There are hundreds of extremely ugly ‘executive’ backpacks available with more zips and pockets than a haberdashery.
We demand more from our bags – both in terms of style and specification – so each bag in our guide to the best backpacks has been chosen to perform a specific task better than the rest, whether that’s squeezing in the most stuff, being extra safe for your tech, perfect for active use or suitable for carrying while still wearing a suit.
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What are the best backpacks to buy right now?
The best backpack for most people is the terrific Knomo Novello. Designed specifically to protect laptops, tablets and other tech accoutrements, the Novello is spacious, style conscious and nicely padded.
Our top recommendation for the best backpack for work is the STM Myth 18L which is a very reasonable £100, making it something of a budget pick too. With one of the finest laptop sleeves we've come across and a deluxe interior, it's well worth a look.
The somewhat burly, water resistant Rapha Roll-Top Commuter is our best backpack for urban cycling. Modelled on bike messenger bags, it's unfussy with bombproof construction.
WIRED Recommends: The Knomo Novello rolltop looks the part and keeps your tech safe
Capacity: 15l/expands to 20l | Laptop size: 15-inch | Weight: 1.4kg Waterproof: Water resistant
London-based Knomo make bags specifically to keep your laptop and tablets safe, but unlike most ‘executive’ laptop bag brands they do it with style. The Novello (£192) is brilliantly multi-functional, with generous capacity (around 15 litres), impressive build quality, hard wearing materials and best-on-test tech protection.
Made from thick 10oz treated canvas, the rolltop design is rugged with a style and texture that should age nicely. Looking at it front on you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just a good-looking, fashion-focused design in black with black accents, but turn it over and you’ll find a large zip that opens to reveal a highly padded 15-inch laptop sleeve and second smaller sleeve that will easily hold a Kindle. It’s the most reassuringly padded design we found.
There’s a large, well-padded front pocket with dividers and the roll-top section – as well as coming with a bright orange liner – has three further padded pockets for stowing fragile stuff, plus enough room for a gym kit or change of clothes.
Knomo has also included a smaller phone-sized pocket with RFID blocking to prevent ne'er-do-wells from helping themselves to your cash or identity. It’s a nice touch, although phablet fans will struggle to fit their phones inside. As with all bags from Knomo, it has a unique serial number and owner registration scheme, so if your bag is found and the good citizen logs onto the website as per the instructions on the label, you might get reacquainted.
The only downsides to the design are the weight - all that padding and canvas means you know you’re wearing it even when empty - and the slim, slightly firm straps, that while hardwearing and come with an impressive ski-boot style clasp, don’t quite offer the same level of all day comfort as found on the STM or Arc’teryx designs.
Pros: Supreme tech protection; RFID pocket; spacious; stylish
Cons: Straps could be comfier; heavier than some
Price: £192 | Check price on Amazon
WAYKS Travel Bundle
A ludicrously versatile travel backpack
Capacity: 25-45l | Laptop size: 15-inch | Weight: 1-3kg | Waterproof: Water resistant
With more zips and buckles than a goth’s favourite trousers, this modular backpack covers all your daily, and holiday, needs whether you’re after a workbag with 15in laptop storage, rucksack for exploring, padded camera case for spare lenses, cool box for your lunch, spacious hip bag (or shoulder bag), or a mix of the above.
Typically, do-all designs lack style, but the water-resistant black (or cream) ripstop material has an organic looking fleck and soft feel to it, despite being made from 31, 600ml plastic bottles. The roll-top design and single colour palette look great with colour matched metal, nylon and plastic straps and fastenings.
We tested the Travel Bundle (€349), which comes supplied with a Day Pack (€229) and Cube hip bag (€69) plus a host of accessories including rain cover (€27), lanyard for strapping bulky things to the bag (€10), padded insert for camera equipment (€20) and a pair of compression packing sacks (€34). Totted up, it’s undeniably expensive, but for that you do get a uniquely versatile design.
At the heart of it all is the exceptional Day Pack that has a three-sided zip allowing for suitcase-style packing if you’re going away for a few nights, a zipped and rolled top opening that adjusts capacity from 25-40 litres, plus loads of useful zipped pockets. You also get the option to use padded, height-adjustable, walking-style straps for all-day wear, or remove the padding completely and add on simple webbing straps for a lighter, more fashionable tote style.
The fact you can also zip a compartment on the bottom and use the padded hip straps to turn it into a well-supported walking rucksack, with extra space for camera equipment, spare shoes, or your lunch, is just a huge bonus.
Pros: Modular design; generous capacity; stylish
Cons: Tries too hard at times; heavy
Price: €349 | Check price on Wayks
Rapha Roll-Top Commuter
The best backpack for urban biking
Capacity: 25l | Laptop size: 15-inch | Weight: 994g | Waterproof: Water resistant
Rapha has a rich history in bike backpacks, their classic city tote (now the Travel backpack) has been a firm favourite of style-conscious commuters for many years. Consider the Roll Top Commuter (£100) the Travel bag’s tough and rowdy new sibling.
