With companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple rising toward the top of Fortune’s 500, the rigid formality of the stereotypical office environment is relaxing. While there will always be a place for a traditional look, an increasing number of 9-to-5-ers at the top of their game are donning innovative, casual attire and accessories. These modern styles tend to be versatile, gender-neutral, and eco-friendly.
As a Gen-Xer who’s participated in this office evolution through the dot.com boom and into a millennium of younger, hipper, and more multicultural CEOs, I can appreciate this fresh view of professionalism. In tribute to the generation that brought you office sharing, webinars, and Mark Zuckerberg, I have delved into how the best and brightest are hauling their gear. It is my pleasure to present contenders for the title of the best messenger bag for your morning commute.
Best Messenger Bag (Best Casual Bag): Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag
Founded by San Francisco bike messenger Rob Honeycutt, bag manufacturer and marketer Timbuk2 has grown up in the true entrepreneurial spirit of the Left Coast. From its 1989 conception in Honeycutt’s garage, the company has embraced individuality, practicality, and environmental responsibility. Now the 2nd largest manufacturer in the Bay City, Timbuk2 maintains its focus on perfecting the quality of a select product line. As my pick for best casual bag: the Timbuk2 Command leads the contenders for best messenger bag.
Packing and Organization
As the primary function of the best messenger bag is to carry your gear, packing, and organization top our considerations. By keeping close to their roots as a bike messenger bag company, the designers for the Timbuk2 Command have meticulously engineered its construction for maximum benefit.
Volume to Weight
While there are arguably more important characteristics when considering the best messenger bag, the volume to weight ratio is a good place to start. The Timbuk2 Command weighs 2 pounds, 11 ounces when empty, which is an average heft for a shoulder bag. Its fully expanded dimensions are 18.5” wide x 6” deep x 15.5” tall. This is an internal carrying capacity of 0.70 cubic feet and a volume to weight ratio of 0.26 ft3/pound.
The Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag has an impressive eight total compartments. The space is dominated by one primary slip pocket capable of handling a 17” laptop.
The interior also includes a few smaller pocks for handling pens, change, and smaller electronics. The exterior has its own array of receptacles including a rear zippered pocket for a notepad or tablet and a secure water bottle holder. A padded front Napoleon pocket is also capable of accommodating a 9” tablet.
The main closures for the Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag are simple, innovative hook and loop closures. These stylish aluminum hooks slide into any one of four sets of elastic loops for a versatile, secure close. Silencer strips cover these devices to keep the bag or its contents from rattling as you move. Zippers secure the back pocket and an interior pocket, guaranteeing the security of your most valuable items.
We’ve come a long way since a single compartment duffle bag or a hard-sided briefcase. Now that we’ve examined what the Timbuk2 Command can hold, let’s see what else it can do. In an era where going into the office sometimes involves a TSA checkpoint, the top contenders for best messenger bag sometimes have some impressive functionality.
The Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag is TSA compliant. This means that it opens in a way to pass your electronics, specifically a laptop, through an X-Ray scanner without taking them out of the bag. This is a huge plus in terms of efficiency and protecting your gear.
This messenger bag is also the only one in our review that has the option for a cross-chest strap. This iconic carrying method, preferred by bike messengers, keep a tight center of gravity. It also decreases the likelihood that you’ll hit anything with the bag and makes it almost impossible to drop.
We’ve covered most of the Timbuk2 Command’s accessories in our description of the compartments, closures, and versatility. This exceptional messenger bag also features a luggage-handle pass-through so that you can secure it to the top of a rolling pullman. Finally, reflective contact points make the bag easier to spot and increase safety while traveling.
The Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag is an extremely durable messenger bag. The materials and construction protect both the bag itself and its contents.
The primary material for the Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag is durable, weatherproof polyester. This contender for best messenger bag also incorporates Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU). Considered the bridge between rubber and plastic, TPU is an extremely durable and versatile material for high-end accessories.
The TPU-lined main flap makes the entire bag weather resistant. While the contents might not survive a dunk in the San Francisco Bay, the Timbuk2 Command will protect your laptop and important papers during a rain-soaked commute.
In terms of a messenger bag, comfort is closely tied to versatility. From its origins as a bike messenger bag company, Timbuk2 has prioritized both. The Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag has a padded handle for ease of carrying like a briefcase. The nylon main strap is fully adjustable. The cross strap enables the wearer to keep the bag closely restrained for the most rambunctious of travel.
Available in 12 color combinations and 3 sizes, the Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag has a look to suit a wide variety of users. The general style gives an impression of conscientious worldliness, sophistication, and fun. Put bluntly, the Timbuk2 Command looks fantastic.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
Even the best messenger bag has its areas of concern. Let’s take a look at two flaws for the Timbuk2 Command.
Doesn’t Stand Up on Its Own
Due to the tilted bottom, the Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag does not stay upright if not supported, even when its full. While this is true of most messenger bags (compared to traditional briefcases), it’s worth noting.
Strap Doesn’t Cinch Tight Across a Narrow Chest
If you’re a petite person and intending to use the cross strap to convert the bag into a true bike messenger bag, you may have trouble. Even at its tightest, the cross strap for the Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag won’t cinch around a narrow chest. If you still love the bag, consider buying an aftermarket strap to replace the one that comes with the bag.
