The Best Messenger Bag Review

We compared eight top of the line messenger bags suitable for carrying a laptop along with other items in a two month long head-to-head comparison that assessed comfort, aesthetics, storage, water resistance, durability, versatility and laptop security. Our ranking and awards reflect the opinion of eight testers each of whom used each contender for a week in order to identify the best overall, the best value, and the best for transporting a computer and documents. Be sure to also check out our Laptop Backpack review which looked at backpack-style bags suitable for carrying a laptop. For most people a backpack is more practical for carrying a laptop than a messenger bag.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Chris McNamara and Max Neale October 10, 2011

Top Ranked Messenger Bags Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Mission Workshop Rummy
Mission Workshop Rummy
Read the Review
Video video review
Rickshaw Commuter 2.0
Rickshaw Commuter 2.0
Read the Review
Video video review
Chrome Buran
Chrome Buran
Read the Review
Video video review
Timbuk2 Command
Timbuk2 Command
Read the Review
Osprey Resource Elroy
Osprey Resource Elroy
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award       
Street Price $170$160$155
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $97 - $149
Compare at 6 sellers
$99
Compare at 1 sellers
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Editors' Rating
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Very large, very durable, completely waterproof, comfortable strap can go on either left or right shoulder, easy to adjust buckle, comfortable and secure while biking, versatile roll top closure, easy access external storage.Good laptop protection, great storage for small and large items, protective document sleeve, magnetic and velcro closure, two side pockets, removable shoulder strap, waterproof, very durable, dozens of color options.Super hipster, large capacity, very comfortable and secure when biking, zippered laptop compartment, easy access front pockets, easy adjust strap, completely waterproof, indestructible.Durable, waterproof, good storage for small and large items, TSA-compliant laptop compartment, looks good, modular storage options.Tons of storage options for small items, great laptop and document storage, two external side pockets, comfortable shoulder strap pad.
Cons Poor storage for pens, pencils, and documents; can be difficult to access bottom of main compartment; no grab handle.Boxy shape, uncomfortable for biking, better for offices than grocery shopping.Super hipster, seatbelt buckle not useful for most people, heavy, only one zippered pocket, no external pockets, no pockets for pens, velcro tears seams and is loud, can be uncomfortable when walking.Metal buckles are hard to use, shoulder strap could be more comfortable and easier to adjust, no cross strap, better for walking than biking.Too many pockets, slim buckles are harder to use than traditional ones, bulkier than other bags, looks like a hiking backpack.
Best Uses People who need instant access to the bag's contents.Office oriented commutes with short walks.Not recommended.Frequent FlyersAll-purpose messenger
Date Reviewed Oct 15, 2011Oct 17, 2011Oct 17, 2011Oct 09, 2011Oct 10, 2011
Comfort - 15%
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Storage - 15%
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Versatility - 15%
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Laptop Protection - 15%
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Professional Look - 15%
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Water Resistance - 15%
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Durability - 10%
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Product Specs Mission Workshop Rummy Rickshaw Commuter 2.0 Chrome Buran Timbuk2 Command Osprey Resource Elroy
Volume (L) 27 14.5 26 21.5 25
Dimensions (in.) 18 x12 x 5.5 15.75 x 11 x 4.75 18 x 13 x 6 17.7 x 12.6 x 5.9 19 x 14 x 8
Weight (lb.) 3.25 3.2 3.8 3.1 2.5
Number of Compartments 1 3 1 3 2
Number of Large Pockets 4 2 3 3 3
Number of Small Pockets 3 3 2 4 4
Number of Zipper Pockets 4 3 1 6 4
Key Clip? Yes Yes Yes
Reflective Material? Yes Yes Yes
External Side Pocket Yes Yes
Fits Laptop 17 in. 15 in. 17 in. 15 in. 17 in.
Available Colors 5 35 Black 5 3
Available Sizes 1 4 1 2 1
Cross Strap Yes Yes Removable
Waterproof Yes Yes Yes Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Timbuk2 Command
$120
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Chrome Buran
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Osprey Resource Elroy
$99
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Alchemy Goods Pike
$138
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Patagonia Half Mass
$89
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Product Selection
We selected eight bags that represent an ideal cross section of the messenger bag market. From large companies like Osprey, Timbuk2 and Patagonia to tiny handmade outfits like Rickshaw and Mission Workshop, we attempted to offer an array of products from all types of manufacturers. This review aims to identify the best bag for your everyday life: One that you take with you wherever you go. The difficulty with this review is that everyone has different needs and expectations for a bag. We used eight reviewers all with very different lifestyles, occupations, and preferences. Each tester used each bag for one week.

Backpack vs. Messenger
Choosing between a backpack and messenger bag is a critical decision. In general, our testers found backpacks to be better for everything except getting quick access to the contents of the bag. The best bag for you will depend upon your lifestyle. Before settling on a messenger bag we encourage you to read our Laptop Backpack Review and our Buying Advice article. These will provide more insight into the types of bags than individual reviews alone.

