Here are the best commuter backpacks to help you survive getting back and forth on your daily grind.
If you commute to work every day, you probably already know the importance of a great backpack.
The ideal commuter backpack is comfortable, spacious enough to carry all of your gear and is stylish enough to be carted around everywhere.
But the absolute best commuter backpacks go beyond these basics and provide extra durability and features, which can really come in handy.
With so many commuter backpacks on the market, it can be difficult to determine the best of the bunch, which is why we’ve assembled the absolute best for your money.
We’ll take a look at each in detail, and judge them not only by their features, but with each type of consumer in mind.
Quick Answer: The Best Commuter Backpacks
Best Commuter Backpack for Work - Thule Crossover 2
Best Cycling Backpack for Commuting - Timbuk2 Robin Pack
Best Laptop Backpack for Commuting - Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack
Best Commuter Backpack for Women - Incase Icon Backpack
Best Commuter Sling Backpack - Topo Designs Commuter Briefcase
Best Waterproof Commuter Backpack - Just Porter Weather-Proof Commuter Backpack
Quick Link ---> Commuter Backpack Reviews
Commuter Backpack Comparison Table
|Thule Crossover 2|
|Volume: 20 L|
Weight: 2.4 lbs
|Incase Icon |
|Volume: 17 L|
Weight: 2.8 lbs
|The North Face |
|Volume: 27 L|
Weight: 1.8 lbs
|Timbuk2 Authority |
|Volume: 28 L|
Weight: 3 lbs
|||Aer Duffel Pack 2||Volume: 24.6 L|
Weight: 2.4 lbs
|Topo Designs |
|Volume: 13 L|
Weight: 1 lbs
|Opposethis Invisible |
|Volume: 22 L|
Weight: 1.8 lbs
|Timbuk2 Robin Pack||Volume: 20 L|
Weight: 2 lbs
|Just Porter Weather-Proof |
|Volume: 26 L|
Weight: 3.75 lbs
|Harvest Label Urban |
Rolltop Backpack 2.0
|Volume: 21 L|
Weight: 1.8 lbs
|Tom Bihn |
|Volume: 25 L|
Weight: 1.8 lbs
|Brooks England |
|Volume: 28 L|
Weight: 3 lbs
|Peak Design Everyday |
|Volume: 20 L|
Weight: 3 lbs
|Thule Pack-n-Pedal |
|Volume: 24 L|
Weight: 2.9 lbs
|Fjallraven Raven 28||Volume: 28 L|
Weight: 2.1 lbs
Commuter Backpack Reviews
Thule Crossover 2 Laptop Backpack
What we like: The Thule Crossover 2 is a well-rounded laptop-carrier with extra features for commuters. It's well-conceived design makes it a top pick.
What we don't like: While ruggedly designed, it is not waterproof, so you'll want to have a backpack rain cover handy if you plan on using it in wet conditions.
The Thule Crossover 2 is a 20 liter laptop backpack with a solid design and rugged construction. Fit up to a 14” laptop in a dedicated, padded compartment with woven-in edge protection.
Meanwhile, place your smaller electronics in a separately zippered crush-proof safe compartment.
There’s even room for an additional 10.1 inch tablet in its own dedicated sleeve. Place whatever you’d like in the front panel, which comes with slip pockets, a zippered mesh pocket, elastic loops, and a handy cord management system for charging your devices.
We also like that you can securely attach this backpack to rolling luggage with an included pass-through panel.
There are zippered side pockets that easily store easy-access items, such as an umbrella or water bottle. Thule really put a lot of thought into the placement of features like these, and the backpack is very easy to use and never frustrating.
The two downsides are: it’s not waterproof, meaning you’ll want a backpack rain cover handy if you plan on using it in wet conditions, and it fits laptops up to 14”, meaning you’ll need to carry a larger laptop separately.
For commuters with lots of electronic devices, this might be the perfect laptop backpack.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, tablet, RFID-blocking, water bottle, umbrella
Max Laptop Size: 14"
Best For: Best commuter backpack for work
Incase Icon Backpack
What we like: The Incase Icon Backpack is incredibly well-designed, offering a huge suite of features with a simple appearance, and providing ease of use that is simply unrivaled.
What we don't like: The backpack is not waterproof, which means you'll need an extra backpack rain cover to keep your gear dry in rain.
The Incase Icon Backpack manages to pull of an impressive feat: stuffing a backpack full of robust features, and yet making it both simple in appearance and easy to use.
