There’s more to a laptop bag than simply being able to carry a laptop.
Finding the Best Laptop Bag for You
If you want to leave your house with your laptop then you’re probably going to want a laptop bag. Of course, you probably already know this. But you may not know which laptop bag you should buy. There seem to be a million (approximately) options out there.
Unfortunately, we can’t tell you what the best laptop bag is. We wish we could because let’s be real, it would be a lot easier to simply write the name of a single bag than an entire guide about a bunch of bags. But there is no such thing as the best laptop bag because everybody has different needs and preferences.
So, in this guide, we’re going to walk you through how to choose the best laptop bag for you.
What You Can Expect From This Guide
Here at Pack Hacker, we’re all about putting gear to the test. We take the time to fully test every product, noting all strengths and weaknesses. (We’ve written about our testing and reviewing process here if you would like to learn more.)
For this guide, our team of gearheads has gotten our hands on over 100 laptop bags (!). We’ve looked at all 100 of these bags and have fully tested and reviewed several of them. Based on months—sometimes years—of testing these bags, we’re going to take you through everything you need to consider when choosing the best laptop bag for your situation. That means diving into all the different components of laptop bags and explaining what works best for a variety of situations. Throughout this guide, we’ll also provide laptop bag recommendations that are, once again, based on our rigorous testing.
Now, we understand that you’re a busy person and may not have time to read every single word of this guide. So, we’ve recommended ten laptop bags for a variety of different situations below. Keep in mind, everybody has different needs and lifestyles, so your future favorite may have not made the list. That’s why we recommend you read the full guide—or, at the very least—skim it while enjoying your morning cup o’ joe.
The Short Answer: Ten Great Laptop Bags for EDC and Beyond
- Bellroy Totepack — For the Polished Professional
- Aer Fit Pack 2 — For the Active Commuter
- Tortuga Setout Divide — For the Frequent Flyer
- Peak Design Everyday Backpack Zip 20L — For the Photographer
- Osprey Arcane Large Day Pack V2 — For the Student
- Ikea DRÖMSÄCK Messenger Bag — For the Budget Conscious
- Topo Designs Rover Pack — For the Outdoor Enthusiast
- Mystery Ranch 3 Way Briefcase Expandable — For the Jack-of-All-Trades
- GORUCK GR1 — For the Rugged Adventurer
- Tom Bihn Cadet — For the Optimizer
What is a Laptop Bag?
Before we get going on this guide, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what a laptop bag is. Sure, you can shove a laptop into whatever bag you have on hand and call it a laptop bag. We’re not going to stop you.
But we define a laptop bag as a bag that has specifically been designed to hold a laptop. To put that another way, a laptop bag is a laptop bag first and a camera, travel, hiking, makeup, dog, etc, bag second.
Conversely, you can have a bag that just so happens to be able to hold a laptop. Take travel backpacks. Travel backpacks have been designed for travel, but many of them have a laptop sleeve too. See the difference?
Overwhelmed by all of the laptop bags out there? We’ve got your back.
What to Consider Before You Buy a Laptop Bag
Finding the perfect laptop bag can be as overwhelming as finding the perfect pasta sauce. There are just so many options. Marinara, pesto, Alfredo, vodka, oil and garlic…Whoops, went off on a tangent there. The point is there are so many laptop bags—and pasta sauces—to choose from. It can be overwhelming.
The best way to combat overwhelm is to think through a few key considerations, which we’ve listed below. If you’re able to think through these points and clearly understand your needs, you’ll be well on your way to finding the perfect laptop bag for you. So, let’s get into it.
You may be thinking to yourself, Obviously, I’m planning on using my laptop bag to carry my laptop. Next consideration. But we challenge you to dig a little bit deeper here. Consider:
It’s worth spending time figuring out the challenges of your commute and how your bag will meet those challenges. Take public transportation, for example. If you take the subway to work, school, or wherever else you want to bring your laptop bag, a challenge may be limited legroom and space. If that’s the case, you’ll want a bag that’s compact enough to not crowd your legs, annoy your seat partner, or accidentally whack people in the face while you’re standing. (Not to mention the fact that a whole person could probably fit in the space your gigantic hovering laptop backpack is taking up…)
Or maybe you take a bus that has plenty of legroom, but your bus stop is over a mile away from your destination. You’ll want a bag that’s comfortable enough to carry that distance.
If you ride a bike to work or school, you’ll want something with solid weather resistance, whereas if you drive, you may want a tote or briefcase for convenience and accessibility (you can easily grab something from an open tote hanging off of your shoulder, which isn’t necessarily true with a backpack). You get the idea.
Now, make sure you think about all of the ways you get to the office/coworking space/coffee shop/school/ laptop bag convention. Even if you only scooter to work for the summer months, you’ll want a laptop bag that can keep up with your epic scootering.
You may work at a traditional office, a coworking space, a coffee shop, the pool at your apartment complex, your father-in-law’s attic, and so on. In the modern world, it seems like you can work anywhere (particularly if you work on a laptop).
