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We've tested 40 of the best laptop backpacks over the last 11 years. This update features 11 of the market's best contenders that we've tested side-by-side. As remote workers, we've traveled across the United States and the globe, using each on our adventures. We tested these while commuting to work and school, stuffing them with everything from books to clothes to lunches and more! We take them on our bike commutes, on the bus, in the car, and on airplanes. We even put each under the shower head to see how they'll perform in a rainstorm. After putting each to the test, we offer our recommendations to help you on your quest to find the best backpack.
If you already have a backpack you love and just need some extra protection for your laptop, consider a laptop sleeve. Also, check out our budget backpack picks to see which affordable packs we recommend. With remove work becoming more and more accessible, you may find yourself wanting to combing your work and travel bags. In this case, check out this list of our favorite travel backpacks.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on October 11, 2022, to include three new products: the Peak Design Everyday, Matein Travel, and Herschel Heritage.
The Incase Icon is a sleek and stylish laptop backpack with excellent organization and protection. It's no wonder it's our favorite among the competition. It holds 17 liters worth of stuff, while also keeping it padded and protected from daily abuse. Load up a laptop, tablets, lunch, books, binders, and your after-work clothing in one backpack. It has three main compartments for exceptional organizational capacity and easy access to all your items. Its urban style is a superb choice for work, school, or even travel.
While we love this pack, we know some folks are just "toss it in the bag" types who won't use all the organizational features. If you prefer to toss your stuff into one compartment so there are fewer sections to rifle through, this may not be your bag. However, we love the Icon and it's our recommendation for those that love to compartmentalize their things in a beautiful, stylish package.
Electronics Storage: 15-inch laptop and small tablet |Volume: 28L
REASONS TO BUY
Durable and fairly water-resistant
REASONS TO AVOID
Lacks urban style
The North Face Borealis pack offers spacious storage that holds oodles of books. We love it for its easy-to-use pockets, separate computer access, and voluminous interior. It has all the necessary organizational features with many add-ons that make it a stellar option for both the city and the trails. This is a versatile pack that's fantastic for work, school, travel, or running errands. It's durable and water-resistant, performing well through most weather.
While we don't mind this pack's outdoorsy style, we know this aesthetic isn't for everyone — some might find it more appropriate in a mountain town than a professional urban setting. And though the back panel is breathable, we found the material to be somewhat scratchy when it was in direct contact with our skin. Still, for the price, it's our favorite amongst the contenders offering, what we think, is the best value.
The Matein Travel is a great backpack for a great price. We love the wide variety of pockets that can accommodate multiple laptops, if necessary. We found the interior padding protected our previous tech from plops, drops, and inadvertent kicks. The zippers are also exceptionally smooth — we were pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to open and close the pockets of this bag. It also comes equipped with additional features that differentiate it from many other packs including a USB plug/port combo, detachable keychain clip, and a complement of auxiliary pen, water bottle, and catchall pockets.
There are only a couple of features that we question with this pack. The zippers — and there are many of them — are very jingly when walking. Though there is sufficient padding for what goes inside, we found that when this pack is full of equipment, the back can feel lumpy. Though it stood up just fine during testing, we wonder about the long-term durability of the stitching. However, at this price point, there is no pack we'd rather have for toting our laptops.
The Peak Design Everyday is one of our favorites because of its combination of style and practicality. It has a massive main compartment with nifty adjustable velcro dividers that allow you to configure the storage in a variety of different ways for computers, chargers, camera equipment, and more. It also has a second slot at the back with multiple computer sleeves. What this all means is that this laptop bag can carry a lot of stuff. It looks great for the office or college classes and it has features like magnet closures and a host of smaller pockets to organize headphones, pens, and all of the miscellaneous stuff that just ends up in a bag.
There's not a whole lot for us to knock with this model. If we were forced to find a few things, we can't look away from the price. It is an expensive option. Though we think it is worth the money for heavy users, it's no doubt a limiting factor. Because of its size, we also noticed that it can look and feel quite large for people with smaller frames. With all of this in mind, we still think this is one of the best packs around for work, school, and play.