With dedicated compartments for a 15.6” laptop, a tablet, and a phone, as well as an energy bank, it fits all of your devices comfortably.
Several inner and side pockets are included, each complete with loops and zips, and each just different enough in appearance to be immediately distinguishable.
The bag is also incredibly comfortable, with airflow channels engineered into the back panel and shoulder straps. There are also multiple adjustment points to customize your fit.
Given this, and the fact that it’s a very stylish and understated bag, and available in multiple colors, including bright red, we’re naming this the best commuter backpack for women. But men should certainly take a look, too.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, tablet, phone, power bank, many others
Max Laptop Size: 15.6"
Best For: Best commuter laptop for women
The North Face Pivoter Backpack
What we like: The TNF Pivoter is a great choice for those who prefer a sportier backpack design, but also need a whopping 27 liter capacity.
What we don't like: While it has a separate laptop compartment, it only holds laptops up to 12”, so you’ll want a separate carrier for larger laptops.
Anyone looking for a sportier backpack that’s just as at home on a commuter bus as it is at the gym, or even on a camping expedition, need look no further than The North Face’s Pivoter Backpack.
Available in 8 stylish colors, it’s easy to match it to your style. It will also complement your lifestyle with a massive 27L capacity, although the separate laptop compartment only fits laptops up to 12”, so many working professionals will want to bring a separate laptop carrier.
The backpack is also exceptionally comfortable, replete with padding and a FlexVent suspension system.
Overall, it feels more like a traditional sports backpack, with a reflective bike-light loop, water bottle tabs, reflective material, and a sternum strap with whistle buckle. Given its large volume, it’s likely to work well for many commuters, too.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, water bottle, large inner compartment
Max Laptop Size: 12"
Best For: Best cycling backpack for commuting
Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack
What we like: The Timbuk2 Authority Laptop is perfect for carrying a large laptop and a variety of work supplies, featuring a spacious 28 liter capacity and a sturdy build.
What we don't like: With its larger size and weight, it may be a bit cumbersome for some.
Timbuk2 describes their Authority Laptop Backpack as a “monster,” and they’re not wrong. Carrying a 17” laptop and plenty of other supplies is a snap.
There are dedicated compartments not only for your computer, but also for intelligently-allocated slots accommodating pens, tablets, notebooks, phones, and so on.
The various compartments all feel custom-fit for very obvious items, rather than just being a variety of spaces. This will make it the dream bag for commuters who love to stay organized.
At a spacious 28L, it’s not only large, but well-constructed, too. Much of the bag is a neoprene material, which while not waterproof will provide a good degree of water-resistance.
Those who need weatherproofing will want a separate backpack cover to protect their valuables or opt for a 100% waterproof backpack.
All of this also makes it bulky and weigh in at 3 pounds, which while not particularly heavy, should be considered. It’s great for those who want a lot of space, as well as protection.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, tablet, phone, many individual compartments
Max Laptop Size: 17"
Best For: Best laptop backpack for commuting
Aer Duffel Pack 2
What we like: A novel, split design helps keep work life and gym life balanced, and a comfortable design makes wearing this pack a joy.
What we don't like: The unusual design definitely caters to those living two active lifestyles, and it might take getting used to for anyone else. That said, it an incredibly innovative and versatile bag for commuting.
We love a lot of things about the Aer Duffel Pack 2, although it is clearly designed for a niche audience. Sometimes, however, that’s how you get some of the best backpacks, and this is one such example.
The difference is immediately noticeable: a split design allows you to store all of your work possessions on one side.
On the one side, store your laptop, tablet, notebooks, and so on. The other side is completely separate, and provides compartments for gym-related items, such as shoes and a water bottle.
This very effectively allows you to carry a wide assortment of items, without the need for multiple bags, while keeping the items totally separate from each other. This truly appeals to those who go to work and hit the gym, but a with a little thought, many consumers might find a great use for this feature.
Meanwhile, the bag is highly water-resistant but not waterproof, so grab a backpack cover for full weather protection. A fully-padded mesh back panel, sternum strap, and very wide shoulder straps make single-shoulder carry exquisitely comfortable. YKK Japanese-designed zippers are smooth as silk.
Overall, this is an excellent and innovative design that we can’t recommend enough to its niche audience. Others ought to take a look, too, as it’s a very unique item.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, tablet, phone, shoes, water bottle
Max Laptop Size: 15.6"
Best For: Best commuter backpack for work and gym
Topo Designs Commuter Briefcase
What we like: Topo Designs Commuter Briefcase is a lovely, lightweight solution for commuters looking to minimize their load.
