Heading back to the office or lecture hall? We round up the best bags to keep your belongings safe on your journey
The matters of how and where we work have changed dramatically since the first lockdown, but the coming months are set to see a gradual return to offices as many people head back to their old workplaces.
Others may be looking to switch things up by spending some more time working at a coffee shop just to get out of the house, while September also marks the start of college, when many students will be looking for bags to keep their laptops and other course materials safe and dry.
Whatever style you choose, you’ll want to make sure your backpack has a good, solid structure with thick, padded straps and a protective back panel to ensure even weight distribution and comfort.
Many backpacks are sold as unisex, but some stores sell men’s and women’s versions of the same model — women may find certain backpacks are too long for their torso, too wide for their shoulders or feel uncomfortable around their hips, so it’s often worth trying them out before buying.
Wherever you’re going, we’ve rounded up a selection of the most functional and durable backpacks for work and study.
A school-time favourite, Jansport’s backpacks are equipped with all of the essential features: adjustable straps, a padded back panel and easy-access pockets.
The brand’s Suede Campus (€60, jansport.eu) is a timeless design with a suede leather bottom, available in basic black and navy or bold patterns. The classic style has a padded internal sleeve that fits a 15in laptop, a side pocket for your reusable water bottle and a secondary front compartment with an organiser panel.
On a tighter budget, check out Amazon’s choice bag, the Matein Travel Laptop Backpack (€37.99, Amazon), which has more than 10,000 ratings.
The padded laptop sleeve fits models up to 15.6in, while the bag has a built-in USB charging port so you can plug your phone in to charge while walking or cycling. There’s also a hidden anti-theft pocket at the back to store your valuables.
If those bags seem too bulky for you, consider The North Face’s Isabella Backpack (€80), a women-specific model with specially designed back panel and shoulder straps for a more comfortable fit.
With a 17-litre capacity, it’s a smaller and much lighter shape than most of the others mentioned, yet it still boasts a fleece-lined compartment that can accommodate a 15in laptop, and another lined zip-top pocket for your sunglasses or phone.
For those who want a stylish backpack that doesn’t recall a traditional school bag, look to the selection from Danish brand Rains, which offers sleek Scandinavian designs in water-resistant materials.
The Buckle Backpack Mini (€90, Indigo & Cloth) is the neatest option, available in plain black, reflective trim or striking black and white.
The main compartment has a waterproof zipper for a tight seal, a padded internal sleeve that can fit a 13in laptop and a concealed phone pocket on the back.
Another Scandinavian favourite is the Fjällräven Kånken, a simple backpack that comes in a whole host of cheerful colours.
We advise checking out the Laptop Backpack, an update to the best-selling classic which is currently reduced at Dutch site TheLittleGreenBag.ie in a variety of shades, including red, ochre, royal blue and sky blue (selected colours from €79.99, down from €109.95).
The padded compartment can hold a 15in laptop. You can also find a larger 17in version for €139 at UrbanOutfitters.com.
For make-up artist Donna Morris, a well-organised kit bag is a must-have. “Over the years, I’ve gone through so many cases and bags for work. I would do a lot of travelling, so durability and weight is a major factor I have to take into consideration,” she says.
As well as her professional make-up bags, she likes the cases and backpacks from Zuca, best known for its rolling bags. For everyday, however, the brand offers a Business Backpack (€135, Zuca-Europe.com), with a padded laptop sleeve for a 15in screen and side zippered organisational pockets.
Those who cycle to work or college will need a bag that can withstand changeable weather, and the team at Dublin-based design studio AAD have tried and tested a number of different options.
Creative Director Brian Heffernan names the Patagonia Black Hole 25L as his favourite (€110, patagonia.com). It has a 15in laptop pocket and a chest strap to hold it in place when you’re on the bike.
“It’s hard to find the balance between something that works for your commute, in all weather and something you can use throughout the day that doesn’t make you look like Bear Grylls.
"I’ve been using my Patagonia Black Hole 25L for two years now and I absolutely love it,” he says of the bag, which comes in five colours and uses 100pc recycled materials for the body fabric, lining and webbing.
“There are compartments for both my laptop and my wet gear, and somehow it never feels floppy and too empty or over-crammed and too full — I don’t know how they do it.”
Sky’s the limit
AAD Director Johnny Kelly hails the “mighty” Transit Waterproof Backpack (€265, ShowersPass.co.uk) as “the most waterproof and comfortable transit bag”, and one that ensures his laptop stays dry while cycling to the office.
“It’s massive, super-strong and waterproof, and we make a great team zipping around town together,” he says of the bag, which has welded seams and waterproof zippers, along with a reflective trim for dark mornings and evenings. “It’s not cheap but I’ve had mine for almost five years and it’s as good as new.”
The fleece-lined compartment fits up to a 17in laptop, while the waist strap will stop the bag from swinging when cycling, and can also be removed and converted to a hip pack.
If you’re schlepping around a camera or other equipment, photographer Naomi Gaffey recommends the range from LowePro, specifically the ProTactic backpack (from €187.15, LowePro.com).
“I got it about four years ago when I went to Barcelona for a job and it’s been my staple ever since,” she says of the rain-resistant bag, which can accommodate a professional DSLR camera plus a 15in laptop.
“It’s not that heavy at all and it is designed to hold quite a bit. It’s divided up into different compartments — it’s modular, so you can move things around if you need to make space for your different equipment, it’s adaptable.”
Best on a budget: Jansport Suede Campus (€60, jansport.eu)
The school-yard favourite has had an upgrade for college and beyond, with a padded laptop sleeve that fits screens up to 15in. It includes a fully padded back panel and shoulder straps for a more ergonomic and comfortable fit, all at a wallet-friendly price.
Best for cyclists: Transit Waterproof Backpack (€265, ShowersPass.co.uk)
Johnny Kelly of design studio AAD hails this “mighty” backpack as the most reliable for keeping his laptop and other essentials dry while cycling into work. “It’s not cheap, but I’ve had mine for almost five years and it’s as good as new. I love it,” he says.
Best for fashion lovers: Rains Buckle Backpack Mini (€90, IndigoandCloth.com)
If you want something a little sleeker than the average rucksack, this cool, minimalistic silhouette can hold a 13in laptop and all your office necessities without looking like a holdover from your school days. Plus, it’s waterproof.