Last Updated: December 1, 2023

Messenger Bag vs Backpack – What’s the main differences?

Two decades ago, backpacks were for school children and hikers, and the briefcase was a common sight in offices and courtrooms. Today, the laptop is an essential tool for almost everyone. Manufacturers have met the need by providing an array of messenger bags and backpacks for carrying your laptop.

The right choice for you depends on several factors including style, features, and how the bag will be used. Weigh the pros and cons to decide the right choice for you.

Messenger Bag vs Backpack? What’s the Right Choice for You?

Because these backpacks are so similar, at least at first glance, it is often hard to decide. So, let’s break it down in detail…

Messenger Bags

Let’s begin with messenger bags.

Messenger bags typically come with a cross-body strap and handles for carrying like a briefcase. It’s named after the type of satchel used by mail carriers and bike couriers, and its roots can be traced all the way back to the pony express. Even utility pole climbers use a type of messenger bag to conveniently carry their tools.

The difference? Today’s messenger bags are designed to fit common-sized laptops, tablets, and folders full of the old-fashioned paperwork you still need. They are typically spatially well-designed and comfortable to carry. Many of these shoulder bags come with organizational features that make them quite versatile.


The single strap design of the messenger bag makes swinging it around in front of you easy to retrieve what you need. This design can make the messenger bag especially efficient for urban mobility and public transport. And you can reach for your laptop more quickly when on the move for business or between classes.

  • Most agree that messenger bags look more professional for both men and women.
  • Professors, lawyers, and others who dress in business or business-casual attire often prefer messenger bags over backpacks as they won’t wrinkle your clothing as backpacks can, and they’re less sweaty on your back.
  • Messenger bags make the statement that you are on the go and connecting from cubicle to cubicle, and office to office.
  • You can find messenger bags in a variety of styles to suit your personal tastes. You don’t have to go with one that looks structured only for work. You can choose a wider, softer look that says you have other interests.
  • You may be less ill at ease carrying a messenger bag into a bar or restaurant.
  • Messenger bags are available with well-padded laptop compartments.
  • You can find messenger bags designed for a certain specialty such as camera bags and disc golf bags.
  • Some messenger bags are water-resistant for those who may need this feature.
  • When used for travel, you’re less likely to overpack a messenger bag.
  • The cross-body style of the messenger bag makes it easier to carry valuables closer to the body.


  • Messenger bags may not have all the organizational features you need for more office items besides a laptop.
  • Loads tend to sit to one side with a messenger bag. If you walk for any length of time, say to and from the train or a parking deck, the lack of weight dispersion can get uncomfortable, especially for extra weight from textbooks and extra office essentials. Down the road, you could be in for lower or upper back and shoulder aches as your joints and vertebrae naturally wear with aged.
  • Messenger bags aren’t as versatile as backpacks for travel and other purposes.
  • If your suit jacket gets hot walking around town, you don’t have the room to stash it away as you do with a backpack.
  • Messenger bags don’t protect your gear as well as backpacks.
  • If your suit jacket gets hot walking around town, you don’t have the room to stash it away as you do with a backpack.
  • Messenger bags don’t protect your gear as well as backpacks.


Who will be using the bag? Messenger bags are good for the professional who only needs to pack a laptop and a few other office items. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and business professionals usually prefer them. Students may need more room for textbooks, but this could change as more books become digital.


Messenger bags go well with the suit and tie and business casual look. They make a statement about your professionalism. You can “dress down” with a style that has a wider, softer look. They can eliminate the need for a handbag or purse, and they are often made of expensive materials to enable you to proudly display your success.

Features to Look for

  • A fashionable, professional look
  • Ease in accessing contents
  • A compartment for other office items
  • Versatility for other uses


Backpacks have been a basic staple for decades. Many people use them from the working professional to the hiker and frequent traveler. They’re great for anyone with a lot of gear to carry around including hydration and extra clothing.

And most of today’s backpacks are specifically designed to protect laptops and other electronic equipment as well as protect your back and joints. It’s safe to say that the laptop has become an iconic item.


With their efficient pockets and compartments, backpacks give you more organizational options. They’re more functional than messenger bags.

  • Most backpacks have protective laptop sleeves. Some have bottoms designed to protect your laptop when sitting on the floor.
  • Backpacks have more overall shock-proofing. The two backstraps are often padded for comfort and help disperse weight more evenly.
  • Most backpacks are made of breathable materials.
  • Backpacks are roomier and more versatile making them better for travel.
  • Backpacks are available in a variety of styles from professional to sporty. Some even go easily from the office to the wilderness.
  • The more casual look of a backpack at the office can make you appear less severe, and not “all-business”.
  • On the campus, backpacks have more room for student supplies.


  • Backpacks make it more tempting to overpack. This can put extra strain on the body when walking long distances.
  • For some, backpacks have a less professional look for the office than a messenger bag.
  • A backpack may be too big for someone who only needs to carry a few essentials.
  • Unless it’s a crossbody bag, backpacks are easier to pickpocket or slash and grab.


Who will be using the backpack? Will it be for the office only? Part-time hikers and campers will need room for hydration and other supplies. Commuter cyclists and hikers will need a backpack that is comfortable and lightweight. Can you afford to have several different bags for multiple purposes?

Also, consider your work environment. Some backpacks are perfectly appropriate in some settings while professors, businessmen, lawyers, and other professionals will want something more professional-looking.


Backpacks come in lots of different styles. It’s easy to find one that suits your personality and lifestyle. They’re available in different sizes and shapes and made of a variety of materials. Leather and leather-trimmed backpacks look sleek and professional. Nylon backpacks look sporty while canvas and waxed canvas look trendy and casual.

Features to Look for

  • ergonomically designed for comfort
  • versatility and durability for multiple purposes
  • sufficient pockets and compartments for organization
  • Protection for your laptop and other electronics
  • Safety features such as reflectors, locks, and slash-proofing

In Conclusion

The decision on whether to purchase a backpack or messenger bag comes down to your main needs. Professionals who don’t need to carry a lot of office items other than a laptop will probably be happier with the looks and functionality of a messenger bag.

But if you cycle to work, or walk a few blocks to the office from the parking lot, a backpack will be more practical and comfortable. If you commute by public transport, a crossbody messenger bag will provide you with both safety and ease in getting to your things.

Backpacks will be more appealing to students, and younger professionals just starting out may find that a sleek, professional-looking backpack will suffice and transfer easily to travel and hiking. Their salaries may not be sufficient enough yet for them to own a plethora of bags.

These days, manufacturers are aware that almost everyone takes their laptop almost everywhere. Both the messenger bag and the backpack are great for carrying your electronics. When it comes to style, it’s all a matter of taste.

Here are some final questions to ask yourself:

Will a backpack look too casual for my work environment?

Will a messenger bag be sufficient enough for all my gear?

Which one will be more comfortable to carry in my situation?

Will I need to use the bag I purchase for multiple purposes?

Be sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully, and let this guide help you decide which one is right for you.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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