Commuter essentials 101: a good podcast, an umbrella, and a great bag that has enough space for all the things you need for your day at the office - and after hours too.
While some people carry totes or briefcases, a backpack is the perfect option for a work bag, evenly distributing the load across your back and shoulders, and freeing up your hands to hold yourself steady on the tube or bus - or more importantly, to read your free copy of the Evening Standard.
The thing about a backpack though, is that you need to know how to carry one, especially on public transport. Basic etiquette dictates that you remove your backpack when boarding a busy carriage or bus. Don’t be that guy who face-bashes fellow passengers with a big, clunky bag - you don’t need that sort of passive-aggression in your life. Instead, set it down between your ankles where there’s more space for luggage. Be the kind of commuter you would want to travel with.
Aside from carrying it, there's always the risk of a backpack making you look like an overgrown schoolchild. The key is to steer clear from sports brands and look instead to bags designed thoughtfully for work and extracurricular activities, like hitting the gym or meeting friends for drinks.
Look out for features like a water bottle holder, laptop sleeve or built-in charger to help you get the most from your purchase.
From all-black bags to elegant pops of colour, we've rounded up the best bags to help you through the commute and beyond.
See our favourites below
Stolt Alpha backpack
If you’re looking for a smart looking backpack that’s intelligently designed, look no further than Stolt’s Alpha backpack - named because it’s the cream of the crop.
Whether you run, bike or use public transport to get to the office, this back ticks the boxes for all facets of the commute, and looks smart while it’s at it. Think an in-built device that hides the comfortable straps, taking the Alpha from backpack to briefcase. Then there’s the removable garment bag that’s helpful for anyone who needs to change when they arrive at their desk - runners and cyclists we’re looking at you. Another highlight is the well organised interior, full of compartments for all your devices, that comes in a striking pinstripe motif. Oh, and there’s even a little rain bag to see your kit through wet days.
The only point of hesitation is the price - it won't fit everyone's budget. But we think the well-made, high-quality bag is a wise investment that, with proper care and storage, you’ll likely get a lifetime of use from. Better to buy the one great bag then be forced to continually fork out for inferior ones.
Away The Backpack
The destination for sleek, functional luggage, Away has a backpack design that is perfect for the commute. It offers enough space to hold your lunch, a book, your wallet and yoga kit.
Available in three shades, it’s made from easy wipe-clean nylon that will protect your things from drizzle, while inside there are three spacious areas as well as a 15-inch laptop pocket.
In fact, there’s enough room to take this on small trips or weekend city breaks, making your investment go much further than the daily commute. Keep your passport safe in the hidden compartment and slot the back sleeve over your suitcase handle for easy transportation at the airport. There’s also a leather handle on the top which you can use to hold the bag when it’s not possible to wear it on your back.
Inateck Carry-On Backpack
Designed for travel, this backpack is ideal for shorter journeys too. It has an impressive 40 litre capacity and is filled with helpful pockets and designated sleeves for things like a 17-inch laptop. You’ll find another pocket on the large clamshell opening that’s great for stashing a spare set of clothes as well as two inner mesh sections - one of which contains a transparent wash bag for toiletries.
There’s also another padded laptop sleeve in an outer zipped compartment - perfect if you’re planning to get some tasks done on the move and don’t want to dig around in the main body of the bag. There’s even a water bottle holder that fastens with a zip, allowing you to adjust the size based on the bottle. Our favourite feature is a hidden anti-theft pocket that sits against the back, the perfect place to keep essentials like your phone or wallet.
Great for everyday use as well as short business trips when you don’t want to be encumbered with lots of heavy luggage.
Fjallraven Kånken Laptop Backpack
If this bag looks familiar, don't be surprised. It's one of the most spotted backpacks on the tube - not to mention the Internet. Established in the late 70s, Sweden’s Fjallraven bags retain a retro aesthetic but with thoroughly 21st century features.
The Kånken Laptop 15 is one of Fjallraven's bestselling bags, and it comes with enhanced features for modern life like a padded compartment for a 13-15 inch laptop, plus a removable seat pad, padded shoulder straps for extra comfort, and pockets on the sides. The small zipped compartment at the front is ideal for stashing smaller items like a mirror, lip balm and non-medical face coverings.