What we don't like: With such a small profile, this briefcase simply can’t carry much in its 13L capacity.
If you’re looking for something small and lightweight, begin your search with the Topo Designs Commuter Briefcase.
Clocking in at only 1 pound with a 13L capacity, this is a slim briefcase that’s easy to carry around. Additionally, the shoulder strap is detachable, allowing you to switch between messenger bag style and briefcase style on the fly.
There are also plenty of inner compartments for pens, notebooks, and so on. You also receive the main compartment which fits a 15” laptop.
Construction is fairly rugged, made of 1000D Cordura nylon outside, and soft pack cloth inside.
Overall, it is simple, stylish, and minimal. If you don’t carry much with you, but you do want a step up from a basic briefcase or messenger bag—or the flexibility of both—this is a great bag.
Those who carry more than their laptop and a few odd and ends might find that it’s better suited as a complement to other backpacks.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, large external compartment, small internal compartments
Max Laptop Size: 15"
Best For: Best commuter sling backpack
Opposethis Invisible Backpack Three
What we like: A solid, weather-proof commuter backpack with plenty of space. It's well-rounded for most commuters.
What we don't like: An unusual, oblong aesthetic design may not be what some people are looking for.
The Opposethis Invisible Backpack Three is a very well-rounded backpack with features perfect for the average commuter, although you wouldn’t know it at first glance.
Featuring an unusual, oblong, rectangular design, the pack looks oddly like a large cooler with straps. This may or may not be the kind of style statement your after.
But if you can get past the unique design choice, you’ll find some great features. Completely proofed against weather, it’s ready to go anywhere. Featuring an excellent ratio of a 22L capacity but only a light 1.8 pound weight, this backpack is truly versatile.
Inside, you’ll find separate compartments for a 15” laptop, shoes, a water bottle, and all your miscellaneous belongings. As it employs a very cubic design, it’s very easy to access each compartment separately.
Additionally, the same lightweight, nylon-polyester blend that makes it waterproof and durable also makes it light and comfortable to wear.
If you want a large, breathable bag that can go anywhere—the gym, the workplace, or hiking—and still be lightweight, this backpack will meet all your needs.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, shoes, water bottle, 2 front pockets, modular inner compartments
Max Laptop Size: 15"
Best For: Best large and lightweight commuter backpack
Timbuk2 Robin Pack
What we like: A great, sporty backpack for those who travel light and often. Also, a top backpack pick for bike commuters.
What we don't like: Only fits up to a 13” laptop, despite its great features.
The Timbuk 2 Robin Pack is designed for commuters who spend a lot of time traveling, including those who walk long distances or ride their bike to work.
While using it for work and gym might be a bit of a stretch, as it has a 20L capacity, it’s fitted with everything you need for traveling safe and comfortably.
A highly reflective yet discreet design keeps you safe, while there’s a hidden vista loop for attaching a blinking light when riding your bike.
Side pockets are fitted for a water bottle, and provide easy access. There are also handy compartments for keys, a waist strap for extra support for heavy loads, and magnet snaps.
While the bag is not fully water-proof, it does offer a detachable rainfly which provides full waterproofing, so you won’t need to purchase a backpack cover to keep your gear dry.
Overall, this is a very comfortable, flexible, well-designed backpack with a single flaw: it only fits a 13” laptop.
Since this backpack is so great all around, you’ll likely want to grab this backpack and a separate laptop carrier. Regardless, you will love it for its safety features, versatility, and comfort, which is why we think it’s a perfect fit for cyclists.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, water bottle, keys, internal compartments
Max Laptop Size: 13"
Best For: Best cycling backpack for commuting
Just Porter Streeter Commuter Backpack
What we like: This backpack is fully weatherproof with anti-theft protection, and Just Porter donates a backpack and school supplies to a needy student with each purchase.
What we don't like: At nearly four pounds, it might be too heavy for many commuters.
The Just Porter Streeter Commuter Backpack offers a lot of great features and is perfect for anyone looking for solid security.
Made of fully-weatherproof fabric, it can withstand the elements, while a rolltop keeps compartments secure from theft.
The construction utilizes military-grade webbing, premium Japanese YKK zippers, magnetic buckles, reinforced handles, and three layers of back padding. In short, every aspect of this backpack feels absolutely smooth, comfortable, and high-quality.
