Ditch the Backpack: You’re Not in High School Anymore

By Mash Neidich

When I was 7, I had an awesome backpack. It was red and blue, had pictures of Aladdin, the Genie, and other characters on it. It even had a golden plastic lamp on the back you could rub. Nothing came out, but still, it was awesome.

As you might expect, I didn’t keep it for long. By the time I reached 5th grade, I no longer used the backpack because it wasn’t age appropriate. (Ok, fine. It was 9th grade.) And if you are reaching the end of your college career, or have entered the professional world, few backpacks are going to cut the mustard anymore. It’s time to switch to something more mature. Luckily, there are a lot of great options out there. A briefcase, messenger, or tasteful backpack will help you give the impression of maturity, instead of reminding your boss and clients of their kids boarding the bus on their way to kindergarten.

Top of the line

Whether you show up to work every day in a suit and tie, jeans and a button down, or just jeans and a six pack, you can’t go wrong with an all-leather bag. Premium bags like Saddleback will set you back a bit in the wallet, but are guaranteed to last a hundred years. No, really: Saddleback has a 100 year warranty. Top that off with premium full grain leather and quality construction, and you have yourself a bag that will last a lifetime or longer, and look better the longer you use it. From their Satchel to their many briefcases, these bags are beautifully constructed and functional.

Another premium brand, Will Leather Goods, has a few excellent options to fit your needs. While Saddleback sticks to Leather, Will Leather Goods also offers bags with a nice balance between high quality leather and canvas. These bags, like the hopper messenger, are a bit less expensive than the all-leather Saddleback, with the price mostly attributable to the change in materials and sourcing. Nevertheless, Will Leather Goods makes a couple of men’s bags that may fit your style and budget a bit better than Saddleback.

Less expensive, but will certainly work

If $300 is not a good starting budget for you, something a little cheaper could suit your needs—At least temporarily. I owned two Timbuk2 bags as an Undergraduate and they are certainly made to last: I still take them hiking and biking from time to time. With off-the-shelf options starting at $79 for ballistic Kevlar constructed bags, a custom design option starting around $150, and leather trim canvas bags closer to $250, Timbuk2 is certainly worth a look for a wide range of budgets. The bags do end up a little dingy with daily use, after two or three years. And they may not be appropriate for all careers. They are biking bags: If your commute involves a bicycle, this may be the category for you. But if you are a broker trying to make it to the boardroom, don’t be surprised if the higher-ups hold your taste against you with one of these. Another strong contender is the Knomo laptop briefcase, which marries canvas and leather without breaking the bank.

But if now is not the time to invest in a quality bag leather or canvas bag that will last a lifetime, and you feel the need to replace your Disney bag with something a bit more professional, there are plenty of options on websites like Ebags. For the short-term, an $80 leather bag can look professional, work great, and serve to tide you over until you can afford a better quality, life-long replacement.

One thing to bear in mind while investigating cheaper leather options is material. Low cost, full grain leathers are often not tanned all the way through, and “Genuine Leather” is actually barely leather at all. So don’t be too surprised if that $80 leather bag ends up falling apart in three or four years.

For those who prefer to keep it light

If the only thing you carry with you to and from work or class is a laptop, the Aurora by Olson Kickstarter bag may be right up your alley. In an increasingly mobile world, options like the Aurora minimize storage space to what you really need, whereas the other options presented here are for a more traditional approach to a commuter’s payload. But then again, they are also made to last longer than your computer—and who’s to say how big the next one will be. The Aurora is still available at Crowd Supply.

So what’s it going to be?

Shop around. Learn your options. And carry your business in something that looks right for the part. Good hunting.


“Mash” Neidich is a guest blogger from Wefty + Mash, a blog focused on things that get better with time. Mash blogs as a hobby, in addition to being a Doctoral Student studying Biochemistry. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, & Google+


  • Jorge

    As nice as the briefcases and saddleback bags look, I really have no need for them. What I do need is an alternative to the bright red diaper bag my wife bought, but I always seem to carry. Is there a such thing as a diaper bag for men?

