wearing a backpack, it features a tidy top handle so he can carry it like a tote. “I love that it fits my 15-inch laptop and has plenty of storage pockets inside to keep things secure,” he says. “The leather wears in beautifully, too, and is easy to maintain.”
Caleb Thill, a New York City–based content creator, swears by his black leather backpack from Montreal-based brand Want Les Essentials because it’s “definitely work and business appropriate while having a bit of edge.” At almost $700, the elegant and minimalist bag is expensive, but its sleek aesthetic makes it worth considering if you’re willing to splurge. Or, for a very similar look at a price that’s closer to $500, this same backpack comes in a canvas style with black leather trim.
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