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What is the best commuter backpack for 2021?

Have you been lugging around a bulky tote or bag on your commute? If you are, it’s time to travel more comfortably. Make the switch to a commuter backpack. 

Check out this buying guide covering essential features to examine. We include a few recommendations at the end, featuring the best choice, The North Face Borealis Backpack. It remains a commuter favorite for its unique strap system and lightweight design. 

What to know before you buy a commuter backpack


As you’ll find when you compare their dimensions, commuter backpacks come in all shapes and sizes. 

However, backpack sizing isn’t exactly standard, and not every manufacturer lists the capacity. To put sizes into perspective, here’s a rough breakdown of small, medium and large backpacks:

  • Small commuter backpacks hold the essentials, including food and smaller notebooks. They’re usually too small to fit 15-inch laptops, but they are suitable for tablets or e-readers. 
  • Medium commuter backpacks hold 15-inch laptops as well as folders, books and essentials. They’re often lightweight or low-profile to cut down on the bulk. 
  • Large commuter backpacks hold laptops larger than 15 inches. They tend to have spacious main compartments and expandable designs. When filled, they may be rather bulky and heavy. 

How much organization you need in a commuter backpack

Before you shop around for commuter backpacks, make a definitive list of what you expect to carry regularly. This essential yet straightforward process makes it easy to see how much organization is required. 

Some commuters prefer large, spacious compartments with minimal organization. At the very least, these backpack styles will have a couple of external or internal pockets for pens or water bottles.

Other commuters prefer separating items in different pockets, compartments or slots. Backpacks with high levels of organization may have as many as 25 compartments, including dedicated spaces for pens, devices, flash drives or power cords. 

What to look for in a quality commuter backpack

Laptop backpacks vs. regular backpacks

Laptop backpacks often have padded compartments for additional protection for your devices. Regular backpacks typically lack this feature, though some styles have an oversized internal pocket that may accommodate some laptops.

Laptop backpacks generally have higher levels of organization compared to regular backpacks. They usually have several compartments to hold various devices and accessories, including power cords or Bluetooth keyboards. 


High-quality commuter backpacks are made with materials that have high tensile strength. This means they’re rip- and puncture-resistant to some degree. The most popular options include Oxford and ballistic nylon, namely those with tighter or thicker weaves. 

Strap system 

Some commuter backpacks have strap systems that help secure the bag to the body. Most of these feature chest and hip straps and have adjustable buckles. Many chest straps have padding to either distribute weight more evenly or create a compressive effect.

Weather-resistant features

Commuting often means spending moderate time in the elements. Take this into consideration as you compare commuter backpacks. 

If rain or snow is a concern, opt for a commuter backpack with some level of water resistance. Water-repellent backpacks are ideal for limited exposure to moisture, but if you spend considerable time outdoors during your commute, invest in a 100 percent waterproof style. 

Comfort features

Commuter backpacks may be equipped with comfort features to offer a better carrying experience. The most common ones include padded shoulder straps or breathable mesh back panels. A few backpacks have molded back panels with injected foam or memory gel cushioning.

How much you can expect to spend on a commuter backpack

Affordably-priced commuter backpacks cost $40-$75. Mid-range options between $80-$150 include many rugged styles, while those priced $160-$300 include backpacks with various high-end features. 

Commuter backpack FAQ

What color should I get for a commuter backpack?

A. The most common colors for commuter backpacks include black and gray. Many commuters gravitate toward these for their neutral designs. If you prefer a colorful backpack, several styles of backpacks are available in dozens of colors. 

Do I need reflective detail on a commuter backpack if I’m not biking to work?

A. Reflective details aren’t just for bike commuters. They help drivers see you when you’re walking on sidewalks or crossing the road. Fortunately, many backpacks have reflective details, even if it’s limited to a logo or zipper pull. 

What’s the best commuter backpack to buy?

Top commuter backpack

The North Face Borealis Backpack

The North Face Borealis Backpack

What you need to know: A bestselling style with a stay-put strap system, this option is appreciated by individuals seeking a quality bike commuter backpack. 

What you’ll love: It has a separate, padded compartment for 15-inch devices, molded shoulder straps, a breathable mesh lumbar panel and reflective details so users stand out to drivers.

What you should consider: It doesn’t have a flat bottom, so the backpack doesn’t stand upright. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods

Top commuter backpack for the money

Carhartt Legacy Work Backpack

Carhartt Legacy Work Backpack

What you need to know: If you’re on a budget but won’t compromise on quality, this rugged Carhartt backpack is a feature-rich option. 

What you’ll love: It’s made with ultra-durable polyester that is rain-repellent and has an abrasion-resistant base. It has contoured padded shoulder straps, a mesh back panel and a high level of internal organization. 

What you should consider: The interior pockets lack zippers and it might be too casual for some workplaces. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods

Worth checking out

Targus Drifter II Commuter Backpack

Targus Drifter II Commuter Backpack

What you need to know: Designed with devices in mind, this commuter backpack ticks many boxes with its intuitive design. 

What you’ll love: The padded laptop compartment offers exceptional protection. It has a few easy-access pockets for sunglasses and water bottles, a water-resistant base and a spacious main compartment with plenty of room for folders or textbooks. 

What you should consider: It’s bulky when filled and doesn’t feel as durable as similarly-priced alternatives.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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