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A high-quality, professional-looking backpack can be invaluable if you drive to the office, take public transportation, or occasionally travel for work. "You want it to look professional, so a sleek design in a neutral color will work in any situation," says personal stylist Ginger Burr of Total Image Consultants.
We spoke with Burr and Cassandra Sethi of Next Level Wardrobe for buying considerations and researched the most comfortable, durable, and functional designs for the workplace. Our top pick is the Rains Backpack, a fully waterproof carrier with a classy, minimalist silhouette.
Here are the best backpacks for work.
Best Overall: Rains Backpack
Sleek and sophisticated
Great color selection
No water bottle sleeve
If we could only recommend one backpack for professional use, we'd have to go with Rains Backpack, which is waterproof, stylish, and spacious without being bulky. This slim and sleek carrier measures 11.8 inches wide by 4.7 inches deep by 18.9 inches tall and has a 13-liter capacity—plenty of room for a laptop and daily essentials.
It's got one main compartment and a laptop sleeve that fits computers or tablets up to 15 inches (and potentially larger), plus one internal and one external zipper pocket. This satchel doesn't have a water bottle sleeve, but there's enough room to fit one in the main compartment.
Like most Rains products, it's waterproof with a water column pressure of 8,000 millimeters, which means the thermoplastic-coated fabric could be submerged in 8 millimeters of liquid before anything seeps through. The urban-Scandinavian design features unisex sophistication and is available in several versatile hues ranging from black to taupe to deep olive. We wish it were a little more affordable, but this is a quality option for work—and it comes with a two-year warranty.
Best Budget: Lovevook Laptop Backpack with USB Port
Over 10 color options
Power bank not included
If you're looking for a more wallet-friendly option for your commute, consider the Lovevook Laptop Backpack. This roomy bag comes in 14-inch, 15.6-inch, and 17-inch variations and has a capacity ranging from 18 liters to 27 liters. While it's not specifically weather-treated, its nylon material offers some inherent moisture resistance.
This carrier has a padded sleeve for laptops up to 17 inches and a main compartment, plus multiple zipper pockets, two side pouches for water bottles or umbrellas, and several smaller pockets for objects like pens and keys. In total, you have 18 pockets to work with for all your items. This backpack also has a media organizer with a designated phone pocket and a USB port for convenient charging on the go—but you have to supply the power bank.
Best Splurge: Monos Metro Backpack
Clamshell main compartment
Not fully waterproof
Lacks water bottle pockets
If it's within your budget, the Monos Metro Backpack might be a worthwhile investment as your professional everyday bag. This modern, minimalist backpack comes in nylon and fully vegan leather options and features vegan leather accents. While not waterproof, its water-repellent and scratch-resistant nylon exterior offers protection from rainfall and daily wear, and an interior privacy pocket does provide waterproofing for items you'd like to protect.
Measuring 11.4 inches long by 6.6 inches deep by 15.9 inches tall, this carrier has an 18-liter capacity for a decently roomy but streamlined look. It's got a clamshell-style main compartment that opens entirely and lays flat like a suitcase, a 15-inch laptop sleeve, multiple internal pockets, and a snap-on front pouch. The slim profile doesn't come with dedicated water bottle pockets. However, the Metro also has a trolley sleeve on the back, making it easy to slide onto the handle of a suitcase when traveling.
Best Convertible: Honest Urban Convertible Tote Backpack
Only one color
No laptop sleeve
Personal stylist Ginger Burr recommends convertible designs for work, like the Honest Urban Convertible Tote Backpack. It transitions from a backpack to a shoulder bag to a crossbody tote, offering versatility and convenience for professionals. The shoulder straps detach, and you can easily adjust the handles depending on the occasion or look you're going for.
This satchel is made of vegan leather and has a wipeable polyester lining. We wish it came in more colors, but the black hue is endlessly chic and versatile. And while there's no designated laptop sleeve, you have plenty of room to fit your device, plus there are seven other pockets for organizing other personal items.
Best for Commuting: Everlane ReNew Transit Backpack
Prone to wrinkling
If you take public transportation to work or travel often, Everlane's ReNew Transit Backpack might be your best bet. The generously sized bag measures 12 inches long by 7.25 inches deep by 17.5 inches tall and boasts a generous 27-liter volume capacity. It's got a designated 15-inch laptop pocket on the front flap, making it easy to remove when going through TSA at the airport. The trolley strap on the back is another nice feature for travel, allowing you to slide the bag onto your rolling suitcase easily.
This pack has several other pockets and pouches, including internal and external water bottle sleeves and two zipper pouches. The recycled polyester material may wrinkle when it's not full of your belongings, but we appreciate that it's water-resistant and sustainable.
Best for Travel: July Carry All Backpack
Functional and sophisticated
Only three color options
For frequent flyers, we recommend the July Carry All. Considering its low-profile, streamlined silhouette, this backpack has a generous 20-liter capacity. It's got a roomy main compartment as well as a 16-inch padded laptop sleeve, dividers for documents and smaller devices, a zippered water bottle pouch, and five other pockets throughout. A bonus for traveling is the QuickPass hidden pocket at the top of the bag. It uses a magnetic fastener and offers safe storage and quick access to items like passports.
Padded shoulder straps make the Carry All comfortable on your back, and you can slide it onto your suitcase with the trolley sleeve for easy rolling. This handsome backpack is made of heavy-duty twill nylon and features a thermoplastic water-resistant coating. The price is undoubtedly steep, but you can count on long-lasting quality. Plus, July backs it with a five-year warranty.
