The best messenger bags of 2021

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Messenger bags are an extremely popular alternative to backpacks - they can usually carry the same amount of gear, but are easier to access because you can shift the bag to your side or front. I prefer it on the subway, too, for the same reason. If it's crowded, I can just shift it in front of me, rather than having to take it off and hold it.

Just like backpacks, there are lots of different designs, qualities, and price points among messenger bags, enough to fit any budget or need. We've looked at a ton of bags to find the best options, and we've narrowed them down here. Read on to check out our top picks: for the commuter student, the city worker, or simply an on-the-goer.

Here are the best messenger bags of 2021

The best overall
citizen messenger copy

The Chrome Citizen Messenger Bag is roomy and durable, perfect for carrying heavy loads while commuting or hiking.

Pros: Lots of space, comfortable to carry, very durable

Cons: Doesn't come in multiple sizes, may be bigger than some are looking for, wouldn't work well for a formal office

Chrome Industries makes plenty of durable gear ideal for cycling and city life alike, but the Citizen Messenger Bag is one of the most popular — and for good reason. This timeless bag was designed for biking, and it has an iconic, unyielding design with impressive capacity. When you open the bag, there's one main compartment that is almost as big as the bag itself. There's no padded laptop pocket, no internal dividers, and nothing else to take up space. It's a simplified choice that ensures maximum room for all your gear. And, not to worry — you can use a laptop sleeve to protect your computer and the packing cubes we recommend to organize smaller items.

The main compartment is lined with a removable water-resistant tarp that's held in place with velcro, in case you need to dry it later. You can even use this as a makeshift divider, putting items between the bag's outer shell and the tarp, a great way to keep dirty gym clothes separate from the rest of your stuff. The outer portion of the bag is built with an abrasion-resistant fabric and comes in a ton of color options.

The shoulder strap has a seatbelt buckle so that rather than having to swing the bag over your head, you can just pull it around your body and click the buckle into place. You can keep the strap adjusted shorter, which makes it easier to carry heavy loads or ride a bike. There's also a quick-adjust strap which makes changing the length a breeze. Importantly, the strap is well-padded and very comfortable to carry.

The best for laptops
timbuk2 command

The Timbuk2 Command Messenger Bag is well-designed to withstand any commute, from bicycle to subway to airplane.

Pros: Padded handle, adjustable strap, tons of pockets and organization

Cons: Laptop sleeve doesn't have thick padding

Timbuk2 was founded in 1989 when a San Francisco bike courier set out to design a new, efficient messenger bag. Since then, the company has perfected its original model and built a number of variations and other kinds of bags, like backpacks and luggage.

The Command Messenger Bag was built for organization. It's generously endowed with pockets, buckles, and zippers to store items of all shapes and sizes. When the bag is closed, there are three side entry pockets on the front that you can still access, and each one is closed securely with zippers. One smaller pocket is felt-lined, making it perfect for a smartphone or other electronics. The largest side pocket sits behind it, and is big enough for a bicycle U-lock, a magazine or newspaper, or a tablet, while the third pocket is on the other side of the flap and fits items like a power adapter or sunglasses.

Spinning the Command around, the laptop pocket is accessible through a zipper on the back of the bag, completely isolating it from the main compartment underneath the flap. The pocket is well padded, and there's a second pocket for a tablet. You can also separate the laptop to conform to TSA standards when traveling. On the back of the bag, outside of the laptop section, a luggage handle pass-through lets you place the bag securely on top of a roller bag.

There's an exterior pocket for a water bottle, too, which can fit just about any type of bottle. At the top of the bag, a padded handle makes carrying the bag by hand a breeze. Like many Timbuk2 bags, the shoulder strap has a quick-release buckle, which lets you lengthen and shorten the strap with one easy motion. It's a real help if you're biking or carrying a heavy bag.

The bag is lined with a weather-resistant material to keep your belongings safe whatever the day may hold. There are many color options and multiple sizes of the Command bag available, so make sure to check the dimensions to see which one you need.

The best for travel
herschel gibson slide

Reinforced with resistant fabric for trips of all kinds, the Herschel Gibson Messenger is a stand-out choice for travel with a built-in trolley sleeve.

