The editors at Travel and Leisure magazine declared commuter backpacks essential gear for folks who bike to work. “A commuting backpack needs to score high on both fashion and function,” they say. Their edict prompts this question: What criteria are at the top of your shopping list when you search for a commuter backpack?
Every commuter wants water and stain resistance, especially folks who ride to work in weather that’s perpetually less than perfect. And can you have too many zippers, pockets, and organizational features? Our picks offer plenty of variety. Once the bag you like checks off all of your “must-have” boxes, show off your fashion sensibilities by finding the style you want. Your backpack, after all, says a lot about your taste!
Incase Range Backpack – OUR PICK!
Whether you bring work home and shuttle materials back and forth or the only items you stuff into your backpack are lunch and a change of shoes, this sleek, stylish, understated design fits both function and fashion criteria. Appealing to those who wouldn’t think of wearing a pack that isn’t black, this product is crafted of tough material that pairs 1680D ballistic nylon with 600D poly (non-PVC).
Gain access to everything via the wide-mouth opening that zips closed to secure contents. Find interior features often relegated to pricier rucksacks, like a padded notebook compartment and plush fleece lining. Stow necessities in multiple exterior organizer pockets and there’s even a loop attachment designed to hold a safety light in case things get dark on your commute home. Measuring 11(H)- x 7.8(W)- x 20(L)-inches, there’s ample room to hold everything and if you’re on a stringent budget, an affordable price could seal the deal.
Thule Pack-n-Pedal Commuter Backpack – Also Great!
Prepare to spend almost three times more on this tricked-out commuter backpack than you would for the Incase Range, but you might not mind handing over your plastic in return for this product’s unique features. Measuring 19(L)-x 16(H)-x 5(W)-inches, you get around the same amount of interior room as the Incase, but it’s configured differently and offers you a 15-inch shoulder drop that may make your commute more comfortable.
The waterproof main compartment has a roll-top closure, and the exterior features a 360-degree reflective screen print that increases your visibility. Tired of dragging your safety helmet around? This commuter backpack has a helmet security system. The feature you may prize most is the padded, removable laptop compartment with a tablet sleeve that allows you to stow your device atop the bag rather than against your back when you ride.
Resiliency, color choices and popularity are benchmarks of a great commuter backpack, and this Urban Ex product comes with all three. Choose between black, red and green options and because this rolltop backpack is made of lightweight, 100-percent welded, waterproof nylon, it won’t add weight to your load during your commute to work.
The watertight quick access pocket and internal pockets give you plenty of places to stash essentials. If load distribution has been problematic in the past, this bag’s new and improved shoulder harness with five-bar handles could put an end to your dilemma. Measuring 21.6(L)- x 15.2(H)- x 3(W)-inches, this backpack gets favorable reviews, but in return, plan to spend twice the amount you would had you chosen the Incase Range.
You know the brand but you may not recognize this pricey backpack because the design is so unique. In return for uniqueness, own the priciest bag on this list. It’s black (of course), but that’s where comparisons end. This rucksack is designed to baby your body. Featuring a FlexVent suspension system with custom injection-molded shoulder straps, padded back panel plus spine channel for maximum comfort, this is the epitome of ergonomic gear.
The dedicated, fleece-lined laptop compartment with an ejector handle helps you remove your laptop fast. Use the top-loading main compartment for books and binders and front zip compartments to secure that laptop. Two zipped side pockets and two haul handles are situated on either side of this rucksack, so while you don’t get color choices, you get lots of innovation in addition to comfort.
This Osprey backpack’s price matches that of the Thule bag, but unlike the Thule, you can choose between black and crimson red. Osprey has been making high-quality gear since 1974, and this design is no exception. The main compartment’s padded laptop sleeve secures your device within an interior measuring 19(L)-x 14(H)-x 10(W)-inches.
Can’t get too many pockets? This is your bag: Dedicated pockets keep sunglasses and small electronics scratch-free, and the zippered side panel stretches to fit oddly-shaped items. Bike-specific features include an integrated rain cover with reflective print plus LidLock helmet and blinker light attachments. When this bag isn’t filled to capacity, StraightJacket compression material reduces the volume, so your ride is more aerodynamic and comfier.
At 19.7(L)- x 11.8(H)- x 6.1(W)-inches, this bag offers durability, strength, a waterproof textile, and “eye-catching looks.” This unisex commuter backpack, made of polyurethane-laminated nylon fabric, has a reinforced thermoplastic urethane bottom. Gain fast access to contents via the roll-top closure with strap and alloy hook. The front pocket, while not waterproof, is designed to hold items for quick retrieval. Get an organizer with inner pockets and a padded laptop sleeve, too.
Ventilated shoulder straps and back panel channels may not keep you sweat-free, but you’ll ride more comfortably and removable waist and sternum straps hold your bag securely on the roughest commute. Included are U-lock, helmet, and blinking light loops, but don’t fall in love. This backpack is hard to find — even on the company website. Obviously, brand fans don’t mind parting with a couple of C-notes for this backpack.
