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Backpack vs. Briefcase: Which Is Better for Work?

A businessman with backpack and briefcase walking to work.

If you’re one of the many who’ve spent the past year working from home, taking meetings from your home office (read: couch) wearing dress shirts on top of sweatpants, the concept of an office may feel pretty foreign at this point. Sooner or later, though, the time’s going to come when you need to get dressed and head to an actual, physical place of business. And you’re going to be faced with a choice: backpack vs. briefcase. That is, do you lug your stuff to the office in a briefcase? Or do you pack it all in a backpack anytime you need to commute?

People often have strong opinions when it comes to the backpack vs. briefcase debate. Those on the side of the backpack tout the fact it’s hands-free — straps shoulder the burden for you, leaving your grip available to, say, hold onto a subway pole or grab a cup of coffee and a bagel on your walk to work. Briefcase lovers, though have reasons of their own. Like, for example, the fact that carrying a briefcase won’t wrinkle your shirt or suit jacket.

Suffice it to say you’ll find pros and cons on both sides. In the end, deciding between a backpack vs. briefcase is a matter of personal choice — so long as you invest in something handsome and well-made, either one will do. That said, certain situations do favor one choice over the other.

When Can You Carry a Backpack?

A man in business attire with backpack walking in the city.

When choosing between a backpack vs briefcase, take into account the type of office you’re commuting to. If it’s a more laid-back environment, like a creative or startup setting where people wear jeans every day of the week (not just Friday), then don’t think twice. Your backpack will fit right in.

That being said, we wouldn’t wear any old backpack. Opt for something clean and professional, in a neutral-colored material like leather or canvas. Because backpacks, while perhaps the more practical choice from a functionality standpoint, do tend to read as youthful. (What can we say? The association with high school can be a hard one to shake.) And if you wear something too loud or outdoorsy, it can give people the wrong impression about whether or not you take your workplace seriously.

Best Backpacks for Work

Rains Waterproof Rucksack

A black Rains Waterproof Rucksack.

Coming at you from the masters of waterproof style, this low-profile backpack will keep your laptop and essentials safe and dry — no matter what weather strikes.

Read more: Best Laptop Bags

Tumi Harrison Bradner Backpack

A black Tumi Harrison Bradner Backpack.

Tumi designed this nylon backpack full of compartments to help you stay organized and secure whether you’re headed to work or to catch a flight at the airport.

Saint Laurent City Leather Backpack

A black Saint Laurent City Leather Backpack.

Leather is always a safe bet when you’re looking for an office-appropriate backpack. And Saint Laurent’s take on a classic design features some of the supplest, most premium leather we’ve ever felt.

When Should You Carry a Briefcase?

A man in business attire carrying a briefcase to work.

Look, no one’s going to outright tell you not to wear a backpack to work if that’s what you prefer. But if your office is more of a suit-and-tie kind of joint, you might just want to reconsider that backpack and swap it out for something more formal, like a briefcase. And that’s not just because briefcases read as more professional — though that is a factor.

There are also real, tangible factors that can make a briefcase the smarter choice. The first being something we mentioned earlier: You won’t wrinkle your clothes by carrying a briefcase. This is especially true of suits. Unless you’ve got a steamer at the office, wearing a backpack will fill the back of your jacket with creases for the whole day to come. Briefcases, by nature of being handheld (or, at most, having a single shoulder strap), take wrinkles out of the equation. Besides, just think about the optics: Can you even picture a man wearing a suit with a backpack? Something’s just not right about that image.

If you’re transporting important documents, like say a résumé or contract, briefcases also tend to do a better job of keeping them pristine. Multiple compartments, as opposed to the backpack’s single main storage, allow for easier organization of your laptop and everyday needs, as well as secure things in place more easily. Basically, briefcases are built intentionally for the office, whereas backpacks will work but are more multi-purpose.

Best Briefcases for Work

Filson Rugged Twill Original Briefcase

A tan Filson Rugged Twill Original Briefcase.

This might be Filson’s most iconic bag, and for good reason. The tough, water-resistant waxed canvas keeps everything inside safe, while the bridle leather will just get better the more you use it.

Shinola The Slim Traveler Leather Briefcase

A black Shinola The Slim Traveler Leather Briefcase.

Only need to carry a laptop and a couple of essentials? Look to a slim briefcase like this Shinola option, which cuts out all the extra mass for a more streamlined look.

Frye Men’s Logan Briefcase

A professional-looking Frye Men’s Logan Briefcase.

Frye has always been known for their leatherwork, and this workwear-inspired briefcase puts that leather front and center. It’s a little less formal than sleeker options, but still very much office-ready.

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