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Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase Review

Transitions seamlessly from backpack to messenger to briefcase
Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase
Topo Designs Mountain 13L
Credit: Topo Designs
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $169 List
Pros:  Versatile, durable, stylish, fun to use
Cons:  Not weatherproof, less classic messenger design
Manufacturer:   Topo Designs
By Penney Garrett & Lyra Pierotti  ⋅  Aug 21, 2019
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  • Comfort - 25% 9.0
  • Packing & Organization - 25% 8.0
  • Electronics - 15% 9.0
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7.0
  • Wear & Tear - 10% 8.0
  • Volume to Weight Ratio - 10% 6.0

Our Verdict

Topo Designs discontinued the Mountain Briefcase as of early 2020.

The Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase challenges the limits of what a messenger bag can be. It keeps pace with this evolving category of personal bags by adding backpack straps and briefcase handles. Instead of trying to make the side strap system more comfortable with a cross-body strap in traditional messenger fashion, you can deploy the backpack straps and ride in comfort. The bag is suited to many uses, from your daily commute to light hiking. It is durable and well organized for all kinds of adventures, both urban and mountain town, many modes of travel, and over many miles of terrain, so it's no wonder that it sailed to the top of the pack and grabbed our coveted Editors' Choice award.

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison

Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase messenger bag - the mountain briefcase is a messenger bag first but transforms into...
The Mountain Briefcase is a messenger bag first but transforms into a backpack in a flash for impressive versatility and comfort.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti


The Mountain Briefcase redefines comfort in the messenger bag category by morphing into a backpack or briefcase to fit your needs and environment. If you're hopping on a bike or trotting up a trail, unclip the shoulder strap and deploy the backpack straps hidden in the sleeve on the back of the bag. Instead of fussing with a cross-body strap like a typical messenger, the backpack straps allow you to toss the bag on your back and carry on in balanced comfort. Moving through crowded public transport? Grab the briefcase handles to reduce your bulk and slip through the masses at your train stop.

The straps, whether shoulder or backpack, are very comfortable. They are wide and the padding slender but soft. The back of the Mountain has a padded sleeve for your laptop or tablet which also adds comfort for your back and side. It's firm enough to provide structure, like a soft briefcase, and supportive enough to carry well while molding to your body and padding your electronics.

Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase messenger bag - scoping our next adventure on the map with the topo designs mountain...
Scoping our next adventure on the map with the Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

The messenger bag category is far from purist in modern designs, but our bike commuting reviewers increasingly prefer the standard backpack design for comfort on their ride. This messenger bag/briefcase/backpack addresses the needs of the modern messenger bag enthusiasts, giving you one bag to replace them all.

Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase messenger bag - the bag transitions easily from messenger to briefcase to backpack...
The bag transitions easily from messenger to briefcase to backpack for customized comfort according to the activity at hand. Our only quibble is the somewhat awkward buckle attachment at the bottom of the backpack straps.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti


Topo Designs provides a well-balanced array of packing and organization features in their Mountain Briefcase. It has a padded laptop sleeve with a velcro strap and several internal pockets to organize your cords, pens, and small notebooks. The internal pockets are relatively minimal and maximally useful. There are just enough and not too many.

The only other pocket is a large zippered one on the front of the bag. There aren't any dividers or pockets within pockets here, making it useful for a variety of things. This pocket works best when the bag isn't overstuffed, and it's always easy to access thanks to extra-large, smooth zippers.

Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase messenger bag - the topo designs bag is rectangular in shape but soft and large...
The Topo Designs bag is rectangular in shape but soft and large enough to handle a pretty impressive haul of stuff. We also like the external straps for bulky items like a jacket.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Topo created this model to facilitate organization that doesn't overwhelm you with choices and excess features. It's clear they thought through and tested this bag extensively to refine the features, making it simple, streamlined, useful, and fun.

Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase messenger bag - the topo designs bag has thoughtful, useful features throughout like...
The Topo Designs bag has thoughtful, useful features throughout like the laptop-securing strap and the external attachment points for bulky items.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti


This messenger bag is ready for all of your electronics needs. The padded laptop sleeve accommodates laptops up to 15 inches, and the internal pockets work well for pens as well as small charger cables. Larger laptop charging cables fit in the main compartment or large external zippered pocket.