Best Messenger Bag (Best Business Bag): Fossil Defender Messenger Bag
Now that we’ve examined the best messenger bag for the casual commuter, let’s take a look back at something more traditional. Some carrying cases combine the ergonomic ease of the modern messenger bag with the class and sophistication of the board-room briefcase. My pick for one of the best business messenger bags, the Fossil Defender Messenger Bag, perfects this accommodation of old and new.
Probably best known for their iconic watches, the Texas-based Fossil Group has been setting the bar for stylish versatile accessories since the mid-1980s. With its emphasis on a marriage of vintage design and modern technology, it’s no wonder that Fossil presented a contender for best messenger bag (business bag) with the Fossil Defender Messenger Bag.
Packing and Organization
Arguably, the packing science and content organization of a business-style messenger bag is not as critical as that of a more commuter-oriented bag. That said, in order for the Fossil Defender Messenger Bag to make our list, it needed to show some merit in this category.
Volume to Weight
At 2 pounds, 15 ounces, the Fossil Defender is only slightly heavier than the Timbuk2 Command. Its average dimensions are 16” wide x 4” deep x 13” tall. This brings its volume/weight ratio to 0.26 ft3. In terms of carrying capacity, the Fossil bag is less practical than its casual counterpart.
The Fossil Defender Messenger Bag has a simple, elegant design that still has plenty of functionality. The main compartment is capable of carrying a 15” laptop, which is an average size. With a maximum depth of 4”, the Fossil also has less capacity to carry other items alongside a laptop and its components. If you’re purchasing a messenger bag for this primary purpose, take careful measurements.
The Fossil Defender Messenger Bag also has two additional interior media pockets, one interior zipper pocket, and two exterior slide pockets that are covered by the flap.
The decorative belt-style closures on the front of the Fossil Defender are for show. They conceal the real mechanisms, a single snap with push-button release. This is actually a much more secure and convenient closure for the bag. The interior zipper provides further protection for your most valuable items such as keys, jewelry, or small tech.
The shining aspects of the Fossil Defender are its elegance, durability, and comfort. As such, it doesn’t offer much more in terms of robust functionality.
The carrying strap of the Fossil Defender Messenger Bag is removable and fully adjustable down to a generous 27.5” shoulder drop.
In addition to its compartments, this messenger bag has a secure key ring and 4 elastic loops for holding pens or other small accessories.
Fossil prides itself on the workmanship of its products. As such the leather, cloth, and metal aspects of the Fossil Defender Messenger Bag are built to last. While the defender is not weatherproof, the padded main compartment is designed to protect your laptop or other contents from impact and some environmental risks.
The main external construction of the Fossil Defender Messenger Bag is 100% leather. The strap is tough, braided synthetic, and the interior is a slick, synthetic textile. This reduces friction and enables quiet insertion and removal of contents.
While the Fossil Defender Messenger Bag does not have an array of carrying options, it is very comfortable with the strap over the shoulder and across the body. The long, adjustable strap enables the wearer to optimize the height of the bag to reduce uncomfortable jarring. The smooth, high-grade leather also makes for a pleasing feel while handling.
The high-end materials give the Fossil Defender an elegant, vintage look. Exemplified by the substantial primary flap, the lines are sleek and simple, accented by thoughtfully designed and well-placed hardware. The stitching further signifies the high-end construction.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
As the Fossil Defender is designed for a more limited sort of stylized use, its flaws relate primarily to a lack of versatility.
Too Small for Many Laptops
This is more of a limitation than a flaw. The 16” interior width only allows for a maximum carrying width of 15”, which rules out many laptops. If you have a larger laptop (or simply carry a lot of documents to and from work) consider a larger messenger bag.
Limited Zippered Compartments
Again, the Fossil Defender is not designed for a rigorous commute or substantial outdoor travel. While the one zippered interior pocket will provide increased protection for a few small things, the rest of your contents are more vulnerable to weather, theft, or simply falling out if the bag is overturned.
Best Messenger Bag (Best Rugged Bag): 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima Tactical Messenger Bag
Royal Robbins was one of the pioneers of American competitive rock climbing. He championed ‘clean climbing’: a battery of techniques that utilized natural rock formations instead of employing damaging climbing equipment. In the 1950s, Robbins developed the Yosemite Decimal System for categorizing the difficulty of climbs.
Later, he used the highest rating on this scale, 5.11, as the name of a clothing line designed for extreme naturalists such as himself. Sixty years later, 5.11 has developed into an incredibly well-regarded clothing line for military, police, and emergency responder gear. Among the high-endurance offerings of this incredible California company is my pick for best messenger bag (best rugged bag), the 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima Tactical Messenger Bag.
Packing and Organization
As its designed for operators with a heightened demand for speed and accuracy, the 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima Tactical Messenger Bag is the best messenger bag for a highly organized outing.