This backpack also provides space for a 16” laptop and water bottles. Inside are collapsible compartments offering 26L of space. Ultimately, it is simple but rugged, and easy to use
Five handsome, muted colors are available, and all versions are handmade in the USA. Just Porter’s backpacks are also backed by a lifetime warranty.
Additionally, Just Porter donates a backpack filled with school supplies to a child in need for every purchase.
All of these amazing features and feel-good qualities come at one price: it clocks in at nearly four pounds.
If that sounds heavy, grab this backpack for when you need the ultimate in protection and durability, but keep a lighter option on hand.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, tablet, phone, water bottle, collapsible inner compartments
Max Laptop Size: 16"
Best For: Best waterproof commuter backpack
Harvest Label Urban Rolltop Backpack 2.0
What we like: A modern spin on the classic rolltop backpack with six fun colors to choose from, this backpack is a good choice for those on a budget who don’t need a lot of features.
What we don't like: The backpack does not have a separate padded laptop compartment.
Commuters who enjoy the classic rolltop design will enjoy this backpack, as it provides a very wide rolltop on the outside, and wealth of modern internal compartments inside.
These individual compartments vary in size, and are not specifically designed for any given purpose.
The simple inner design is purposeful, allowing you to find your own use for the compartments. This is good if you don’t want to be stuck with hyper-specific compartments that you might not have a use for.
It’s also equipped with a zippered rear that provides access to the main compartment. This is handy if you travel with a partner.
Lightweight for its capacity, and utilizing a great combination of easy access and security, this is a very balanced backpack.
While it doesn’t come with a lot of features, it averages out well. Given that it comes in six stylish colors, and is also very affordable, it should make many users happy.
Since it doesn’t have a separate, padded compartment for a laptop or tablet, be sure to bring a laptop carrier if you go this route.
Pockets & Storage: 3 unspecialized internal pockets, 2 side pockets
Max Laptop Size: Fits up to 15” laptop, but without a padded compartment
Best For: Best budget commuter backpack
Tom Bihn Synapse 25
What we like: An innovative backpack with lots of customization options and neat features, one being a detachable TSA friendly laptop cache for airports.
What we don't like: While it aims to be fit for hiking, it is not fully waterproof.
The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 looks like a regular backpack, but hides some great innovations that many commuters will easily fall in love with.
Most notably, it includes an optional detachable laptop cache, available in 13 sizes specifically fit for the most common tablets and laptops.
Not only does this detachable cache provide extra security for your device, but it can be quickly removed from the backpack.
This is great for passing through airport security, for example, or in any other situation where you would like to remove your device but keep it secure.
This sort of innovation is just the beginning. Truly, a novel could be written about the features the Synapse 25 offers. Five zippered pockets on the front are easily accessible, and the top center-front pocket is deep enough to carry a 1-liter water bottle. This pocket sits atop an O-ring for keys or a wallet.
Inside, this Tom Bihn pack offers modular 3D Organizer Cubes for organizing the interior to your custom needs.
All of these cubes can be tethered to O-rings. In fact, every component of the backpack offers tethering for heightened security.
Meanwhile, EVAZOTE foam straps, premium buckles and zippers, and a handmade USA-made design provide smooth operation, exceptional comfort, and outstanding durability.
While many of these features might be overkill for some users, it is certainly impressive. If you like lots of options and security, this is your bag.
With the removable laptop cache and security options, this is hands-down the best carry-on backpack for air travel. Just remember it’s not waterproof, and bring a backpack cover for wet conditions.
Pockets & Storage: 5 zippered front, water bottle, detachable laptop cache, modular internal design
Max Laptop Size: 17” (customizable)
Best For: Best Commuter Backpack for Air Travel
Brooks England Sparkhill Backpack
What we like: A waterproof backpack with nice features designed for bike commuting, such as a helmet compartment.
What we don't like: The bag’s taller design may be uncomfortable on shorter users.
The Brooks England Sparkhill Backpack is designed with cyclists in mind, offering a slim and tall profile that keeps weight centered when riding.
Additionally, a front compartment keeps a helmet secure when not riding, without taking up precious space inside the pack.
This is great, because the remaining 28L inside is very spacious. You’ll be able to fit up to a 16” laptop in a specialized compartment.
The interior also features a stretchable compartment that can fit a variety of items. Completely waterproof and fitted with reflective details, this backpack will keep both you and your belongings safe in all cycling conditions.
Be aware that the tall design—just over two feet—causes a lot of the pack’s weight to be placed on the lower back.
While helping to center cyclists carrying a lot of gear, this can become uncomfortable if you’re not careful. Shorter cyclists may find this cutting into their tailbone.