Best Water-Resistant: Hedgren Aven Water Repellent Backpack
No laptop sleeve
"For those that live in colder weather locations, investing in a backpack that has a water-repellent material will be important," says professional stylist Cassandra Sethi. If you need a carrying solution that withstands wet conditions, consider the Aven, a utilitarian satchel with a sophisticated appeal. This recycled plastic backpack is polyester-lined and Oeko-Tex certified, ensuring it's free of potentially harmful substances.
This durable option measures 14 inches long by 6 inches deep by 15 inches tall and offers 20.6 liters of space for your work gear. While it doesn't have a laptop sleeve, there's plenty of room to stash your device in the spacious main compartment. The Aven also offers plenty of small-item storage, with front and back zipper pockets, bottle pouches on each side, multiple interior pockets, and a key clip. While this bag requires a bit of an investment for its durability and style, it comes with two-year warranty protection.
Most Versatile: Dagne Dover Dakota Neoprene Backpack
Trolley sleeve and dust bag
When it comes to work bags, versatility is key. "I've seen my clients have a lot of success with a medium-sized backpack like this one from Dagne Dover," says Sethi. "It has enough space to carry a laptop, water bottle, and any other smaller items you need." Other notable features include a shoe bag, a trolley sleeve, ample pockets, and a 100 percent vegan design.
The medium is 11.5 inches long by 5 inches wide by 17 inches tall with a 16-liter capacity that fits most 13-inch laptops, but this bag also comes in a small size (8 liters) and a larger option (20 liters). We wish the price were a bit more accessible. Still, this modern neoprene carrier checks all the boxes: a multifunctional design, a weather-ready exterior, a professional appearance, and a cool factor to boot.
Best Sporty: Herschel Supply Co. Survey II Backpack
If you bike to the office or work somewhere with a more casual dress code, consider a sportier design. We're particularly fond of the Herschel Survey II Backpack. Made of thermoplastic-coated recycled polyester, it's water-resistant and easy to wipe clean. The pared-down profile and matte finish offer a refined yet practical appeal.
This pack measures 11.5 inches long by 5.5 inches deep by 16.25 inches tall and has a 17.5-liter capacity. While the pocket options aren't as generous as some backpacks, under the dual-buckled front flap are a spacious main compartment, a 16-inch laptop sleeve, a hidden storage sleeve, a mesh pouch, and a key clip. Plus, you get two water bottle pockets on each side. The Survey II also has a reinforced base, allowing it to sit upright on flat surfaces. It's not inexpensive, but the lifetime warranty can give you peace of mind about your purchase.
What to Look For in a Backpack for Work
According to Burr, your choice of backpack will depend partially on your particular line of work. "If you're in a creative field, you could play with dramatic colors or interesting hardware," she says.
For more versatility, Burr suggests something that can convert from a backpack into a shoulder bag and/or tote. Sethi recommends a functional design that also looks put together.
First and foremost, Sethi says, "It needs to have enough space for all your belongings." To figure out what size you need, she and Burr suggest thinking about what you plan to put in your backpack, whether it's a laptop, a tablet, a notebook, cords, files, or a packed lunch. And from a stylist's standpoint, Burr recommends choosing "one that balances nicely with your height and build."
As with any item you use or wear every day (or at least five days a week), durability is key. Ideally, your work backpack will be water-resistant, if not entirely waterproof. Even if you don't live in a particularly rainy climate, this fabric treatment makes it easier to wipe clean, so you won't have to worry about setting your pack down on the ground or spilling something on it.
Other than that, a sturdy design is crucial. Top features include reinforced seams, reliable zippers, tear-resistant straps, and heavy-duty materials. That said, you can expect to pay a bit of a premium for a more durable design.
What's the best way to organize your backpack for work?
Luckily, many modern backpacks feature lots of pockets and compartments that make it easy to keep your belongings organized. If you often find yourself rummaging through a bag to find what you need, we recommend getting a backpack with designated spots for all your items. These compartments may include a laptop sleeve, a media organizer, file dividers, pen slots, a water bottle pouch, a USB port, a key hook, and a phone pocket.
How do you clean a backpack?
The proper way to clean a backpack depends on the material and overall design. Some are machine-washable, and others can be hand-washed, but many are almost too sturdy and rigid to be washed like regular fabrics. In that case, wiping the bag down might be your best bet. When in doubt, check the brand's care instructions.
How often should you clean your backpack?
That depends. Do you take public transportation, bike or walk to work, bring your backpack outside daily for lunch, or place it on the office floor each morning? If so, it might need cleaning as often as every couple of weeks.
However, if you drive to work and your backpack spends close to zero time outside or on the floor, it may not need to be cleaned as often—two to four times a year may suffice. In any case, you're wise to wipe your bag down regularly with a sanitizing solution.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Theresa Holland is a freelance writer and product tester specializing in accessories, luggage, and work essentials. She has personally owned bags from Herschel, July, Monos, Dagne Dover, and July. In addition to The Spruce, she contributes to Travel + Leisure, People, Byrdie, and MyDomaine.
For this article, Theresa interviewed personal stylists Ginger Burr of Total Image Consultants and Cassandra Sethi of Next Level Wardrobe, who offered backpack recommendations and buying tips. She then considered a plethora of designs from various brands and selected backpacks that stood out in terms of appearance, durability, compartments, and capacity.