Published by Tim Huber Dec 28, 2022
Published by Tim Huber Dec 28, 2022 Leather Coin Purse
A modern evolution of the Roman Loculus, messenger bags are extremely versatile carry solutions that are incredibly conducive to daily commuting, whether that’s done by train, car, bike, or on foot. And with messenger bags currently being more popular than ever before, now seemed the perfect time to take a deep dive into the segment, delving into what defines a messenger bag and what to consider when shopping for one, along with a curated list of our picks for the best men’s messenger bags for everyday use and commuting.
What Exactly Is a Messenger Bag
A subcategory of crossbody vessels, messenger bags typically sport a rectangular silhouette and just enough storage space to accommodate one’s daily essentials for the office or workshop. The shape and size of these bags makes them perfect for carrying a laptop, tablets, notebooks, files, and other documents, while still having more than enough room to stash a myriad of pens, keys, an EDC knife, a water bottle, and other odds and ends. As a result, messenger bags lend themselves extremely well to commuting and work use, though it doesn’t end there. Because messenger bags are typically designed with daily commuting in mind, they tend to be outfitted with robust degrees of weatherproofing — an area owed to both heavily water-resistant shell constructions and messenger bags’ storm flaps.
Another defining trait of messenger bags is how they’re worn. Unlike a traditional shoulder bag — like a briefcase — messenger bags are crossbody-style items that are worn like a sling, though are designed to lay flat on the wearer’s back. Another advantage of messenger bags is the way that these carry solutions hug the wearer’s body. Often utilizing a main shoulder strap coupled with a stabilizer strap, these bags remain planted against the wearer’s back without jostling around during movement — a factor that also makes messenger bags ideal for commuting via bicycle or motorcycle. In fact, most modern messenger bags were originally designed to be used and carried by bike messengers — hence the name.
What To Look For When Shopping For A New Messenger Bag
Messenger bags are a fairly unique style of crossbody carry solution, and while they do share a great many similarities with other types of packs, they do possess a handful of finer points that one should be privy to when shopping for one. With this in mind, we’ll briefly be touching on the seven most crucial areas to take into account when in the market for a new messenger bag.
Shell Construction: As the material that comprises the majority of the bag itself, a messenger bag’s shell construction is of utmost importance when reviewing a messenger bag — or really any type of bag, backpack, or piece of luggage. Typically highly resistant to water and abrasions, most modern messenger bag shell constructions consist of rugged high-denier nylons, polys, and sailcloths, though there are also models crafted from everything from Tarpaulin to heavy-duty waxed canvas to leather. On top of the type of material and its weight and/or denier, it’s also crucial to check whether a messenger bag’s shell has been further fortified through the use of a special treatment or coating — such as a DWR — that hugely bolsters a bag’s weather resistance.
Secondary Materials: While there’s no denying that a bag’s shell is probably the single most important factor in determining its overall quality, durability, and performance, there are some secondary constructions that can also play a major role in pushing the needle. This includes the material used to produce a bag’s liner as well as any reinforcements found on the bottom/base of the bag, as this latter area is often fortified and beefed up to offer better protection from the elements and abrasions.
Hardware: Alongside a messenger bag’s primary and secondary construction, another area that will play a role in a bag’s overall price and performance is the hardware that it features — including areas such as a bag’s zippers and buckles. It’s also worth paying extra attention to a messenger bags shoulder strap (and any hardware said shoulder strap is outfitted with).
Weather Protection: Depending on the region in which you reside, protection from the elements may be of extreme importance — especially if living somewhere like the Pacific Northwest which sees ample precipitation throughout the year. In order to protect a bag from the elements, these carry solutions are often bestowed with shell constructions that are largely impervious to water — and often further fortified via TPU, PU, or DWR coatings/treatments — as well as waterproof zipper tracks and storm flaps.
Size & Volume: The size and dimensions of a bag will ultimately determine how much gear and equipment one can carry. Typically measured in liters, most messenger bags offer somewhere between one and two-dozen liters of internal real estate — though the reality is that 15 liters will typically be enough to accommodate the vast majority of commuters’ daily work essentials. The larger messenger bags that boast 20 or more liters of storage allow one to stash more gear, and is a great option for those that also want to use their messenger bag as a workout bag for pre or post-work gym sessions. What’s more, it’s also worth noting that some messenger bags employ a compressible/expandable setup that can be opened up to provide extra space when needed.