The solution is either to pack light, or to arrange your possessions so that softer items are at the bottom. Average or tall men will probably love this backpack, whereas it will women will prefer to use it for more brief periods of time given its height.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, stretchable internal compartments, outside helmet pocket
Max Laptop Size: 16"
Best For: Best commuter backpack for male cyclists
Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L
What we like: A backpack designed for technology, commuting professionals who work with cameras and other devices will love this product.
What we don't like: A niche, premium product, it might not be within everyone’s budget.
For commuting professionals who have an array of electronic devices, the Peak Design Everyday Backpack is a great choice.
Made with storing technology in mind, it fits up to a 15” laptop in addition to a tablet sleeve.
Three flexifold dividers add protection for cameras, drones, and spare lenses. A maglatch system helps keep your devices extra secure.
Easy-reach external compartments provide quick access to memory cards, batteries, and filters, and are small so that these items don’t get lost easily.
While the design is water-resistant to help protect valuables, it is not waterproof, so be sure to grab a backpack cover for wet conditions. Theft-deterrent zipper pulls and a rolling luggage pass-through help provide extra security.
All in all, these features are great for professionals who travel often with lots of gadgets. Just remember, the compartments are designed with electronics in mind.
The brand’s high quality also commands a premium, so this is best utilized when valuable electronics must be carried safely.
Pockets & Storage: Laptop, external peripheral pockets, internal flexfold dividers
Max Laptop Size: 15"
Best For: Best commuter backpack for electronic devices
Thule Pack-n-Pedal Commuter Backpack
What we like: A practical backpack for cyclists, this bag is highly-specialized for the road.
What we don't like: This backpack is specifically designed for those who ride bicycles, so other users might not use all of its features.
If you ride bicycles a lot, you’ll want to seriously consider the Thule Pack-n-Pedal commuter backpack. The main compartment can be sealed with a roll top waterproof closure.
The backpack is also highly reflective, and includes a stowable rain cover. While not technically waterproof, responsible owners will effectively keep their items perfectly safe.
As for storage, there are numerous pockets within quick reach externally. Inside, you’ll find a removable 15 inch laptop sleeve, and a crush-proof pocket for storing glasses or other delicate items.
There’s also a helmet attachment point, and a handy U-lock pocket.
While all these features will make a cyclist’s commute much easier, those who don’t bike might not find use for them.
It’s also notable that while the 15” removable sleeve is nice, it is limited to 15”. Overall, it is one of the most versatile backpacks for cyclist commuters.
Pockets & Storage: Removable laptop sleeve, crush-proof glasses pocket, easy-access external pockets, internal dividers
Max Laptop Size: 15"
Best For: Best versatile backpack for cyclists
Fjallraven Raven 28
What we like: A great budget backpack that finds value in balancing its features for everyone.
What we don't like: Its broad appeal won’t suit those who have specific needs.
The Fjallraven backpack is an excellent choice for consumers who aren’t particularly picky about the features they’re getting out of a backpack, but still want a solid product at a great price.
This backpack is intelligently designed with internal padded sleeves, a water bottle side pocket, and a fleece-lined front pocket for sunglasses. All these features should suit most users just fine.
The laptop sleeve fits laptops up to 15 inches, all but the largest laptops. Comfort is quite nice, as the backpack uses wide shoulder straps to distribute weight.
The proprietary material used in this backpack, G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco, provides great strength and is breathable and lightweight. Despite its weight, it offers a healthy 28L of storage space.
Available in eight colors, it should truly appeal to a wide range of commuters. While it doesn’t offer any particularly unique features, it’s a high-quality item at an excellent price point. It is certainly the best value on our list.
Pockets & Storage: Internal divider pockets, water bottle, fleece-lined glasses pocket
Max Laptop Size: 15"
Best For: Best value commuter backpack
Commuter Backpack Buying Guide
How Will You Use You Pack?
While all the backpacks on our list have commuting in mind, where you’re taking your goods matters.
Most have great accommodations for traveling to the office, with space for your most-used devices like laptops, tablets, phones, and other electronics.
However, some are designed to accommodate smaller laptops, so if you have a 17” laptop and it’s necessary that you take it with you, you’ll want to look for one that will work for you.
- Going to work
- Hitting the gym
- Laptop protection
- TSA friendly
While some excel at work life or general versatility, many specialize in unique lifestyles. For example, if you’re a cyclist, you’ll want a backpack that’s reflective to keep you safe, with a compartment for storing road essentials such as your helmet, sunglasses, and water bottle.