The Cotopaxi Tasra 16L is easily one of the most unique and 'coolest' laptop backpacks that we've tested thus far. It offers several features that make it an excellent travel bag, whether to your office or on a plane. Its organizational compartments make everything easy to see, including a zippered compartment for extra layers or items that you'd like to keep super secure. You can wear it as a backpack or tuck away the straps to carry it as a briefcase or messenger bag. What we love even more is that no bag out there in the world is the same. Each has the same architecture, but with different fabric colors and designs. So, when you buy it, you won't only be supporting a company that makes these bags with recycled materials, but you'll be getting a unique backpack.
Though this bag is one of our favorites due to its functionality during travel and its cool patterns, it's not without some drawbacks. Our biggest gripe is that it lacks protection — the collapsible design features little to no padding, forcing us to use an additional padded sleeve (which does work inside the bag) to keep our laptop safe. While the fabric offers some water resistance, the zippers leak, so it's not the best option for inclement weather. The last caveat is the lack of structure. All that aside, it is one of our favorites for traveling.
Over the last 11 years, we've tested more than three dozen laptop packs. To test each backpack, we wore them everywhere we went. Using a 15-inch MacBook Pro and 13-inch MacBook Air, we assessed which bags provide the best storage capacity and protection. We stuffed each with electronics, threw in our gym clothes, and loaded them with binders and textbooks to see which are more comfortable when weighed down. We wore each while riding a bike to see which fared best for cycling commuters, and we even threw them in the shower to test how they'd do in a downpour.
Scores for each laptop backpack are weighted across six rating metrics:
Laptop Protection (25% of overall score weighting)
Comfort (20% weighting)
Storage (15% weighting)
Ease of Use (15% weighting)
Water Resistance (15% weighting)
Style (10% weighting)
Our review team consists of three veteran GearLab review writers, with contributions from friends and family.Amber King taught elementary science for several years before starting up an educational non-profit. She works remotely, dropping into different co-working spaces while traveling and exploring the globe. Katherine Elliot bike commutes daily with a laptop in tow. Ben Applebaum-Bauch is also a regular bike commuter and student, using a backpack every day for work, school, and travel. In addition to our lead testers, we asked teachers, software engineers, and other commuting professionals to help us gather data for each product. In our latest round of testing, we used these will reviewing top folding electric bikes.
Analysis and Test Results
We tested a wide range of laptop backpacks to provide a great overview of the current market. Each was objectively scored across a few metrics to determine relative levels of performance. We compare each across the metrics to give you a glance at which bags are best for specific applications.
For many, the price will be a significant consideration when purchasing a laptop backpack. Some of us can't afford the fancy construction and features found in more expensive bags. Of our test group, two stand out above the rest in regards to value. The North Face Borealis offers the best quality for the best price. You can depend on it to last for many years, and it has exceptional storage and protection. The Matein Travel pack is an inexpensive option that functions well enough for most folks. Between the two, the Borealis is to be trusted for use for many years. However, the cost of the Matein pack truly can't be beaten. While it may not be as durable, it boasts a more stylish and sleek design than the Borealis, and for a much lower price. We recommend either bag if you're simply looking for the best value.
The most important job of any laptop backpack is protection. What good is a bag that can't protect a laptop? With this in mind, we weighted this metric the heaviest in our test plan when rating each backpack. We looked at the padding—specifically, the amount and its placement. We considered the laptop compartment size, the securing system that keeps it in place, and laptop location. While most backpacks do a decent job of protecting a laptop, no system we tested was perfect. We are surprised that companies don't emphasize this metric more deeply in engineering and design. Below, we dissect all these important considerations, providing an overview of which laptop backpacks provide the best in protection.
Laptops are fragile and expensive machines that need protection from knocks and blows that could cause damage. The laptop compartment architecture is critical in achieving knock-out protection. Protection in the form of foam pads or sheaths is common, yet the most protective system utilizes a well-padded suspension system or a separate, well-padded compartment. Some of these compartments are built-in, while others that seem to offer the best protection can be taken out of the backpack for effortless utility.
