- Buyer's Guide
12 ‘Must-Have’ Features for Work Bags, According to our Community
Our carry-savvy community over at Carryology Classified know a good work bag when they see one. And they also know that lacking some features can be a deal breaker, regardless of the work you do. So we asked them to share the must-have features that every work bag needs. Discover their thoughts below…
Aesthetics are one of the most important considerations for a work bag. It needs to look the part and fit suitably into your work environment. Perhaps that’s a formal office where pared-back, professional style is required. Maybe it’s venturing into a constantly changing range of environments, from rural outdoor terrain one day to bustling cities the next. But wherever work takes you, understated aesthetics are always a good bet.
“Professional aesthetic, hard to define but easy to identify. All the business features combined won’t make a Maxpedition Falcon-II office appropriate.”
David M. Bush
“I’ve found the key to a great work backpack is its ability to blend in and adapt. If it doesn’t stand out, if it’s easy to configure for each job, and if I can carry it on a plane and throw it around nature while not screaming ‘There’s lots of valuables in here’ or ‘I’m armed’ then it’s in the running.” Nick Pickles
Comfortable straps and a ventilated but gentle back panel
While you might not have an active commute, you still want your work bag to provide ventilation when you’re on the move (it all helps to avoid the dreaded back sweats). But suitable ventilation also needs to be balanced with non-abrasive materials that will be kind to your cotton, silk and wool clothing.
And of course carry comfort is important too. The heavier your load, the more important comfort becomes (lugging heavy laptops and books or folders isn’t going to go well without suitably supportive suspension such as ergonomic and premium foam-filled straps).
“Must have materials and design that do not damage clothing.” Victoria Pollard
“Ventilation on the back to prevent excessive sweating…but that also doesn’t tear up suits/sweaters.” Jonathan Fung
“Shoulder straps that provide ample distribution based on bag size (i.e. bigger bag –> bigger strap with more padding).” Spencer Todd Adams Jr.
Water bottle pocket
Staying hydrated throughout the day is important, whether you’re grabbing a quick sip during the commute or between meetings, or have more time on your hands at lunch. And an easily accessible water bottle pocket makes it much easier to grab liquids when you need them (whether that’s water and/or a flask with a hot beverage for cooler months). And you’re going to want something decent here, large enough to hold a bottle while the bag is full of other items, yet secure enough to keep the bottle in place if you need to move quickly (such as legging it for public transport).
“Most bags I’ve tried barely have a usable one, let alone one big enough to hold a 1L bottle.” Jess Anastasia
“An external water bottle pocket rather than an internal one or none at all literally saved my laptop the other day when I didn’t close my water bottle all the way and it leaked. Bonus points for the water-resistant material that kept the water on the outside of my bag. I think external water bottle pockets are really underrated for EDC lately, but I love them.” Linc Silva
Thoughtful compartments and organization
Sack-like designs with minimal organization may work for some (particularly those who provide their own pouches or organizers). But for many people who need to carry a variety of items in their work bag, thoughtful compartments and organization is key. This prevents a jumbled mess and keeps more fragile items out of crush zones. Plus it allows you to quickly and easily reach and store items throughout the day, while also allowing you to keep items separate if desired (for instance storing gym gear or lunch away from a laptop or papers).
Protective, suspended, quick-access laptop storage is understandably popular here too. After all, as one of if not the most used items you’ll be reaching for throughout the day, it makes sense to keep your laptop easily accessible and protected against bumps and shocks when setting the bag down (or accidentally dropping it).
“Compartmentalization that is tailored to items typically carried for work (i.e. Laptop, Charger, Mouse, Business Papers, Quick Access Items, Always Need ‘Ems, Never Wanna See ‘Ems) and about 10L of “Flex Space” for random items.” David M. Bush
“A separate laptop compartment with suspended bottom and a place for keyboard, mouse, foldable laptop stand, power cable and lock cable so all those items aren’t at the bottom of the pack.” Laurence Fortier
“Thoughtful compartments not just for electronics but also chargers, notebooks, pens, misc small stuff, key strap, water bottle, etc.” Seymour Blue
Quick-access and/or security pockets
Some items you simply need to be able to access or store quickly. Think your wallet, phone, earphones, work ID, pens, a small notebook, etc. Having a quick-access pocket to store such items makes it fast and easy to reach them when you need them, while storing them quickly and securely when you don’t. And a discreet security pocket can provide welcome peace of mind for storing valuables like a wallet, phone or even a passport if you’re traveling for work.