Different laptop bags work better or worse for different workspaces. For example, if you regularly work at a coffee shop it’s nice to have a laptop bag that stands up on its own. Like the YETI Tocayo Backpack 26. That way, it won’t slide down the table legs to the floor and get in everyone’s way. If you work in a cubicle at a traditional office, it’s nice to have a laptop bag that’s small enough to easily slide beneath your desk. If you go to school, you’ll probably appreciate a laptop bag that’s comfortable enough to carry between classes.
Also, consider the dress code at your work. Some workspaces are dressier than others. (As in, some workspaces will probably frown upon laptop backpacks and prefer more professional messenger bags or briefcases.) That’s important to keep in mind unless you’re a #rebel who likes to break the rules.
A laptop bag can do more than hold a laptop. Consider any secondary activities you would like to use your laptop bag for. They may include:
- Carrying camera equipment (try the Peak Design Everyday Backpack Zip 15L)
- Heading to the gym before or after work (try the Aer Fit Pack 2)
- Short-term travel (try the GORUCK GR1)
- Going on day hikes (try the Mystery Ranch UA21)
There are many more scenarios you may find yourself in outside of the ones on this list, but we hope that we’ve sparked your imagination. Of course, laptop bags won’t work for every single occasion. Activities like backpacking or long-term travel will likely require that you pick up a separate bag. But some versatility is a plus. When it comes to versatility, look for:
- A larger size: A larger laptop bag gives you more space to work with, allowing you to use it for short trips, groceries, beach excursions, etc. Of course, the downside to a larger laptop bag is that it will be more cumbersome to carry for everyday life. (We’ll discuss size more in a bit.)
- Minimal organization: A big bucket of a compartment will fit a larger diversity of gear than one that’s filled with pockets or otherwise sectioned off. Too much organization—especially specific organization designed for specific gear—can feel limiting.
- A separate laptop compartment: If there’s a specific compartment for your laptop, you can use the remaining compartment(s) for other stuff. We’ll talk about this concept more in the Organization section of this guide.
You should take into consideration not only the size of the laptop bag, but the size of its laptop compartment, sleeve, and/or pocket. (Brands call the dedicated laptop spot inside of their bags by different names. For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to refer to these spots as laptop sleeves throughout the rest of this guide.)
This goes without saying, but make sure to choose a pack that has a laptop sleeve that will fit your laptop. You don’t want a sleeve that’s too small, and you don’t want anything too big either. Your laptop may move around during transit, which opens up more opportunities for damage.
Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple as it sounds. The advertised laptop sleeve size can vary from company to company. One brand’s 13’’ sleeve will easily fit a 16’’ laptop while another’s 13’’ sleeve will barely fit a 13’’ laptop. (Exasperating, right? Get it together, brands!). To be extra sure, it’s probably best to size up. If the sleeve ends up being too big, you can always stick your laptop inside of a case or an additional padded sleeve first. (We’ll talk about laptop protection more in the Protection section of this guide.)
On a similar note, if you plan to put your laptop inside of a separate sleeve or case before putting it into your bag, make sure you consider that when looking at the laptop size limitations of a bag.
By our definition, laptop bags are usually between 15 and 30L. Keep in mind, that 1) there are many exceptions to this “rule” and 2) there is no standard backpack liter measurement. One company’s 20L can be another company’s 15L. (Again, get it together, brands!).
You may want a laptop bag that can hold your lunchbox, change of clothes, and go-to encyclopedia as well as your laptop. As we mentioned earlier, larger bags do tend to make for more versatile bags but can be a pain to carry around.
Or you may want a laptop bag that will hold a laptop, a pen, and … nothing else. If that’s the case, you could probably even size down to an 8L bag (but that’s not for the faint of heart). Smaller laptop bags tend to be easier to lug around and can work as lightweight daypacks when you want to carry a little more than your pockets allow. But, if you ever do need to haul your go-to encyclopedia to work … well, you can’t.
We probably don’t need to tell you that aesthetic is a key factor when it comes to choosing a laptop bag. You’ll likely use it frequently—maybe even daily—so you should love how it looks. Luckily, there are so many high-quality laptop bags that you should be able to find one that’s not only your style but also durable with thoughtful organization and adequate laptop protection.
We’re not here to tell you what a fashionable laptop bag looks like—beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all—but we’ve noticed the most common styles you’re likely to come across, including:
- Business Casual (the bag version of a button-down and khakis)
- Classic (a slightly elevated version of your elementary school bag)
- Fashion / Slick
Materials, Durability, & Craftsmanship
We suggest investing in a bag that’s made from high-quality materials with excellent craftsmanship. In your search for a laptop bag, you’ll probably come across materials like:
- Standard Nylon
- Ballistic Nylon
- Various types of CORDURA® branded fabrics
- Tarpaulin or TPE Fabric Laminate
- And more
We’re not going to take a deep dive into all of these fabrics in this guide. (Check out our Travel Backpack Guide if that’s what you’re looking for.) As a general rule of thumb, Ballistic and Ripstop Nylon as well as CORDURA® branded fabrics are going to be your most durable. Leather and canvas laptop bags look classy and professional, although will be heavier and more susceptible to the elements than the synthetic options. For that reason, we don’t generally recommend them for travel or if your commute involves a lot of walking. But if you’ll primarily be driving to and from work, a leather or canvas laptop bag could treat you well (and impress your fashionista coworkers). Bags made from Tarpaulin or TPE Fabric Laminate will be highly water-resistant but will also pick up marks and scratches on the fabric quite easily. Finally, Dyneema and X-Pac provide some nice weather resistance and are typically lighter weight, but they tend to be expensive fabrics.
