The 6 best laptop backpacks for work, travel and everything else

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Molly Flores/CNN Underscored
Molly Flores/CNN Underscored

If there’s one thing about me, it’s that I’m often packing a laptop backpack full of tech, books and various personal necessities. Whether I’m on my way to a meeting or going out for the evening, laptop bags always seem to fit. And since I tend to invest in the best laptops, I want a bag that will protect them through any calamity I or NYC can throw at them.

This led me to an appreciation of all of the little things that make these laptop bags special, and scrutiny for all the ways they might fail you and your gear. So, I decided I wanted to find the best ones, and called a bunch in from top retailers, comparing them against the ones I already owned (sadly, none of those made the cut). These laptop backpacks are for anyone and come in a variety of colors and sizes, though I tested in darker hues that go with everything.

In my testing, I tended to use similar-enough hardware to keep an even playing field, such as a 16-inch laptop or two (either the bigger MacBook Pro M3 or the Alienware m16 R2). I often threw in the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones in their hard-shell travel case, and other daily essentials such as my Anker Nano portable charger (my favorite iPhone 15 accessory).

In the end, six laptop backpacks came out of the bag battle as winners, and here’s why I recommend them.

The best laptop backpacks

Herschel Classic Backpack XL 26L
The best laptop backpack that’s basic in a good way

Molly Flores/CNN Underscored
Molly Flores/CNN Underscored

Herschel’s nearly ubiquitous Classic XL bag sports a clean design, but its popularity isn’t just based on its minimalist looks. It’s relatively affordable and comfortable, and can carry a decent amount of gear. I found it easy to fit a 16-inch laptop with its charging brick, my headphones, a light spring jacket and gym essentials (including a 20-ounce water bottle). Its front pouch is roomy enough to still have space after I dropped my portable charger and sunglasses case in there.

My biggest gripe is its lack of a luggage handle slot (a must for travel backpacks), which I’ve found invaluable to my comfort and sanity while flying. Its laptop sleeve padding is adequate, though the slot’s front side is more fabric than protection, a frequent situation for lighter bags. Nevertheless, in my day-to-day usage, I’ve found it fit for both going to work and bopping around town.

Rated for laptops as large as: 16 inches

Dimensions, volume: 18 by 13 by 6.8 inches, 26 liters

Warranty: Herschel provides a limited lifetime warranty “free of material and manufacturing defects.”

$65 at Herschel
$65 at Zappos

Lululemon Everywhere Backpack 22L
The best laptop backpack that you’ll probably also use as a gym bag

Molly Flores/CNN Underscored
Molly Flores/CNN Underscored

In words I’m shocked to write, I appreciate what this Lululemon laptop backpack is doing. Minimalist, made with a glossy, water-repellent nylon and sold in a variety of colors, the Lululemon Everywhere is made to match your fit and still holds a fair bit. I packed a 16-inch MacBook Pro with charger and cord, my light spring jacket and over-ear headphones. And since it’s a Lululemon bag, I also packed my gym shorts and a tank top inside, and put my 20-ounce water bottle in one of the side pockets, with my portable charger and sunglasses in the exterior pouch. It’s almost too simple, though, as its straps would be nicer with a bit more padding — though I didn’t find it uncomfortable as I lugged my daily necessities around NYC. And just like with the Herschel, I’m annoyed by the lack of a luggage handle slot and its bare minimum on laptop sleeve padding. Looking for something less minimal but still trendy? We liked the Lovevook backpack.

Rated for laptops as large as: 16 inches

Dimensions, volume: 11.4 by 5.9 by 16.9 inches, 22 liters

Warranty: Lululemon doesn't offer a standard warranty, but its site states, "If our product doesn't perform for you, we'll take it back." However, the company also notes that this policy "does not cover usage beyond practical lifetime," and "cannot be applied to any item purchased through Like New."

$78 at Lululemon

Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe
The best laptop backpack that fits a lot of laptops

Molly Flores/CNN Underscored
Molly Flores/CNN Underscored

If you want to carry a laptop (or two or three) in a stylish bag that’s got plenty of durability, check out the Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe from Timbuk2. While it looks a little unassuming at first, unclasp the buckles on the bottom of the bag to take advantage of its full size. Once those are let loose, this bag can actually hold three whole laptops — a 16-inch MacBook Pro, a 16-inch Alienware and a 13-inch MacBook Air — comfortably, in different slots. And the laptops in the rear sleeve benefit from the strongest and thickest protection I found in this round of testing.

On top of all that, the Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe still had room for those laptops’ chargers, my headphones and my big water bottle. Plus, a sunglasses case fits in the front zippered pouch, while my small notebook and pen tucked inside a zippered pouch on the exterior. Oh, and it offers that slot for your luggage handle to slide into, because going to the airport is tiring enough without a bag on your back.

Rated for laptops as large as: 16 inches

Dimensions, volume: 18.9 by 11.4 by 5.3 inches, 20 liters

Warranty: Timbuk2 offers a lifetime warranty that covers “manufacturing defects in materials and workmanship are covered, notwithstanding age.”

$159 at Timbuk2

Bellroy Transit Workpack
The best laptop backpack I’ll probably buy for my office commute

Molly Flores/CNN Underscored
Molly Flores/CNN Underscored

The Transit Workpack from Bellroy (a personal favorite brand of mine, as they made my wallet, and I’ve owned past backpacks) is neat for a couple of reasons. First off, I just really like the look and durable feel of its water-resistant Baida nylon material, while the two-tone design that its glossy zipper tape provides is a good bonus. Second of all, there’s this one little zippered pocket at the top of the backpack that’s supposedly meant for sunglasses (though I’m not storing those outside of a hard-shell case), but it’s also perfect for my work ID card I always forget and the MagSafe Battery Pack I always wish I packed.

