Updated May 2017
This spring we bought a new crop of bags to test. The results were surprising: Timbuk2 and Chrome didn't place in the top three. The scores, however, were exceedingly close. We have included more details in our non-award winning reviews because we think there is a good chance those bags might perfectly fit your needs. In our tests, which covered a broad range of user types and conditions, several "newbies" ousted both Timbuk2 and Chrome, this review's most iconic companies.
Patagonia Black Hole 24L
Handles day to day abuse well
The Patagonia Black Hole
is a rugged, tough bag that will hold up for years, keep your things dry through thunderstorms, and move with you through a variety of terrain types: from the crowded metro to the business-casual office, and even on easier bike commutes. This contender quickly became our go-to for a variety of situations. The packing and organizational features were intuitive, easy to access — altogether, it was "just right," earning this review's Goldilocks Award — or Editors' Choice. For a pack that can do it all, in a world that demands more and more of the classic messenger model, we think you'll enjoy taking this model on many of your urban adventures.
Read full review: Patagonia Black Hole 24L
Best Bang for the Buck
Osprey FlapJack Courier
Lots of pockets
Durable and comfortable
Quick to adjust
Awkward cross strap
features more pockets and organizational features than most products in this review, which is in line with Osprey's style, as we see in their backpacking and climbing bags. If you like having organizational features and pockets, this is one of the best. It is a great all-rounder, also proving to be quite rugged and weatherproof for a variety of commuting or travel situations. This bag balanced its performance well across our metrics, and follows closely after the Patagonia Black Hole
, with only a couple of points docked for a pocket that didn't quite work for us, and a comfort feature that could be improved. Note that the Flapjack Backpack is our Editors' Choice laptop backpack and might be a better option for you.
Read full review: Osprey FlapJack Courier
Best Buy for a Tight Budget
Mobile Edge ECO
Sturdy and lightweight
Less formal looking
Small and lacks versatility
blows every other bag out of the water regarding affordability. At $35, it's one-third the price of the closest competition — and double the usefulness (or close: the Mobile Edge scored 68 out of 100, and the next most affordable model was $90 and scored 45 out of 100). We skipped over the Timbuk2 Classic
, another great bag, to single out the Mobile Edge
for its stunningly low price and impressively high functionality — and because it is half the price of the Timbuk2 Classic
, and only six points lower on our overall scoring. Check out this bag, it is not the most formal for business use, but it has some of the better organizational features in this review, the cotton canvas handles like a pair of soft sweatpants, and the price is just stunning.
Read full review: Mobile Edge ECO
Top Pick for Comfort
Outdoor Research Rangefinder
Comfy empty or full
Weatherproof and robust
Low weight and versatile uses
Long shoulder strap
takes a detour from the classic look in design, but not in concept. Its internal main compartment closes with a drawstring, giving it a very different feel, character, and packing performance than the rest of the competition. And time and time again, test after test, we loved it. If we go back to the roots of this kind of bag, Outdoor Research hits it dead on — a rugged bag designed to carry heavy and awkward items comfortably, while allowing ease of access in potentially precarious places, like perched atop a power line. The Rangefinder
became our bag of choice for our various tools. It could even comfortably carry a ski helmet and snacks for a long day at the ski area.
Read full review: Outdoor Research Rangefinder
Top Pick for Business
Timbuk2 Command Messenger
Easy for travel
Boxy and stiff
has a history of strong performance at OutdoorGearLab. This is Timbuk2's answer to the modern world. It's a "briefcase" for the reluctant businessperson and ideal for someone who travels a lot with a computer and various electronics and gets tired of having to remove their laptop every time they go through airport security. Timbuk2 introduces a novel concept with the three-sided zippered compartment which opens the bag like a clamshell and slides your electronics through the X-Ray machine while remaining stowed inside that padded sleeve.
Read full review: Timbuk2 Command Messenger