Of course, the durability of your laptop bag should depend on personal preference and/or how often you’ll be using it. Daily use is going to be tougher on your bag than if you work from home and only go to the neighborhood coffee shop occasionally.
Also, consider zippers and hardware. They may seem like a small thing, but a broken zipper or buckle can render some bags inoperable. Do your best to avoid unbranded zippers and hardware (we’ve had some bad experiences). When it comes to zippers, we’ve had great luck with YKK and Riri. Zoom and SBS zippers are decent, but we’ve generally found them to be less desirable. Duraflex, YKK, Woojin, Nifco, and ITW hardware are all solid brands when it comes to other hardware on bags like buckles and strap-adjustment sliders. Note that zippers come in sizes on a scale from one (small) to ten (large). We’d recommend looking for something above a #5 for all exterior zippers, although #8-#10 will treat you the best. Smaller sizes work fine for internal pockets.
The EVERGOODS CPL24 V2 feels like it has been built to withstand a hurricane. That’s to say, it’s super durable with exceptional craftsmanship. The exterior of the pack is made of some durable stuff—500d High Tenacity Nylon 6,6 to be exact—that has been finished with a DWR coating for water and abrasion resistance. While the massive zippers can be a little sticky around the corners, they will (probably) last you decades to come. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if you passed your EVERGOODS CPL24 V2 down to your favorite grandchild.
You should keep your budget in mind. If you can afford it, we suggest investing in a laptop bag that will last you years instead of continually needing to replace a cheaper one. In the long run, purchasing a more expensive, yet higher-quality bag will probably save you money. Plus, it’ll have a better environmental impact, keeping broken bags out of the landfill. As the saying goes, “buy nice or buy twice.” (Of course, this requires that you have the initial money to invest in a pricier bag, which we understand not everyone has.)
Now, keep in mind that expensive doesn’t always translate to durable. Sometimes, you’re paying for style, brand, or clever marketing. A good rule-of-thumb is to look for brands that proudly back their gear with generous warranties. That usually means a brand makes quality products that they’re happy to back up. You can also read through our detailed reviews, as we’re dedicated to helping you decide whether or not a bag is worth the money.
The Topo Designs Rover Pack (Classic) is a great budget laptop bag as it’s intelligently designed and durable enough, yet clocks in at an affordable price point. It’s solid all around—good harness system, good organization, and good laptop protection. Plus, it’s available in several fun, unique colorways to give your daily routine a splash of style.
A question of the ages: should you carry a laptop messenger, tote, or backpack? Let’s break it down.
Laptop Backpack, Tote, or Messenger? How to Choose the Right Laptop Carry for You.
While searching for the best laptop bag, you’ll probably run into the same modes of carry again and again. There are different pros and cons to each mode—which we’ll discuss below—but it’s also one of those things that is a personal preference. Maybe you’re a huge fan of tote bags, although you can’t put your finger on why. If that’s the case, don’t let us stop you from buying a tote. You do you.
First of all, if you haven’t already gathered from what you’ve read thus far, there are a ton of laptop backpacks on the market these days. (Yes, there’s more than Swissgear laptop backpacks out there.) So, you have a ton to choose from.
Two straps also evenly distribute weight better than a single strap, meaning backpacks are likely going to be more comfortable to carry over long distances than other styles of laptop bags. Additionally, wearing a backpack frees up both of your hands, allowing you to do all sorts of two-handed activities (juggling, miming, and hand-clap games, to name a few). Backpacks can also be more versatile than some of the other options—you take your laptop backpack on a hike, whereas a laptop briefcase probably won’t hold up so well on the trails.
Compared to some of the other styles in this list, a backpack may look the least professional. Of course, you can find polished and stylish laptop backpacks, but they won’t ever scream “office” as much as a tote or briefcase will. Additionally, backpacks can sometimes feel cumbersome if your commute primarily involves driving. Having to throw on a backpack over your shoulder(s) for a 30-second walk into the office or your house can be annoying. Finally, getting inside a backpack may take a little bit longer than getting inside one of the other bag styles. You can’t just leave the top of the backpack unzipped (unless you want to risk things falling out) like you can with a tote. Meaning, a backpack may be frustrating if you need to frequently get in and out of it.
The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 is made of durable materials that should hold up against the test of time (and the company has a great warranty, if not). Plus, it has a decently comfortable harness system. But the organization is truly where this pack shines. All of the pockets are laid out in a clever, intuitive way and there are plenty of O-rings for customization. Our main gripe is that, when the main compartment is full, it can be difficult to slide the laptop cache in and out.
