One of the major challenges of commuting to work by bike is that you need a reliable way to get all of your stuff between your home and office as well. Thankfully, there are a huge variety of options for carrying gear on a bike.
Quick Answer: Best Commuter Backpacks For Cyclists
For many commuters, messenger bags and backpacks are at the forefront of those choices. Both bags and backpacks are extremely versatile, relatively inexpensive, and able to hold a surprisingly large amount of stuff. However, choosing the best commuter backpacks can be overwhelming since there are so many options marketed specifically for bike commuting.
In this article, we’ll cover the important things to consider when choosing the best bags and backpacks for bike commuting and highlight 13 of the best bike commuter backpacks available today.
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Timbuk2 Spire Backpack
This stylish backpack from Timbuk2 uses a roll-top design and a waterproof nylon construction to keep your gear dry. The roll-top is easy to close and open thanks to the simple metal hook-and-loop closure on the outside of the bag, which can be quickly cinched down or loosened according to how much stuff is in your pack.
The pack’s organization is designed for people who prefer a single large front pocket. While there is a padded laptop sleeve, it is inside this main compartment and only fits laptops up to 15 inches. There is a zippered closure on the front of the pack, although the compartment space is big enough only for a phone or wallet. The remainder of the pack’s front has a Velcro panel and some gear loops, although these are unlikely to be helpful to the majority of commuters.
A major advantage to this pack is the ventilated mesh back panel, which stays surprisingly breathable during the hot summer months thanks to the ventilation channel down the center of the panel. While the straps are padded enough for moderate pack weights, there is only a sternum strap and no hip belt so the backpack can get uncomfortable when it is packed with heavy books or other heavy items.
This high-quality backpack from Thule incorporates many design features targeted to make the commute to work as comfortable as possible.
First, in contrast to many other cycling backpacks, the laptop sleeve is on the front of the backpack rather than directly against the rider’s back. This improves the pack’s ability to contour to the shape of your back and improves the breath-ability of the paneling during hot rides. Second, the paneling itself is a foam material rather than a mesh. This gives the backpack more structure against your back and prevents it from sliding down when weighted. Finally, the backpack straps are relatively wide and feature a highly adjustable sternum strap to keep the bag from pulling you back away from the handlebars.
The pack also offers some nice features for organization. While the main compartment is relatively cavernous, there is a dedicated laptop sleeve for computers up to 15 inches. Also, there are two mesh water bottle pockets and a zippered pocket in front of the laptop sleeve – although this pocket can be so tight as to be somewhat useless. The backpack also hides a helmet attachment, which can be used to store your helmet on the outside of the pack when you’re not riding.
Although the pack is waterproof by design, it is especially ideal for rainy conditions thanks to the included rain fly. The fly is brightly colored to keep you safe in dark, overcast conditions and can be stashed away inside the pack when the sun returns.
Sak Gear Backsak Backpack
If you live in a rainy area, it’s hard to beat the waterproofing of this backpack from Sak Gear. In effect, the backpack is a modified pannier bag and features a similar heavy-duty 500-denier PVC construction. Unlike nylon and other fabrics that are designed to keep water out but will eventually soak through, this PVC material will never allow water to penetrate.
The backpack features a unique closure system that offers two ways to keep it waterproof. First, the top can be adjusted like a roll-top bag, with a buckle system that then serves as a carry handle. Second, the top can be pushed down and cinched with buckles to straps on the sides to keep the top from flopping around while you’re riding. Both methods are easy, although chances are you’ll pick one and stick to it rather than utilize the versatility.
The outside of the pack doesn’t reveal much organizational capacity – there is just one splash-proof zippered pocket for small items like keys and papers. However, the inside of the pack is thoroughly divided so that you can have separate spaces for wet and dry gear, as well as small zippered and mesh pockets to hold small valuables from being lost in the large interior space.
Note that while this bag is ideal in the rain, it can suffer in hot, sunny weather. The back panel is not very breathable, in part because of the heavy PVC fabric behind it. Also, the shoulder straps, while mesh, can hold in heat.
Thule Subterra 25L Daypack
This 25-liter capacity backpack from Thule is ideal for the organized cyclists who want to keep all of the different items in their pack perfectly sorted. The pack features a wide array of pockets both inside and outside the pack and uses a unique side zipper that fully opens the front of the pack to reveal the interior and keep all of the pockets within reach.
The pockets start on the outside, with an easily accessible Velcro-closure panel pocket for storing a variety of items. There is also a reinforced shell pocket, which is ideal for delicate items like sunglasses that you don’t want to crush when you put the pack down accidentally. On the inside, there is a 15-inch padded laptop sleeve that sits against the rider’s back as well as numerous small mesh zippered pockets for storing a variety of small items. All of these compartments do take away from the space of the main compartment, but there is still plenty of area for a set of folded clothes or shoes.