This commuter backpack’s styling may remind you of the Incase design atop this list, but you’ll pay more to bring it home. Highly-rated by commuters, it only comes in black, and while this product is very lightweight, it’s comparably-sized at 8.7(W)- x 13.4(H)- x 20.9(L)-inches. This top-loading, mid-sized pouch offers organizational features that include an internal pocket for your laptop and dual side stretch pockets.
Compression straps expand and contract in reaction to the load you tote, and you’ll appreciate extras like PU coated zippers. Unzip the front panel to find additional storage space. Manufactured of 500D Ripstop Cordura Nylon, straps are lined with high-density foam, and the Especial Medio features a Backbender flexible cooling panel for extra ventilation. This product comes with a lifetime guarantee that promises free repairs if you run into workmanship defects.
This stylish backpack is the most expensive one on this list but in return for your investment, you get an extremely weather-resistant bag that’s a favorite of winter wanderers who count on it to keep valuable items safe and protected. Why the 20 designation? That refers to the 20-liter gear capacity (44 pounds), but the exterior fabric content is likely to impress you most. It’s an industrial-grade, waterproof N400r-AC2 textile with taped seams fitted with Arc’teryx 1-handed, quick-release buckles.
Interior storage features include laptop and legal document sleeves plus a stretch mesh zippered pocket. There’s a zippered exterior top flap plus pocket with key clip. The back panel plus clip-in point are designed for bike lights so night travel doesn’t leave you in the dark. You won’t see this backpack coming and going because the brand is exotic, and the price is hefty, but if the style wins you over, you may not be able to resist.
This backpack won’t make your breakfast, but you could fall for it anyway because it has a great pedigree. Not only does it grab all five stars when rated by commuters, but if you only buy products made in the U.S.A., it meets that criteria. This bag is made of 14-ounce water-resistant, waxed 100-percent cotton suck with 500 Denier Cordura lining and features AquaGuard water-repellent zippers.
Carry up to 80 pounds of stuff when you ride, yet at 13.5(W)- x 18.5-28(H)- x 6.5(D)-inches, this backpack’s capacity matches other bags profiled here. Features include 2-inch quick release COBRA buckles, padded laptop pocket, zippered front pocket, main interior section with zippered pocket and exterior water bottle pocket. There aren’t many waxed backpacks on today’s market, so prepare to spend twice the amount you would on the Ortlieb. This bag sells out fast. If you find one, grab it before it disappears.
You look puzzled. Does this Lole Women’s Lily Tote Bag meet the criteria of a commuter backpack? That depends upon your definition, and since the price of this bag is no modest sum, you may wonder why it looks so different. First, there’s no hiding the fact that it’s targeted at women, which may be why it comes in many colors. Lole describes their tote as a “backpack convert designed for on-the-go storage.”
Crafted of 100-percent nylon, this bag easily converts to a backpack once the straps are engaged, and stuff stays safe thanks to the zip closure. Included on this tote’s features list are a Yoga mat and water bottle compartments, a laptop compartment, drawstring shoe bag, smartphone pocket, and key chain feature. Measuring 17(L)- x 19(H)- x 2(W)-inches, you get almost as much interior space as you would with other products on this list, but with a completely different look.
Here’s cause for celebration: This smart backpack’s price tag makes it very affordable, yet Sherpa didn’t skimp on features. A Cordura fabric that’s tear and abrasion-resistant happens to be water-repellent thanks to the DWR finish – and when you see how many extras you get for little money, this stylish bag could move to the top of your shortlist. Measuring 4.2(W)-x 10.5(H)- x20.5(L)-inches, this roll-top bag includes a fleece-lined laptop sleeve, two large external pockets, and two bottle sleeves.
The interior lining features a Nepalese snow lion and prayer flag design that’s inspired by the company name. Both the adjustable shoulder straps and back panel are lined with airy mesh for increased ventilation, and even if you fill this rucksack to the brim, your commute is likely to be a comfortable experience. As a final note, purchase this bag, and you make a donation to raise funds for Nepal’s education system, so what’s not to love about this inspired carryall?
It’s anybody’s guess why Osprey charges $30 bucks more for the black over the Rise Orange version of this backpack, but whichever color you pick, expect to spend twice as much as you would for the Sherpa. That stated, shoppers get plenty for their investment: a padded laptop sleeve and pocket designed to separate shoes from office items. Comfortable, sleek and measuring 20(L)- x 14(H)- x 12(W)-inches, you’ll applaud the integrated rain cover, LidLock helmet carry feature and blinker light attachment.
