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I’ll never forget my first messenger bag: it was blue and had rainbow peace signs all over the fabric. I know, elementary school at its finest. I remember gravitating towards the bag because it was so spacious and roomy. Compared to a traditional backpack, I loved how it resembled a purse with its over-the-shoulder design and fit all of my favorite books with ease.
Messenger bags are typically made from durable fabric, like canvas or leather. In addition, they have a crossbody strap that's designed to be worn against the lower back and can be easily shifted around to browse through contents. When it comes to size, they are typically wider than they are tall and allow for a wider range of motion during daily activities compared to a traditional backpack. With that in mind, messenger bags have gained popularity among business professionals, students, and travel-goers alike (and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon).
To narrow down the best messenger bags, we tapped experts Desiree Miranda and Leena Alsulaiman for suggestions and tips on what to look for in these handy bags that’ll change the way you carry and move throughout the world.
Read on for Byrdie's recommendations for the best messenger bags on the market.
Best Overall: Cuyana 13-Inch Messenger Bag
At just under $400, this Cuyana staple combines high-quality craftsmanship and functionality making it the best overall messenger bag. Inside you'll find a sleeve for your laptop and a zip pocket to keep your belongings secure whether that’s a phone or car keys. Plus, its thick strap ensures comfort for all-day wear. It's also available in both 13- and 16-inch versions so it'll fit your laptop no matter how big or small.
Material: Heavyweight Italian leather | Dimensions: 9.8 x 13.8 x 3.9 inches (13-inch), 10.4 x 15 x 3.9 inches (16-inch) | Colors: Black, Cappuccino, Light Rose, Light Stone
Best Designer: Prada Re-Nylon Shoulder Bag
Embrace this throwback accessory trend the best way you can—with a nylon Prada bag that's straight from the '90s. This messenger bag offers a removable nylon pouch, and zipper and flap pockets for ultimate storage and organization for whatever you need to tote. Re-Nylon is Prada's regenerated nylon yarn made from recycled ocean plastic. It might cost you a pretty penny, but it’s designed to last. While this won't hold standard laptops, it's big enough for most reading tablets and iPads, plus lots more.
Material: Regenerated nylon | Dimensions: 8 x 10.6 x 4.7 inches | Colors: Black
Best Value: Kenneth Cole Single Gusset Flapover Colombian Leather Messenger Bag
This messenger bag is everything you could want at an unbeatable value. Find a laptop pocket and one for your cell phone alongside rear pockets for other essentials. Not sure how you want to wear it? Adjust the padded shoulder strap for a fit that suits your needs.
Material: Cowhide leather | Dimensions: 11 x 15 x 3 inches | Colors: Brown
Best Budget: Rothco Canvas Classic Messenger
Not looking to spend over $50 on a messenger bag? Lucky you, this classic messenger bag is around $30, and it has Y2k back-to-school season written all over it. It's made from thick cotton canvas and features a large main compartment designed to fit laptops, books, folders, etc. Find an adjustable strap to give the support and leverage you need depending on the bag's contents.
Material: Cotton canvas | Dimensions: 15 x 11 x 6 inches | Colors: Pink, Black, Blue, Brown, Gray, Khaki, Mocha +more
Best for Work: Fossil Miles Messenger Bag
When headed into the office, toss on this messenger bag that’s perfect for work. With a 15-inch laptop pocket, two slide pockets, and pen holders, this bag is equipped for all of your work needs. Also, its versatile top handle allows for easy carrying.
Material: Leather and recycled polyester | Dimensions: 15 x 3.5 x 11.5 inches | Colors: Black, Brown
Best Waterproof: RAINS Messenger Bag
There’s nothing worse than walking to school or work for it to rain and all of your belongings become wet. Made from a durable nylon shell, this messenger bag from RAINS will keep your contents dry in weather of all sorts from rain to snow.
Material: 100% polyester | Dimensions: 11.8 x 16.1 x 4.3 inches | Colors: Black, Navy, Wood
Best Personalized: Mark & Graham Leather Messenger Bag
This best-selling leather messenger bag can serve as a briefcase for those business meetings and then transform into a lightweight travel accessory—with an option for personalization. Find a padded sleeve to keep your laptop secure and additional pockets to hold everyday essentials like keys, cards, and lipstick.
