The Best Messenger Bag Review

Click to enlarge
The Commuter 2.0 can be customized with over 30 different colors.
Credit: Rickshaw
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.

Read the full review below >

Review by: and Max Neale

Top Ranked Messenger Bags Displaying 1 - 5 of 5 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Timbuk2 Command
Timbuk2 Command
Read the Review
Chrome Buran
Chrome Buran
Read the Review
Video video review
Timbuk2 Classic Messenger
Timbuk2 Classic Messenger
Read the Review
Video video review
Patagonia Half Mass
Patagonia Half Mass
Read the Review
Alchemy Goods Pike
Alchemy Goods Pike
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award     
Street Price Varies $97 - $139
Compare at 6 sellers
$160
Compare at 2 sellers
Varies $67 - $89
Compare at 7 sellers
$99
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $100 - $148
Compare at 3 sellers
Overall Score 
100
0
80
100
0
76
100
0
74
100
0
67
100
0
62
Editors' Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
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 Durable, waterproof, good storage for small and large items, TSA-compliant laptop compartment, looks good, modular storage options.Super hipster, large capacity, very comfortable and secure when biking, zippered laptop compartment, easy access front pockets, easy adjust strap, completely waterproof, indestructible.Spacious, comfortable when biking and walking, good internal organization, available in 5 sizes and 17 colors, waterproof, durable.Comfortable when biking and walking, useful side pocket, great zippered pocket on front flap, reflective strip.High upcycled content, easy access external pocket.
Cons Metal buckles are hard to use, shoulder strap could be more comfortable and easier to adjust, no cross strap, better for walking than biking.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.No easily accessible external pockets, shoulder strap and buckle system is bulky and not as easy to use as others.Not waterproof, not durable, laptop sleeve is bulky and awkward, poor storage for small and medium items.Rubber can turn clothes black, too small for everyday use, no laptop padding, not comfortable when fully loaded, not comfortable when biking.
Best Uses Frequent Flyers and all around useIdeal if style and durability are your priorities.Budget messenger for bikingNot recommended.Small trips around town.
Date Reviewed Jul 27, 2014Jul 27, 2014Oct 14, 2011Oct 09, 2011Oct 09, 2011
Comfort - 15%
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
6
Storage - 15%
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
4
Versatility - 15%
10
0
6
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
4
Laptop Protection - 15%
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
8
Professional Look - 15%
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
7
Water Resistance - 15%
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
5
10
0
7
Durability - 10%
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
8
Product Specs Timbuk2 Command Chrome Buran Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Patagonia Half Mass Alchemy Goods Pike
Volume (L) 21.5 26 20 15
Dimensions (in.) 17.7 x 12.6 x 5.9 18 x 13 x 6 19.3 x 10.4 x 7.9 16 x 13 x 5 14.5 x 9 x 4.5
Weight (lb.) 3.1 3.8 2.5 1.8 2
Number of Compartments 3 1 2 1 1
Number of Large Pockets 3 3 2 2 1
Number of Small Pockets 4 2 4 1 2
Number of Zipper Pockets 6 1 5 2 1
Key Clip? Yes Yes Yes
Reflective Material? Yes Yes Yes Yes
External Side Pocket Yes
Fits Laptop 15 in. 17 in. 15 in. 15 in. 15 in.
Available Colors 5 Black 5 5 6
Available Sizes 2 1 5 2 1
Cross Strap Yes Removable
Waterproof Yes Yes Yes Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Product Selection
We selected five bags that represent an ideal cross section of the 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.

Laptop Bag vs. Messenger
Keep in mind there are a number of laptop bags for under $30 that may serve your needs well for a lot less money than the bags in this review. Laptop bags are not as waterproof, durable or stylish, but they often are all you need and have some key benefits. Laptop bags are lightweight, slide under an airplane seat easily, and provide immediate access to your most reached for items. While not waterproof, they often fit easily in a waterproof backpack or bag, which gives you even more protection. The founder of OutdoorGearLab has been using the Case Logic 17.3-Inch Laptop Case for years even though he has the option of holding onto many of the tested bags in this review. It only costs $23.50 and holds all the essentials for a lightweight mobile office. See our article Mobile Office - Best Laptop Travel Set Up With External USB Monitor, Mouse and Keyboard.

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.