A well-padded suspension system floats the laptop over the bottom of the back to avoid forceful blows from below. The Incase Icon provides ample protection by using a heavily padded foam compartment that sits right on the user's back.
Other options might have suspension systems, like the Patagonia Black Hole 25, but have minimal padding around the laptop itself. To find the best protection, consider options with ample padding, separate compartments, and suspension systems that will keep your computer off the ground. When considering backpacks that are without structure, like the Cotopaxi Tasra 16L, know that adding items (like a jacket) inside of them will inherently make them more protective.
Laptop Compartment Size
The size of the compartment that holds the laptop is critical because if it is too large, the computer will move around, exposing it to potential knocks and friction. Virtually every bag we tested is designed to fit a 15-inch laptop. The Jansport Right Pack has a huge amount of volume that would fit a thicker 15" laptop and its case.
Laptop backpacks are typically designed with some kind of sleeve or slot to accommodate an iPad or tablet. Though some compartments may seem too large for a small laptop, as you fill your pack with the day's essentials, your computer will have less room to shift around. Consider the size of your laptop and choose a pack that will provide the best options. The Peak Design Everyday has a secure laptop slot that holds a computer securely in place.
The securing system works hand-in-hand with the compartment design to hold the laptop in place, ensuring that it doesn't move. Adjustable Velcro straps work best. Other options don't have these securing systems but have a separate pocket for the laptop. Those that are more narrow will limit the range of motion, while wider slots will have your computer shifting around more. Some of the bags have no securing system at all, meaning you must take care to set your bag down upright and gently, or be prepared to pay the possible price.
The last critical feature is the location of the laptop storage compartment within the pack. It's important to find options that place the laptop next to the back and protect from weather and hard landings. The most protective options have separate padded inserts or separate padded pockets like those found in the Incase Icon and Fjallraven Kanken 15".
Bags with suspension systems are also more protective. Essentially, the laptop sits in the main compartment with the sleeve suspended above the ground. The Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 21 has this feature, which adds protection from setting the bag down too hard.
In the end, none of these backpacks do a perfect job of protecting a laptop. Regardless of which bag you use, the best protection is a keen awareness of how you move with your pack on and how you set it down.
Another critical aspect of any backpack is how comfortable it is to carry. After all, if you can't stand to put the bag on your back for more than a few minutes, how effective will it be for carrying things all over town — or the world? To test comfort, we wanted to make sure that we mimicked real-life conditions. We loaded these bags up with our around-town necessities and carried them everywhere we went. We also wore them with much lighter loads to see how each felt without a laptop or much else. Testers and friends of different shapes, sizes, and genders donned each model to determine how they fit and how comfortable each is for everyday wear.
While we looked at the fit of each pack, we did not rate based on which had the best fit — we rated for each pack's comfort features and the ability for all-day wear. Please take fit recommendations with a grain of salt, as they are subjective. The best way to truly test if the fit works for you is to try it on!
The two fundamental features encapsulating comfort are the design of the shoulder straps and the design of the backplate. The amount of padding in the shoulder straps is not nearly as significant as the width of the straps and how far apart they are where they attach to the top of the pack.
When the straps are further apart, they don't generate as much friction, and they don't bite into the neck or armpit. Just as important is how wide the strap material is because this helps disperse the weight of the load. We also found that packs with a sternum strap (versus those without) do a better job at distributing the force of a load. The North Face Borealis is one of our favorites because of its comfortable shoulder straps and hip belts that help evenly distribute the weight of a load.
Equally important, as far as comfort goes, is the construction of the backplate. Some of the backpacks we tested have super stiff trays or plastic sheets to add rigidity and protection to the laptop. While these may do a better job of protecting your computer (a key factor), they are not as comfortable. Packs like the Incase Icon that incorporated soft padding in the backplate were the most comfortable in our tests, both for walking and bike riding. We also appreciate a backplate with good breathability, like The North Face Borealis.