If you like to hit the gym after work, you’ll appreciate a backpack that lets you store your workplace goods alongside bulky extras, like a change of clothes and another pair of shoes.
Of course, you’ll still want the backpack to fit your laptop, so details matter as much as overall purpose.
Lastly, some backpacks fill very niche needs, but can be a lifesaver. For example, we like backpacks that provide a removable cache for your laptop when traveling.
This will make trips through the TSA much easier, and provide a safer alternative to placing your laptop in a plastic bin unprotected.
Likewise, a backpack specifically designed for carrying electronic devices will offer unique features, such as compartments that are specially-designed to fit small items.
These small pockets hold memory cards, for example, without them getting lost in a bigger pocket. They also include greater protection against crushing throughout the backpack.
How Much Will You Carry?
Consider how much you carry with you on a given day. It might help to actually remove the items from your current backpack, if you have one, for reference.
Each backpack we’ve reviewed is a different size. They range as small as 13 liters in capacity all the way up to 28 liters.
Larger is not necessarily better, as excess size also adds weight and takes up room in public spaces. However, each is also made from different materials, so some large backpacks are lighter than others.
It might be a good idea to not only allot space for your commonly carried goods, but also consider situations where you might need to carry something extra. Will you have enough space for it?
For example, perhaps you don’t always go to the gym after work, but you’d like to have the option. In this case, you might not need a backpack that specifically caters to both a work lifestyle and routine gym trips, but you’ll want to at least make sure you have adequate space to fit a change of clothes, shoes, etc.
How to Choose the Right Commuter Backpack
Below are some key considerations to think about when buying the right backpack for commuting. By opting for the right size bag, necessary features and specifications you'll be sure to invest in a trusty backpack that you'll happy with day-in-and-day-out.
While aesthetic design isn’t everything, you’ll want to pick a backpack that you enjoy looking at, as it will be with you all day long. Ranging from sporty to professional, the backpacks we’ve chosen have many different styles.
You may not feel comfortable bringing a sportier-looking backpack into the office, for example, even if it does provide you with everything you need. Likewise, a stylish leather-trimmed backpack might look great in the office, but if you plan on taking it hiking, you’re better off with a sportier design that can withstand the elements.
Design also should take functional needs into consideration. It might not matter if you drive, or if you take public transportation in smaller cities, but consider the space needed by your backpack.
Some laptop backpacks are designed especially slim so that you can fit more comfortably on a crowded bus. Likewise, cyclist backpacks tend to be more vertical and slim in design, to improve your center of gravity.
Some design choices are a matter of preference, but might greatly impact how much you enjoy using your backpack. For example, some backpacks are equipped with magnetic snaps to make opening and closing easier, rather than utilizing buckles.
This can be a great option for those who are often in a hurry or riding bicycles, as you will be able to use your backpack securely one-handed.
A roll top is another feature that works great for those who ride bikes or may be exposed to rain. They might seem pointless to those who don’t bike, but if you ever find yourself stuck in the rain without a backpack cover, they might be a lifesaver.
Lastly, while all the items we’ve reviewed are backpacks, some do accommodate other styles, either directly or indirectly.
For example, some can be transformed into a messenger bag or a briefcase. If you find that you get uncomfortable in one position for a long period of time, or want the versatility of carrying your bag in different ways, this is a great feature.
Water Waterproof vs Resistant
Waterproofing is a great feature for anyone to have. Obviously, if you had two backpacks that were identical except for one being waterproof and one not being waterproof, you’d choose the waterproof backpack.
Unfortunately, most backpacks are not waterproof, as this is a more expensive feature for manufacturers.
However, that does not mean you absolutely have to have a waterproof backpack. The first thing you can do is pick out the backpack you like, and separately carry a backpack cover.
Many on our list are already water-resistant, meaning that they provide some degree of protection against water. This is great for accidental splashes, including leakage from bottles stored in an external pocket. It should also provide adequate protection whenever you find yourself caught in a light storm on occasion.
If you are always exposed to the elements, either from walking or bicycling, you should strongly consider a backpack that is fully waterproof. This ensures that your expensive items like laptops, or abstractly valuable items like work documents, stay completely dry and safe.
It’s important to note that some backpacks are not designed from 100% waterproof materials, but offer a roll top that covers the entire bag and provides waterproofing.
In this scenario, your bag can become waterproof so long as the roll top is in use. This can be a great compromise so long as you remember to use it.