Criteria for Evaluation
We assessed each bag based on its comfort, storage, versatility, laptop security, professional look, water resistance and durability. All variables are weighted equally. We also ranked each bag based on its performance at various activities such as bicycling, walking, and hiking, and in various environments like subways, airports, offices, and going to the beach.

Comfort
This variable takes into account how comfortable the bag was at all stages of capacity and at various activities. Specifically, we looked at shoulder straps, back padding, the inclusion or omission of rigid stays and sternum straps. We found the most comfortable bag to be the Mission Workshop Rummy, which has a ridiculously comfortable shoulder strap that’s very easy to adjust and can be worn over either the left or right shoulder. The Rummy, Chrome Buran, and Timbuk2 Classic all have shoulder straps that position the bag high up on your back and in a near vertical position (as opposed to hanging down by your waist like a purse). This is much more comfortable in general, and especially for biking. The Alchemy Goods Pike is the least comfortable model we reviewed.

The Mission Workshop Rummy has the most comfortable strap and the easi...
The Mission Workshop Rummy has the most comfortable strap and the easiest to adjust buckle of all messenger bags we've reviewed.
Credit: Mission Workshop
Storage
We looked at each bag’s ability to carry our everyday items. Focusing on both quantity and quality, we ranked each bag based on how much it held and how well it held things. Could the bag fit what we wanted? Could we keep things organized? Could we access key items quickly and easily? Was opening and closing the bag loud and distracting to others? Could the bag store documents without crushing them? Our two top rated bags in this category are the Mission Workshop Rummy, which gracefully holds large, bulky items and the Rickshaw Commuter 2.0, which protects a laptop and documents like the Secret Service guards the President.

Versatility
This is where we judged how each bag performed in a variety of situations performing all kinds of different tasks. Could it manage the gym, groceries and commuting all in the same day? Was it adaptable to walking and biking? If needed, would it be able to transport both fragile and bulky things simultaneously? We asked a lot of these bags and the Osprey ReSource Elroy ranked highest in this category because it was comfortable for biking and walking and had good storage.

Laptop Security
This variable measures how well the bag protected our expensive laptops from accidental drops, grungy subway floors, and spilled liquids. The winners in this category were the Rickshaw Commuter 2.0and Osprey ReSource Elroy.

The Command is the only laptop messenger we reviewed that is TSA-compl...
The Command is the only laptop messenger we reviewed that is TSA-compliant. Unzip the bottom of the laptop compartment slide the bag through security and pick it up safely by the handle as shown here.
Credit: Timbuk2
Professional Look
We assessed how well each bag performed in a professional environment. While all of the bags tested here are far from a classy leather briefcase, we ranked them based on how well they would perform in an environment where a professional appearance made a difference. Tmbuk2 and Rickshaw offer custom bags built with over thirty colors and a variety of fabric types to choose from. The ability to customize colors contributed to our conclusion that the most professional looking contenders were the Rickshaw Commuter 2.0 and the Timbuk2 Command.

Water Resistance
With its bombproof, coated fabrics and a roll top closure, the Mission Workshop Rummy was the clear winner here. (The Chrome Buran placed a close second.) The least waterproof bag was the Patagonia Half Mass.

Durability
For each bag we scrutinized velcro quality, zippers, buckle and straps. Next, we assessed the materials they were constructed of. Through our sixteen week long test period we found the Mission Workshop Rummy, Chrome Buran, and Rickshaw Commuter 2.0 to be the most durable. None were particularly fragile, but the Patagonia Half Mass scored the lowest.

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The Rickshaw Commuter 2.0 has the most durable bottom of any bag, laptop or messenger, we reviewed.
Credit: Max Neale

Editors' Choice Award: Mission Workshop Rummy
Our Editors Choice Award goes to the Mission Workshop Rummy, a bombproof, stormproof, single strapped carrier that epitomizes the quick access that messenger bags are known for. The Rummy excels at carrying large loads comfortably and provides a snug fit that clings to your back when navigating the busiest of streets.

Best Buy Award: Timbuk2 Classic Messenger
The Timbuk2 Classic Messenger, the recipient of our Best Buy Award, provides the majority of the comfort, durability, and access that the Rummy does, but at half the price.

Top Pick Award for Direct Commutes: Rickshaw Commuter 2.0
Finally, on the opposite end of the spectrum lies the Rickshaw Commuter 2.0, a brilliantly designed single strap bag for those who commute directly to and from the office. With its waterproof, highly durable construction and a host of unique features the Commuter 2.0 takes laptop and document storage to the next level.

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The Mission Workshop Rummy and Timbuk2 Command at Happy Hour.
Credit: Max Neale

Chris McNamara and Max Neale
Buying Advice
How we Test
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How to Choose the Best Messenger Bag - Click for details
 How to Choose the Best Messenger Bag

by Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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