Bombproof bag for bike commuters 2020

Bombproof bag for bike commuters 2020/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 of what you need than a briefcase, and more stylish than a rolling bag. Seven Wirecutter staffers took 44 backpacks on buses, trains, cars, and planes (and into TSA lines) to find the best laptop backpacks for commuting.
The Patagonia Arbor Classic shown in a light tan color.

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The minimal organization, maximum flexibility

The Arbor Classic gives you a ton of space but lacks interior organization. Its retro look is high on charm if low on polish.

Who this is for: Someone who wants to transport everything they could possibly need for the day—but doesn’t want to lose space or to limit what they can carry due to internal dividers or organization.

A person wearing the Patagonia Arbor Classic

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Why it’s great: With only the bare minimum of internal organization, the Patagonia Arbor Classic can just as easily hold the ingredients for a dinner party or a weekend’s worth of clothes. It offers a manageable size that you can easily compact on the days when you’re not lugging the kitchen sink around. Back home, I’ve taken the Arbor Classic walking, biking, and riding on buses and trains. The padded straps were comfortable and easy to adjust, even when the backpack and all my stuff weighed over 20 pounds.

A selection of items someone stored in their Patagonia Arbor Classic, including a laptop, charger, a shopping bag, a sandwich, a bike helmet, and more.

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In addition to its supermassive black-hole main compartment, the Arbor Classic has a laptop sleeve and two deep pockets; one perfect for keys, pens, makeup, and a phone on the front of the bag, and one inside the flap large enough for a thick paperback. And one of my favorite features of the Arbor Classic is that when you’re carrying a light load, you can tighten the drawstring and flap straps to reduce the bag’s footprint.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Arbor Classic doesn’t have a water bottle pocket. Although it offers plenty of space inside to stash a bottle if you have one, that isn’t as convenient.

The lack of pockets in general helps the Arbor Classic retain its black-hole quality, but a small zippered internal pocket would be a practical addition for keeping items such as a passport or a pair of headphones safe and easy to find.

  • Dimensions: 20 by 12 by 9 inches
  • Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Water bottle holders: none
  • Warranty: lifetime guarantee if you’re not satisfied with your item or it doesn’t perform to your satisfaction; wear and tear damage will be repaired for a charge
  • Maximum laptop size: 15 inches
  • Colors: black, navy with brown trim, khaki with teal trim, gray with green trim, purple with teal trim, brown with khaki trim, teal with gray trim

A robust carry-all

Chrome’s Urban Ex Rolltop has handy loops for hanging a helmet or U-lock, plus plenty of room in its main compartment for a laptop, a change of clothes, and more.

Who this is for: If you ride your bike to work, you need a backpack that’s sturdy and durable, comfortable, and big enough to hold all your gear. Unlike other commuters—who can get away with carrying only a laptop and a few other work essentials—bike commuters need ample space for a helmet, a bike lock, a water bottle, a raincoat and pants, a change of clothes, toiletries, and more.

A person wearing the Urban Ex backpack while holding a helmet.

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Why it’s great: After spending 10 hours researching the best backpacks for bike commuting, we spent a total of six hours testing the top contenders, including weighing them on a digital scale, stuffing them full of gear and biking around Central Park, and having a panel of five Wirecutter staffers examine and opine on each one. Of the eight backpacks we tested, Chrome’s Urban Ex Rolltop 28L Backpack was the clear favorite.

An inside view of the Urban Ex backpack.

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The Urban Ex Rolltop is widely available, relatively affordable, and covered by a limited lifetime warranty. It has adjustable buckles across the chest to keep the pack secure while you’re riding, as well as MOLLE loops on the outside to clip on a helmet, a U-lock, a light, and other accessories. You should attach extra reflectors and lights for riding at night, but the reflective strips on the Urban Ex Rolltop are more substantial than those on some other bags we tested—which is important for visibility during golden-hour and early-morning rides.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Urban Ex Rolltop is the biggest bike-appropriate model we tested, and although we think its large size is necessary for the job it’s meant to do, it might be too bulky for some people, especially more casual commuters. It also has a slightly less intuitive closure than those of other bags we tested—you have to roll up the top and strap the ends down with buckles on the side—but we found it easy enough to maneuver after a few tries. Lastly, the Urban Ex Rolltop doesn’t have a designated spot for a water bottle, but it does offer plenty of room for one in its cavernous main compartment.

