Backpack vs Briefcase: which classic carrier is right for you?

Backpacks offer a smart, casual and practical solution for carrying your stuff, but the briefcase is a classic staple accessory that’s also making a comeback in a big way

Backpack vs Briefcase
(Image credit: Getty)

Two classic styles of bag, the backpack and the briefcase, have both stood the test of time, and both evolved into bigger, better and more stylish accessories. But can they both offer the same level of style and functionality, or is one ultimately better than the other? 

We’re about to take a look at some of the pros and cons of each to help you decide what’s right for you.

If you're in the market, check out T3's guides to the best backpacks and best laptop bags.

Backpack vs Briefcase: Style

Backpacks have come along way and are no longer just for school kids or hiking trips. Backpacks have made their way into the boardroom and it’s not uncommon to see backpacks styled along with a suit and tie these days. 

Their style has evolved into something chicer and more elegant, with a variety of designs, styles and sizes that can take you from the gym to the office and out for dinner and drinks. 

Similarly, the briefcase has evolved from something that seemed so cumbersome and dated, into a bag that is both stylish and functional. Briefcases and satchel style bags now come in a variety of materials, sizes and designs that look equally as good with office wear as they do with jeans and trainers. 

However, there’s no denying that a briefcase still holds an air of authority and professionalism that can’t quite be achieved by a backpack in the same way. 

Backpack vs Briefcase: Functionality & Comfort

It’s certainly clear that a backpack offers a little more versatility when it comes to functionality – particularly for commuters in the modern world. While carrying a briefcase is great if you drive, walk or take public transport, a backpack offers hands-free travel which, in today’s fast-paced world, is often favourable. 

Those who commute by bike certainly wouldn’t find a briefcase practical, and if you have a long commute and lots to carry, then a backpack can provide extra comfort by spreading the weight of your bag evenly across your back.

However, most office workers don’t have too much to carry, unless you’re someone who likes to go to the gym before work or have the latest tech, but both the modern-day backpack and briefcase have ample space to hold a laptop and other devices, and so your method of commute is probably one of the biggest deciding factors. 

While a backpack is ideal for hands-free travel, a briefcase can be carried close to the body which can be better when on a packed tube, not just to keep your valuables within your sight, but also to avoid hitting other commuters as you squeeze through to find a seat on the train during rush hour. 

Ease of access is another perk of the briefcase, as sometimes trying to find something in your backpack can feel like you’re rifling through the TARDIS, and getting it on and off your back can be an effort when on the move. A briefcase, on the other hand, is easier to access on the go, but the fastenings can be a bit fiddly – buckles can be a pain to open, so opting for a zip fastening can be much less stressful. 

A briefcase is also a good option for anyone not wanting to mess up their attire when on the move, as arriving at the office with sweat patches and creases down your back isn’t always the best look, so if you do opt for a backpack, consider its breathability before investing. 

Backpack vs Briefcase: The Verdict 

For the everyday commuter, both a backpack and a briefcase have their perks. Briefcases are surprising spacious but for heavier loads, a backpack is definitely more practical and comfortable. In regards to style though, we love the look and feel a modern briefcase gives to both office and casual attire, making it a professional choice for school or work. 

However, we do feel there’s a time and a place for a briefcase. In addition, in terms of cost, a decent briefcase will set you back a little more than a backpack. If you have a lot to lug about and will be using it every day, then investing in a decent backpack will provide reliability, value for money and style that goes with pretty much anything. 

Looking for more luggage ideas? Check out the best suitcase and best carry-on luggage.

Sarah-Jane Butcher

Sarah-Jane is an experienced writer who has created reviews and buying guides for a number of publications including TechRadar,, Real Homes and TheRadar. She's a pro at finding the best products on the market and presenting them for your viewing pleasure.