To find the best bags for our review, we started with an initial list of over 60 popular products. After much deliberation and debate, we chose our top 13, represented in this review. These bags were singled out based on brand reputation, previous reviewer experiences, and a complex amalgamation of factors that included everything from intricate spreadsheets to simple personal likes and dislikes based on the common user. We then purchased these bags from ordinary online retailers (we don't want any special treatment or hookups) and ran them through a series of both objective and subjective tests. Ultimately, we rated each bag for its performance across the six categories we selected as most relevant to messenger bags: Comfort, Packing & Organization, Electronics, Ease of Use, Wear & Tear, and Volume-to-Weight Ratio.
To assess this relatively subjective category, we commuted on foot, bike, ferry, bus, and car, noting any issues that developed over the short- and long-term. We tried to spend as much time in as many different scenarios as possible to get a full picture of the limits, strengths, and weaknesses of each model. Padding, adaptability, ergonomics, and versatility are all factors that play into this metric and further discussed.
Packing & Organization
We established a typical "test load" for this metric, which we tried out with each bag. As we packed and unpacked, we recorded how much of the load each model could carry, and if the bag was still comfortable when it was overstuffed and heavy. We also paid attention to pockets and zippers. With some bags, it's easy and natural to find a place for everything, no matter how big, small, or oddly-shaped. With others, even those with a lot of pockets or features, things feel awkward and unintuitive. Packing and unpacking a bag multiple times a day reveals very quickly if it's a good fit for your lifestyle.
This is a critical category for a lot of people because so much of our lives nowadays — both personally and professionally — are dependent on gadgets and gizmos. We noted how optimally a laptop, tablet, phone, and various cords could be stashed and organized in each bag and how well our electronics were padded and secured. This included paying attention to aspects such as water resistance and durability.
Ease of Use
We decided how easy each bag was to use by packing, unpacking, and repacking each one over and over again. We paid attention to the placement of pockets, zipper functionality, the intuitiveness (or not) of the internal layout, the ease (or lack thereof) of strap adjustments, the fluidity of getting the bag on and off our bodies, and many other small subtleties along the way. While much of this assessment will depend on what you plan to carry and by what means you commute, we offer a lot of useful information in each review to help guide your purchase.
Wear & Tear
We beat up these bags on multiple laps to the grocery store, multiple bike rides, crowded flights, and long dusty road trips — just to name a few things. We braved both rain and sun, urban jungles and trails, to find the strengths and weaknesses of each contender. We even sprayed them down with a garden hose to push the limits of potential weather resistance.
To gather data for this metric, we weighed each bag when empty, then stuffed them with ziplock bags full of water or soft non-compressible items matching the volume each manufacturer claimed the bag should fit. Just because something says it will hold 10 liters doesn't mean it can do it as well or as easily as another bag of the same size. From there, we took measured volume and divided it by the measured weight to determine a number that represents how many ounces of bag you have to carry per liter of capacity. This number is quite useful if you want to maximize available space while keeping your carrying vessel as light as possible.