Where this backpack does fall short is in waterproofing. While the pack made from high-denier nylon, it cannot stand up to more than a very light rain without soaking through. It’s also worth noting that the top of the pack can allow splashes to get inside the main compartment since it is a fold-down flap rather than a roll-top closure.
Burton Tinder Backpack
This extremely stylish backpack from Burton is designed to make a statement as well as comfortably hold moderate loads in good weather. The pack is beautifully designed, with a flap closure that is double-strapped down to the front of the bag to keep it tight. The exterior of the pack is made from heavy-duty nylon, but Burton finished it nicely to give it a clean aesthetic and a better feel than the nylon in other packs.
Unfortunately, that exterior aesthetic means that there is little in the way of the external organization – this backpack has no external pockets or water bottle holders. Also, the nylon is water-resistant and will hold up for a short commute in the rain, but can soak through with longer exposure to water.
The inside of the pack is closed with a drawstring underneath the flap, which allows the backpack to be overstuffed with clothes or shoes. There are laptop and tablet sleeves – up to 16.5 inches and 10 inches, respectively, although neither has much padding to protect your devices. The only other organizational compartment inside the pack is a small mesh zippered pocket near the top of the backpack.
The pack is comfortable for moderate loads thanks to the padded shoulder straps, sternum strap, and back panel. However, there is no hip belt for distributing larger weights, and the back panel is not well ventilated for hot rides.
Timbuk2 Rogue Laptop Backpack
This small backpack from Timbuk2 is ideal for commuters who only need their small laptop and a few other items for their day. The backpack has an oddly rectangular shape but is comfortable thanks to the wide shoulder straps and ventilated mesh back panel. A carry handle on the top of the backpack is a nice touch for riders who want an additional option for transporting their pack off the bike.
The backpack is constructed from polyvinyl, which is highly waterproof even in pouring rain. However, Timbuk2 decided to use a flat panel that is cinched down with buckles rather than a roll-top closure, so be wary of water getting into the main compartment when it is raining hard.
The exterior of the backpack features two stretchy water bottle holders as well as a single zippered pocket, although the latter competes with items inside the pack for space. The front panel of the backpack is also covered in daisy-chain webbing and offers a large Velcro strip on the outside of the flap closure, although these may be difficult for many riders to utilize effectively.
The interior of the pack does not have much in the way of the organization except for a 15-inch laptop sleeve and some additional divider sleeves. Unfortunately, there are no zippered pockets on the inside of the backpack to hold valuables.
Sweetbriar Classic Messenger Bag
This messenger bag is stylish and about as simple as it gets, which makes it perfect for urban commuters with short rides which are looking to make a style statement. The shoulder bag is available in a variety of colors and is made entirely of cotton canvas, which is much more comfortable against the skin and looks much more pleasing to the eye than nylon. However, that does mean the bag isn’t water resistant at all, so you’ll want to leave it at home if there’s rain in the forecast.
The messenger bag doesn’t have any structural support but remains comfortable even if it only has a laptop or a selection of soft items, like clothes and shoes, inside. The flap top is sealed closed with a Velcro strap, while the shoulder strap is well padded and easily adjustable with standard metal buckles. While there is no exterior zipper pocket as on other messenger bags, there are two holders for your water bottles – however, note that they are not stretchable so you’ll need to find water bottles that fit perfectly.
The inside of this shoulder bag features a single cavernous space with very easy access, which is ideal if you have a lot of stuff to carry and still prefer a messenger bag. There is a small zipper pocket for valuables, but expect to put your laptop in a protective case as there is no divider padding your computer otherwise.
Ibagbar Water Resistant Messenger Bag
This messenger bag is designed to hold up to the elements thanks to a heavy-duty, water-resistant Oxford fabric construction. You wouldn’t know the bag is so effectively waterproof just from looking at it, though – the exterior design is highly stylish and features sharp metal buckles to button down the flap.
Another great feature of this messenger bag is that it features a total of nine different compartments. The first is a zippered pocket on the outside of the closure flap, which is perfect for quick access to small essentials. There’s also a small zippered pocket on the back of the bag for a phone, although the pocket is nicely padded so it won’t irritate your back while riding. A bottle pocket on the outside can hold a small water bottle, while a button-closed pocket underneath the flap is ideal for a small tablet or a notebook. Inside, there is a padded laptop sleeve large enough to hold a 13-inch laptop, as well as another divider for organizing your stuff.
