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Backpack vs messenger bag: Which is the best daily carrying companion?

A backpack and a messenger bag are placed next to each other in a field

The perfect bag for everyday use needs to be both practical and comfortable. We consider the options

A decent bag is a must for commuting around town, offering a safe and secure vessel in which to transport any belongings from A to B. And for everyday duties, backpacks and messenger bags are two of the most common options; but given their obvious differences, you might be left wondering which one will best suit your lifestyle.

Overall, both backpacks and messenger bags do the same job, but they each have their own benefits and drawbacks. Which one is the right choice for you will largely come down to how you intend to use it, the style you find most comfortable and how you like your bags to look.

In this guide, we focus on the key differences between backpacks and messenger bags, considering aspects including comfort, aesthetics and practical details to help you make the best choice for your needs. Here’s what you need to know before buying.

Backpack vs messenger bag: Which one should you buy?

Backpack vs messenger bag: Comfort

Winner: Backpack

At risk of stating the obvious, backpacks feature two shoulder straps, while messenger bags have a single strap and are designed to be worn across the body. This fundamental difference affects how the bag’s load is distributed on your body, and has a knock-on effect on comfort and posture.

Since the double-strap design of the backpack distributes weight more evenly, it’s usually the more comfortable option of the two. This is particularly so when carrying a heavy load; even distribution of weight is less likely to lead to poor posture. Put it this way, there’s good reason that those embarking on multi-day mountaineering expeditions elect to carry their gear in rucksacks, not satchels.

A woman wearing a backpack and knit hat hikes in a forest

In contrast, a messenger bag puts all of the weight on one shoulder, which could become uncomfortable very quickly when carrying anything remotely heavy.

View backpacks at Troubadour

Backpack vs messenger bag: Capacity

Winner: Backpack

For the most part, backpacks offer more generous capacity than messenger bags. Messengers are slim and streamlined, which is great from an aesthetic standpoint, but it also means they may not cope as well with being stuffed full of sweaty gym gear from post-office workouts, for example. This is something to consider if you’re likely to be transporting anything more cumbersome than a few books, documents, a laptop and your lunch.

View backpacks at Tropicfeel

Backpack vs messenger bag: Aesthetics

Winner: Messenger bag

Of course, style comes down to personal preference; but we would argue that messenger bags tend to look smarter than backpacks. Yes, there are plenty of premium backpacks out there that don’t look completely out of place when worn with office attire, but there’s something about the slim, sleek design of a messenger bag that just lends itself better to being worn with suits and shirts, for example.

A man is checking his phone while walking in an airport wearing a messenger bag

Backpacks, on the other hand, can look a little “casual” with smart clothes. This might not be as much of a concern if you spend most of your time in jeans and a t-shirt, but if you’re regularly suited and booted, the slightly more professional look of a messenger might be a better fit.

View messenger bags at Eastpak

Backpack vs messenger bag: Practicality

Winner: Draw

Both backpacks and messenger bags each have their own unique benefits and drawbacks when it comes to practicality and ease of use. Which one is most suitable for your needs will require assessment of your lifestyle and how exactly you intend to use your bag.

Backpacks are great for darting through busy city streets and narrow spaces, and excellent for distributing weight effectively; but they can become a hindrance in crowded areas – public transport, for example – and they’re more hassle than a messenger to get on and off quickly.

In contrast, while messenger bags can flap around and get in the way if you’re in a rush, they’re easy to sling over the shoulder quickly and can be swung around for quick access to their contents. In addition, they’re less susceptible to being infiltrated by opportunistic pickpockets and won’t leave you with a sweaty back after a hot commute.

View the best backpacks you can buy

Backpack vs messenger bag: Verdict

So, which bag is best overall? Honestly, both are great options for different reasons, and can come out on top depending on their use scenario. If we had to pick, then we’d say that the backpack has the edge, since it offers greater versatility: it’s great for weekend duties, and you can also take it to the office without raising any eyebrows.

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