Living

Found: The Best Backpack for Commuting

Our tester put three options to the test, and found a cute and comfy pack to make getting to work less of a pain in the back

Three photos of a woman in a lilac jumpsuit, wearing a different backpack in each photo

Choosing between style and function is the commuter’s dilemma. There’s no denying the humble (and often deeply unfashionable) backpack is the most ergonomic option when worn properly. That means using both straps, fitting it snugly against your back and filling it, at most, to 15 percent of your body weight, says Dr. Stephanie Bonn, a chiropractor at Vancouver’s Be Chiropractic Wellness. (Bonus points if your pack has a waist strap—to be worn at the hips—and thick padded arm straps.)

Our tester put three popular options to the test, filling each with her 15-inch laptop, charging cord, iPad, water bottle, lunch bag and cosmetics pouch. After a walk, a subway ride and a shower with each pack (to gauge water resistance), she found her perfect fit. Here’s how each pack stacked up.

A photo of the back of a woman in a lilac jumpsuit wearing a cream backpack

(Photo: Ashley van der Laan. Jumpsuit, courtesy of horsesatelier.com)

Runner-up #2: Jansport Main Campus FX Backpack

This affordable pack scored points thanks to having the most comfortable straps of all three backpacks we tested; our tester also liked the deep top handle and external water bottle pocket. However, for her purposes, it had too many zippered compartments: a main front pocket, a smaller front pocket, two generous main inner compartments and a laptop compartment. “For daily work commuting, I felt so many compartments was unnecessary,” she says. “This bag is likely better suited for a student looking to keep notebooks, binders and textbooks separated.” 

$75, jansport.ca

A photo of the back of a woman in a lilac jumpsuit wearing a light blue backpack

(Photo: Ashley van der Laan. Jumpsuit, courtesy of horsesatelier.com)

Runner-up #1: Away The Front Pocket Backpack

This sleek, minimalistic pack from the popular luggage company has four zippered compartments: a front zippered pouch, a main zippered compartment, a zippered padded laptop compartment (with a padded iPad slip pocket) and a hidden back zippered pocket for a passport or other flat item. Our tester felt it was easy to keep her belongings organized, and she liked the fact that this pack is flat-bottomed and thus stands upright when placed on the ground (handy for when you want to rest it on the floor on transit).

What this option did fall down on, for our tester at least, was the straps. When her arms were raised, the firm padding cut into them as well as into the sides of her chest. (That said, when she kept her arms at her sides, the straps were perfectly comfortable.)

$265, awaytravel.com

A photo of the back of a woman in a lilac jumpsuit wearing a khaki green backpack

(Photo: Ashley van der Laan. Jumpsuit, courtesy of horsesatelier.com)

Our tester’s favourite: Bellroy Classic Backpack

Our tester loved this soft-sided option for its sensible number of zippered compartments. There are three: a large front pocket that has a vertical zipper on the left (meant for one-handed, reach-in access), a main zippered compartment and, at the top, a small zippered compartment with a soft lining for sunglasses. Inside the main compartment there is a soft lined, padded pocket for a laptop, with a fabric slip pocket in front that can fit a slim notebook. There’s also a stitched pen pocket. 

This bag also drew raves for its comfy straps, tidy stitching, smooth zippers and unique, understated design. “It looks different from all the other bags I see on the street,” our tester says.

$149, bellroy.com.