Style: Though they tend to sport the same basic shape and offer the same basic utility, messenger bags can massively vary in terms of their aesthetic design. On top of often being sold in a plethora of color options, messenger bags are also crafted in a myriad of different styles, with some utilizing more vintage-inspired outward appearances while others sport more modern looks.
Fitment & Support: While all messenger bags come equipped with a shoulder strap, some are designed with a much larger focus on fitment, support, and stability — areas that are bolstered through the use of a stabilizer strap. As such, if you plan on using a messenger bag while commuting on two wheels, it’s imperative to review the type of strap and carry setup that a given messenger bag employs, as this will massively impact how it performs — as well as how conducive it is to use on a motorcycle or bike and how much or little it will move around on your back while in motion.
The 6 Best Messenger Bags Currently On The Market
Now that you’re up to speed on exactly what one is and what to look for when shopping for one, let’s dive into our picks for the half dozen finest messenger bags that money can buy.
Best Affordable/Entry-Level Pick: Produced in more than 10 different color options and in four different sizes, the TIMBUK2 Classic Messenger Bag is an accessibly-priced yet capable pack that offers 14 liters of storage space and comes backed by a generous lifetime warranty. Weighing in at only 1.7lbs, this messenger bag features a removable crossbody strap with a coordinating strap pad, an easy-to-clean TPU liner, and Vista loops for attaching bike lights. Crafted around a CORDURA nylon shell that’s been derived entirely from recycled materials, TIMBUK2’s Classic Messenger Bag also features a laptop compartment that can accommodate notebooks as large as 13”.
Volume: 14 Liters Shell Material: CORDURA Nylon Liner Material: TPU Laptop Compartment: Yes
Best All-Weather/Waterproof Pick: Impervious to just about any weather or conditions short of a typhoon, the Arc’Teryx Granville 10 Courier Bag is a compact messenger bag with a minimalistic aesthetic design that affords just 10 liters of real estate. Sold in a trio of color options, the Granville 10 Courier Bag comes outfitted with a laminated padded back panel, a dedicated laptop compartment that fits models of up to 12” in diameter, and a main compartment that’s secured via dual custom Arc’teryx one-handed release buckles. Additionally, not only is the bag made from Arc’s beloved laminated AC² fabric — a thoroughly top-shelf construction that’s found on Arc’teryx’s higher-end Veilance sub-brand products — but it’s also been manufactured using an ultra-weatherproof seam-taped construction.
Volume: 10 Liters Shell Material: AC² Fabric Liner Material: N/A Laptop Compartment: Yes
Best Commuter Pick: Originally designed and developed for bicycle messengers working in the company’s hometown of San Francisco, the Chrome Industries Citizen Messenger Bag is widely recognized as the original messenger bag, and as such is seen as a benchmark that all other models are judged against. Boasting 24 liters of storage space, the Citizen Messenger Bag sports reflective compression straps, and an ergonomic stabilizer strap-equipped shoulder strap that’s outfitted with one of Chrome’s signature quick-release vintage seatbelt-style buckles — which also features an integrated bottle opener. Known as the BLCKCHRM 22X, this particular version of the bag features a liner and shell made 22X nylon — an ultra-rugged and fully-waterproof structured sailcloth-style material.
Volume: 24 Liters Shell Material: 22X Nylon Liner Material: 22oz 1,000D TPE Tarp Laptop Compartment: Yes
Best Camera Bag/Photographer’s Pick: Crafted around a double poly-coated DWR-impregnated 400-denier nylon canvas shell mated to a high-visibility light gray nylon liner and a 900-denier waterproof bottom base — all three of which are derived entirely from recycled post-consumer materials — the Peak Design Everyday Messenger is an updated version of an already award-winning bag that features Peak Design’s clever expansion system that allows the 13-liter vessel to be opened up to provide an additional 3 liters of storage space. Manufactured in two color choices with either leather or HYPALON accents, the Everyday Messenger also features a tablet and laptop compartment that can fit a 14” MacBook Pro, super-durable UltraZips zippers, and all anodized aluminum and glass-reinforced nylon hardware. Perfect for photographers, this bag is also sold with a pair of included cord hook external carry straps, an anchor link key tether, and a set of FlexFold dividers that allow the messenger’s main cavity to be custom configured based on the user’s needs that day.