The zippered, stretch side pocket protects sunglasses and electronics from getting scratched during your ride. Stash small items in the front organizer made of stretch mesh that holds plenty of essentials. Your ride to the office? No sweat, thanks to the Air Speed back panel that also adds tension to the fit which can help displace weight. Additionally, this Osprey features a built-in “kickstand” designed to keep your pack upright, even when you place it on the ground.
Streamlined design, thick straps and sleek configuration win over commuters regularly, especially photographers who must lug around a load of heavy camera equipment. The Niko F-Stop is also praised for its sturdy, tough nylon textile and adjustable, removable, modular dividers that separate contents so soiled contents don’t come into contact with files and office essentials. This bag’s full-zip entry lets you retrieve even the heaviest items without a hassle.
Carry tripods tucked into exterior straps or use the space to tote bulky items like skateboards and sports equipment. Measuring 20(L)- x 10(H)- x 7(W)-inches, this bag’s size closely approximates competitor designs on this list, and if you like apples-to-apples price comparisons, this one costs the same as the Ortlieb bag. Must you be a photographer to enjoy the benefits of this backpack? Not according to commuters who can’t differentiate an F Stop from a traffic stop.
Can the least-expensive backpack on this list also be the most artfully designed? It can if designers are asked to stretch their imaginations. This sophisticated rucksack costs the equivalent of lunch at a trendy eatery, but for commuters eager for a different look, Bagsmart proves that design excellence doesn’t always cost a fortune. Crafted of water repellent, tear-resistant, anti-scratch polyester, this bag is sized to protect your laptop from getting wet and ensure lasting durability at 16(L)-x 11(H)-x 5.5(W)-inches.
Peek inside and discover one roomy main compartment, a padded laptop sleeve, iPad pocket and zippered pocket for valuables. Two exterior zippered pockets hold small accessories, and a side pocket suits a water bottle or umbrella. Like its’ pricier cousins, wearers enjoy padded, adjustable shoulder straps and a mesh-padded back panel for additional support and comfort. Take this bag anywhere you go since the luggage strap slides over a suitcase handle. Who says toting work stuff during a commute has to be a boring, expensive proposition?
No need to speak the Queen’s English to feel like royalty on your work commute if this Pickwick Day Pack turns out to be the only rucksack you like because it comes in many sizes. Choose the one that suits your needs understanding that the larger you go, the more the price increases/ Handmade in Italy using traditional tanning and crafting techniques, this bag is weather resistant and a classic choice.
Gain access to the interior via a roll-top enclosure that keeps valuables dry and safe. Large front pockets, side pockets, and net elastic features add distinctive design touches, and because the chest strap locks adroitly, the bag won’t shift so you enjoy a more stable ride. Finding the right size in the color you prefer may be tricky, but if only the best hand craftsmanship will do, you might not mind having sleuth out the one that calls to you.
How to choose the best commuter backpack
There are four main factors to consider when you get serious about purchasing one backpack over another: Size, Safety, Style, and Budget. We consulted folks at The Biker’s Backpack for the mother lode of advice and pass the most essential information on to you.
Yes, size matters
For reasons we have yet to discover, backpack internal storage is measured in liters, so you will be forced to do some math to differentiate between sizing. That stated, use this guide to estimate the backpack size you seek:
- 10- to 15-liter bags are small and compact
- 16- to 20-liter backpacks belong in the medium category
- 20- to 30-liter bags are considered large
One liter equals around 22 pounds of stuff. We’re not doing any more math for you, so figure out for yourself how much capacity you need and choose the size most likely to hold everything you tote. As an added note, if you have grandiose plans for stuffing everything but your desk into your bag, a little respect for your tires, please.
Can you get too many safety features? Whether you enjoy an idyllic ride from the suburbs or every day turns into a daunting trek, prioritizing safety features shows your desire to stay safe and on the move. You could be surprised to learn that ergonomic styling is considered a safety feature. If you’re comfortable on your ride, you stay safer, according to this Indiana University web page on backpacking.
What about reflective materials, light loops, and other standard safety accessories? The riskier your commute, the more important these items are, and don’t discount keeping the contents of your backpack safe, either. To check on whether the rucksack you buy has what it takes to keep bag contents safe, check out your bag’s Ingress Protection Code (IPC).
It’s okay to care about style, gentlemen
As you probably noticed, today’s commuter backpack isn’t a “one style fits all” product. You’ll encounter styles that are urban, rugged, sleek, sophisticated and at times, Avant Garde. Folks focused on fashion trends recommend searching for a “messenger bag” if you want something different. Finding a color you like could be your most challenging task, though if you regularly carry electronics that exceed the 15-inch maximum all of these bags accommodate, your search could be even longer.
What’s your budget?
Items on our list run between $28 and $290, but you can find something you like in the $166 range. Nine of these backpacks are in this price range. Must you spend a fortune on a sturdy, stylish, ergonomically-friendly bag with a few extras? Of course not — so think twice before liquidating your stock portfolio to get one just for the looks.