Volume to Weight
The 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima Tactical Messenger Bag is the ‘Large’ size of the Rush Delivery series: larger than the Mike (medium) and smaller than the XRay (extra-large). At 17” wide, 11” high, and 4” deep, it is a comparable size to our other competitors for the best messenger bag. Two pounds, 7 ounces of empty weight gives it a volume to weight ratio of 0.18 ft3 / lb.
This tactical bag has more compartments than both of our other messenger bags combined. On the exterior, it has 3 individual zippered pockets (one on the back, two under the flap) and one large water bottle holder capable of carrying a quart bottle. The underside of the flap is festooned with roughly a dozen small holding mechanisms designed for anything from a K-Bar knife to a flashlight. The interior is subdivided by several flaps and additional mesh pouches but still leaves one principal cavity large enough for a 15” laptop.
The primary bag closures are substantial plastic clips. Zippers and Velcro provide many secondary solutions for security property within or on the bag. The multitude of closures enables the 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima to provide a high degree of security for valuables, including weapons or other sensitive materials.
Advertised specifically as a ‘Tactical’ bag, the 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima receives top marks for functionality.
The extremely high number of compartments and closures make the 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima Tactical Messenger Bag an extremely versatile messenger bag. The bag is designed to simultaneously and safely hold a water bottle, a laptop, small firearms, and fragile accessories. You will not find a more versatile bag for high adventure or quick response to volatile situations.
In addition to the functionality I’ve already detailed, the 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima Tactical Messenger Bag has a few simple yet highly useful accessories. A concealed compartment to the rear of the main cavity cleverly hides contents from initial inspection. A series of reinforced loops along the top can be used for carabiners, car keys, or handcuffs. The front of the bag is MOLLE compatible. This military system of heavy-duty nylon loops can secure various additional attachments.
Both in terms of protecting its contents and the bag’s own longevity, the 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima is the most durable messenger bag in our review.
Thick, water-resistant 1050D Nylon holds up under a variety of conditions, including aggressive handling.
While the 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima Tactical Messenger Bag isn’t specifically built for comfort, it travels well. The well-padded, removable cross-body strap provides enduring relief from muscular bruising and skeletal strain. This bag also has a rear panel for attachment to luggage such as a rolling Pullman.
The 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima isn’t designed to be a fashion accessory. It is a basic earth-tone to blend into its surroundings or the rest of the wearer’s gear. It is a subdued and dignified piece of equipment.
Flaws But Not Deal Breakers
Fabric Does Not Flex
Because this bag is designed to protect its contents, the stiff sides do not allow for much flexibility. At only 4” deep, once you’ve tucked a laptop and a few other contents side by side, you may be maxing out the capacity.
May Be Too Complicated
Depending on your intent for its use, the multitude of pockets and accessories may be overwhelming. If you only need a gym bag or a document briefcase, all of the fabric taken up with dividers and closures may even be a hindrance.
All the Nitty Gritty
|Timbuk2 Command||Fossil Defender||5.11 RUSH Delivery Lima|
|Exterior Material||Polyester||Leather||1050D Nylon|
|Closure||Hook & Loop||Push-Button Snap||Plastic Snaps / Zippers|
|Weight||2 lbs 11 oz||2 lbs 15 oz||2 lbs 7 oz|
|Dimensions||18.5″x 6″ x 15.5″||16″ x 4″ x 13″||17″ x 4″ x 11″|
|Volume to Weight Ratio||0.26 cu ft / pound||0.17 cu ft / pound||0.18 cu ft / pound|
|Tech Compatibility||17″ Laptop||15″ Laptop||15″ Laptop|
|Number of Pockets||Eight||Six||Ten +|
The Bottom Line
Since graduating high school, I’ve favored a messenger bag over any other day bag probably 90% of the time. I love them. And as an aficionado of the European Carry-All, I know that there are a wide variety all with a different user in mind. For me, the more specific the bag is, the better it is.
For urban-dwellers with a youthful spirit, the Timbuk2 Command Laptop Messenger Bag is an ultra-stylish bag with unmatched punctuality. It’s also fantastic for jet-setters, cyclists, and other nomads.
The Fossil Defender Messenger Bag is a traditional, high-end bag with equal parts vintage and cutting-edge. It’s a perfect match for anyone looking to outmatch contenders in the boardroom or the bar afterward.
If you are in the military, public service, or simply have the need for an exceedingly tactical bag, the 5.11 Rush Delivery Lima Tactical Messenger Bag is a great choice. It is well-designed, rugged, and highly versatile.
Pick the bag that suits your style and fill it with your favorite things. Whether your adventure is to the urban jungle or the real one, attack it with vigor and optimism and, of course, the best messenger bag on the market.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I learn more about product recycling and sustainable materials?
What a very astute and earth-conscious question! As you know, the Timbuk2 Command Laptop is produced by a company that values maintaining a high regard for environmental factors. The most important thing is to purchase from companies that honor sustainable practices.
Why do I need a messenger bag in the first place?
Besides the fact that they look spiffy? Messenger bags are a great compromise between the utility of a backpack and the formality of a briefcase. They are versatile, they protect their contents, and they generally preserve the apparel of the user.
Ready to pick out a laptop to slide inside that snazzy messenger bag? Check out my article on the Best Laptop for Freelance Writers.