Volume: 13 Liters (or 16 Liters Expanded) Shell Material: DWR-Impregnated & Double Poly-Coated 400D Nylon Canvas Liner Material: High-Vis Nylon Laptop Compartment: Yes
Best Minimalist Pick: Made in America and backed by a lifetime warranty, the DSPTCH Slingpack is an ultra-hardwearing crossbody bag with an understated, minimalist aesthetic design. Tipping the scales at just under 2lbs while offering 15 liters of storage space, the Slingpack is pieced together around a DWR-coated ballistic-grade 1,680-denier nylon shell. Trimmed in a DWR-coated 410-denier nylon packcloth liner, the interior of the bag boasts a padded 15” laptop sleeve, a hidden zip pocket, a dedicated water bottle pocket, a bevy of zippered mesh pockets, and an onboard cable management system. Lastly, this messenger bag is also offered with standard 1.5” quick-release buckles, or with 1.5” FIDLOCK items.
Volume: 15 Liters Shell Material: DWR-Coated 1,680D Ballistic Nylon Liner Material: DWR-Coated 410D Nylon Packcloth Laptop Compartment: Yes
Best Ultra-Tough Pick: Offering unparalleled durability in a commuter-focused package, the Mission Workshop Khyte VX is a thoroughly top-shelf messenger bag that’s made in America by hand in small batches to ensure exacting attention to detail, stellar quality control, and a superb fit and finish. Offering two dozen liters of internal real estate, the Khyte VX features a super rugged X-Pac VX21 shell that’s been outfitted with YKK AquaGuard zippers, a trio of Arkiv rails for attaching Mission Workshop Arkiv accessories, a zippered tricot-lined smartphone pocket, a slew of internal organizers and pockets, and a dedicated laptop compartment that’s accessible from the exterior of the bag. Also offered in a more affordable yet still thoroughly rugged 500-denier High-Tenacity Nylon variant, this messenger bag’s main flap is also secured via a pair of magnetic-coupling FIDLOCK V-buckles.
Volume: 24 Liters Shell Material: X-Pac VX21 Liner Material: VX Nylon & Tricot Laptop Compartment: Yes
Offering the level of durability that one would expect from the famed American workwear brand, the Carharrt D89 Messenger Bag is a capable yet affordable pick that’s constructed around a 600-denier poly ripstop shell that’s been reinforced via a 1,200-denier poly base and Carhartt’s Rain Defender DWR coating. Weighing in at 1.2lbs, the messenger bag also sports a dedicated laptop sleeve, a front flap with a zipper-secured pocket, and a side-release buckle closure paired with an adjustable shoulder strap.
Volume: Aprox. 20 Liters Shell Material: Rain Defender-Coated 600D Polyester Liner Material: N/A Laptop Compartment: Yes
The San Francisco brand’s second-generation take on a purpose-built commuter bag, the Aer Commuter Bag is a 10.2-liter vessel that’s crafted from ultra-rugged coated 1,680-denier CORDURA and features a lightly strutted design. Sold with a padded and removable shoulder strap, the Commuter Bag comes loaded with YKK zippers, Duraflex hardware, a slew of interior organization pockets for everyday essentials, a quick-access top pocket for storing small valuables, a high-visibility gray nylon liner, an interior water bottle pocket, rear webbing straps that double as a luggage handle passthrough, and a padded laptop pocket that fits notebooks of up to 15″ — including Apple’s latest MacBook Pro.
Volume:10.2 Liters Shell Material: Coated 1,680D CORDURA Ballistic Nylon Liner Material: High-Vis Nylon Laptop Compartment: Yes
Crafted in America from bluesign-certified 525-denier High-Tenacity 2×2 ballistic nylon, the Tom Bihn The Maker’s Bag is a modern briefcase, messenger bag, and field bag hybrid that features 13 liters of interior storage space and a removable shoulder strap. Sold in a huge variety of color options, this compact and versatile bag also features #5 and #8 YKK racquet-coil zips with plastic sliders, five O-rings, and a bluesign and OEKO-TEX-certified 200-denier Halcyon/nylon ripstop liner. What’s more, this bag also features a sleeve that can fit a laptop, and while it isn’t padded, it was designed to accommodate a padded laptop sleeve such as Tom Bihn’s own Cache model.