“A quick-access pocket, because going through multiple zippers and digging through crap to get to your keys or put away your earphones just before you arrive to work is stupid.” Lawrence Chan
“A quick-access pocket. You’ll need somewhere convenient to store your work badge so that once you get to the building you don’t need to open up the whole bag to get in.” Geoffrey Chu
“It has to have pen slots. I don’t want to have to dig around for my pens. A zipped pocket in the back of the pack for my wallet is also great. Then I don’t have to take off my pack to access my wallet or phone. It also keeps it safe and secure against my back.” Carolann Kemp
Smooth and/or silent zippers and openings
Noisy bag openings draw unwanted attention. And they can require extra effort to open (think ripping off Velcro mid-meeting – yikes!). Zippers that open and close easily, hooks that are simple to detach and reattach, or buckles that open and close quietly will let you quickly and easily get to gear without causing distractions.
“Silent operation for discreet access during meetings.” Jens Weber.
“Eliminate all Velcro. Great for my toddler’s shoes, but nails on a chalkboard in any professional meeting.” David M. Bush
A simple key fob
You might be able to avoid stepping out with a lot of items. But it’s almost guaranteed that keys will always make it into your daily setup, whether it’s keys to your home, car or workplace. Having a way to store them securely in place means you can easily reach them when you need to, while also keeping them in check and away from more fragile items that might get damaged from key teeth.
“Key fobs. A simple add-on which lots of bag makes miss out on. Not everyone uses covered key pouches like the Bellroy Key Pouch or Orbitkey and keys are the EDC item which can cause the most damage. A simple fob will ensure I keep my keys and I will know what radius it will be swinging around in my bag. This will mean I’ll avoid putting sensitive items around it!” Wei Kiat
Bags that fall over as soon as you put them down are a visual distraction that reduces your air of professionalism. Not to mention making it harder to access your gear and covering your bag in sidewalk dirt. Rather than needing to lean your bag against objects, picking a piece that can stand up straight by itself takes care of these problems.
“The ability to stand on its own so it stays sharp-looking in a boardroom beside you.” Laurence Fortier
Work bags often carry fragile gear such as papers or electronics. The kind of items you don’t want to get wet. And since you can’t always avoid the weather, it’s good to know your bag will protect your gear sufficiently from inclement weather. Yes, you can carry an umbrella. But sometimes unexpected showers strike when you haven’t packed one. Or you get splashed by passing cars. Or exterior liquids accidentally spill on your bag during lunch. Shit happens. And a little weatherproofing can go a long way to keeping your belongings safe.
“The most important feature for me is the weatherproof ability. Being able to survive in a sudden downpour is the main reason why I will go for high-quality fabric and am willing to pay extra money for a backpack. Otherwise, a regular $50 Walmart backpack can do the same thing as the premium $500 backpack, i.e. holding stuff on your shoulder. It feels like you’re a warrior when you carry a backpack through rain while other people are either forgetting umbrellas or staying beneath the roof to wait until the rain stops.” Yu-Chen Lin
Protection and durability
While work bags might not suffer the same wear and tear as outdoor bags getting scraped against rocks and rough surfaces, that doesn’t mean they don’t go through their fair share of scrapes and knocks. Getting jostled in crowds, bumped against walls, set down on the ground and more all play their part in putting your work bag through its paces. Not to mention the general wear and tear from simply using it day in and day out, potentially for years on end and sometimes with heavy loads. So work bags should be built accordingly, with quality construction and materials that will stand up to regular use and help protect your gear in the process.
“I need to know that I can set the bag on the bus floor if I need to, walk and stand at the bus stop without ruining my laptop, and generally trust the bag. If a bag has all the organization but can’t handle the impact of living in the city without a car it won’t do much for improving my life. Shout out to the Trakke Bannoch for hitting this right on the head – durable, water resistant, pockets are secure from pickpockets, professional-looking, and just big enough.” Linc Silva
“Durable fabrics and excellent craftsmanship. Work scenarios are very different but no matter how good the features fit your journey, if things fall apart too quick that’s not worth much – especially for an EDC pack! They often get far more hours of use per year than the average trekking pack.” Moritz Grebe
If you have a go-to work bag, the chances are pretty high that you’ll want to bring it with on any work-related trips you have. Being able to secure the bag to wheeled luggage via a luggage pass-through makes transporting all your carry gear much easier. Not to mention making it harder to accidentally leave the work bag behind when you’re on the move or have it stolen when your attention may be distracted.
“Luggage hook or sleeve is a must too as normal EDC packs will be inevitably used for interstate plane travels on top of my small suitcase.” Dul Stephen Kim
“Luggage pass through – It’s fine to go without it, but life would be much easier at the airport if the backpack sat neatly on top of the rollaboard without having to use a workaround like a Heroclip.” Jonathan Fung
If you commute by bike, run to work, or generally venture out in low-light conditions, reflective detailing is a valuable work bag feature to help keep you visible while out and about.
“Reflectivity. As someone who bike commutes, and I need enough space for my scrubs.” Lindsay Sense
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