You’re probably familiar with the Fjallraven Kanken—at least in look if not in name. This boxy laptop bag is globally popular, but it’s more than a fashion statement. We’ve been testing the Kanken 13″ Laptop Backpack for over three years (!) across three continents (!). Overall, we’ve been impressed with how well it’s been holding up. We’re also digging its super minimal organization, versatility, and how easy it is to grab your laptop. However, the harness system isn’t super comfortable since the straps have minimal padding and there’s no sternum strap (note that the straps on the original Kanken do not have any padding). There are multiple iterations of the Kanken—including a version made of recycled plastic bottles—and multiple sizes, so you can pick up one that suits your needs.
The Tortuga Setout Laptop Backpack has a solid amount of organization, including an individual laptop compartment that also has a mesh pocket to hold all the various unruly cables in your daily setup. The bag also has three other compartments to organize all of your other gear. And, at 25L, the bag is large enough to work well as a minimal travel bag. The shoulder straps are made of injection-molded foam, which is supposed to adapt to your body and become supremely comfortable over time. But, after a year of testing, we still found these straps to be a little too stiff for our liking.
Some totes close at the top, while others don’t have a closure. Even totes that do close can usually be left open. Meaning totes are usually really easy to get in and out of, so they’re a great option if you’re always pawing through your bag. And because of the possibility for an open-top, you can stick in longer items whenever the need arises—say if you need to pack a tripod or want to pick up a baguette on your way home from school. Plus, they’re a step up from a backpack as far as professionalism is concerned. (Of course, you can find an unprofessional tote. We’re speaking in averages here.) The handles on a tote are also frequently large enough to toss over your shoulder, so you can have the hands-free carry that we love.
Totes can be uncomfortable to carry over long distances or when you load them up with heavy gear. Even well-padded handles can’t stop your shoulder from aching after an hour of lugging your tote around. And, while you can toss those handles over your shoulder for that hands-free carry as we mentioned above, they can easily slip off your shoulder if you need to bend down or otherwise move around. Finally, when it comes to totes that don’t close, it only takes one accident for all of your gear to be splayed all over the ground. So, clumsy folks beware.
The sleek and polished aesthetic of The Bellroy Classic Tote works for a variety of situations—you can take it to work, school, a brewery, the beach, and everywhere in between. Plus, it has an open top for quick and easy access to your gear. But that openness, combined with the lack of a false bottom in the laptop compartment, is risky-business. (We prefer a little bit more protection for our gear.) Also, like most totes, it gets uncomfortable to carry when loaded up or over long distances. Overall, it’s a great pick if you admire style and accessibility over safety and comfort.
The Mission Workshop Drift Tote has a clean, thoughtful design. It feels like the tote’s designers really took their time creating the bag, putting in thoughtful details like the metal key clip and highly water-resistant bottom. There’s a separate laptop compartment for your laptop (duh), which is a nice touch and something you don’t frequently see with laptop totes. The bag itself is large for a tote, meaning you can load it up with a ton of your gear. That said, it will get heavy. Keep in mind that the carry isn’t especially comfortable. While wide, the shoulder strap isn’t well-padded.
If you’re a photographer, videographer, or otherwise like to carry around camera equipment, then you’ll probably like what the Peak Design Everyday Tote 15L (V2) has to offer. You can use the two included FlexFold dividers to customize the tote’s main space to fit your camera or other gear. Plus, the bag is made from durable, weather-resistant materials. However, we do wish that the laptop sleeve had a false bottom and could accommodate laptops over 13’’.
If you’re not familiar, a tote pack is the combination of a tote and a backpack (tote pack, get it?). Basically, it’s a bag that has stowable backpack straps you can pull out whenever you’d like to have a backpack and hide whenever you’d like to have a tote.
Tote packs have the professionalism and accessibility of a tote with the comfort of a backpack. You can walk into a meeting with a tote pack in your hands and then when the business talk is over, throw it on your back and ride on home. Usually, getting in and out of them is quick and easy, although not as much as with a regular tote.
While tote packs are more comfortable to carry long distances than a regular tote, they usually aren’t as comfortable as a backpack. That’s because the harness system isn’t usually as robust or breathable. The back panels of tote packs frequently don’t have any air channels or mesh for ventilation (this helps give the bag a clean look, but isn’t ideal if you’re a sweaty person). Moreover, they can also be cumbersome to convert from tote to backpack and back again. This isn’t a huge deal if you don’t need to convert between modes frequently, but gets annoying if you’re doing it every day.
The Osprey Arcane Tote Pack works well as both a tote and a backpack. While there are no real air channels on the back panel, it has a ribbed texture beneath a layer of mesh that helps with ventilation (something you frequently don’t see with tote packs). The bag has enough space for all the daily essentials—and it expands via a roll-top—although we’re disappointed in the lack of water bottle pockets. Still, the thoughtful design, comfortable carry, and overall durability make the Tote Pack worth considering.
The most sophisticated-looking totepack on our list, the Bellroy Totepack will be at home at whatever professional events you have on the docket. The harness system is nice enough for a 15L bag, but there’s nothing particularly fancy going on (no sternum strap, load lifters, mesh, air channels, etc). Of course, this helps the bag look sleek and tidy, but may not be a worthwhile tradeoff for you. We’re digging the organization, which falls toward the more complex end of the spectrum. That said, its slim design means it’s best to load up the bag with thinner items.