    • Chris

      I was incredibly embarrassed carrying around a brightly colored Vera Bradley bag the first few weeks of my son’s life so I bought a black diaper bag (I typed that exact phrase into Amazon). It’s much more functional than my wife’s bag so she ends up grabbing it most times when she leaves the house.

    • anon

      Check out Diaper Dude

    • Jim Koford

      You bet, Jorge! It’s called a backpack. I bought one a few years back, and go everywhere with it.

    • Jason

      You could try a tote bag from Filson. They are leather and canvas and hold up well.

    • mikes

      Range bag. As in Firing Range. The kid can get use out of that once he grows up to.

  • Dan

    Counterpoint: Herschel backpacks can look devilishly handsome and still let you haul stuff around on your back.

  • David

    Would also chalk Duluth Pack at the top. Made in Minnesota, lifetime warranty. Lots of designs to choose from. I was a little overwhelmed when I went to their store in Duluth MN and saw like 8 different kinds of messenger bags/ briefcases.

  • Logan Greer

    I’ve come full circle on this. Purchased a nice leather saddleback-like bag that I carry to work everyday, but now never carry it when I travel. The backpack is just so much more functional, hands free, catch all, multiple pockets, etc. Way easier to get through the airport. I think the answer is that I just need to step my backpack game up. Any suggestions for more stylish backpack options than the one I picked up at Academy?

  • Jerry

    I’m a fan of the Wood&Faulk Northwesterner bags. Talked my wife into getting me the medium size one as an early xmas gift. It’s perfect size for a breifcase: ipad, misc, lunch, 1 change of clothes. I’m already wondering if I should get the large size to use as my go-to weekender as well.


    • ForeverGuest

      ^^ A million times yes to this. Love the company. Love the overall aesthetic. I don’t yet own one, but I’ve handled one and I can second the great recommendation. I can’t wait to convince my wife as you did yours.

  • Dennis Swender

    I have ordered at least 6 bags this holiday season from Macy’s and Amazon.com. None have had the style or features I desire. I use a Surface Pro so the Ipad slot is dead on me. There is either no room for anything or its the size of a carry-on. I have a Tommy bag coming that is my last hope – its canvas, not leather. I’d love leather… but unless someone donates one to me, I’ll never have the lifetime bag. 🙂 (Don’t knock the backpack, too much. When I rode the bus or my bike to work, a backpack was essential.)

  • Sul

    makr.com is also another good choice for high end, handmade bags.

  • Jaylen Fast

    For job’s this may be true, but for university…no. They are still essential. I use a Herschel backpack with the premium canvas, classy as it gets for an art student 😛

  • ForeverGuest

    Also worth a mention is Copper River Bags. Rugged leather. Nice quality. Handmade in the USA. It does have snaps instead of buckles, and while the leather is relatively thick, it’s nowhere near the tough-as-a-tank Saddleback. But they’re around a third of the price and have the same 100-year warranty. I’ve had mine for three years and I’ve beaten the snot out of it. Everything from hardware to seams is holding up fine.


  • bryanz

    I think Fossil makes some nice work bags. I have the Estate Document Bag in canvas but the leather one is also really nice. It’s slim, sturdy, good patina over time and has held up well as I’ve traveled. If it could expand just a little more for the times I need it, it would be the perfect bag for me. I can fit an MBA, iPad, small notebook, pens, portable HD, travel docs, presenter, headphones, etc. in there

  • james

    I used to carry a back back when I worked downtown Los Angeles and made sure my shoes had a rubber sole. The red line and connecting rails aren’t the place to say “I’ve got Style” lol

    I watched business men wear 10k+ watches to their exec jobs clueless as to the person standing next to him who doesn’t clear 12k a year.

  • JolleyMan

    I have to lug around a 17″ mobile workstation, which is much heavier than a standard 17″ laptop, plus a huge power supply, plus an iPad with keyboard, plus a pile of cables, plus papers and an occasional 300 page training manual. I have had a Timbuk2 bag for a while, but am really getting tired of having all this weight on one shoulder. I’m considering reverting back to a backpack or even a stinking wheeled bag. Anyone have a professional solution for lugging around all this mess?