Material: Leather | Dimensions: 16 x 4 x 12 inches | Colors: Terra, Chocolate
Best for Travel: Timbuk2 Lightweight Flight Messenger Bag
When it comes to traveling, having a lightweight bag is key. Made from light and clean fabric, this messenger bag is easy to carry on the plane or stow away in a car for a road trip. If you’ve filled it up to the brim, the strap is padded to ensure ultimate comfort for those long excursions.
Sizes: XS, S, M | Colors: Nightfall/Marigold, Scout/Shade, Jet Black/Blue Wish, Granite/Flame | Dimensions: 15 x 13.2 x 10.8 inches (small)
Best Backpack: Beis Travel The Messenger Backpack
The best purchase is one that can be used on many different occasions. This bag transforms from a messenger bag to a backpack in seconds. Find a padded laptop on the interior alongside hidden metal handles for when you want to carry it around instead of on your back.
Material: Faux leather and polyester | Dimensions: 16.5 x 13 x 3.5 inches | Colors: Black
Best for Class: Ecosusi Sombre Vintage Briefcase
Head to school in style with this vintage briefcase-style messenger bag. Whether you’re in high school, college, or grad school, this eye-catching bag can show off your personality and hold those school essentials—like your laptop, pencils, pens, folders, and more.
Material: Premium faux leather and polyester | Dimensions: 16.3 x 11.8 x 3.8 inches | Colors: Pink, Brown, Black, Blue
Best Convertible: Fossil Camilla Leather Convertible Backpack Purse Handbag
Style is of the essence not only for clothes but for accessories and bags. This triple-threat can transform from a backpack to a handbag to a messenger bag with a few quick adjustments. Find two zipper pockets to keep small trinkets and a large pocket fit for a laptop or other smart device.
Material: Leather | Size Range: 11.5 x 4 x 14.25 inches | Colors: Black, Henna, Brown Camilla, Black Camilla
What to Look for in a Messenger Bag
Shoulder strap width
Alsulaiman suggests looking into the shoulder strap width, the actual size of the bag, and the appropriate fabric or color for the occasion. All of these factors can help ensure you purchase the messenger bag that’s right for you and its intended use.
The size of the messenger bag depends on what you plan on using it for. For example, if you’re going to take this messenger bag to work, then you’ll want to opt for a larger size to fit important documents, a laptop, and other essentials. The same idea applies to travel so you can fit the most in your bag whether in a plane, car, or train.
Fabric and color
Many messenger bags are made from leather or faux leather. Leather is extremely durable making it ideal for messenger bags that are prone to everyday wear and tear. In terms of color, messenger bags are typically available in solid colors (black, white, beige, etc.). However, some brands have vibrant colors for those less formal occasions where a pink messenger bag would be appropriate.
Are messenger bags professional?
Messenger bags can be professional if chosen in the right fabric and color. If you’re using a messenger bag for work, then you probably want to opt for a leather bag in a dark shade. However, it also depends on your profession. If you tend to dress up for work in professional clothes, then make sure your bag complements this aesthetic.
“Messenger bags are professional,” says Miranda. “They remind me of the classic briefcase I would see my dad bring with him every day to work.”
What are messenger bags used for?
Similar to most bags, messenger bags are used to carry items, but typically those on the larger side. “They are more so a utility bag versus a bag for style. Look for styles that have lots of compartments and pockets,” says Miranda. With that said, Alsulaiman attests to the idea that messenger bags are functional and can make carrying a heavy bag easier while adding a bit of style.
Can you use messenger bags for travel?
Messenger bags are a great travel bag because of their large interior for storage, over-the-shoulder strap for easy carrying, and durable fabric.
“Being organized while you travel is a game changer and the right bag will make it that much easier,” says Miranda.
Most messenger bags can fit a standard laptop so whether you’re traveling for business or going on vacation, you can rest assured you’ll have a secure place to stow your valuables.
Why Trust Byrdie
Casey Clark is a Byrdie contributor and has written about fashion for other publications like StyleCaster, Reviewed, BuzzFeed, and more. When she was growing up, she used a messenger bag every day to carry her laptop and school essentials so she knows a thing or two about these functional bags.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough messenger bags from Black-owned and/or Black-founded businesses to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.