Backpack or briefcase: which is better for the job?

If you’re one of the many who have spent the past year working from home, taking meetings from your home office (read: sofa) wearing dress shirts over sweatpants, the concept of a office can seem quite foreign at this point. Sooner or later, however, the time will come when you need to get dressed and head to an actual physical workplace. And you’re going to be faced with a choice: backpack vs briefcase. That is, do you carry your things around the office in a briefcase? Or do you pack it all in a backpack every time you need to move?

People often have strong opinions when it comes to the backpack versus briefcase debate. Those on the side of the backpack tout that it’s hands-free – the straps take the burden on you, leaving your grip available for, say, hanging on a subway pole or grabbing a cup of coffee and a bagel on your way to work. Briefcase enthusiasts have their own reasons, however. Like, for example, the fact that carrying a briefcase doesn’t wrinkle your shirt or suit jacket.

Suffice it to say, you will find pros and cons on both sides. Ultimately, deciding between a backpack and a briefcase is a matter of personal choice – as long as you invest in something beautiful and well-made, either will do. However, some situations favor one choice over another.

When can you carry a backpack?

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

When choosing between a backpack or a briefcase, consider the type of office you’re heading to. If it’s a more casual environment, like a creative setting or a startup where people wear jeans every day of the week (not just Friday), then don’t think twice. Your backpack will fit perfectly.

That being said, we wouldn’t be carrying any old backpacks. Go for something clean and professional, in a neutral colored material like leather or canvas. Because backpacks, while perhaps the more practical choice from a functional standpoint, tend to be read just as young. (What can we say? The association with high school can be hard to shake.) And if you’re wearing something that’s too loud or out there, it can give people the wrong impression of whether you’re taking or not your workplace seriously.

Best backpacks for work

Rains waterproof backpack

A black Rains waterproof backpack.

From the masters of waterproof style, this discreet backpack will keep your laptop and essentials safe and dry, whatever the weather.

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 keep you organized and safe whether you’re commuting to work or catching a flight at the airport.

Saint Laurent City leather backpack

Saint Laurent City black leather backpack.

Leather is always a safe bet when looking for a suitable backpack for the office. And the classic Saint Laurent design features some of the softest, most premium leathers we’ve ever felt.

When should I bring a briefcase?

A man in business attire carrying a briefcase at work.

Look, no one is going to tell you outright not to wear a backpack to work if that’s what you prefer. But if your office is more of a suit-and-Attach some sort of seal, you might just want to reconsider this backpack and swap it for something more formal like a briefcase. And it’s not just because briefcases are considered more professional, though that’s 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 while wearing a towel. This is especially true for costumes. Unless you have a steamboat in the office, wearing a backpack will fill the back of your jacket with pleats for the whole day ahead. Briefcases, by nature portable (or, at most, with a single shoulder strap) take the wrinkles out of the equation. Also, just think about the optics: can you even imagine a man wearing a suit with a backpack? Something is wrong with this picture.

If you’re carrying important documents, like a resume or contract, briefcases also tend to keep them intact better. Multiple compartments, as opposed to the backpack’s single main storage, make it easier to organize your laptop and everyday needs, as well as secure things in place more easily. Basically, briefcases are intentionally designed for the office, while backpacks will work but are more versatile.

Best cases for the job

Original Filson Heavy Duty Twill Briefcase

An original case in sturdy beige Filson twill.

This is perhaps Filson’s most iconic bag, and for good reason. Durable, water-resistant waxed canvas keeps everything inside secure, while the leather of the strap will improve the more you use it.

Shinola The Slim Traveler leather briefcase

A black leather Shinola The Slim Traveler briefcase.

All you need is a laptop and a few essentials? Go for a slim case like this Shinola option, which removes all the extra bulk for a more streamlined look.

Men’s Logan Frye Briefcase

A professional-looking Frye men's Logan briefcase.

Frye has always been known for his leatherwork, and this workwear-inspired briefcase brings that leather to the fore. It’s a little less formal than the more elegant options, but still very office ready.

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