Another key performance metric is comfort when the backpack is completely weighted down. Any student knows what it is like to lug around several textbooks and binders, class to class. Those that distribute weight well, like the Incase Icon, will be more comfortable when weighted.
Those that rest higher on the back won't sit in the small of your back. We appreciated this with smaller backpacks like the Fjallraven Kanken 15" and the Tzowla Travel Pack. The Kanken does lose points in this category because of its narrow straps that are quite close together, unlike the Tzowla.
If comfort is your most important deciding factor, look at The North Face Borealis and Incase Icon. These have wider shoulder straps with a breathable backplate. If you prefer a lightweight backpack, check out the Cotopaxi Tasra 16L or the Fjallraven Kanken 15", but be aware that these are more comfortable when their loads are lighter.
Organization and Storage
What use is a backpack if it can't store everything that you need to carry? We determined that two factors are most important when comparing storage: 1) How much can it hold? 2) How well does it stay organized? While there is certainly a fine balance between a backpack's volume and organization capacity, backpacks come in all shapes and sizes.
Each is designed to carry specific items like important papers, pens, a wallet, passport, sunglasses, iPad, or other electronics. While some are a little too small to fit everything we could imagine carrying (like lunch, water, or a jacket), others allow you to bring the kitchen sink. The top scorers in this metric offered a perfect combination of high volume and organizational capabilities. The Incase Icon is a prime example of a pack that can store a lot and organize it all.
The Jansport Right Pack has 31L of storage capacity and is capable of fitting more gear, books, and gadgets than most of the competition. It is our favorite for school because of its voluminous design. The Peak Design Everyday is almost the same volume at 30L and offers a wide array of pockets for all of the extras — headphones, chargers, pens, gum — all of it. We also love the adaptability of its velcro inserts. The Icon doesn't feature the same volume, but it offers unparalleled organizational capacity. If you prefer to put everything in one place, the Jansport might be for you. But if you like having a home for each gadget or item, the Incase Icon is a better choice.
Top-loading bags like the Patagonia Black Hole and the Fjallraven Kanken 15" are easy to use and allow you to see their internal contents at a glance. While these bags carry enough to keep us happy, they include relatively few features to stay organized. These are great options as the top-loading style adds versatility for what you put in your backpack.
Another important consideration is the number of compartments and types of pockets. Some folks prefer a backpack with an open compartment and fewer pockets, like the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 21, while others prefer many pockets for optimal storage like the Icon.
Ease of Use
While all of the backpacks listed here are designed to carry laptops, we also wanted to compare how well they hold everything else and how well they handle everyday use of other items besides laptops. We specifically addressed different contexts and activities and measured how easy it was to perform these tasks. Is the bag big enough to carry water? Can it carry a jacket, climbing shoes, and harness for a session at the gym, or even a full change of clothes? How about picking up groceries for dinner on your way home from work? Most importantly, we checked to see which allows the easiest access to your laptop when the pack is fully loaded.
Many contenders did well in this metric, as manufacturers seem to put a lot of thought into the architecture of the pack. Perhaps the simplest and easiest packs to use are those with large openings and fewer pockets, like the Jansport Right Pack, Patagonia Black Hole, and Fjallraven Kanken 15". The spacious open compartment allows you to put all items into one place to access them with ease. Simplified storage makes it easier to load up as well.
Backpacks with simple one-zipper access, like the Jansport Right Pack and Tzowla Travel, among others, make getting at things simple. While we appreciate the protection of roll-top designs or multiple zippers, these backpacks take longer to get into and can be a pain when accessing items.
Separate compartments for the laptop allow access without having to pull everything else out of the bag. This is especially useful for scenarios like removing your laptop when going through airport security. Many laptop backpacks, like the Matein Travel, Peak Design Everyday, and The North Face Borealis, adopt this feature. The Matein also has zippers that are super smooth and easy to open.
The Incase Icon has a zippered compartment for the laptop and an additional separate padded compartment for your tablet. This padded tablet compartment adds protection and makes its accessibility super simple, especially when you're in a meeting and need to access your electronics, notebooks, and portfolio quickly.
