Must-Haves for Messenger Bags

The messenger bag is an urban-wear staple that’s a cross between a briefcase and backpack. Its silhouette was adapted from military map bags for powerline workers and bike couriers, and it carries a reputation of durability and utilitarianism. The best messenger bags are slim but spacious and feature ample organization—and the top picks can handle anything from light loads to heavy camera equipment and laptops. They’re also water-resistant and durable, and some even have built-in rain covers or waterproof linings. We’ve tested hundreds of must-have messenger bags to find the most durable and functional models, and we’ve compiled our list of must-have features for your next purchase.

Choosing the best messenger bag for you starts with selecting a material that will hold up to your lifestyle. Nylon and polyester are durable, lightweight options that resist weather, but leather is an extra-tough choice that ages beautifully with use and develops a beautiful patina over time.

Full-grain leather is especially tough and durable, with thick seams that prevent holes and rips. It’s also a great material for messenger bags because it can be shaped and stretched to accommodate different types of hardware and other accessories. If you’re worried about the environmental impact of your leather goods, there are a number of vegan and sustainable options available as well.

Another important consideration is deciding how much you want to carry in your messenger bag. Most of the bags we’ve reviewed are sized for carrying a laptop, but there are other styles of messenger bags that can accommodate a lot more or less than this. The Shinola Canfield Relaxed Messenger Bag, for example, is a classic leather bag with plenty of storage and a sleek design. Its front pockets have a spacious, versatile layout and the bag has a slim profile that won’t interfere with your bike’s rear view mirror.

For a more organized messenger bag that can handle heavier loads, look for a model with multiple organizational compartments and a padded laptop sleeve. This will keep your belongings secure and protect your sensitive electronics from damage. Some messenger bags have extra pockets for pens and pencils, while others have a dedicated laptop compartment or an interior water bottle pocket. We’ve also found that the best messenger bags have sturdy straps and buckles that are easy to use. The chrome bags we’ve tested, including the Buran III and Kadet Sling, have comfortable straps with quick-release, seatbelt-style buckles. The Monty Messenger from Mission Workshop is another easy-to-use option with a similar design.

You should also be sure that the bag you choose is waterproof and equipped with a rain cover, which will protect your gear from unexpected showers. In addition, a water-resistant zipper is a must for keeping moisture out. The Osprey Metron 18 and Peak Design Everyday Messenger have this feature, while the KUHL Eskape messenger has a waterproof lining.

Lastly, consider whether you’d prefer to have a pocket for your keys or a clip or ring to attach items like a flashlight. We’ve found that these additional attachments make it easier to access and locate your most-used accessories, and they’re also convenient for holding smaller items like a phone or map without letting them slip into the depths of your bag.