Kapten & Son Aarhus Cream Amber Backpack
The Swedish luggage and lifestyle brand has followed in the footsteps of the likes of IKEA by naming its backpack collections after Scandinavian towns - Oslo, Bergen and Goteborg for example. When it comes to work backpacks, we like the streamlined look and features of Aarhus, made with vegan-friendly fabric that’s every bit as stylish as the Danish town with which it shares its name. The roomy 14 litre interior has four inner pockets, there’s a compartment for 13 inch laptops too.
In addition, there’s three more compartments on the outside, so you can keep your expensive gadgets safe while storing things like your work pass, Oyster card or breakfast cereal bar close to hand.
Finally the wide padded straps make this comfortable to wear, whether you’re standing on the rush hour tube or walking to work. While we find this cream and tan colourway pleasing, the Aarhus does come in a variety of other palettes too so you should be able to find one that suits your taste.
Dimensions: H44.5 x W27 x D14cm.
Fans have been obsessed with Sandqvist’s brand of Nordic style since the company launched in 2004. It marries wholesome practicality with sleek city cool. The edit of backpacks come in mini, medium and large and a spectrum of elegant colourways. There’s black for traditionalists but also a beige, yellow and navy compilation that’s still smart enough for most offices.
It’s made with organic cotton canvas, which means your sweaty fitness gear won’t create an unshiftable funk inside the main compartment. The spacious 14 litre interior has plenty of space for all your things including a 13 inch laptop. There’s also a smaller zipped pocket on the outside to store things like headphones and lip balm.
Also available at John Lewis
Eastpak Tecum S CNNCT Black Backpack
Great for busy days at work, this sleek H42 x W30 x D15.5cm design will keep all your equipment in order rather than a jumbled mess.
It’s made with 100 per cent polyester which makes it comfortable and breathable to have on your back, while also being easy to keep clean.
There are dedicated pockets for your laptop and tablet, and there’s an elasticated mesh pocket on the side to store your water bottle although we think you could use it for a damp brolly too - the gaps in the mesh should help it dry more quickly.
KROSER Laptop Backpack
Many of the backpacks featured in this list are on the pricier side, but if you’re working with a smaller budget you can still get a great backpack with all the features you need - just without the designer label.
Among the best rated business backpacks on Amazon, the 16.9 x 11.15 x 7.5 inch canvas Kroser combines style and organisation with space for not just a laptop but a tablet too. There are pockets for small items, such as credit cards and keys as well as zipped compartment and side pockets for stuff you want to keep out of sight.One of our favourite things about this design is the built-in USB port which you can connect to a portable charger, so you’ll never have to worry about your phone or other devices losing juice again.
Available in multiple colours and prints.
Antler Chelsea Daypack
Typically work backpacks come in black - it goes with everything and it’s easier to mask scuffs and marks, but it can feel unimaginative. For those looking to add a splash of chic colour with your bag, head to Antler where you can find the small but mighty Chelsea backpack.
The Chelsea is a marriage of style and substance with padded straps supporting a lightweight design that comes in a durable, water-resistant outer layer. There’s a pocket big enough to securely hold a 13-inch screen laptop. It closes with a zip to keep your device safe no matter how packed or jostled your commute gets.
There’s also a strap on the back that slots over the handle of a suitcase, which means it’s great for taking on longer trips as hand luggage. Available in a choice of pastel colours as well as black.
Rains Backpack Daypack
Another Scandinavian design, Rains’ backpack is the perfect thing to weather through the British climate. For one, it’s made from a waterproof PU-polyester with further protection coming from a deep top flap, a heavy-duty carabineer clasp and a concealed mobile phone pocket at the back.
Inside there are further work-geared features like a zipped internal pocket and a laptop sleeve that fits a device of up to 16 inches. Also available in cream, black and a stylish monochrome palette.
Herschel Unisex's Little America Backpack
If your workplace is a smart/casual sort of situation, you may have wiggle room for a preppier backpack style. Inspired by hiking in America’s woodlands and national parks, Herschel’s supply makes us think of Wes Anderson and summer camp, arguably both worlds we would rather be lost in instead of the stuffy District line.
The contoured shoulder straps and padded back made with breathable mesh keep things comfortable while inside, the padded and fleece lined 15" laptop sleeve will protect your device from general tube turbulence. Aside from the drawstring closure at the top of the main compartment, you’ll get extra security from the strong magnetic closures with metal pin clips. There’s also a small pocket on the front for easy access to essentials like your keys, work entry card and tissues.
With lots of helpful add-ons, Stolt's Business Backpack is a prudent investment for anyone who needs a great piece of kit for daily use. We like that it's great for short holidays too with plenty of pockets and space to see you through a short getaway.