Backpack vs messenger bag: which one should you carry?

Whether it's your commute to work or a weekend away, we compare two popular bag styles: the backpack vs messenger bag to help you decide which one is best for you

Backpack vs messenger bag
(Image credit: Getty)

Two of the most popular unisex bag choices today are a backpack and a messenger bag. While these bags may have previously been reserved for school kids or the postman, now both offer a modern style that is favoured for all purposes, whether that be for work, leisure or travel. 

The bag you choose will likely depend on what you plan to use it for, so we’ve rounded up some of the features and benefits of each to help you decide which bag is most suitable for you. 

Once you've finished reading this guide, check out the best backpacks and best laptop bags.

Messenger bag: Pros and cons

The major difference between a backpack and a messenger bag is the style. A messenger bag has a cross-body strap for wearing across one shoulder. This satchel style is great for carrying your personal belongings hands-free, and they are the perfect size for laptops and folders, making the messenger back a good choice for students and workers. 

The perks of a messenger bag are that it’s easy to access your stuff on the move, plus they have a slightly more professional look than backpacks, making them a popular modern alternative to a briefcase. 

The downside to a messenger bag is that if packed too heavy, it can cause strain on one side, and while they often come with lots of compartments to organise your things, overall, they don’t tend to be as spacious as backpacks can be. 

Backpack: pros and cons 

A backpack on the other hand is perfect for carrying heavier items, and most backpacks come with a laptop sleeve that can fit a device up to 16 inches. With two secure straps and breathable material, a backpack allows you to evenly carry the weight on your back to reduce strain, making them much more suitable for cyclists. 

If you have a long commute, or you’re travelling, then a backpack is going to provide you with ample space and compartments to pack in more belongings, and is more likely to be weatherproof than a messenger bag. 

Yes, a top-loading backpack can be a pain to find things in, especially if you’ve packed it full, but if you’re on a long journey, it’s up to you whether you prefer to have ease of access or the extra space should you need it.

Backpack vs messenger bag: verdict

The style and design of each bag, along with the purpose you intend to use the bag for is ultimately how to choose which one is right for you. Messenger bags look the part. They offer a smart-casual style that doesn’t look out of place with jeans or a suit and tie. With easy access to its main compartment and enough space for a laptop or books, it’s the ideal choice for students, office workers or similar. 

However, the best backpacks have evolved a lot over the years, and while they may seem slightly more casual in style, they are much more versatile and practical for a lot of different purposes, making them especially useful for commuting and long journeys. You’ll have a lot more choice of backpacks to suit your needs, such as size, material and style, whereas messenger bags tend to come as a one-size-fits-all design. 

Naturally, a two-strap design such as a backpack is going to stand the test of time longer than a one-strap design such as that of a messenger bag. Ultimately a messenger bag is ideal for shorter journeys and to carry everyday items, but if you need something more robust to carry multiple items such as laptops, clothing, snacks and more, then a backpack is the most reliable option. 

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.