So you’re looking for a new work backpack?

Work backpacks are the latest trend for working professionals of all types, from creatives to bankers and consultants handing in their briefcase for a professional work backpack.

What makes a backpack perfect for work is different from the characteristics of a regular bag, which is why we’ve got you covered on everything you need to know when choosing your next professional backpack.

1. Materials

Materials to look for:

The materials of a backpack plays a large part in determining how the overall bag looks and functions.

With a work backpack, you want to look out for materials that are very wearable; meaning that the materials themselves are a reflection of your profession and how you go about your work day.

Depending on your profession, here are some common types of materials that go well with a backpack that looks professional:

Nylon or Polyester

Nylon and polyester are great materials for a work backpack because they’re simple and durable.

Both are classic materials found in early uses of backpacks and bags and they will last a while without ripping, tearing, or pilling.

An example of this is ballistic nylon, a very strong and durable fabric that Tumi frequently uses in their work backpacks.


Leather is another classic material that gives any work backpack a premium and stylish feel. Tried and true in the business world, leather bags have been used by working professionals for years, so a leather backpack can help you fit right in with a history of elegance.

There’s a long history of leather goods used in a variety of carry items and getting a backpack made of high quality leather will give you a premium and durable carry option.

Because leather doesn’t come on a roll like other types of bag materials, it costs more to produce and make a backpack. Backpacks made from leather also require more craftsmanship and skilled workmanships so if you’re looking at a leather backpack, be prepared to spend more than a backpack made with knitted materials.

Heathered or Variegated Materials

Heathered and variegated materials have become popular in the last 5-7 years and are quite popular because they’re made from wearable fabrics commonly seen in apparel.

Wool and denim are both examples of this, since they are both used in everyday worn items from Shirts to Pants.

Going for a heathered or variegated material will fit a certain type of aesthetic and profession because it will match with the clothing that you’re already wearing, giving you a consistent head to toe look.

Materials you should avoid:

While leather, nylon, polyester, and heathered/variegated materials are great to use in a work backpack, there are certain materials that you should try to stay away from as they’re more commonly used in outdoor backpacks or school backpacks.

Cotton Canvas

Cotton canvas is typically seen in many day packs for school (like Jansport, Herschel) and the casual looking material makes it seem unprofessional looking.

Canvas is also not waterproof (though some bags do add a layer of water-resistant coating to the canvas), and it’s a fabric that is very fine and therefore is more susceptible to tears or rips.

Not all canvas backpacks are bad for work though, and there are many bags that are able to combine cotton canvas with leather in a way that is elegant and professional. But for a backpack that is only made of canvas, it’s likely something to keep away if you want to be taken seriously when carrying around your bag in the workplace.

Noisy, Thin Linings

If you’re at a meeting and getting something out of your bag, the last thing you want is to draw attention to you from the crunchy sound that a backpack’s lining can make. Lining that’s made with cheaper, thinner materials lend themselves to making sounds, whereas you won’t have that issue with lining made from thicker materials.

Another benefit of thicker lining is that it’ll be more durable and you’ll worry less about it ripping if you’re carrying items with sharp edges or corners. Bonus points here to lining materials that are also water-resistant and easy to clean.

Final thoughts on materials:

There’s no black and white way of using a material in a bag, it comes down to preference and what kind of profession you’re in.

One thing we do recommend though is looking for a work backpack that has a sophisticated mix of materials.

If you have a bag that uses all of the same material, then nothing really stands out as there is no contrast. But having a bag with a mix of two materials can give it some contrast and uniqueness that can take an all black backpack and give it some subtle distinctiveness.

An example of this would be a bag that uses a combination of leather and nylon or canvas (or in more technical terms, a coated material with a sheen and a woven material without a sheen.)

The combination of both materials can give you a sophisticated material mix that draws peoples eyes to the contrast and details.

This is one of the levers that you can pull to make your work backpack look interesting since you can’t really play around with the color (keep it darker tones), branding (minimal branding), or the graphics of the bag (no loud graphics).

2. Features & Functionality

What makes a work backpack a work backpack are the features that are designed specifically around your work life, like being able to carry your tech around. Here are the most common functionality to look for in a work backpack:

Structured Backpack

Work backpacks should have a structured look since it makes them feel more presentable and serious. This can be achieved with padding throughout the bag, and padding is also great for protecting your valuables.

Another benefit of having a structured backpack is that it will stand up straight when placed on the ground. You want to be able to put your bag down, open it, get what you need and move on with your work, and a bag that falls flat when you open it is harder to interface with. Plus, having a bag that’s next to you that doesn’t look all crumpled is an easy way to look more professional.

Lightweight & Portable

Whether you’re commuting to work or out for meetings, it’s important to have a backpack that’s lightweight so you don’t have to worry about back or shoulder pains.

Lightweight backpacks are made with materials that are lightweight, so it’s something to keep in mind when looking for a backpack made with heavier materials, like something that is all leather.