  • Dimensions: 24 by 16.5 by 7 inches
  • Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Water bottle holders: none
  • Warranty: lifetime
  • Maximum laptop size: 15-inch MacBook Pro
  • Colors: black, khaki, red
A Timbuk2 Custom Prospect leaning against a red wall

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Slimmer, more organization

The Custom Prospect is as slim and stylish as it is comfortable and durable. It’s not as big as our top pick for bike commuters, but it has lots of slots and pockets for organization.

Who this is for: Most people in our panel test said the Chrome Urban Ex Rolltop was much too big and utilitarian for their needs. If you have a short, leisurely bike commute and don’t need to carry lots of gear, go with the Timbuk2 Custom Prospect.

A person wearing the Custom Prospect backpack while holding a bike helmet.

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Why it’s great: Like our top pick for bike commuters, the Timbuk2 Custom Prospect Laptop Backpack meets all of our major requirements. It has a limited lifetime warranty, offering peace of mind on a purchase that will need to withstand a lot of wear and tear. Its rolltop closure allows you to extend the main compartment or make it smaller, depending on how much gear you’re carrying. The version we tested had both waterproof paneling and an internal plastic liner, ensuring that our laptop and our other important office supplies stayed dry. The chest straps are easy to adjust and buckle, keeping the pack securely attached to your torso while you’re riding or walking. And reflective details on the straps help with visibility, keeping you safe during low-light rides.

The interior of the Custom Prospect backpack.

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The Custom Prospect is also a bit more organized than the Urban Ex Rolltop. It has padded, Velcro-latched slots for a 15-inch laptop and a tablet or notebook inside, with external access through a zipper at the top of its back panel. Plus, a zip-up pocket and two other fabric slots inside the main compartment can hold other accessories such as a phone, a power bank, pens, and charging cables.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Custom Prospect doesn’t have loops to hold a helmet or U-lock, but you can make do by clipping your accessories into the straps on top. Also, as on our top pick, the closure is a little fiddly—you have to fold the top over once, Velcro it, and then buckle the straps—but handling that takes only a couple of seconds. One of the biggest drawbacks of the Custom Prospect is that it takes a few weeks to ship because you have to get it custom-made (since Timbuk2 bags are not normally waterproof).

  • Dimensions: 22 by 11 by 5 inches
  • Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Water bottle holders: two
  • Warranty: lifetime
  • Maximum laptop size: 15-inch MacBook Pro
  • Colors: black, army green, charcoal, beige
A picture of the Fjällräven Räven 28 backpack.

A plane commuter’s laptop bag

The Fjällräven Räven 28 looks like a minimal backpack but has the organization you need while you’re running to catch your next flight out of town

Who this is for: Check out this bag if you need one that has enough space for an overnight business trip and enough organization for you to grab things quickly in a TSA line, plus a structure and style that’ll still look good when you show up at the office after a red-eye.

A person shown wearing the Fjällräven Räven 28 backpack.

Why it’s great: The durable Fjällräven Räven 28 Backpack has a water-resistant exterior and a plethora of pockets, and it’s extremely comfortable to wear. Interior and exterior organization spots are plentiful and convenient, including a pair of external water bottle pockets that are equally handy as holsters for travel documents such as a boarding pass or a customs form. It’ll fit neatly below your seat as a personal item, yet it has the room for a 15-inch laptop, your business gear, a change of clothes or two, and a pair of slim shoes or flats.

In our tests, we easily zipped a laptop in and out of the bag while in a TSA line, saving precious seconds and avoiding glares from fellow travelers. The laptop compartment has a spacious open area and a second pocket for organizing documents, tucking in a binder, or holding a tablet for in-flight entertainment.