Modelled on classic bike messenger bags like the Ortleib Velocity, the Roll Top features a wide-mouth opening for an unfussy way of accessing the spacious main compartment. Moving inside, the bag features a padded 15-inch laptop sleeve and zippered fluorescent pink lined ‘essentials pocket’ - that’s bright enough to see whatever you have stashed in there.
Outside, the bag is finished in burly, abrasion-resistant fabric that has a tough, almost military feeling finish, especially in the dark (army) green. The exterior also features a strip of full-length looped webbing - perfect for taking your D-Lock or for attaching lights to. The bag then closes with a neat retractable elastic strap, meaning it’s never in the way or flapping around while you’re filling with kit.
The smartest feature of the bag though, has to be the sturdy base. It both supports the bag in an upright position and is rendered in reflective Scotchlite – for massively improved visibility when riding in the dark.
Pros: Bombproof construction; stands up on its own
Cons: Industrial styling may not suit all
Price: £100 | Check price on Mr Porter
STM Myth 18L
The best backpack for work and commuting
Capacity: 18l | Laptop size: 15-inch | Weight: 975g | Waterproof: Water resistant
This compact 15-litre backpack has a modern, rigid, almost box-like design, and while the STM Myth 18L (£92.50) wouldn’t be the first one to get picked in a beauty pageant it is extremely well designed and packed full of innovative ideas designed to make juggling your everyday carry swift and efficient.
The smartest of these features is something STM call SlingTech – essentially the softest, most protective laptop sleeve we’ve found. Uniquely the sleeve is suspended well above the base of the bag and has gapless corners so even if your bag gets chucked on the floor or dropped your laptop edges will never take the full impact.
There’s also a neat oversized eyelet between main and front compartments to allow you to stick charging cables through, plus there are well-positioned clips so you can trace your cables out the way and avoid them being wrenched out. They’ve also added in a cable tidy for your headphones.
The interior has a beautifully soft and scratch-proof liner so uncovered tablet screens and e-readers won’t take a battering, and this super-soft liner can also be found in the sunglasses pocket.
Our only niggle with the design is that it doesn’t open wide enough to give total access to everything inside. It’s not a deal breaker, but with many rigid cases being able to open and pack it like a standard wheelie suitcase means you can get more in and keep it organised.
Pros: Laptop sleeve; plush interior; comfortable
Cons: Narrow opening; acquired taste
Price: £92.50 | Check price on Amazon
Kathmandu Connect Smart Pack
A techie backpack that actually makes sense
Capacity: 28l | Laptop size: 15-inch | Weight: 1.34kg
Waterproof: Water resistant
An unusually hi-tech product from outdoor specialists Kathmandu, this futuristic looking 28-litre backpack is choc-a-block with innovative design and smart extras including battery charging, find-my-phone alarm, distance alarm and even a clock.
Most of the tech inside the Connect Smart Pack (£299) is powered by the Joey T3 Bluetooth battery pack and smart control unit, both integrated neatly into the fabric of the bag and connected via cable. The control unit is front and centre when you open up the media section that houses a padded 15in laptop sleeve, tablet pocket and even a reinforced section for keeping cables tidy.
The Joey T3 unit has a little LCD display with functions and time, plus battery charge details. It has a 6,200mAh battery, so good for a couple of charges, plus there’s a surprisingly useful LED light that illuminates the contents in the dark. It’s all neatly done, although removing the tech gubbins at airport security can be a faff.
The control unit and smartphone app let you call your bag and activate an alarm, and you can also find your phone (assuming it is within Bluetooth range) from the small display screen. It’s a neat trick for the forgetful among us, as is the bag’s range alarm, so if you wonder off without it, you’ll get an alarm on your phone. It’s an impressive set of traveller’s tricks, although anyone with a Chipolo or Tile Bluetooth tracker and portable battery pack can do the same things for a lot less.
But what about the bag itself? It’s big, but weighs very little – less than the Knomo Novello, but with 10+ litres more capacity – and the use of multiple compartments helps you keep on top of your stuff. The material is exceptionally robust, and while the media/laptop section is easy to organise, the main front compartment for your clothes has a stuff-it-and-see feel about it. Not a big deal, but if the zips opened slightly more, organising our pants would be so much simpler.
The straps are also well balanced, adjustable and breathable, and back panel nicely cushioned – as it should be for £299 – and carrying was far more comfortable than we expected for the size. It’s an impressive weekend bag.
Pros: Find my phone/bag alarm; battery pack; generous size
Cons: Snug front compartment; expensive; it’s all a little excessive
Price: £299 | Check price on Amazon
The best travel backpack for city jaunts
Capacity: 18l | Laptop size: 13-inch/ 15-inch | Weight: 900g | Waterproof: Water resistant
Pitched firmly at the Instagram travel set – or "urban nomads" as Horizn likes to call them – Gion (£120) is a lovely compact backpack made from a thick, waterproof hi-core shell and available in five on-trend colours including pale rose, mint, blue, a bold mirrored Cosmic Halo design and classic black.
Available in small (13-inch laptop) and medium (15-inch laptop), the smaller size is great for small frames and narrow shoulders, with nicely padded wide straps with chunky coordinating detailing and metal D-rings and clasps. The back is also well padded and extremely breathable and there’s an elasticated strap in the middle designed to hook over the handle of a wheelie carry-on bag.