The Peak Design Everyday Totepack 20L has all the same features we’ve come to expect from Peak Design—customizable organization (in the form of FlexFold dividers), a durable build, clever detailing, and a sleek aesthetic. Its exterior also has a good amount of water-resistance. Now, the handles aren’t large enough to toss over your shoulder—you have to carry them in the hand, which is only comfortable for so long. Luckily, it’s quite comfortable to carry as a backpack as the adjustable shoulder straps are anchored to the bag in a way that lets them rotate, so they move with your body.
Typically, messenger bags have been designed for laptop and office gear, meaning the organization could be exactly what you need. Plus, they’re usually not too bulky or oversized. They’re also professional. You can easily find messengers sophisticated enough to rock at your law firm. Of course, you can also find more casual messengers.
While not as comfortable as a backpack, messenger bags can be comfortable to carry for short periods. Just look for a well-padded shoulder strap that’s properly anchored to the bag. Some messengers even have an extra stability strap to secure the bag to your body for better weight distribution and security while commuting. Lastly, like a tote, it’s easy to get in and out of a messenger. You can simply reach into your bag hanging at your side, instead of having to swing a backpack off of one shoulder.
Yes, messengers can be comfortable to carry, but they’re still dumping a ton of weight onto just one shoulder, which gets painful with time and can also make you walk unevenly. They’re also generally more unwieldy and less secure than other bags, swinging around when you’re walking or biking. (Unless a messenger bag has a stability strap, it’s not ideal for bike commuting.) Finally, wearing a fully-packed messenger can wrinkle up your shirt, which may impact the professional aesthetic you’re looking to achieve.
The Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag has an adjustable, well-padded shoulder strap you can throw over one shoulder or crossbody. The bag sits relatively close to your body as you’re wearing it, so it feels secure. All that said, it does not have much structure. Putting a laptop inside helps some, but we don’t like it when a laptop has to act as a bag’s frame sheet. Because of this—and the design of the interior organization—it’s definitely best for lighter loads.
The Tom Bihn Cadet is as durable, well-constructed, and intelligently designed as most Tom Bihn gear. It’s a minimalist bag designed to fit your laptop and some daily essentials…and not much more. It also features O-rings for some customizable organization. The carry is relatively comfortable—you can wear it over one shoulder, crossbody, or hold the handles—but you should upgrade to the Absolute Strap if you’re looking for some primo comfort. Our main gripe with the Cadet is that the laptop compartment does not have a false bottom.
The Aer Commuter Brief 2 stands up on its own (at least in our testing), which is a unique feature for any bag let alone a messenger bag. You can simply pop it by your side at school, work, the coffee shop, wherever. It’s super handy. The organization is on the more complicated side, which may not be your cup of tea. That said, it’s laid out in an intuitive way that’s worked really well for our daily setup. The laptop sleeve is also super padded, offering great protection. Our biggest grievance is with the snap fastener handles, which slow down access.
There are some laptop bags available that don’t fit neatly into the above categories, including hybrid bags that you can carry in multiple ways. We’re not going to take a detailed look at these bags—since they have pros and cons unique to the specific bags—but we wanted to point out that they exist in case you’re less than impressed with the above options.
The Uniqlo 3-Way is a great laptop bag when you’re not looking for anything fancy. It has an ideal amount of internal organization and works fairly well in all three modes of carry (briefcase, messenger, and backpack). However, the orientation of the front pockets isn’t ideal in backpack mode. We do have some concerns about the durability of the buckles and zippers, but for the price, we’re not complaining. (Seriously, you can’t beat the price.)
The Topo Designs Global Briefcase 3-Day is a triple threat—a briefcase, messenger bag, and backpack rolled into one sleek and cheerful profile. The 3-Day name comes into play because the bag has been designed to work as a solid weekender. It has plenty of space—and organization—for everything you need for a long weekend away (well, within reason). We do think the laptop sleeve could be improved as it lacks both substantial padding and a false bottom. As it stands, we suggest using a separate laptop sleeve for proper protection.
The Mystery Ranch 3 Way Briefcase (Expandable) is a briefcase, messenger bag, and backpack, although it has clearly been designed to work as a briefcase first (due to the layout of the pockets). The Rip Zip style of opening on the front compartment is a clever design, allowing you to “rip” open the compartment and access whatever’s inside within seconds. The interior organization is extensive, which may be right up your alley…or not so much. Its expandability also means that it works for quick trips.
Padding is only the beginning.
Choosing a Laptop Bag That Will Protect Your Laptop and Fragile Gear
Arguably, one of the most important aspects of a laptop bag is how well it protects your laptop. Here’s what you should look for:
Padding will protect your laptop from other items in your bag, but our team is split on how important we feel padding is. Some of us prefer to stick our laptop in a separate case or sleeve before putting it in a laptop bag, which means it’s not as important to have a heavily padded internal sleeve. Team members on team #SeperateLaptopSleeve say that laptop sleeves give extra peace-of-mind, plus they’re portable from bag to bag and when you’re carrying the laptop by itself.