Pros: Zip-convertible trolley sleeve to grasp luggage handle, great compartmentalization, EVA-reinforced carrying handles, removable shoulder strap, padded laptop sleeve

Cons: May be too briefcase-like for some

Herschel Supply Co. is a brand that boasts its fine quality, and its Gibson Messenger is an option specifically designed for travel that doesn't disappoint. While you can purchase one of our favorite backpacks, this messenger bag is an equal player in providing durability, versatility, and a classic carry for all your essentials.

Described as a travel brief on Herschel's site, it consists of two main compartments and EVA-reinforced carrying handles. Hand-crafted for the traveler, its padded-and-fleece-lined laptop sleeve can fit up to a 15-inch device with an enclosed zipper. And, the bag's minimalist zipper design is a key feature of the messenger. The front storage sleeve has a reinforced zipper flap, and the trolley sleeve zips closed when not in use.

Versatile and sleek, the Gibson Messenger is rather small, yet mighty. It's a great, adjustable option to take off your shoulders and prop above your airport baggage (one of our checked luggage picks, perhaps) and the keen eye for quality and detail is apparent. I recently purchased the brand's Novel Duffel Bag and I can attest the structure of its bags are polished, practical, and, of course, superb for travel.

-- Victoria Giardina, Buying Guides Fellow

The best for the office
j Crew

The J.Crew Abingdon Messenger Bag provides a classic look while en route to get some work done at a coffee shop or to take with you on a weekend adventure.

Pros: Functional, flexible, great organization

Cons: No padded laptop pocket, strap may be too long for some

J.Crew is known more for its clothes than its accessories, but the company managed to use its knowledge and experience with classic styling to design a stylish, understated messenger bag perfect for the modern man. The Abingdon Messenger is built from a waxed cotton canvas with leather trim and pulls off a clean look that hides a handful of useful features.

Outside the bag on the front side, there are two mid-sized pockets that can hold any range of quick-access essentials. The bag's flap just covers the top of those pockets, which use hidden magnetic snaps to keep closed. At the back of the bag, a wide slash pocket also closes with a magnetic snap. Perfect for holding a magazine or tablet, the back pocket is accessible while commuting, so you don't have to open the whole bag. Rounding out the exterior pockets are two small pouches on the sides. They seem to be designed for a rolled-up newspaper or a water bottle, but they're too narrow for most reusable ones. They work well for a compact umbrella, though.

The bag is great because of its flexibility, both in terms of functionality and style. The bag is softer and less structured than many alternatives, which makes it easy to under-fill or overstuff depending on what you need for the day. And, rather than undoing all the buckles, you can just slip the strap off the bag's brass hook.

As far as style goes, the bag, which is available in two colors, is like a lot of J.Crew's clothing collection — it can dress up or dress down equally well. I've felt comfortable carrying it to a job interview while wearing a suit, as well as bringing it on an overnight trip wearing sneakers and jeans. It can hold some pretty heavy stuff without any issue, too.

The best leather messenger bag
kenneth cole

The Kenneth Cole Reaction Columbian Leather Laptop Bag is made from premium leather that will hold up for years, all while holding your much-needed items.

Pros: Great laptop protection, removable shoulder strap, good for carrying folders or documents.

Cons: More formal than most messenger bags, stiff

The Kenneth Cole Reaction Show Business bag is thoughtfully designed with a smooth leather feel that's hard not to love. 

The bag looks a little more like a traditional briefcase than some other messenger bags, but the benefit of this is a structured, protective laptop pocket. Because the bag holds its shape, you can easily carry folders and documents without worrying about them getting bent — a worry with less-structured bags, similar to the J.Crew Abingdon.

A front pocket runs the length of the bag and has organizer loops and pockets for pens, a cell phone, business cards, and more. There's also a zippered pocket within that section. The main pocket has the padded laptop pouch, plus two extra open-top padded pockets — these are great for a tablet or a charger. There's room left over for any other items, too. Finally, there's a full zippered section on the back of the bag. Big enough for files, folders, or magazines, it can also be used as a quick-access pocket, which you can get to while the rest of the bag is closed.

The bag has a sturdy handle on top and the shoulder strap is removable, so if you ever wanted to carry it like a briefcase you have that option. The flap has two buckles with quick-release clasps so that you don't have to undo them every time you want to access the bag. It's available in four different colors and is a steal for the price.

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