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

Editor's Choice Award: Timbuk2 Command
The Timbuk2 Command hits a great balance of price, durability, weight and storage. It is also TSA compliant making it the ideal travel companion. It's has all the features you need and no extras.

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 for Durability: Chrome Buran
The Chrome Buran is the most burly and waterproof bag we tested. It's heavy and, depending on how you feel about the seat belt clip, stylish.

Top Pick for Directly Sold - Mission Workshop Rummy
Our highest performing bag not carried at online retailers is 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.

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

Ask an Expert: Mike Rabdau
Mike Rabdau has been a bike messenger in the city of San Francisco for over 15 years. He has won the North American Courier Cycling Championship twice, the West Side Invite three times, and raced countless other bike races locally and globally. He currently co-owns Godspeed Courier, a messenger service, in S.F., California.

Who needs a messenger bag?
They are used by everyone! You see them on the shoulders of people at every airport, along every city street, on every college campus, etc. Its interesting because something so trivial has become something that people around the world desire. The world of messengers has decreased yet the market for messenger bags has increased.

How do you select a messenger bag?
Size is the most important. Some bags are offered in a range of sizes but in regards to function, the biggest bag is best. As a messenger, you want the largest size so that you can carry more and be efficient with your trips. The bag can be flattened when it isn't full so there isn't a good reason to opt for a small bag.

What are the most important features of a messenger bag?
-Having many adjustment points adds versatility to the bag. Its not uncommon to transport heavy loads exceeding 50 pounds so having the option to unbuckle the shoulder strap, as opposed to having to lift it overhead to remove, is a worthy feature.
-Extension straps or bungee straps on the exterior of the bag allows you to carry packages or larger items that wont fit inside and when not in use, they don't add any significant weight or space.
-Waterproof material is another important feature; I don't want to compromise the important things that I am trusted to transport around the city.
-Padded shoulder straps. Shoulder straps are often designed to be worn on one side or the other (left or right) and the shoulder straps will be suited to that design. Wearing a bag across the neck, shoulder, and clavical area day after day demands some comfort found in padding.
-Tons of pockets, inside and out, accommodate pens, paperwork, tools, etc.

In your experience, when is a messenger bag preferable over panniers or a backpack?
They have entirely different applications. A messenger bag is designed for its specific use of transporting documents and packages to and from. All messengers use messenger bags or backpacks that are specifically designed for courier work. You are constantly on and off the bike, in and out of offices, so you need a bag that is as versatile as the work you are doing. There isn't an alternative to carrying your bag with you at all times.
I use a traditional, over-the-shoulder bag. Some new messengers prefer the backpack style because it accommodates vertical items such as architectural roles and it also distributes the weight more evenly between both sides of your body. But I prefer the traditional bag because of its adjustability, versatility, and the efficiency I experience with getting in and out of the bag. I think the shoulder sling style looks better and it feels better.
Panniers are best for touring.

What is the typical lifespan for this kind of bag?
They are bulletproof. I know people that have had the same bag for 15 years. The waterproof wears out well before the bag requires replacement. The one I currently use I have had for 7-10 years.

Messenger bags are intended to cross over your body- do you alternate the way you wear the bag by wearing across one side for a period of time and then switching to the other side to distribute the long term pressure on your neck and shoulders?
My left shoulder is likely lower than my right shoulder at this point because I don't switch it around.
Most bags are made to be worn on one side or the other, not both- most are made to be worn over the left shoulder because a majority of people are right handed. Some new models have adjustment options for the ability to alternate sides, but once you become accustomed to wearing the bag on a particular side, its likely you wont alternate it. Pockets become dedicated to certain items such as a phone or wallet and you develop of a routine to access the bag in a personal way. Alternating sides would force you to re-develop your natural habit to put things in certain pockets or grab from a specific side; it requires some work to gain a matched level of convenience and efficiency.

How important is reflective material on a messenger bag?
I value designs that incorporate reflective material onto the bags but it has become less common; most bags have little to no functional reflective material. Some companies have dangling reflectors but these get in the way. It's a wise feature to seek and to have. Safety is important.

