If you spent more time picking out your last laptop bag than your actual laptop, consider this gallery a shortcut to discovering some great bag makers and learning about all the features you might want in your ultimate choice.
Whether you're after something for a daily commute, a backpack to lug around campus or a simple shoulder bag that works for business meetings and getting you through the weekend, you'll find it here.
And if you don't find the perfect bag, fear not: This list is far from definitive and you can expect this gallery to grow throughout 2019 as I test out new bags.
First published March 22, 2018 this was last updated April 25, 2019.
Disclaimer: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of some of the products in this guide.
The $145 Hustle might look like a simple backpack, but its filled with surprises. The metal hook that secures the top lid, for example, is also a bottle opener. And the little loop at the end of the hook is the attachment point for the integrated retractable combination cable lock that's tucked inside of the bag. Hidden magnets help keep the lid closed when it's not hooked and locked.
There are hidden pockets on the fronts of the shoulder straps as well as in the bottom of the back padding. Also hiding on the inside of the strap where it attaches to the bottom of the bag is a USB port. A cable runs from it to a pocket inside that can hold a removable power bank.
The inside is deep with plenty of storage, organizational pockets and a lined padded sleeve for up to a 15-inch laptop. Padding at the bottom protects your stuff inside while adding support to the base so the bag stands on its own when you put it down. Though a larger pocket or two on the outside for an umbrella or water bottle would be nice, it would mess with the clean look of the bag.
Despite the "Lite" in the name, this bag actually offers quite a bit. Available in tan or black, the $210 stachel is made from vegan leather that is ridiculously soft to the touch. Included straps and multiple attachment points allow you to wear it as a shoulder bag, a messenger and even a backpack. You can also just use it as a handbag.
Inside there's a sleeve for up to a 13-inch laptop, plus space for all your necessities. And if you need a bit more space, the top unsnaps to increase your storage. The top flap closes with magnets, but there's also an interior zipper to keep things more secure.
A hidden slip pocket on back gives you somewhere to quickly stash your phone or sunglasses, though there's also a zippered Napoleon pocket back there for anything else you want to keep close at hand. The external pocket on front is actually a removable clutch, too, and can be used with the shoulder strap for when you don't want to lug a bigger bag.
Made to order in Portland, Oregon, North St. makes all sorts of bags from bike panniers and totes to duffles and backpacks. The $130 Meeting Bag is part of its Weekender Travel Series and can be used by itself or act as external expansion to its full-size backpack.
Constructed from tear- and abrasion-resistant Cordura with weatherproof zippers, the bag is durable and lightweight with just enough space for essentials. A pair of detachable shoulder straps stash in a back pocket so you can quickly go from briefcase to backpack.
A padded sleeve inside can hold a laptop as big as a 15-inch MacBook Pro. And see all those Velcro strips? North St. makes several removable organizer pockets to let you configure the interior for your needs on any given day. Its zippers go all the way down, too, so you can open it up and lay it flat to get to everything or send it through an airport scanner.
If you frequently find yourself wishing you had a smaller laptop briefcase to pack in your luggage, this is one to consider.
This is a simple, inexpensive backpack that'll keep your things organized and your laptop and tablet protected. Available in eight colors, the SmartPack has two mesh pockets on the sides and three zippered compartments.
The shoulder straps and back panel are well padded without being bulky and the top grab handle is comfortable even with the bag fully loaded and it's centered so the bag is balanced when you carry it at your side.
The zippered pocket on the very front is fine for basics like sunglasses or ID, but there's a separate zippered organizer section with drop pockets for your phone, accessories, pens and files. Then, at the back, is the compartment for your laptop and tablet with room for power adapters. The padded laptop sleeve will hold a thick 15-inch laptop.
Originally designed for the iPad Pro, the Staad comes in two sizes that will fit either a slim 13- or 15-inch laptop. Made in San Francisco from waxed canvas (or ballistic nylon) and leather, the top flap secures with a clip that lets you get in and out in a hurry, but doesn't require you to squeeze or unhook anything.
On back is a newspaper pocket and a luggage handle pass-through, which, if you're not careful, could be mistaken for the newspaper pocket -- not good if you go to throw your phone in there and it drops out the bottom.