Lastly, if you’re entertaining the notion of taking your bag hiking or being outside for an extended period of time where wetness is a concern, you should absolutely get a completely waterproof backpack, or in the very least a backpack cover.
When out in the wilderness, it can be incredibly difficult to control the environment. You don’t want to bring a camera to capture that amazing campsite sunset, only to have it ruined in a torrential downfall the next day.
Storage & Easy Access Pockets
Easy access pockets are a great feature regardless of how you’ll be using your backpack, although some will appreciate certain features more than others. For example, many of the backpacks on our list feature an external pocket for a water bottle.
While this is a nice feature for anyone to have, those bicycling a long distance to work in hot weather will love having a water bottle a quick arm stretch away. Some backpacks offer handy scratch-resistant pockets lined with fleece for sunglasses, for the same reason.
Some other pockets you might find useful are tiny, external pockets on device-oriented backpacks. These are designed for carrying small items such as flash cards, memory drives, and so on. The reason they are small is so that you can easily find your item in the pockets, rather than have to dig around.
Usually, these pockets are more numerous than on other backpacks, so that you can keep the items separate. While great for those who cart around a lot of technology, such as engineers and networking professionals, or even photographers and those in the media industry, it’s likely to baffle everyone else.
Some backpacks, while not specialized, offer unique compartments for items like your keys and wallets. If you’re the type of person who prefers to carry everything in one place, this is a good feature to look out for. It can also be a great relief to women who would prefer to not carry a purse in addition to a backpack, providing the ability to combine all of your professional and personal belongings.
Chances are, the most valuable possession you’ll put in your backpack will be your laptop or tablet. Almost every backpack on our list is designed to fit a specific size or model of laptop. It goes without saying that if you have a 17” laptop, a 15” compartment for it won’t suffice.
Also, keep in mind that while you might feel that a 17” compartment is adequate for a smaller laptop, too much “wiggle room” and your laptop will do just that—wiggle. Try to find a backpack with a laptop compartment that is either the exact size as your laptop, or an inch larger and no more.
But beyond size, the degree of protection provided by the backpack is critical. Most offer some degree of padding for these devices, but some offer thicker layers of padding than others.
Some are especially designed to weather abuse, with reinforced corners, which is great if you won’t always be in control of your backpack—airport security, for example, might not be as gentle as you’d like with your backpack.
Speaking of airport security, several on our list offer removable laptop caches. These caches act as a sort of wallet for your laptop, enabling you to remove it from the backpack while still keeping it secure.
This is perfect for those who need to travel often and remove their laptop for the TSA. Rather than placing a bare laptop in a plastic bin for the X-ray machine, you can simply remove the cache and place it in the bin.
And as devices change, tablets and phones are replacing laptops more and more. Whether you already use these devices extensively or not, it’s important to know that they’ll be secure, too.
Some of the backpacks on our list, especially those designed for carrying electronics and peripherals specifically, provide padding throughout. In the very least, if you’re carrying an expensive tablet or smartphone along with your laptop, you’ll want to ensure there’s a sufficiently safe place for them, too.
When it comes to backpacks, durability can be relative. If you’re commuting on a bus, you’ll want a backpack that can stand up to constant use, but protection from the elements is less important. You’ll be able to get away with materials that look very handsome in the office, and should last you a long time, despite not being the most durable.
One the other hand, if you commute in the elements, as by bicycle, you’ll want a good degree of weatherproofing and durable materials. The material used in backpacks is anything but consistent, with many proprietary blends being utilized.
As a general rule, you’ll want to avoid leather, cloth, and 100% nylon if you’ll be in the elements often. These materials are fine, but will break down more quickly over time when exposed to moisture and sunlight, as well as extreme heat or cold.
Synthetic materials might not always be as attractive as a handsome leather bag, but they’ll last longer. But if appearance matters a lot to you, simply be sure to look for a synthetic material that’s been crafted to look like leather.
Many backpacks are made from synthetic materials, but have stitching and trim solely for aesthetic reasons. This can make an otherwise rugged and sporty backpack look office-ready.
Those intending on venturing out on camping trips, hikes, and so on should not only look for synthetic materials, but look specifically for weatherproofing. Of course, you can also just be sure to bring a backpack cover if you really like a backpack that isn’t fully proofed.
Also, remember that your backpack is more than just the main material used. Buckles, zippers, and clasps can all degrade over time. Not only can cheap metals rust, but mass-produced zippers can become unglued or break.