Others on the team appreciate laptop bags that feature enough padding that you don’t feel like you need to put your laptop in a separate sleeve and/or case first. These team members like bags with consistent, dense padding on all sides of the internal sleeve.
Now, all of us here at Pack Hacker think that an optimal laptop bag has more than just padding. In fact, we think that too much padding can lure you into a false sense of security. So, pay attention to other security features like a false bottom, which we’ll talk about next.
The Cote&Ciel Isar has a separate laptop compartment that features a well-padded laptop sleeve. The thick padding is on every side—it’s like your laptop is cradled inside of a fluffy cloud. Not only is this great for your expensive machine, but because the laptop compartment is against your back, it makes for a comfortable carry to boot.
A false bottom is exactly what it sounds like—the laptop sleeve or compartment ends before the bottom of the backpack. Basically, it suspends your laptop off the bottom of the bag. Why is this important? Because this means that if your pack hits the ground abruptly, your laptop won’t smack the ground as well. This is a huge plus and goes a long way in protecting your laptop. Unless you can guarantee that you will never drop your laptop bag—or set it on the ground with a little too much oomph—then you’re going to want a false bottom.
Now, not all false bottoms are created equal. Some laptop sleeves will have a very small false bottom, which is basically like not having a false bottom at all. We recommend looking for a false bottom that sits approximately an inch minimum off of the bottom of the bag.
The laptop compartment of the Peak Design Everyday Backpack 30L (V2) features a clever, adjustable laptop sleeve. Well, it’s more like a laptop hammock. You can reposition the height of the sleeve to fit either a 15’’ or 13’’ laptop, ensuring that there’s a substantial false bottom regardless of the size of your machine.
We appreciate laptop sleeves that feature a soft lining, which will help prevent your laptop from getting scratched up. We don’t think this is as necessary as a false bottom or padding even, but it’s just one of those things that’s nice to have. Like one of those mini cocktail umbrellas. Do you need it? No. But is life better with it? Absolutely.
The laptop compartment sits at the back of the Incase Icon Backpack and features super-soft lining on all sides. (It’s also padded with a slight false bottom.) The fuzzy lining will protect your laptop from scratches. Plus, it’s just fun to run your fingers over.
Some bag brands are starting to get clever with how they design their laptop compartments, going beyond padding and even false bottoms. Brands like Minaal and Tom Bihn have nests and caches respectively that suspend your laptop in the center of the sleeve and are adjustable to the exact size of your laptop. This means that your laptop is not only securely held in place, but lifted away from all sides of the bag, which protects your laptop no matter what angle you drop your bag at.
The Minaal Daily Bag is a solid pick if you’re looking for a laptop bag with premium protection. Minaal calls its laptop sleeve the “patented DeviceNest™ shock-proof device sleeve.” Despite this super jargon-y name, this device sleeve is amazing. It securely holds your laptop and tablet in a soft, padded embrace. The sleeve also sits in the center of the compartment, meaning the laptop will be protected on all sides (and regardless of the angle you drop it from). Plus, it’s adjustable, so you can ensure your laptop is being held firmly.
A little bit of weather and water resistance is nice to have for your laptop bag. After all, laptops + water = not a good time (to put it lightly). But you don’t need anything overkill. We tend to look for bags that are weather-resistant and designed to hold up in ordinary inclement weather (think rain shower, not hurricane). Note that we said weather-resistant, which is not the same thing as waterproof. You can find both—and there’s a big difference between them!
If you plan to go whitewater rafting with your laptop bag—maybe that’s your commute?—then you’ll want a waterproof bag. Most people should be okay with a water-resistant laptop bag, as opposed to a completely waterproof bag. Here’s what to look for when scrutinizing a laptop bag’s weather-resistance:
Weather-resistance is almost always achieved through some kind of coating. Whether that be a DWR (durable water repellent) coating, waxed canvas, polyurethane, or something else. These coatings will wear off with time, reducing the water-resistance of your bag, but there are some things you can do to help with longevity. These care tips differ from coating to coating, so be sure to look into the specific care tips of your bag—and follow them!
There are water-repellent zippers on the market—YKK AquaGuard® zippers, for example—which repel water with a polyurethane coating. These water-repellent zippers tend to be stiffer and harder to zip, so we only recommend a bag with these zippers if you really need that protection. Some laptop bags only feature water-repellent zippers on the laptop and/or tech compartment(s), which is nice as it’ll protect your expensive equipment, but not slow down access to the other compartments.
You will also find bags with covered zippers (i.e. there’s a strip of fabric over the zipper track), called a fabric welt, which gives the bag more water protection.
As zippers tend to be the first place water will leak through a bag, choosing a laptop bag with a roll-top will help add water-resistance to that compartment (as long as the fabric is weather-resistant too). Keep in mind that roll-tops aren’t as quick to get in and out of as traditional zippered compartments.
Some laptop bags may include a packable rain shell that you can throw over your bag when you need serious weather-protection. Say you get caught in a storm on the way home from work. Usually, rain shells pack up small enough that you can stick them in your bag without them getting in your way. Looking for a laptop bag with a rain shell—or buying one separately—is great if you need hefty water protection sometimes, but not always. Say if you walk to work every day, but live in a climate that rarely has inclement weather (lucky you!).