The laptop sleeve is no more waterproof than the main zipper, which is not weatherproof at all. If it's raining heavily, your electronics will get wet after a few minutes in this bag. This is likely a side effect of a company that hails from Colorado instead of the Pacific Northwet. But if you keep a compact umbrella in the bag (which fits comfortably), or if it's just a few drops of rain, you will be fine. For those who regularly commute in the rain with a laptop, this might not be a smart choice.

Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase messenger bag - the mountain briefcase handles electronics and office supplies well...
The Mountain Briefcase handles electronics and office supplies well but also accommodates gym clothes and other bulkier items. Just don't get caught in the rain.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Ease of Use

The Mountain Briefcase redefines ease of use in this review. It transitions between briefcase, messenger bag, and backpack, allowing you to adapt to changing travel conditions in a matter of moments and with just a couple clicks of a buckle. Once loaded up for travel, the bag is also effortless to carry, and the pockets make it easy to access your items. Topo Designs uses high-quality materials, including large and smooth zippers with extended zipper pulls that add to the style as well as the utility of the bag. The main zipper has two zipper pulls, allowing you to open it from either end.

The one feature that isn't effortless is the buckle that attaches the bottom of the backpack straps to the pack when you transition to backpack mode. These have a metal loop that hooks over the plastic, but it's fiddly and difficult to open and close. Overall, the Mountain Briefcase is useful and easy to use due to its carrying options and streamlined features, but this one aspect isn't the best.

Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase messenger bag - a highly versatile model with stashed backpack straps and a...
A highly versatile model with stashed backpack straps and a removable shoulder strap.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Wear and Tear

This bag is built to last. Topo products have a lifetime warranty, and the company has a repairs program for damaged goods to be rehabilitated. We didn't envision a time when we would need to take advantage of it, however. They claim to "overbuild" their products, and we saw this to be true. The craftsmanship is outstanding: simple and robust. The zippers, materials, stitching, straps, and clips are all extra burly without sacrificing style.

For our weather test, we put the Mountain Briefcase, fittingly, out in a mountain environment. We let it sit on a snowbank during a springtime rain-and-slush-storm in Alaska. The zippers are not waterproof at all, and our belongings that were near that weak point got wet. We docked some points here for this reason. The material itself, however, proved to be waterproof and very durable. After over a month of testing in rugged urban, rural, and mountain environments, the bag still looked sharp. The implementation of 1000 denier Cordura nylon and thick leather help this bag stand the test of time. As it ages, we look forward to the leather on the pack earning a bit of character and a unique look of its own.

Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase messenger bag - the mountain briefcase is not suited for wet environments -- the...
The Mountain Briefcase is not suited for wet environments -- the zippers leak readily. Otherwise, it is a very durable bag.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Volume to Weight Ratio

This messenger is not the lightest bag for its capacity, weighing in at 2.3 pounds. This stems from the leather and rugged 1000 denier Cordura. The manufacturer claims the volume of this bag is 13 liters, and our measurements confirm that. We didn't penalize the Mountain too much in this category, but it's clearly not its strongest metric.


The Mountain is more expensive than most of the messenger bags in our review, but its ability to switch into a backpack and also function like a briefcase make it an investment worth the cost. This is a pack that will last a lifetime if you keep it going with Topo's lifetime warranty and repair programs.

Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase messenger bag - this model is more rectangular than a classic messenger bag, making...
This model is more rectangular than a classic messenger bag, making it well suited to electronics and office or school supplies. It is large and supple enough to accommodate other items as well.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti


The Mountain Briefcase is an excellent messenger and so much more. It morphs into a backpack and moonlights as a soft briefcase. We gave this bag our highest accolade for a solid performance across all metrics and its unique versatility. It is not a classic messenger, but who needs to be put in a box? Topo Designs took the best of the messenger style and added features to make it more comfortable and broadly useful without detracting from the utility of the messenger as a simple over-the-shoulder courier bag.

Topo Designs Mountain Briefcase messenger bag - the mountain briefcase is stylish, versatile, and durable.
The Mountain Briefcase is stylish, versatile, and durable.
Credit: Lyra Pierotti

Penney Garrett & Lyra Pierotti
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