The shoulder strap on this messenger bag is easily adjustable, although the shoulder pad is not as thick as on other bags so you may want to limit this bag to shorter rides. Also, the bag can be quite warm in hot summer weather since there is no ventilating material on the rear of the bag.
SWISSGEAR 1900 ScanSmart
This laptop backpack from SWISSGEAR is large enough to hold 17 inch laptops safely while you ride. The everyday carry bag offers a padded laptop pocket that keeps your computer against your back to prevent vibrations and keep you comfortable. Access to the laptop pocket is through a separate zipper from the front pocket, making it easy to stay organized.
This backpack has a number of features that make it one of the best bike commuter backpack models. The padded shoulder straps are contoured and feature a built-in suspension to keep weight off your shoulders. The back panel features airflow ventilation technology to keep you cool during summer rides. We also like the grab handle on top of the bag.
This backpack is made with durable, weather-resistant polyester. It can stand up to heavy use, even if you use this as a travel backpack as well as for commuting.
AmazonBasics Laptop Backpack
This inexpensive backpack from Amazon.com is perfect for commuters who want something on a budget. The large laptop compartment at the back of the backpack is big enough for a 17 inch laptop.
The backpack is well designed, with four different compartments to help you stay organized. The one thing we didn't love is that since the space is split up into so many compartments, it can be hard to carry clothes or other bulky items. However, each compartment is filled with little organizers to help you keep track of smaller items like pens and notepads. It also has side pockets to hold a water bottle or umbrella.
This backpack doesn't offer a padded back panel or ventilation. As a result, it can be uncomfortable if you have longer commute. We recommend this backpack most for the occasional short ride to work.
Matein Travel Laptop Backpack
This travel backpack from Matein brings a little bit of high tech to your commute. The backpack has a built-in battery and USB outlet that you can use to charge your smartphone or other devices. It's a great option if you find that your phone is running out of juice by the end of the workday.
This laptop bag is built to hold a 15 inch laptop in the padded rear compartment. The front compartment is big enough to fit a change of clothes, snacks, and anything else you might need for a day at the office. The backpack does have side pockets, but they're not big enough to hold a standard water bottle if the bag is filled to capacity.
The backpack is made from durable, water resistant polyester, although you might want to purchase a separate rain cover if you live in an especially wet area. The multi-panel back offers excellent airflow on how days. Plus, there's a grab strap on the top of the bag for when you get off the bike.
This massive backpack has a capacity of 45 liters and is easily large enough to carry everything you could conceivable need for a day at work. It swallows a change of clothes, a 17 inch laptop, books, electronics, and more, and still has space left over. The U-shaped zipper over the front compartment extends almost to the base of the backpack, ensuring that you have easy access to everything inside.
Despite being cavernous, this commuter backpack is surprisingly easy to organize. There are several small zippered pockets at the front of the backpack, one of which has a variety of mesh netting inside to hold small electronics and keys. You can also quickly charge your phone or other devices thanks to the USB charging port on the outside of the bag (you need to connect your own battery on the inside of the backpack).
The only complaint that we have about this backpack for commuting is that since it's so large, it can feel a little bit unwieldy while you're riding. Unfortunately, it doesn't include a hip or sternum straps to help pull the backpack closer to your body. We also didn't like that the side pockets are too small to hold a standard water bottle.
Osprey Daylite Plus
If you typically commute to work in warm weather, take a look at this compact backpack from Osprey. The back panel is made entirely of mesh and has additional ventilation pockets for airflow. It's also relatively small, so it doesn't cover up your entire back and trap heat like some other commuter backpacks do.
Keep in mind that this backpack has a capacity of only 20 liters, and it doesn't include a dedicated laptop compartment. In fact, you'll have a tough time fitting a 15 inch laptop inside. It's best if you typically commute with just a tablet, a change of clothes, and food, without carrying any extras you don't need.
This backpack comes in a wide variety of colors, which gives you a chance to show off your style. It's also made with 210D ripstop nylon, which is virtually indestructible. You can expect to have this backpack for life.
Backpacks vs. Panniers
Before diving into backpacks and messenger bags, it’s important to consider whether these are a better option for you than panniers – there are advantages, and disadvantages to both carry systems.
Panniers are ideal because they take the weight off of your body and put it on the bike frame.
For many riders, especially those with back problems, this can make a huge difference in the comfort of the bike commute. Panniers are particularly helpful for longer commutes when the strain of hunching over the handlebars with a bag or backpack can wear on your back muscles.
However, panniers do have some drawbacks. By putting the weight of your gear over the rear wheel, they can negatively affect your handling as well as your bike’s acceleration and braking. Since backpacks put the added weight directly over the seat, they won’t have nearly the same effect on bike handling.