Timbuk2 has a messenger bag for just about anyone. The Closer Case seems near perfect as a daily commuter bag with the organization of a briefcase, but messenger styling.
It's made with a coated fabric to help keep the elements out, and there's a neoprene pocket on one side to hold a water bottle or umbrella (though I wish there were another on the other side so I didn't have to choose). On back is a pass-through for a luggage handle that has a zipper at the bottom letting you use it as a pocket, too.
Lift the flap and you'll find a couple pockets on front to stash your keys and phone, and inside you'll find several organizational pockets -- zippered and open. There's just enough room here for a book, a packed lunch and maybe a light jacket, but it gets tight fast. Timbuk2 did make the laptop compartment a separate section on back, however, which means when it's time to work or get through airport security, you don't need to dig around in the main section.
An amazing value at less than $40 from Amazon, this cotton canvas messenger offers up a lot of storage, including a padded laptop compartment with room for up to a slim 17.3-inch notebook -- or a thick one if you don't need room for much else.
Pockets in front give you plenty of options for stashing your phone, sunglasses, keys or other small items. There are a couple slip pockets, too, that'll work for files or notebooks. There's also a big pocket on back with a Velcro closure. And if you noticed the patches of Velcro on the bag, those are for the detachable ID pocket. Just tear it off, use your ID and slap it back on your bag.
I'm not entirely sure why you need so many pen holders on front; the included shoulder pad doesn't offer much cushioning; and the grab handle on top is a little too far back. But those are pretty minor issues, making it a generally excellent bag for its price.
The back compartment is lightly padded for your laptop, but you'll definitely want to be gentle setting the bag down. The front has several drop pockets for your phone and accessories. Then there's a zippered pocket on the outside to hold small items like your wallet or keys.
Priced at $15, it's a fine bag for basic laptop-carrying needs. But if you spent more than a few hundred dollars on your laptop, you maybe want to spend a bit more for something with better construction and padding for regular use.
The Elite backpack is a big bag that can hold up to a slim 17.3-inch laptop in a separate zippered compartment at the back. The nylon shell looks and feels nice, but it doesn't have much structure and tends to get stuck in the zippers. Still, the fabric keeps this light for when you load up its giant insides.
There are a handful of zippered pockets inside for small items, as well as a pouch on top that's perfect for your keys or ID. But perhaps it's biggest selling point is the opening at the bottom of the bag for the separate laundry and shoe compartment. Also, two large zippered pockets on the sides give you somewhere to stash a water bottle or other necessities.
For anyone who's ever cursed losing legroom on a flight to a carry-on bag (which is everyone ever), the Air Porter is the answer. Its small, boxy design lets you stand it upright under an airplane seat without constantly falling over.
Made in San Francisco from waxed canvas (or ballistic nylon) and leather, it's ready for whatever weather with waterproof exterior zippers and a water-resistant lining. A front flap covers a zippered pocket perfect for your phone and wallet and a larger slip pocket for a book or magazine.
Magnets secure the flap to the bag at two different positions giving you a bit more space for bulky stuff. On back is a luggage pass-through so you can drop it on your rolling bag instead of using the shoulder strap or carry handles.
The separate TSA checkpoint-friendly laptop compartment holds up to a 15-inch MacBook Pro and also has two large drop pockets that can hold a power adapter and a power bank to charge up your devices on the go.
The main compartment is deceptively large and has five more drop pockets, as well as three elasticized pockets that will snugly hold cables or other small items.
If you hate having to constantly go in and out of your carry-on for things, however, make sure you pair the Air Porter with the Air Caddy. It has a slip pocket for a tablet for in-flight entertainment -- up to a 10.5-inch iPad Pro fits -- as well as storage for other essentials, but it's still small enough to fit in the seat-back pocket.
Tyvek fabric is used for a variety of things from envelopes and festival wristbands to industrial coveralls and Timbuk2's $130 Launch Pack. The fabric is durable and lightweight, and helps keep water out, all without being thick and bulky.
Slip pockets on each side are perfect for a water bottle or sunglasses. There's a small zippered pocket in front with a key leash as well as a somewhat hidden pocket in the top of the bag, perfect for a wallet or other small items you might want to keep a bit more secure.