As for what it can hold, that depends on comfort. Sure, it can fit up to three laptops at once, but its straps lack the padding to make that much heft feel OK. Instead, I’ve been carrying it around with a 16-inch laptop (which slides into a study and cushioned sleeve) with charger, my small notebook with pen, noise-canceling headphones and a hardcover book — all in their own space so they’re easy to find. Plus, there’s a carabiner to hold your keys (they’ve gotta go somewhere when you’re on a trip).

Rated for laptops as large as: 16 inches

Dimensions, volume: 19.7 by 12.6 by 7.1 inches, 20 liters

Warranty: Bellroy provides a three-year warranty against “defects in materials and workmanship … when used under normal conditions and for the purpose intended.”

$199 at Bellroy

Troubadour Orbis 1-Pocket Backpack
The best fashionable laptop backpack

Molly Flores/CNN Underscored
Molly Flores/CNN Underscored

Troubadour’s Orbis 1-Pocket Backpack offers both style and a surprising capacity, as this super-soft vegan leather and recycled polyester bag managed to hold both of the 16-inch laptops I had on hand in its back slot alone. Its laptop protection is as strong as it gets here. Then, in the main compartment, it’s got a water bottle holder, room for big wireless headphones and two pockets and a pair of zippered pouches. Lastly, you’ve got the quick-access pocket on the front for keeping an extra pair of glasses, a portable charger, your passport and more. On top of all that? The vegan leather isn’t the only part of the Orbis that feels good; its padded straps provided a lot of comfort as I hustled around the city.

Rated for laptops as large as: 16 inches

Dimensions, volume: 16.5 by 11.8 by 5.5 inches, 17.6 liters

Warranty: Troubadour provides a “a five-year guarantee against any manufacturing fault.”

$295 at Troubadour

Peak Design Everyday Backpack
The best customizable laptop backpack

Molly Flores/CNN Underscored
Molly Flores/CNN Underscored

Want to carry everything and keep it organized along the way? You’ll probably love the Peak Design Everyday Backpack, which comes in two sizes. I tested the larger 30-liter version, and the 20-liter model is best for those who don’t tend to overpack. Its rear compartment alone fits the bulky 16-inch Alienware m16 R2, the reMarkable 2 tablet and my sunglasses case. Its laptop protection is among the sturdiest of the bunch I’m recommending.

Its main chamber is remarkably cool, since you can access it from the top (with its neat MagLatch closure system, which makes it easy to open with one hand) or the left or right (via zippers). And I love these options, since that section has three separate sections to keep your gear separated — a big deal for camera pros with multiple lenses. There are also exterior side pouches for water bottles and other secret pockets galore.

The Everyday Backpack also feels durable and high-quality, thanks to sturdy-feeling straps and its materials. Carrying it around town is easy, thanks to discrete side handles, and it’s designed to slide onto a luggage handle when you rotate it horizontally. Its straps even magnetically snap on to avoid getting in your way. Peak also sells a $60 Tech Pouch, which has all of the compartments that you could need for portable chargers, cables and other gadgets — and fits in one of its interior bays. If there are any real knocks against the Everyday Backpack, it’s that it’s probably too complex for some, and its price is up there.

Rated for laptops as large as: 16 inches

Dimensions, volume: 18.1 by 13 by 11.8 inches (20L), 19.1 by 13 by 12.6 inches (30L)

Warranty: Peak Design provides a lifetime warranty that covers manufacturing defects and "failures or breakages that render part or all of your product to become non-functional,” but specifically does not cover issues related to misuse, neglect or intentional damage.

$280 at Peak Design

What you should know about laptop backpacks as airplane carry-on personal bags

To pull the curtain back, I wanted to make a clear cut-and-dry distinction as to which bags will fit under the seat on your next flight, to help frequent fliers looking to prepare to hit the skies in 2024. But the official, published rules reveal each airline has its own measurements for what you’re supposed to slide beneath a seat.

Then, a friend of mine who’s always traveling told me it’s more complex, as under-seat space can vary by row on a single plane. So I decided to include each bag’s measurements (which admittedly can be stretched further by packers pushing the limits). Before purchase, you might want to compare those measurements to those listed by your airline of choice. Personally, I’m feeling like I made a mistake along the way, as my preferred JetBlue gives limits much tighter than my previous choice Delta.

Bottom line

I truly like and recommend all of these bags, just for different uses. Personally, for a bag with decent organizational pockets and enough room for my personal needs, the Bellroy Transit Workpack may be my everyday bag. But when it’s time to get out in the field and cover a product launch in a different part of the country, the Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe looks perfect for my multi-device needs.

Part of me wishes I needed the customization and compartments of the Peak Design Everyday Backpack, but that the 30-liter model I called in might be a little too much for what I do. The Herschel and Lululemon backpacks seem ideal for those with simple needs who take enough care with their bags that they’ve never worried about how much protection they provide. I can’t forget to note how the Troubadour Orbis 1-Pocket Backpack made me “oooh” when I was opening the bag.

So, take all of these observations into consideration with your highly personal buying decision. Just like packing for a trip, make a list of all of your needs that your next backpack should meet.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed price at the time of publication.

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