The front storage compartments of the Fjällräven Räven 28.
The large, 28-liter capacity means you have the space to stash a huge number of items. But be careful—the more you load, it the heavier it gets. Photo: Michael Murtaugh

The zippered middle pocket is roomy enough for a change of clothes, shoes, and a toiletry kit, so you don’t have to push those items out of the way to get to your laptop. The other organized pockets on the front of the bag can help you prioritize access to pens, business cards, adapters, and cables, which would otherwise roll around in the main compartment.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: While the Räven 28 fit our 5-foot-6 reviewer perfectly, it was a bit large for another tester, who is 5-foot-1.

Both water bottle pockets are sewn close to the sides of the bag. This design ensures that they won’t look flabby when they’re empty, but it also means that your bottles may have a snug fit. A fully loaded bag’s interior space may prevent you from fitting bottles in the pockets. On the other hand, a less-than-full bag means that 1-liter or larger bottles will fit fine.

  • Dimensions: 19 by 13 by 9 inches
  • Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Water bottle holders: two
  • Warranty: lifetime, but doesn’t include accidental damage
  • Maximum laptop size: 15 inches, with room
  • Colors: dusk, storm, redwood, black, navy, dark olive, blue ridge, deep blue, dandelion, super grey, chestnut
The front of the Briggs & Riley Kinzie Street Slim Expandable Backpack.

Slimmer and prettier, for a price

Choose the Briggs & Riley if you need a stylish laptop bag to take to senior-level business meetings, usually in other cities, states, or countries

Who this is for: Folks who are constantly on the move between home and some distant meeting—and who want a bag with more style and panache, and are willing to pay over double the price of the Fjällräven Räven 28.

A picture of a person wearing the Briggs & Riley Kinzie Street Slim Expandable Backpack, shown here with leather accents on the front flap and top handle.

Why it’s great: The Briggs & Riley Kinzie Street Slim Expandable Backpack looks at home in a professional office—but it looks even better at the five-star resort stay you’ve earned with all your points. It offers excellent organization for a compact daily commute bag, and it expands to hold a change of clothes for overnight trips. It also has a lifetime warranty that covers even accidental damage. Although it’s typically three times the price of the Fjällräven Räven 28, for someone who travels constantly and needs a bag that looks extremely professional, it’s worth that cost for its refined business-appropriate style, its excellent construction, its travel-specific amenities, and a warranty that will cover it even if it gets run over by a baggage cart at the airport.

A view of the inside of the Briggs & Riley Kinzie Street Slim Expandable Backpack, showing its pockets and other storage compartments.

The laptop pocket has enough space to swallow a 15-inch laptop. We suspect that some 17-inch laptops will fit as well, because we had inches of room around the Dell XPS 15 we used as a gauge. Removing the laptop from the case in a TSA line was easy. After we moved the magnetic flap aside, the zippers were among the smoothest to open during our tests.

You can expand the middle chamber by unzipping around its exterior to free another few inches of space—enough for a change of clothes. This compartment has a padded tablet pocket that fit our 15-inch laptop snugly, so it is possible to carry two full-size laptops in the bag. That same middle chamber is filled with pockets to organize business cards and credit cards, pens, digital styluses, power adapters, and cables.

Like the Räven 28, the Kinzie Street slim backpack fit our 5-foot-6 tester almost perfectly, with no bunching or awkward pressure on the shoulder straps. It fit a little better than the Räven for our 5-foot-1 tester, especially in its compact form.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Although you can carry a change of clothes and your laptop in this bag, it will be too full if you also need to carry a binder or shoes. The Fjällräven Räven 28 is a better choice for holding thicker items such as sneakers. No water bottle pocket, either.

The Briggs & Riley Kinzie Street has a lifetime warranty that covers even accidental damage, but that also means it has a high purchase price, typically a $180 premium over the Fjällräven Räven 28.

  • Dimensions: 17 by 12.5 by 3.5 to 6 inches (expandable)
  • Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Water bottle holders: none
  • Warranty: lifetime, including accidental damage
  • Maximum laptop size: 15 inches, but some 17-inch laptops could easily fit
  • Colors: gray, navy
A selection of bags tested in our review of the best laptop backpacks.

If you commute with your laptop, a backpack is the most convenient and ergonomic way to carry your computer, your cables, and everything else you need for the day. Unlike briefcases, messenger bags, or totes, backpacks spread the weight of your gear across both your shoulders, which is more comfortable and better for your back over the course of a long day.


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