Other Cool Features
Those that offer a briefcase carry option like the Cotopaxi Tasra 16L open up like a storybook, allowing you to see everything that is in your backpack. While this takes a little more time to organize, we appreciate this organizational property.
We love when backpacks include a water bottle holder. However, we also learned that many manufacturers ignored how easily (or difficult) a bottle fits when the bag is stuffed full. The pack with the best water bottle holder is The North Face Borealis, followed closely by the Peak Design Everyday. The Borealis's holders are mesh-based and stretchy, with lots of storage capacity to fit larger-diameter water bottles and thinner canisters alike. The Everyday's pockets are made of the same material as the main pack but with added stretch.
We also love backpacks with an attachment for bike helmets and the like. Bags with bungee systems like The North Face Borealis easily go from the office to the trail.
While we didn't expect any of these bags to be completely waterproof, it is nice to know that if you get caught out in a rainstorm, all of your precious and expensive gadgets will not end up water damaged. For that reason, we tested these bags for water resistance. We put each backpack under a shower for five minutes to see if any water leakage occurred. If you live in a wet climate, this metric is important, but it may not be a top priority if you reside in a hot and dry area.
The test results were predictably all over the board. We noticed that two things, in particular, made for an exceptionally water-resistant bag: a durable water-resistant (DWR) coating and covered zippers. DWR coatings are applied to the fabric of a bag and help it shed water upon contact, rather than absorb water. It's worth noting that over time and with wear, these DWR coatings will break down and wear off and require reapplication if the original amount of water resistance is to be maintained. Zipper quality is important, as it is the main point of water entry into a backpack.
The best in water resistance goes to the Mystery Ranch Urban Assault 21 and Patagonia Black Hole. The Black Hole has much more water-resistant, durable fabrics and zippers, offering an exceptional level of water resistance through pack construction alone. The Mystery Ranch is outfitted with thick fabrics that help avoid water penetration with completely waterproof zippers. Both are great options if you seek a laptop backpack that will do well in the rain. A few options like the Peak Design Everyday and the Matein Travel don't have exceptional water beading; however, the material is thick enough that precipitation stays out of the pack.
It's important to note that none of the laptop backpacks tested are waterproof. Some offer more water resistance than others, but none completely protect against moisture and rain. If you want a little more security, consider buying a small rain pack cover if your backpack doesn't already come with one.
"Style" is a subjective term. We rated each bag according to how well it meshes with the look of today. Essentially, this metric rates how well each pack fits in with the rest of your attire, lifestyle, and your overall vibe. You might want to ignore this rating entirely and make the call for yourself. That said, we took the time to get feedback from friends, family, strangers, and co-workers to evaluate this metric.
While there are many stylish options out there, the most colorful is the Cotopaxi Tasra 16L. While it's not a favorite for all, we love its unique and vocal colors that shout "one of a kind" from the tops of the mountains. Every single one of these packs is 100% unique in its color palette. The Peak Design Everyday just looks professional. It has a sleek aesthetic that fits in well in a casual office setting.
The Fjallraven Kanken 15" is another super popular and stylish option. Its boxy style is petite, with many color offerings for many different tastes. If you're looking for a cute school bag or one that'll do well for travel, this is a great consideration. The Herschel Heritage earns a shoutout in this metric as well for its modern look.
If super bright and loud isn't your thing, and you seek a more formal and sleek style, be sure to check out the Incase Icon or Tzowla Travel instead. These feature a more urban aesthetic that'll do well both in the office and at school. Despite our recommendations, be sure to take a look at the pictures and decide which you think is the snazziest of them all.
Shopping for a laptop backpack is a fun adventure. It's a great piece of gear that will protect your beloved laptop while you tool around town. While on the hunt, make sure to consider what factors are the most important for you. Whether it's style, comfort, fit, or protection, we've got great recommendations to help you find one that'll suit you best.
Katherine Elliott, Amber King, and Ben Applebaum-Bauch
Looking for your next laptop backpack? We explore some key...
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