Also, pannier bags require a rear rack to fit onto the bike – which makes it very difficult to switch between bikes if you have multiple rides you take to work depending on the season or the weather.
Backpacks are more versatile, following the rider rather than the bike.
Backpacks are also designed to be carried off the bike, which can be an advantage for multi-stage commutes or if you have a long walk to your office from where you park your bike.
What are You Carrying?
Figuring out what gear and other items you’ll frequently be carrying between your home and office are one of the most important considerations when choosing the best commuting backpack for you. In fact, sorting bags by capacity is a good place to start your search for the best office backpack.
One of the most common items that bike commuters carry is a laptop. As a result, many of the best commuter backpacks – but not all – feature a dedicated, padded laptop sleeve that protects your computer from scratches and bumps. If you have a laptop with a large screen, ensure that the laptop sleeve in the bag you choose is wide enough and tall enough to fit your laptop.
Another common thing for bike commuters to carry is a set of formal work clothes to change into once you reach the office. If this is something you expect to need frequently, be sure to look for a bag with a large main compartment that can hold your folded clothes without crumpling and wrinkling them. If you need to change between cycling and work shoes as well, make sure there is plenty of room to slide your shoes into that main compartment as well.
On the other hand, if you don’t have much with you at all – you leave your computer at work and don’t need to change – you might be able to get away with a small and lightweight bag that has just enough space for your wallet, keys, and a sack lunch.
Read our Detailed Guide to Pick the Best Bike for Commuting here.
Comfort is King
Keep in mind that no matter what type of bag you get, you’re only going to want to use it if it’s comfortable to ride with. That doesn’t always mean opting for the most heavily padded backpack or messenger bag – more padding can mean more heat build-up during the hot summer months.
Also, pay particular attention to the straps. If you are carrying a heavy load, a waist strap on a backpack will help distribute the weight onto your hips, while a sternum strap can prevent your backpack from leaning you backward. For a messenger bag, make sure that the carry strap has enough padding to keep your neck and shoulder comfortable as your bag gets heavy.
Are you the type of person who prefers to throw all your stuff together into a single large compartment, or do you need tons of small pockets and compartments to separate your items?
There are backpacks available to cater to both types of people, so really consider how you like to keep organized when choosing a design. Also, note that more pockets aren’t always better – they can add weight to the bag, and outside pockets are not always waterproof.
If the rain doesn't stop you from riding to work, you need to make sure that your stuff will stay dry inside your pack. Many commuter-specific backpack designs are intended to be fully waterproof, while some have a waterproof main compartment with outer pockets that are only water resistant or that will soak easily.
If you tend to take the car when it gets wet outside, then you may not need to worry about waterproofing at all.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the weight of the bag or backpack matter?
The weight of your bag or backpack add to the overall weight that you’ll be carrying on your back, so it can be worth considering – especially if you have suffered from back pain while riding in the past. In general, heavier bags are made from heavier, more durable materials or offer more pockets or dividers. However, having all that organization does you no good if the bag is causing you pain because of its weight.
Should I opt for a roll-top or a flap closure?
Whether you prefer a roll-top or a flap closure largely comes down to personal preference, although it can have an impact on the water proofness of your bag. Roll-top closures are typically quite waterproof since the twisting of the material makes it nearly impossible for water to leak into the main compartment. Flap closures, on the other hand, may be more or less effective at keeping water out – waterproof bags with flap closures often have a secondary protection measure, like a drawstring closure inside. If you do opt for a flap closure, consider purchasing a rain cover for especially wet days.
Are messenger bags or backpacks better for commuting?
Whether you prefer a messenger bag or backpack largely comes down to your preference. Some messenger bags offer space for larger laptops, although these days it’s also possible to find backpacks that can hold large laptops, so this is not a huge factor anymore. Messenger bags may be more comfortable for short commutes than for long commutes since they put all of the bag’s weight on one shoulder, whereas a backpack distributes weight over both shoulders. Also, backpacks may be less likely to shift around on bumpy roads than a messenger bag.
Having the best bike backpack or the best commuter bag can make a big difference in whether you’re able to get everything you need from your home to work and back – and to accomplish that task comfortably in any weather.
We think the best backpack for bike commuting on the market today is the Timbuk2 Spire backpack. This commuter backpack features a roll top closure that's easy to open and close and cinches down if you don't have much to carry. On top of that, the large compartment is perfect if you want to carry bulky items like clothes and food, and it even features a laptop sleeve.
We also liked that this backpack has a ventilated back panel, which keeps you cool even during summer commutes. While we found ourselves wishing for hip and sternum straps, the lack of these straps wasn't a huge deal for most rides. On the whole, we think this is one of the best bags for commuting to work.