    • ForeverGuest

      It seems like in your case, function is more essential than form. Have you considered a DJ bag? Many are designed for hauling a lot of gear and have both trolley handles and shoulder straps. And because DJs fancy themselves as being somewhat fashionable, there are a lot of stylish options. Maybe something to look into.

      Either that or carry two bags. One for major hardware and another for more utilitarian, multi-purpose items.

      • JolleyMan

        Now that’s a good idea. I’ll check into a DJ bag. Thanks.

  • Marshall Lilly

    I think the crux here is that (most) backpacks tend to come across as more juvenile as opposed to mature. You can get your things from point A to point B without looking like a teenager.

  • Austin

    I’ve been wanting to try out Navali. Their bags are reasonably priced and pretty clean-looking. http://www.navali.com/

  • Justin

    Original Briefcase by Filson…. $248, made in Seattle, WA and guaranteed for life….you can’t go wrong!

  • andy

    Will products look nice, but seem tremendously overpriced. Their half leather backpack for example is made who knows where and is still $300!!!

  • ralph

    As a 30 year old guy back in school to finally finish his undergrad, it’s tough to find a bag that can hold my books+macbook+calculator+folders. Do i go over form or function? Whenever I put on a backpack i feel like a little kid going to his first day of school.

    Thanks for this post, I might graduate into something more my age. Any recommendations, that doesn’t look like a man purse or a satchel (a la Hangover). Been looking at the Timbuk2.

  • Josh Macy

    I carried a shoulder bag with me for a while until I started to have some back aches from the one-sided load bearing. Backpacks are way healthier.

  • rahuldsouza

    I just can’t ditch the backpack in Bombay, primarily because it is easier to use our trains with one. Also, I ride a scooter and will soon switch to a motorcycle and it is just a better solution.

  • http://maddendude.blogspot.com/ Baseman

    About a month ago when I was still going to class, I would’ve felt alil douchy with one of these, when 95% of the class has backpacks and the other 5% are the extreme hipster type. But now that I’m out of the classroom, I think its finally time for me to make the switch.

  • RichardDick

    I alternate between a 5.11 military bag, Herschel Survey backpack, and a Fred Perry hold all for whatever the situation. I remember using messenger bags years ago when I’d only see two other people with them as well then that trend blew up. Same thing happened with holdalls, slim briefcases, tote bags, etc. At the end of the day, form and function should compliment each other. Also, who cares what other people think of what you choose for a bag.

  • Stoltenberg

    I’m a small duffel guy now thanks to this company:


    Also, I will probably get one of these once they’re available:


    I had a Hershcel backpack, but it was too much work getting in and out of, and it felt cheap. However, I do have one of their weekenders with the shoe compartment and LOVE it (also has the water proof zipper…a must have).

  • zb

    Imagine being so caught up in the gears of androgynist propaganda machine that you have nothing more to worry about than what your co-workers think of your man purse! I bike around with 4000 dollar laptop I think i’ll stick to my Targus backpack with extra padding. Thing has lasted 12 years so far.

  • Joseph Frusetta

    This is the only bag I need. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAtzN_ScKXY

  • Matt

    Fuck you

  • fuck you

    suck a turd you bougie pieces of shit

  • http://badassu.net/ Mark Insight

    My accounting firm gave me and the other new employees a backpack instead of the briefcase we ordered. The lawyers who shared the tower with our firm loved talking about the “kids” in the building. I quickly got a professional looking laptop bag.

    What the heck were they thinking?

  • Dmitry Belyakov

    it’s going to be filson 72 hour

  • wu-fan

    fuck this! Backpacks are most functional.

  • http://www.nosmellnotell.com/ Oak_Aged

    I ditched my backpack after college but now, as a 29 year old, I find myself in the market for a new one. If you have one bag and not much stuff a saddleback is fine. However if you’re commuting to work and need stuff for work and the gym (or school and gym, work and grad school, etc) those duffels/saddlebacks will kill your shoulders after some time. There are some great fashionable backpacks out there that split the difference between style and function pretty well.

  • tensiond

    Great insights. Thanks for the information. The laptop bag options listed here might be appropriate for what you’re looking for.