If you’re looking for a laptop bag that’s highly weather-resistant then the Timbuk2 Parker Commuter should be on your radar. To get technical for a second, the main exterior is polyethylene vinyl acetate. Rain will simply bead and run off of this material. Plus, there’s also welted fabric over the zipper of the main compartment for even more water-resistance. If that’s not enough—say you frequently bike to work in the rain— the pack comes with a rainfly, which tucks away into a zippered compartment at the bottom of the pack.
Hint: It’s somewhere between 0 pockets and 1,000.
Finding the Best Laptop Bag Organization for You
As gear reviewers, we’ve concluded that organization is personal. Like how you take your coffee (or don’t). You may like a laptop bag with large, empty compartments or you may like to have a spot for everything. Even our team differs.
Laptop bags run the gamut of organization—simple, complex, or anything in between. Plus, you can find bags with exterior organization if that’s your thing. But beyond how much organization a bag has, there’s the question on how easy said organization is to access. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s break it down.
As we mentioned oh-so-long ago toward the beginning of this guide, bags with simple organization tend to be more versatile. You aren’t limited by all of the pockets and can use the bag for travel, picnicking, carrying around your rock collection, etc.
These bags also allow you to take organization into your own hands by utilizing packing cubes and pouches. You can get as intense as you want here, organizing your gear in color-coded pouches that you evenly distribute throughout the various compartments in your bag … or just throw most of your gear into one pouch, toss it in the main compartment, and call it a day. Plus, you can take your tech pouch out of your laptop bag and onto your desk for a really easy setup every morning.
While there is some organization inside of the North Face Kaban’s front pocket, the main compartment is basically one giant bucket. There’s a ton of space to throw tech pouches or additional organizational systems, so you can customize to your heart’s content. We’re also digging the yellow interior lining, which makes it easy to spot your stuff. But, keep in mind, smaller stuff will likely disappear into the Bottom of the Backpack Blackhole (a.k.a fall to the compartment’s bottom never to be seen again).
Some bags make it super easy to customize your organization, going beyond simply having empty compartments where you can dump accessory pouches. You’ll see things like hooks where you can attach a MOLLE panel to strips of velcro to connect sold-separately organizers to dividers you can fold up to create a unique interior layout. Another example comes from the brand, Tom Bihn. The folks there put O-rings in most of their bags—a lot of O-rings—so you can create a complex organizational system with pouches and other accessories. Note that most brands who design bags with modular organizational systems sell accessories and pouches they think would work inside the bag.
While these bags are great if you want to really optimize your organizational setup, they aren’t as cost-effective as having a bag with built-in organization already. Plus, you’ll have to put a lot of time and thought in to creating your modular system.
The inside of the Weekender Meeting Bag is simple. Basically, it’s an empty bucket to dump your stuff. But—and this is a big but—you’ll find lines of velcro to attach accessories. It has specifically been designed for North St’s Velcro-In Organizer Pocket Set, but you can attach any accessories that you’ve velcronized (not a word, but you get the idea).
You may prefer more organization if you like to have a dedicated spot for all of your gear, including notebooks, pens, and love letters from your crush. If you opt for a laptop bag with a more robust amount of organization then you don’t need to buy tech pouches separately, which can be more cost-effective than buying all of your organization separately. It’s also nice when bag companies do all of the thinking for you. The organization is already there; you don’t have to think about it and plan a system of your own.
Note that the organization inside of these laptop bags have been designed for the average person (and thus for average gear). They’re great at organizing pens and notebooks. But if you carry more unique things—or unique versions of thing (take a battery bank, which comes in many different shapes and sizes), you may feel limited by built-in organization.
The front compartment of the eBags Pro Slim Laptop Backpack features several pockets to help you organize your tech gear. There are pen holders, card slots, zippered mesh pockets for cords and chargers, a stretch pocket, and more. There are also exterior pockets designed specifically for water bottles and bigger, bulkier cords. All in all, the eBags Pro Slim Laptop Backpack has a pocket for all the “typical” EDC gear. (Including a laptop and tablet, of course.)
That all said, most people will probably want organization that’s somewhere between simple and complicated with a few specific pockets, but nothing over the top.
Some people prefer bags that have a more minimal, sleek look without much going on externally. While others don’t care about that clean aesthetic and want external pockets or attachment points for quick-and-easy access. External attachment points also allow you to carry gear externally that you wouldn’t want to put inside your bag. Say, a rain jacket, which could get all of your other stuff wet.
Your use-case comes into play here. Do you have a long commute on a bus or train? If so, you might want more external pockets to be able to quickly grab a book or a snack. Do you walk to work? If so, you might appreciate having easy access to water via external water bottle pockets. Do you frequently find yourself outside while it’s raining? If so, you’ll probably appreciate external attachment points for that aforementioned rain jacket example.