The bag comes in five colors with bright interiors so if something falls to the bottom of the bag it's easy to spot. There's file folder/laptop/tablet sleeve and a couple of slip pockets, but that's it inside. A zipper down the left side at the back opens up a separate compartment for a 13- or 14-inch laptop.
If you have a bunch of little items that you like to keep organized, you'll want to check out Timbuk2's Uptown, Division or Authority packs. It's probably best you don't put anything too small in the bag anyway since it it has a drawstring closure at the top, leaving a chance for something to fall out. Then again, it's really nice just to pull it closed, clip the top down and go. Plus, the lack of structure to the bag makes it easy to stash in a suitcase so you can have a light daypack when you're on vacation.
The $90 Mobile Edge Graphite Corporate Briefcase is well laid out for business road warriors. Made from ballistic nylon, the bag has room for every last bit of tech and travel essentials starting with a trio of three padded pockets on front that gives you somewhere to stash a battery pack, power adapter and anything else you need to have fast access to.
Just below the lay-flat handles on top is a zippered lined pocket for your phone or sunglasses. A padded shoulder strap is included, too, and there's a luggage handle pass-through on back.
Inside in the middle there's room for up to a 15.6-inch laptop and another sleeve for a large tablet. At back is another compartment with an accordian file for folders, paper pads or a magazine or two. Then there's a front organizational section that totally unzips and lays flat, so you can basically set up to work anywhere.
You can get it directly from Mobile Edge or from Amazon. Either way it comes with a lifetime warranty.
Sumo loaded this $50 messenger bag with pockets, including two large ones on the outside -- one in front, one in back -- which you typically don't find. It also skipped the Velcro and instead has two hidden buckles under the flap.
While it doesn't come with a stabilizer strap to keep the bag from flipping around while you're biking, the shoulder strap has a cam at each end so you can adjust the length easily from the left or right.
Open it up and you'll find more pockets inside and out as well as a key leash and a compartment that'll fit up to a thin 17-inch laptop or a slightly thicker 15.6-inch model. There's also a lined pocket for a tablet (seen here with a pair of over-the-ear headphones in it).
It's available in four color patterns -- blue, pink, red and silver -- from Sumo or on Amazon.
Mobile Edge makes gaming backpacks for Alienware and Razer, but the $104 Core bag is all its own. It can hold up to 17.3-inch laptops (though superthick ones are snug) and it's TSA checkpoint-friendly, so you don't have to unload your system into a bin. Extra padding on the straps and back keep things as comfortable as possible.
There are places for all your cables, headphones and even a keyboard. There's a dedicated pocket for a large battery pack, too, with a quick-charge USB 3.0 cable that runs to the outside of the bag so you can charge your phone or tablet without cracking the bag open.
Pockets on the sides let you stash anything from a mouse and cables to a water bottle and umbrella. The bag is also available in two styles: One with a molded front and another with a Velcro panel to display your team badges or other patches. And, they're both covered with a lifetime warranty.
Pad & Quill has a knack for creating bags with classic design for modern needs and its new roll-top satchel is no different. The water-resistant leather messenger bag has the look of an old mailbag made from tough American full-grain leather that's covered with a 25-year warranty.
The rolltop's design makes it easy to expand the main pocket and get to stuff inside including its padded laptop pocket that fits up a 15.6-inch 2017 Apple MacBook Pro. There's also one zippered pocket inside that runs the length of the laptop compartment, but that's all on the inside.
On back is a newspaper pocket and there are side slip pockets to quickly stash your phone or sunglasses. The bag is finished with strong brass hardware and parachute-grade UV-resistant stitching, and a there's a strap that closes the top down with a single rivet.
Between the thick leather and brass hardware, this bag is not light coming in at 4.2 pounds (1.9 kg) and it's pricey too at $395. But if you want a tough, but beautiful bag to last you years, it's worth checking out. And if you decide you don't like it, the company offers a 30-day money-back promise.
Peak Design got its start making camera accessories, and this bag is definitely a good choice for photographers thanks to its origami-inspired removable dividers that let you break up the main compartment however you want.
