For business people, travelers and students, backpacks have a lot of advantages over briefcases and messenger bags because they’re easier on your shoulders and arms. If you’re looking for a backpack to use every day, then you probably want a bag that has more than a single compartment in which to store your stuff; you don’t want your lunch and water bottle in the same pocket as your computer, or your gym shoes in the same pocket as a term paper.
Luckily, you have more choices than just a gigantic hiking pack or tiny computer case. The Timbuk2 Authority Deluxe excels in protection for your computer, but if there’s a special feature you just have to have, there’s probably a quality bag that offers it.
Careless buyers may glance at the advertised dimensions for a bag, see that its height is greater than their computer’s size, and click “Buy.” Don’t do this. Because of the extra padding, a bag’s laptop sleeve will be smaller than the bag itself, so it’s the laptop sleeve’s dimensions that you need to be looking at. Those with 17-inch computers have fewer buying options than those with 13-inch laptops.
There are different styles of laptop backpacks, with different types of laptop sleeves. Some involve a padded pocket within the main compartment, while in others, the laptop sleeve is a completely separate zippered pocket, allowing you to pull it out quickly without opening the entire bag. There are also some airport-friendly models where the laptop compartment can fold down for going through TSA checkpoints, so if you’re a frequent flyer, these may be worth paying extra for.
If you live in a rainy climate, there’s a good chance your bag will get wet, and if it doesn’t repel water, that could spell disaster for your expensive computer. Some bags advertise waterproof material, while others have water-resistant bottoms or in some cases, no resistance at all. Many people think they need waterproof, but water-resistant is enough for most uses unless you plan on getting really wet.
Your laptop is going to take up a lot of space inside the bag, and how much room you need beyond that is up to you. Students may want an exceptionally large pack that allows them to carry books and gym clothes, while businesspeople may be able to get away with a slim model.
The best way to stay organized is to keep everything separate. Beyond your computer, there are notebooks, pens, sunglasses, chargers, phone cords, keys, wallets and important papers. A bag with an organizer or a large number of internal pockets prevents everything from getting too jumbled inside.
While many bags offer a zippered inner pocket for storing cash and other items, some backpacks offer pockets with RFID-blocking technology to prevent criminals from stealing your credit card or passport info. Others offer external pockets in the straps where you can store a train ticket or boarding pass for convenience.
While most people focus on the inside of the backpack, don’t neglect the straps. If you’re going to be wearing it around a lot, you want to be comfortable. Straps with a lot of padding are key, and some backpacks offer mesh backs with air vents to keep you from getting overly sweaty in the summertime.
Because everyone needs a computer these days, this is an incredibly broad category with widely varying prices. You can easily find a cheap laptop backpack for under $50, while the fanciest travel backpacks can cost several hundred. It also means there’s no reason to settle — shop around and find the one that fits your exact needs.
A. It could be. If the bag is 100% leather, it’s probably a bad idea to take it out in the rain without some sort of weatherproofing, and you’ll need to check that the product you’re using won’t harm your backpack. If rain is a consistent worry, you might consider a vegan leather or PU leather option that will look good but isn’t made of real leather.
A. With the right backpack, you can connect your phone via USB to a battery bank to charge it while you’re walking around. However, just about every bag that offers this capability requires you to supply the battery pack, so add that onto the cost of the bag when calculating how much you’re willing to spend.
A. This varies by airline. Generally speaking, European carriers are much stricter when it comes to carry-on luggage, so if you’re planning to spend some time overseas, you might want to go a size smaller than your original plan. No matter what, it’s a good idea to research your preferred airline’s carry-on policy before making a purchase.
Our take: This is a versatile option with lots of high-end features and a lifetime warranty, and its interior pocket can accommodate laptops up to 17 inches.
What we like: Water-resistant bottom to keep liquids from seeping in. Luggage pass-through strap to attach to a rolling suitcase handle. Removable sternum strap and padded back panel for comfort. Available in five colors.
What we dislike: While the amount of padding is great for protecting your laptop, it means less space for other items in the main compartment.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
Our take: Offering the same amount of storage as high-end bags at a fraction of the price, this is an ideal pick for students hauling a lot of books and devices.
What we like: Spacious and lightweight when empty. Has a helpful front organizational pocket and a side mesh pocket for a water bottle.
What we dislike: Only offered in one color, and lacking in padding both on the bottom and surrounding the laptop sleeve.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon
Our take: With a gorgeous full-grain leather exterior, this is a designer pack that’s as functional as it is eye-catching thanks to a wealth of security and organizational features.
What we like: RFID-blocking pockets to protect credit card information. Padded ergonomic straps and air mesh back panels for comfort. Hidden zipper stash pocket for valuables.
What we dislike: Leather isn’t for everyone, as it can be damaged by rain, and the sleeve is too small for 17-inch laptops.
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Gregg Parker writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.