Volume: 13 Liters Shell Material: 525D HT 2×2 Ballistic Nylon or 400D Halcyon & 420D Nylon Ripstop Liner Material: 210D HT 2×2 Ballistic Nylon or 200D Halcyon & Nylon Ripstop Laptop Compartment: Yes
A thoroughly rugged and fully-waterproof item made by an iconic American heritage brand, the Filson Dry Messenger Bag features an 840-denier nylon tarpaulin shell that’s pieced together using radio-frequency welding. Sold with a removable, adjustable shoulder strap, this waterproof messenger bag also features a storm flap-protected cinching roll-top for even more robust protection from the elements, a generously-sized main compartment supplemented via numerous interior and exterior pockets, and a super rugged nylon grab handle and webbing.
Volume: 25 Liters Shell Material: TPU-Coated 840D Nylon Tarpaulin Liner Material: 840D Nylon Tarpaulin Laptop Compartment: No
Capable of being carried by hand, worn over the shoulder, or across the body, the Code of Bell X-TOTE (pronounced “Cross Tote”) is a thoroughly modern take on a three-way messenger bag that’s equal parts rugged in versatile. The bag is equipped with 19 liters of storage space, though an expandable design allows it to be stretched to a whopping 35 liters. Constructed around an X-Pac VX21 shell mated to a high-visibility orange CORDURA liner, the X-TOTE is absolutely brimming with features including a magnetic snap-button-equipped rear sleeve pocket, an expandable water bottle pocket, a snap-secured side slip pocket, an RFID-protected zippered pocket, an elastic sleeve pocket, a key hook strap, soft-lined dual laptop and tablet compartments, three slip pockets, a large sleeve pocket, a draw cord-equipped pair of pockets, two pen slots, length adjustable handle straps, an exterior D-ring, a storable 2” shoulder strap, and a padded back-panel with a hidden zippered pocket that can double as a luggage pass-through. This messenger bag is also sold with a pair of detachable compression straps and eight Annex clips that allow it to be attached to CoB’s ANNEX series.
Volume: 19 Liters (or 35 Liters Expanded) Shell Material: X-Pac VX21 Liner Material: CORDURA Laptop Compartment: Yes
Sold in chocolate, tan, and desert black color options and offered with an optional custom monogram, the WP STANDARD The Meridian Messenger Bag is a vintage-inspired, classically-styled interpretation of a messenger bag that features a full-grain leather shell. Also backed by a lifetime warranty, this leather construction carry solution packs a padded laptop compartment that can fit notebooks of up to 15”, a single exterior access pocket, solid brass hardware, and a genuine pigskin lining. Paired with a padded adjustable leather shoulder strap, this messenger bag’s leather shell will also form a unique patina over time with regular use.
Volume: Aprox. 15 Liters Shell Material: Full-Grain Leather Liner Material: Pigskin Leather Laptop Compartment: Yes
Offering 15 liters of storage space, the DEFY Recon Mashup 2.0 X-Pac is another immensely hardwearing, feature-laden messenger bag that’s crafted around a DWR-coated X-Pac VX21 sailcloth shell. Weighing in at 3lbs, the bag is lined with a high-visibility 500-denier water-resistant MIL-SPEC CORDURA and boasts a 15” laptop compartment that’s fortified via closed-cell foam and adjustable side pockets. Meanwhile, the exterior of the bag has been bestowed with 1″ MIL-SPEC polyester MOLLE webbing, YKK AquaGuard zippers set in double-headed zipper pockets, a D-ring-equipped stabilizer strap, a military gun clip key hook, and a main flap that’s held down via a pair of COBRA Quick Release 2″ AustriAlpin buckles.
Volume: 15 Liters Shell Material: DWR-Coated X-Pac VX21 Liner Material: High-Vis 500D CORDURA Laptop Compartment: Yes
Want to check out an additional array of commuter-friendly bags that aren’t limited to items of the messenger-type variety? Then be sure to head over to our guide to the best laptop bags for another hand-selected lineup of commuter-focused daily carry solutions.
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