Are there features that most messenger bags have that aren't useful in practice?
There are a ton of features that are unnecessary. For example, Reload makes beautiful embroidered bags that are top level and very stylish but that doesn't offer additional function to the bag.
I prefer a bag to be stripped down to its shell with pockets. The excessive straps, removable/inserted back pads, and reversible carrying options are not necessary for me. Light and simple is best.

How do you keep the messenger bag clean, especially from riding on city streets and in inclement weather?
Have you ever smelled a messenger? The smell is likely from the bag! When I finally clean my bag, which is about once per year, I take everything out, shake out the debris, throw it in the washing machine, and hang dry. They are mostly plastic and Cordura so most of them are washing machine safe.

Any last thoughts?
Erik Zo is a local San Francisco legend who is to thank for the messenger bags we have all come to know and love. He used to ride around the city, selling bags to the couriers. He deserves credit for his contribution to these versatile work-horse bags and their modern designs.

History
Modern messenger bags are used by seemingly everyone, but they originate from courier work dating as far back as the Pony Express. In the 1860s, riders of the Pony Express used leather sacks that slung over their saddles; these 'mochilas' were preferred over saddlebags for mail delivery as they allowed for easy transition between horses. 'Mochila' translates to sack or pouch and typically had four pockets for securing the mail.

Messengers on bike date back to Paris in the 1870s when the Paris Stock Exchange used bike couriers. In the 1890s, Western Union, of New York and other major cities, hired bike couriers, as well. Some rendition of a bag suitable for mail carrying and courier work was used for the next century until DeMartini Globe Canvas Company reinvented the bag into its current fashion.

In 1947, Frank DeMartini started crafting over-the-shoulder bags for telephone maintenance men. With a history in sewing sails for ships, he utilized heavy-duty canvas to construct a durable and reliable bag for use during hard labor. The design allowed easy access of tools and equipment while suspended high on the telephone poles. A couple decades later, a similar bag design was introduced to bike messengers in New York City. DeMartini constructed the only messenger bags specifically designed for courier work for many years- made of canvas with metal rings. His focus was on creating a bag that was affordable and reliable for young messengers who were often times students yet he only sold them directly to courier companies, which limited their accessibility for purchase through the 1980s. As travel and commute by car increased, the city streets became congested and bike courier work popularized.

In 1983, John Peters started Manhattan Portage. Peters based his new line of bags after DeMartini's distinguished bags. With roots in New York City, the company sought to merge outdoor gear with fashionable urban applications. They were the first company to construct bags of Cordura nylon, reflective strips, and high quality buckles made of Delrin plastic; Denier Cordura Nylon was originally developed for military application- this speaks to its ability to endure rugged conditions. They have evolved to include vinyl, neoprene, and waxed canvas in their manufacturing.

In 1984, Zo Bags was born in San Francisco, California, one of a handful of cities where bike messenger services remain vibrant. Zo Bags is credited for many modern designs such as the one-piece construction of the bag, the waist strap, and the three-panel design. They were the first internationally known messenger bag after gaining interest following a Cycle Messenger World Championship in 1993.

Messenger bag companies would come and go for the next few years, until Timbuk 2 and Pac Designs were created in 1989. Pac Designs were the first company to offer a range of customizable options such as pockets, dividers, and holsters. They also were the first to design bags with a 'X' strap- an adjustable and removable second shoulder strap intended to secure larger loads. These bags were the first of their kind and introduced many design features that would influence all future designs. In the same year, Timbuk 2 would introduce a new three-panel design that appealed to couriers, bike messengers, and hip, young urbanites. They merged function with fashion for a bag that would market beyond the world of messengers.

In the 1990s, a two-strap bag was designed by Roach of Vancouver. This new bag style offered the comfort of a backpack with the functionality of a over-the-shoulder bag.

In 1994, Timbuk 2 innovated the ordering process with built-to-order bags. Then in 2004, Timbuk 2 became the first to have a Build Your Own Bag website. Both advancements offered consumers the ability to custom design every aspect of their bag- from color to pockets to padding.

All modern bags have been designed after the ingenious DeMartini bags. Messenger bags are seen on the shoulders of everyone from couriers to business men. Their evolution has led to a fully customizable design to meet the demands for function, durability, and fashion but their foundation continues to carry through modern design.

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

by Chris McNamara and Max Neale
Get More OutdoorGearLab
Follow us on Twitter, be a fan on Facebook!
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Recent Editor's Award Winners