Many of the backpacks on our list utilize top-notch zippers and clasps. It might seem silly to have a brand-name zipper, but when you’re spending a couple hundred dollars on a premium backpack, you don’t want something as simple as a zipper to ruin it.
Lastly, as with any product, consider whether you’ll want a warranty. More budget-oriented backpacks provide excellent value, but are less likely to come with a warranty.
On the other hand, brands with solid reputations back themselves with a warranty. While you’ll spend more in the short term, a lifetime warranty means that should your backpack degrade over time, you’ll either be able to get a replacement or a refund.
Many of the backpacks on our list provide unique, even fun, features. For example, maybe you’d like a laptop cache that can be removed, providing extra protection for your laptop whether it’s in or out of the bag.
How about an external pocket lined with fleece to keep your sunglasses scratch-free and always within reach? Or maybe you’d like a secure, RFID-blocking pocket for your wallet.
Maybe you really want to exercise control over your bag with a modular design that allows you to choose the folding internal compartments you’d like to use.
There are special features unique to almost every backpack on our list, so don’t just look at the broad strokes! In particular, we love how the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 gives you many options when ordering, such as a custom-fitted laptop cache and a variety of internal compartment setups. Some even provide locking mechanisms for security, or can be converted into briefcases and messenger bags.
Remember when choosing your backpack that it should fit you and not the other way around!
Comfort & Fit
While we’ve chosen backpacks that are all comfortable, some provide more padding than others. If you’re going to be carrying a lot of weight, look for wider straps that will better distribute the pressure on your shoulders.
Taller backpacks, while designed to improve space efficiency in public transportation, might be uncomfortable for shorter users. While you might be tempted to forego comfort in preference of features, remember that you’ll be wearing your backpack frequently!
A poor distribution of weight on your back and shoulders over time can cause injury. So be sure to either pick a comfortable backpack suitable for your body size, or pack your backpack responsibly.
Of course, your budget will also be a factor in what backpack you decide to purchase. We believe all the backpacks we’ve chosen are great values in that they provide certain users with specific features.
However, some backpacks are designed to be cost-effective by catering to a wider group of people. If you’re on a budget, then try to avoid features you don’t need, as more features generally means a higher price.
If you have a healthy budget, put it to work for you. In exchange for your money, you should be getting not only the features you want, but a warranty and superior craftsmanship. Higher-priced backpacks not only utilize more features, but are often more comfortable and durable.
Do bear in mind that premium features differ as well. Buying the most expensive backpack doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get everything you want.
Which Commuter Backpack Should You Buy?
We believe all the backpacks on our list are excellent choices and urge you to carefully read our reviews to determine which best suits your needs.
After all, each have unique features designed for specific activities. But to make your choice easier, we’ve selected the four backpacks that we think truly shine.
Tom Bihn Synapse 25 – This backpack shines due to its customizable nature. With customizable laptop caches that range from small tablets to the largest laptops, you’ll receive extra protection for your device. Custom modular cubes for the inside allow you to organize your belongings in a way that makes the most sense to you. Indeed, ordering this backpack is almost like custom-ordering the backpack of your dreams. With extra security clasps, O-rings, and an extra-padded design, this backpack is also highly secure and comfortable.
Just Porter Weather-Proof Commuter Backpack – This charming backpack has it all. Made of military-strength waterproof fabric, and with a roll-top and clasps, this backpack is a tank. It provides ample space for a 16” laptop and plenty of space for your other possessions. Purchasing a Just Porter backpack also donates a backpack full of school supplies to a needy child, which we love. The only downside is the weight, a trade-off for the indestructible nature of this backpack.
Fjallraven Raven 28 – While the Fjallraven Raven 28 doesn’t have many unique features, it’s definitely the best value. At an excellent price point, it provides durability, space for a 15” laptop, and a healthy 28L of space. It’s also comfortable, with wide straps and breathable fabric. And just because it doesn’t have unique features doesn’t mean it isn’t equipped with nice common bonuses, like a fleece-lined sunglasses pocket and a side pocket for your water bottle. If you want the best backpack on a budget, this is your bag.
Opposethis Invisible Backpack Three – If you’re looking for a backpack that can be a real workhorse, look no further. Featuring an 22L capacity but only a light 1.8 pound weight, this backpack provides great versatility. Whether you’re carting a ton of personal belongings, or are trying to balance multiple lifestyles—work life, the gym, and a side gig—you’ll comfortably be able organize your life.
You can also read our guides to the best waterproof backpacks, the best packable daypacks and other recommended travel products here.