This article was originally featured in the NY Times Wirecutter.
If you take your laptop with you to work or school, a backpack is the best way to carry it. A backpack is more ergonomic than a messenger bag, capable of holding more than a briefcase, and more stylish than a rolling bag. Seven Wirecutter staffers took 53 backpacks on buses, trains, cars, and planes (and through TSA lines) to find the best laptop backpacks for commuting.
Although each person has their own criteria for what makes a perfect backpack, every bag we recommend holds a laptop and its power supply, remains comfortable to wear for an entire commute, and looks stylish (though tastes vary, of course). We have backpacks that are great for riding on tightly crowded buses and train cars or for biking in downpours. For ultra-organized tech wranglers and for people who want a black hole. For the fashion-forward and those who want something small and super-stylish or leather and luxe. For road warriors who fly regularly and for fitness-minded folks who bring their gym gear to work.
WHO THIS IS FOR:
Someone who values a comfortable, attractive bag with lots of storage but wants one that looks more stylish, subtle, and refined than most other backpacks.
WHY IT'S GREAT:
ISM’s The Backpack is a great choice if you want a stylish, sophisticated backpack that’s comfortable to wear for a long time and has enough storage for a full day of work (notably more storage than you’d find in small fashionable bags like the Rains). It fits a variety of body sizes and, in my opinion, appears a cut above everything my co-workers tested, thanks to its full-grain leather bottom.
The ISM (pronounced -ism) bag is a sleek, demure-looking backpack, with understated leather flourishes that provide a subtle contrast to its primarily nylon construction. Its leather bottom and trim details make it suitable for attending important meetings at the office or for impressing your date so thoroughly that they forget you were late to dinner because of said meetings.
The ISM bag is comfortable to wear on your back for long periods of time. The mesh padding on its arms and back is plush, and I had no issue wearing this bag for a cumulative 10 hours while testing. Riding on public transit, waiting for coffee, shopping at a vintage vinyl record outpost in SoHo—we’ve done it all together, the ISM and I. And I never felt like it was overheating my back.
ISM’s The Backpack has enough storage space to cover you in most situations. I counted six pockets and two main compartment areas, including a laptop sleeve for a 16-inch laptop. Most other backpacks I tested didn’t provide as much room as this one for storing notebooks and folders. The ISM pack provides a teeny leather flap on the right side, where you can pass through a phone charger from the inside of the bag.
ISM offers a lifetime warranty that applies to manufacturing defects in the bag’s materials. I couldn’t find a warranty this long for any of the other stylish backpacks I tested; some, like the AllSaints Ridge Rucksack, offer only a farcical 14-day return window.
FLAWS BUT NOT DEALBREAKERS:
At its usual price of $235, ISM’s The Backpack is expensive, so I recommend this bag only to those who care deeply about appearances. The lifetime warranty makes this pricey pill a touch easier to swallow compared with other fashionable bags like those from AllSaints and Saturdays, both of which have a paltry two-week return policy. The ISM pack also lacks side pockets, but if you’re carrying a bag for style, it’s better to avoid stashing a plastic water bottle on the outside.
Dimensions: 18 by 13½ by 5 inches
Weight: 1.8 pounds
Water-bottle holders: none
Warranty: lifetime (manufacturing defects only)
Maximum laptop size: 16 inches
Colors: black with black accents, black with gold accents