There are a lot of great looking messenger bags if your work laptop is on the small side, but many of us need the horsepower of a desktop-replacement laptop so we carry around beefy machines with 15″+ screens. When you start with a 5+ pound laptop and add in the laptop accessories and the other gear you need for work, you’re venturing into backpack territory. A backpack will let you commute with all of your gear while being a little more gentle on your shoulders and back than a messenger bag. We’ve split the backpacks into three categories for you: Utility Laptop Bags, Minimalist Laptop Bags, and Outdoor Enthusiast Laptop Bags. Each category gives you a different look and different benefits, so choose wisely!
Utility Laptop Bags
Low cost meets all of the bells, whistles, and pockets you could ever need. They also don’t hide their utility very well with lots of zippers and heavy polyester exteriors, so you’ll be pegged as a developer straight-away!
SwissGear is one of the most ubiquitous laptop bag brands you’ll see. This is a TSA Checkpoint Friendly bag (like many of the others included in this list) meaning it zips open to lay your laptop flat to speed you through airport security. This bag also has every organizational compartment you could dream of. It’s just too bad that it’s covered in shiny zippers.
Another SwissGear Pick:
- Same pack for 15″ Laptops: SwissGear ScanSmart Laptop Computer Backpack SA1923, $54.99
Targus is another ubiquitous laptop backpack brands along with SwissGear, and the Terra is a great choice for someone that travels or commutes in inclement weather. In addition to a heavily-padded back panel to prevent your laptop from hitting you with every step, it comes with a detachable rain-fly. The waterproof cover encompases the entire bag, so put it on when weather hits and you won’t have to worry if you’re going to have to spend a few hours drying out your equipment when you get where you’re going! The mesh water bottle pocket is a nice touch, too. If it were a different fabric, it would look fantastic. This bag will fit a 16″ (and a 15.6″) laptop nicely.
More Targus Picks:
- For 17″ Laptops: Targus XL 17″ Laptop Bag, $58.97
- Less functionality, sleeker look: Targus Ascend 16″ Laptop Bag, $22.47
Samsonite has been making durable luggage for years, and this TSA checkpoint-friendly bag is no different. The heavy padding may make the bag a little bulky, but it will also protect your gear from damage while fitting all the way up to a 15″ laptop. It has quite a few pockets for all of your accessories, though it does look a little boxy. This bag will definitely get the job done, just too bad that they took their shiny-zipper design cues from SwissGear.
Minimalist Laptop Bags
Don’t let the exterior deceive you, these bags offer all of the room and protection you need for your laptop. Though you may end up wishing for a few more pockets to keep you organized.
Available in multiple colors, Timbuk2’s sleek polyurethane bag almost looks like a hard shell. It’s a zip-open bag that will make getting through airport checkpoints a breeze. It’s elegant and professional, allowing you to wear it with anything from a sport coat to a hoodie.
Other Timbuk2 picks:
- Fold-over top look & accomodations for a 17″ laptop: Timbuk2 Rogue Laptop Backpack, $79.00
- Sporty and a little 90s for a 17″ laptop: Timbuk2 Uptown Laptop TSA-Friendly Backpack
This laptop backpack is stealth. While the Utility bags will get you immediately pegged as a developer, this bag screams that you’re creative and that you do more than write code. The padded laptop sleeve will fit up to a 15″ laptop and you’ll have plenty of room for extras in your main compartment. This is missing all of the organizational pockets of our other packs, but honestly who cares when a pack looks this great? Check out the other colors available on Everlane’s site.
Sized for a 15″ laptop, the Ogio Newt is another stylish option if you don’t really need all of the bells and whistles of a Utility Laptop Bag. It has padded fleece compartments for both your laptop and your tablet, as well as comfy back padding. Ogio may be better known for their golf bags, but if they keep making bags like this, they’ll really make a name for themselves. It offers a slick look on the outside with a good number of organizational compartments within. It’s a great balance between utility on the interior and minimalism on the exterior.
The ultimate throwback backpack. It’s the same bag you may have had in elementary school, with some minor improvements (like a thin laptop sleeve, that I recommend augmenting). A lifetime warranty is a huge plus, and the fact that it’s an instant conversation piece is something that you’ll have to decide if you want or not. If you’re sporting a snapback, you should be rocking a Jansport Right Pack.
Other throwback packs:
- Fold-over look w/ a padded laptop compartment: Herschel Supply Co. Retreat
- Basic, no-frills but very popular: Herschel Supply Co. Classic
Outdoor Enthusiast Laptop Bags
These bags could also be used for a day pack if you’re out hiking, but they are designed with a laptop-toting technologist in mind. They give you the benefit of cutting-edge shoulder strap and back panel technology for breathability and comfort, as well as using that same backpack technology to protect your electronics. If you don’t mind the sporty look, these backs will lessen fatigue on long commutes.
Sometimes known as Fratagonia, Patagonia has started to steal some of The North Face’s market share with the college crowd. That does not mean though that they stopped making top notch outdoor gear! They have applied their outdoor expertise to making an excellent laptop backpack. It has a sleeve large enough to fit most 17″ laptops and extra compartments for your other gear. The Patagonia Jalama 28L is also available in some much brighter colors if you’re so inclined. The Air Flow mesh shoulder straps & back panel, combined with a water repellent finish on the recycled exterior will keep both you and your gear comfortable in most any weather.
- For something more understated from another excellent outdoors company: Mountainsmith Explore TSA-Friendly Laptop Backpack
This is the laptop bag I’ve been using for over 10 years now, and it is not showing wear. I’ve taken it around the world and it’s outlived 5 work laptops and counting. It’s basic, but it’s a workhorse that will be with you as long as you’ll have it. I do not hesitate to recommend this bag. It has a thermoformed, aluminum-reinforced back that makes sure that the contents aren’t pushing through, as well as ensuring all-day carry comfort. It also has a stylish minimalism compared to the rest of the outdoor-company laptop bags. Perfectly sized for a 15″ laptop, I feel like Arc’teryx said it best:
Whether you’re riding a fixie to work or driving a leather-upholstered luxury car, this Arc’teryx pack gives you the style and performance you demand.
- For those looking to fit a 17″ laptop: Arc’teryx Blade 30 Backpack, $199
The North Face is a classic outdoors brand turned campus commodity. This bag sports a 15″ laptop sleeve and fleece lined pockets to protect your gadgets. This is a zip-open TSA Friendly pack like a few that were mentioned earlier, so you won’t have to bother putting your laptop in a bin at the airport anymore. It has extra drop protection on the bottom of the bag for your laptop, so you also won’t have to worry about absentmindedly dropping your bag and losing data (though we don’t suggest testing it).
- If you like the look, but have a 17″ laptop: The North Face Big Shot II, $109.00
There are a lot of bags out there, so let us know your favorites in the comments!
Thanks for reading that article. Want another? Subscribe to our email to get new content in your inbox daily. Or connect with us on Twitter to see our updates there. We're on Facebook too, but Mark's algorithm is probably going to mostly show you baby pics and idiot rants. We can't compete with that.
Want to support our site and eat better? Check out Blue Apron, a new approach to healthy cooking.