The top padded back section doubles as a secure pocket for passports and wallets, but be warned, if you put anything in it that doesn’t lie flat – a plug for instance – you’ll feel it prodding in your shoulders.
As for tech protection, there’s a snug 13-inch laptop sleeve separated from the main compartment which means getting it out doesn’t involve any rummaging around. This also leaves all the main space for all the other things international jetsetters need, and while it doesn’t feel as generous as the quoted 18-litre volume suggests, there’s plenty of space for spare layers and everyday carry.
Pros: On-trend; waterproof; padded; female-friendly fit
Cons: Limited capacity
Arc’teryx Granville 16 Zip
The best waterproof backpack
Capacity: 16l | Laptop size: 15-inch | Weight: 850g | Waterproof: Water resistant
Like all their kit, the Arc’teryx Granville 16 Zip (£170) is a lesson in technical brilliance and high performance. It’s designed for urban commuting and the occasional day hike, but is made using N400r-AC² nylon 6 ripstop and finished with fully taped seams and waterproof zips. It looks, feels and works just like the finest Arc’teryx jacket, meaning it won’t let you down even in the wettest conditions.
Unloaded it weighs just 0.85kg and the clever concertinaed design means you can expand it by a few inches when you need to stuff more in, but it still lies nicely flat on your back.
The laptop sleeve is snug for a 15-inch design, with the elasticated sections holding tight and the compartment stopping a few centimeters short of the base to avoid drop damage. Plus the stretch mesh zipped pocket means you can see what’s inside before rummaging around. There’s also a watertight external top pocket for phone/keys etc. with double protection from the fold-over top section.
Given the low weight we didn’t expect much from the straps, but they are exceptionally well padded – easily the most comfortable on test.
On first glance, especially given its no-frills design, you’d be forgiven for thinking this minimalist bag is overpriced, but the quality of the materials used, the waterproof seams and all-day comfort should convince otherwise.
Pros: Waterproof; comfortable; durable
Cons: Minimal laptop padding
Price: £170 | Check price on Arc'teryx
Chrome Industries Summoner
Practical and perfect for business trips
Capacity: 32l | Laptop size: 15-inch | Weight: 1.3kg | Waterproof: No
Tricky to categorise, this impressively engineered bag manages to be a gym duffle, a carry-on sized suitcase, a comfortable rucksack and laptop protector in one. With reinforced handles top and side, as well as padded, well-designed rucksack straps, you can carry the Chrome Industries Summoner (£170) any way you need, and thanks to the four compression straps on each corner if you don’t need all 32-litres of capacity you can still use it without it being ungainly.
The central zip running the full length of the bag made for an excellent duffle, great for stuffing in extra layers and gym kits. But when you need more organisation, simply unclip the compression straps, unzip and open the two halves like an executive carry-on bag complete with mesh clothing protectors. It’s an extremely clever design, and one we used successfully for a quick business trip - shirts stay flat, there’s space for shoes, and the 15-inch laptop sleeve is nicely padded, with plenty of slots for pens and general bag clutter.
The bag is made using a reassuringly thick Polyester/600D Twill melange fabric that should take a battering for years to come and the shoulder-yoke straps offer enough padding to not be uncomfortable even if the bag is stuffed full.
Admittedly, it has more zips than a Superdry jacket, and as a result we often opened the wrong section looking for something. The compression straps are also a little awkwardly positioned meaning you have to unclip more often than you would like to retrieve your devices.
Pros: Hugely versatile; large capacity
Cons: So many zips and straps
Price: £170 | Check price on Chrome Industries
Our pick for sheer durability
Capacity: 23l | Laptop size: 15-inch | Weight: 1.27kg | Waterproof: Water resistant
The Filson Journeyman (£415) is precisely the sort of bag we wish we had inherited from our grandfather. Sure, it taps into the retro/modern Red Wing boot wearing hipster aesthetic, but the timeless design and faultless construction comes with a lifetime guarantee. Think of it as an heirloom-in-waiting and you can start to justify the high price.
But in fairness that initial outlay does buy you a quality bag that should outlast a lifetime of commutes. Made in the USA from 15-oz 100 per cent cotton Rugged Twill and Filson’s signature oil-finish Tin Cloth, it’s water resistant (you can re-wax to maintain durability), has supremely heavy stitching that’s fully reinforced, there’s bridal leather fastenings and solid brass zips. If you need to carry a few house bricks to work, this is the bag for you.
The 40cm laptop sleeve is well padded and keeps your tech close to the back to avoid any significant movement, while the Moleskin-lined shoulder straps are every bit as comfortable as many of the pillowy memory-foam padded designs we’ve worn.
It’s also got a deceptively generous capacity - 23 litres - but doesn’t feel cumbersome when loaded. It’s a neat trick that a lot of the modern more rigid designs could learn a thing or two from.
Pros: Last a lifetime; stylish; spacious; comfortable
Cons: Priced like an heirloom
Price: £415 | Check price on Filson