When you’re at the office, it’s great to have a backpack that is also easily portable, so having a secondary carry handle is a very useful feature. Accessory handles on the top or side of the backpack allow you to carry your backpack like a briefcase when you’re walking into your office or in a crowded area like the subway.

Padded Laptop Compartment

If you’re carrying your laptop or tablet to and from work, having a padded laptop compartment is a must have. Great laptop backpacks will have extra padding underneath the bottom of the laptop sleeve to keep your tech safe.

When evaluating a laptop compartment in a backpack, be sure to check if the padding in the laptop compartment extends all the way to the bottom of the bag or if there’s a few inches of space between the laptop sleeve and the bottom of the bag.

Extra points here go to a padded laptop sleeve that lives in a separate compartment from the main compartment of the backpack, so you’ll be able to easily access your tech without having to rummage through all of your other belongings.

Comfortable Back and Straps

Comfort is another key feature in a work backpack. While it doesn’t need to have all the padding and functionality of a hiking backpack, there are a few must-have features to allow for a comfortable carry.

One of those is having a back panel and shoulder straps that are padded. A comfortable back panel will have some sort of EVA, foam (EVE), or mesh padding inside of it to give your back a nice soft surface to lean on. Having breathable materials on the back panel is great for those hot summer days when you’re not trying to keep sweat marks to a minimal.

Padding on the shoulder straps is also a nice feature since it decreases the pressure on your shoulders and allows for an easier carry, especially if you’re someone who likes to carry your backpack on a single strap.

Plenty of Internal Organization

A work backpack with great internal organization is another must have feature, since you want to be be able to easily get stuff from your bag.

For easy access, choosing a backpack that has a U shaped zipper opening is your best bet. A backpack with a U shaped zipper like a panel loader, or tombstone shape makes sit easy to see where your stuff is while making getting things out simple. Types of backpacks to avoid if you value easy access are bag shapes like a roll top or top loader, since these require you to untie a drawstring or unroll a part of the bag first before you’re able to get into the main compartment.

For staying organized and on top of your game, it’s convenient to have a work backpack that has at least two main compartments, with one of them being a dedicated laptop compartment for keeping your tech safe and secure.

In the other compartment, it can be convenient if the backpack has some dedicated space for organization, like a zippered pocket, mesh pocket, or key rings and retractable cords. More is not always better in the case of an organized work backpack, so its best to find a bag that has all the necessary organization but not too many pockets that will probably go unused and feel cluttered.

Easy Access Pockets

When you’re commuting to and from work, having easily accessible pockets is a must have. An easy access pocket can be typically found on the front, side, or back of a backpack.

Whether it’s a subway card, phone, wallet, keys, headphones, gum, or any small item that you carry, having an easy access pocket makes getting items out much easier, especially since you won’t have to take off your backpack.

If you like to carry a water bottle to and from work, then using a backpack that has an easy access pocket for a water bottle is also convenient.

Durable and Weather Resistant

Having a work backpack that’s weather resistant is a nice feature, since it’ll give you peace of mind that your electronics are safe if you get caught in the rain. This could be a waterproof zipper that keeps your laptop compartment safe, or choosing a backpack thats been coated with a water-resistant layer.

Bonus: Luggage Straps, Gym Organizers, Safe Pockets

While the features mentioned above are must haves in any work backpack, there are some bonus features that can make a bag more usable, depending on your working lifestyle.

Luggage Straps

If you’re someone who travels a lot for work, then having a luggage strap built into the back panel will come in handy during your trips when you’re also rolling your luggage.

Gym Organizers

A great work backpack lets you carry all the essentials you need for your day, including post-work activities. If you regularly carry gym shoes in your backpack, then finding a bag that has a compartment for gym shoes can be a nice benefit.

Safe Pockets

Safe pockets make carrying your valuables more secure, whether it’s jewelry, a wallet, phone, or passport. Most safe pockets can be found on the back panel of the bag and are concealed with discreet, weather resistant zippers to prevent them from wet or easily targeted for theft.

Some things to avoid:

Heavy Branding

With a work backpack, you want the focus to be on you and not your bag so it’s best to avoid heavy branding and noisy graphics. Instead, go for a backpack with a subtle logo and clean aesthetic. There are other types of backpacks that you can wear to express yourself, but with a work backpack you want to be communicating professionalism, quality, and craftsmanship.

When it comes to your outfit, by keeping your work backpack to a minimal aesthetic, you can highlight other accessories you might wear like a watch, socks, or jewelry.

Excessive Details

Keeping it simple and minimal is best for conveying a professional look with work backpacks, so try and avoid things like excessive buckles, pockets, or zippers. You want to find a backpack that has just enough detail, but not more than what’s required for a work day.

Final Thoughts

The best work backpack at the end of the day comes down to your profession, taste, and the features that you need, but by following this guide you should have a better idea on what to look for and what to avoid.

We’ll be following up this article with a guide on the best work backpacks that we’ve found and tested, so stay tuned to the next version!