Both sides of the bag offer the same large zippered panels, so you can get to anything you need regardless of where it is in the bag. Each side panel has a separate zippered storage area with pockets.
A slim padded laptop compartment is accessible through a zipper at the top. It will snugly hold up to a 15-inch MacBook Pro. All the zippers, by the way, are all weather-sealed and the fabric is water-resistant.
To get in and out of the main compartment, Peak Design developed a magnetic latch system. A set of bars under the front flap let you close the bag at different heights so you can fill the bag right up to the top and still secure everything inside. Or tighten it all the way down to make the bag more compact.
Each side has a pouch for a water bottle or umbrella. However, there are also hidden straps behind the front panel letting you attach more to the outside, whether it's a coat or a drone or tripod.
Lastly, the straps are well padded without being bulky and pivot at axial connection points, so they fit perfectly. They tighten with a simple pull and loosen just as easily. A sternum strap fastens with one hand and, when you need additional support and security, there's a hidden waist strap in the back. It's overall a really comfortable and thoughtful design. All of those features and the quality construction will cost you, though: The smaller 20L-size bag we tested costs $260, while a larger 30L version is $290.
The Trilogy is a solid pick if you're just looking for a lightweight bag to carry around essentials and don't need a ton of little pockets and extra features. It has three compartments and three external storage pockets. (Trilogy, get it?)
The large main compartment has a suspended padded laptop sleeve at the back that will fit a 15.6-inch laptop, though you'll want to stick to models under an inch thick. The suspension means your laptop is less likely to get dinged up when you put the bag down.
The middle compartment has a handful of pockets along with enough space to hold your lunch and headphones. A front compartment is perfect for cables or anything you want to keep in easy reach. Speaking of, just above it is the opening for a drop pocket that is deep enough for a magazine or umbrella. There are also mesh pockets on each side big enough to hold a water bottle.
Even with the laptop sleeve being in the main compartment, it's still deep and wide enough for gym clothes and a pair of sneakers, assuming they're not too large or bulky.
The $80 bag is finished in water-repellent fabric and has reverse coil zippers that also help keep water and dirt out of the bag. If you're headed back to school or already there and need a lightweight backpack, the Trilogy is a solid pick.
Part of Solo's Roadster collection, the $215 Shorewood is made from soft pebbled black leather with brown accents and metal hardware. Two drop pockets in front give you somewhere to stash your sunglasses and phone, but the zippered pocket just above them gives you some security for smaller items.
The compartments are lined with a heavy twill with a camouflage pattern that is... interesting. There is a padded laptop compartment at the back that'll hold up to a 15-inch laptop. In front of that is another reasonably large section, big enough to hold headphones and there's a slip pocket for a tablet or e-reader. Basically, despite its slim profile, it actually expands to hold quite a lot.
The Icon backpack has been a favorite for years now for its understated style while still having the capacity for a ton of gear (and shoulder straps to carry it all comfortably). Incase updated the bag recently with a new weather- and abrasion-resistant fabric called Woolenex. It feels somewhat like cotton, but it's lightweight and has the high-tensile strength of ballistic nylon.
The bag is divided into four compartments including one for up to a 15.6-inch laptop and another side-loading one for a tablet. There are also sections for flat files and one loaded with pockets for all your accessories. Too bad the interior is so dark it's impossible to find something if it falls to the bottom of the bag.
While water bottle/umbrella storage is absent on the outside there, there is certainly room inside. One of my favorite features are the zippered pockets at the base of each strap. The right side even has a cable pass-through so you can keep a battery pack in there and charge your phone while you use it.
Lowepro primarily makes camera bags, but the Urbex line blurs the line between photography and everyday use, much like Peak Design bags.
It'll hold up to a 15.6-inch MacBook Pro in zippered pocket at the back. There's also a large separate center storage section with a tablet pocket as well as a handful of other organizational pockets including one zippered pocket. There's one external zippered pocket on top, too, that's good for sunglasses, earbuds or other small items. An elasticized pocket on the side gives you water bottle storage.
What makes it a camera bag then? There's a side entry that gives you access to a padded gear box that's big enough to hold a compact mirrorless camera or a GoPro and some accessories. Or you can use it to hold your power adapter, cables or whatever.