The external bungee cord that stretches across the face of the North Face Borealis backpack is perfect for lashing on additional gear you don’t want to carry inside the bag. You can tie a handkerchief to it (for those days on the trail), tuck a rain jacket beneath it, or use a carabiner to attach a good luck charm. It also stays flat against the bag whenever you don’t need it. On either side of this bungee system, you’ll find daisy chains to attach any gear you want to keep close by. There’s also a bonus attachment point at the bottom of the bag to secure a bike light. Finally, the bag also features two external water bottle pockets, which are stretchy enough to accommodate oversized bottles (and a great place to stash snacks).
You’re likely going to be accessing the laptop sleeve/compartment at least twice a day, so it’s worth paying attention to how easy it is to get to. We prefer quick access because time is money and all that. Plus, it’s just a huge hassle to have to work your laptop around tough angles or annoying straps.
As far as laptop access goes, you’ll usually find one of two things: the laptop sleeve is inside the main compartment or the laptop sleeve in its own compartment accessible from the outside of the bag. Let’s take a closer look.
Laptop inside the main compartment
First of all, you need to consider how easy it is to get inside the main compartment. Are there compression straps that block the zipper? Rounded edges that make it difficult to zip a square laptop inside? Roll-tops will slow down access (although add water-resistance as we mentioned earlier, as well as expandability).
Additionally, look for side access points that give you direct access to the laptop sleeve (in addition to the top access via the main compartment). We’re fans of secondary side access points as they make grabbing your laptop quick and easy. Plus, you don’t have to sort through all your stuff to reach your laptop.
Next, look at the laptop sleeve itself. Is it tight to the back compartment? Does it close with a buckle, velcro, or magnets? A laptop sleeve that closes may help keep your laptop firmly in place, but it will take longer to grab your laptop. Is there a flap above it that inhibits your ability to grab your laptop quickly? We get bummed when there’s a flap in the way.
We know that these may seem like small details, but they matter. Put on your glasses, pull out your calculator, and let’s do some math. Let’s say it takes 15 extra seconds to grab and put away your laptop because of a quirk in the design. If you access and put away your laptop twice a day that’s 15 x 2 = 30 seconds per day. Multiply that by 5 days a week = 150 seconds per week. Multiply that by 50 weeks—taking into account two weeks of vacation— and you get 7,500 seconds. That’s a lot of seconds, people! Not to mention all the frustration it will cause you.
Against the back of the Osprey Arcane’s Large Daypack’s main compartment, there’s a laptop sleeve that’s well-padded on both the front and back. In fact, we’ve used the sleeve without putting our laptop in a case first (which says a lot about how nicely done we think this laptop sleeve is since we don’t do this often). It also has a soft finish, which makes it easy to slide your laptop in and out of the sleeve.
Laptop inside its own compartment
With a dedicated laptop compartment, never again will you have to slowly and discreetly unpack your random assortment of gear onto the floor of a coffee shop while trying to grab your laptop from its interior sleeve (or is that just us?). And you can easily slide the laptop into its compartment while the rest of the bag is stuffed to the brim. What we’re trying to say is that we like laptop bags that have a dedicated laptop compartment.
The way these compartments are implemented on laptop bags differ from company to company, of course. Some are designed only to fit a laptop, while others have a little more room and bill themselves as a “tech compartment.”
Be sure to look at the access to this compartment. Can you get to the compartment from the top, side, or both? This seems like a small thing, but matters in context. Take plane travel, for example. Side access will be annoying if you frequently fly. That’s because if your bag is underneath the seat in front of you, you’ll have to fully pull it out to grab your laptop. A problem you wouldn’t have with top access.
The laptop compartment in the Tom Bihn Synik is accessible from both the top and side. The top access is great if you’re pulling the bag from under your airplane or bus seat, especially if you’re a bit constrained in a middle seat. But the side access is great when you want to quickly and easily grab your laptop. We’ve found that laptops glide in and out of this side access oh-so smoothly. Plus, the entire pocket is lined with a lightly-padded mesh material.
Look for a bright lining
Regardless of whether or not a laptop sleeve is in its own compartment, we appreciate laptop bags that have bright interior linings. A bright lining really “turns on the lights” inside of a bag, helping you see what’s going on (anyone else start singing Marvin Gaye? No?). These linings are particularly helpful with bags like roll-tops that can be especially difficult to see inside.
In true Topo Designs fashion, the interior of the Topo Designs Core Pack is a cheery, neon yellow that helps with visibility (and style, of course!). This yellow liner really allows you to see the gear you’ve tossed inside your bag, so you don’t waste valuable seconds looking for whatever it is you need.
That’s a wrap, folks.
Congratulations. You’re Ready to Choose the Best Laptop Bag for You!
Phew, you’ve made it to the end of our guide. Congratulations on becoming an official laptop bag expert! Hopefully, you know enough to go out into the world and find the best laptop bag for you. (And if you do find The One, snap a picture and tag us @PackHacker on Instagram. If you haven’t already guessed, we love looking at and obsessing over bags.) And if you need more information, be sure to check out our gear reviews and Youtube channel.
We’d like to close by reminding you that there is no such thing as the best laptop bag. Remember, it all comes down to personal preference and use-case. (Of course, you’ll also want to assess quality, laptop protection, and organization, which is why we wrote this guide in the first place.) So, good luck, and happy shopping!