There's a padded divider separating the gear box from the rest of center section, but it's attached inside with Velcro and can be folded flat to give you more interior storage. You can then attach the gear box outside of the bag with its integrated strap.
Also pictured here is the awesome little hidden phone pocket in the shoulder strap.
If you'd rather have a traditional backpack that's dressed up for business, there's the $230 Kilbourn. It's essentially the backpack version of the Solo NY Shorewood briefcase from earlier. It has the same soft pebbled leather on the outside and the same camo print on the inside. There's a zippered pocket for small items you need to keep more secure than the front drop pocket, though the flap covering it is held down with magnets.
If a high-end messenger is more your style, this bag is a sweet combination of classic good looks and utility. Like the Satchel featured at the top of this gallery, the Attaché is made from tough American full-grain bridle leather. It weathers beautifully giving the bag some extra character.
There's a newspaper pocket on back and two pleated pockets on front. Inside you'll find a couple more pockets for cables and accessories as well as a large zippered pocket. The padded laptop section will hold up to a 15.6-inch MacBook Pro.
The $150 Kings backpack will hold up to a 15.6-inch laptop. And a tablet. And some books. And your headphones, lunch and gym clothes. It even includes a separate removable zippered pouch to hold all your cables and adapters and batteries. It also has one of the worst placements for a key tether: Inside a zippered pocket that's inside another zippered pocket on the front of the bag. Both of which can be tough to get into if the bag is stuffed with stuff.
The rest of the bag is well designed though, and features the same suspended laptop sleeve as the Trilogy bag mentioned earlier, which keeps the edge of your laptop off the bottom of the bag. You'll also find a pocket to hold a large battery pack and cable clips and routing holes so you can charge devices in other compartments.
The laptop compartment is fleece-lined -- one of my favorite features of Incase's bags -- and holds up to a 15.6-inch MacBook Pro. The rest of the compartment has room for a book or two and some accessories like a power adapter, but not much else.
The Everyday Messenger 15 follows the same design concepts as the company's backpack shown earlier in this gallery. It actually came before that bag, breaking crowdfunding records on Kickstarter.
The $250 bag is loaded with little design features that make it one of the best bags you'll find for a daily commute or out on a photography shoot. A smaller Messenger 13 is available for $220. (The 15 is designed to hold a 15-inch MacBook Pro, while the 13 will hold a 13-inch MacBook Pro.)
The Messenger has configurable origami-inspired dividers to create custom arrangements for your camera equipment. Or you can just take them out and have the entire interior for storage. The flap that covers the main compartment has a weatherproof zipper across the top, letting you access everything inside without opening the bag entirely (it's unzipped in this picture).
Like the backpack, it has the company's MagLatch closure and a ladder of bars on the front so you can increase or decrease its capacity just by latching to a higher or lower bar. Other nice features include elasticized pockets in the front storage area to hold onto whatever you put in them; a quick-adjust strap with internal padding; and side slash pockets for your phone or sunglasses that also hides a waist strap to keep the bag from shifting when you're riding a bike.
I hadn't heard of Nomatic until it launched a Kickstarter campaign for this streamlined Laptop bag and a larger Messenger bag. Then within days I started seeing its backpack on people while walking around New York City. That bag raised nearly $3 million on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and the campaign for the Laptop and Messenger brought in more than $1.1 million from backers.
The Laptop bag is $180 and has enough room to use it for a daily commute. The Messenger ($210) adds more space and pockets as well as two customizable Velcro panels to organize the interior however you want.
Stretchy pockets inside help organize and secure your miscellaneous accessories and cables, and Nomatic includes a hardshell case for glasses/sunglasses. There are a couple drop pockets, too, and two zippered pockets, one of which has RFID protection.
Both bags are finished in waterproof materials and have a shoulder strap that attaches with quick-release magnetic Fidlock Snap fasteners. Each has room for up to a 15-inch laptop in a TSA-compliant compartment that also has a tablet sleeve and file storage.
Personally, I would go with the larger Messenger bag because I frequently need to travel with camera gear. But, if you typically travel light, the Laptop bag has just enough space for a daily commuter. You can buy them directly from Nomatic.