11 best men’s backpacks for commuting or a weekend away

Choose something versatile for work, gym, travel and more

Adam Turner
Tuesday 01 September 2020 15:15
Some of these options have laptop compartments, are waterproof or can be used as a cycling bag 
Some of these options have laptop compartments, are waterproof or can be used as a cycling bag 

Buying a new backpack is a bit like shopping for fabric softener, in the sense that you'd probably rather spend your cash on something more exciting, but deep down you know it’s the right thing to do.

And while a new bag won’t make your clothes smell like honeysuckle and sandalwood, if you choose the right one, it’ll be as equally satisfying.

First and foremost, it’s important to establish what you’ll be using your new rucksack for. Need a cabin-sized bag to lug around on city breaks? Maybe you’re in the market for a robust backpack to transport your laptop to and from work? Or just something basic to carry your gym gear in?

Once you’ve figured that out, there are plenty of backpacks to choose from across all price brackets.

That said, it’s worth investing a few quid extra to get something that’ll last longer if you can, which will be easier on your body, and properly safeguard your expensive stuff.

Here we’ve picked out some of our favourites, ranging from low-cost, pack away numbers and security focussed commuter bags to tech-rich haversacks with solar-powered phone chargers.

We packed these bags with laptops, sarnies and camping gear and tested them in various environments, from wet weather bike rides across the North Yorkshire Moors to sunny hikes along the South West coast path, so as to give you the best.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Helly Hansen Stockholm backpack

This multipurpose men’s roll-top backpack is slick, strong and practical, though we wouldn’t expect anything less from Helly Hansen – an outwear brand that’s been around for almost 150 years. Our favourite feature is the separate, zipped laptop slot, which allows you to take your Mac out without having to rummage through the other stuff in the main compartment.

Inside the big bit, you’ll find a 28l storage area spacious enough to fit beachwear, overnight clothes and toiletries. Honestly, we love everything about the stylish blackout bag, which looks just as good in the city as it would on the mountain. Prepare to be peppered with compliments.

Solgaard shore-tex lifepack

Designed for folk who are always on-the-go, this backpack, by New York-based start-up Solgaard, has everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. Think built-in phone charger, bottle opener, laptop holder, drinks pouch and coded lock – to save having to twist the straps around your leg in the airport like an amateur Shibari enthusiast. It also comes with clever tech add-ons, such as a portable solar panel (or Bluetooth speaker with built-in solar panel) that sits in a pouch in the back of the bag, so you can use the sun to power your gadgets on the move.

The outer shell design has a simplistic Scandi feel (the owner has Norwegian roots) and best of all, it’s made from recycled plastic bottles. A solid multifaceted backpack for commuters, remote workers and world travellers. It’ll be shipped from the US, so don’t expect it to arrive the same day.

Levi's backpack in green

This dinky, 20l Levi backpack, with its muted details and classic design, is ideal for a traditional bloke. It doesn’t have all the padding and fancy gadgets that some of our other picks do, but that’s why it's a fraction of the price. Its outer shell is composed of 100 per cent polyester (made from plastic bottles) and comes scattered in well-positioned tiny Levi badges.

Other features include a handy 14 inch gadget wallet and an elasticated drinks bottle slot. A quintessential backpack big enough to carry your basics but small enough to tuck in-between your legs on the bus.

Patagonia black hole pack 25l

They won’t see you coming in this camouflage “burly day bag”. Made almost entirely from recycled materials and plastic bottles, this military-looking, well-made backpack is perfect for camping or just carrying your university stuff around. It’s water-resistant, well-padded (thanks to a cushty air mesh back panel), secure (kudos to the sternum strap) and comes with two stretchy water bottle pockets.

Plus, there’s also a secret slot for a hydration pack (one of those weird-looking things that have a long straw coming out) making it on the money for long runs, walks or bike rides.

Columbia popo 22l backpack

A glance at this neat backpack is enough to take you back to the days when tucking your packed lunch box away and marching off to school was all you had to worry about. We’re big fans of the 90s colourway and nostalgic aesthetic.

It comes with a thick, fleece-lined 15 inch laptop slot, two zipped compartments and a titchy velcro side pocket – although a drinks pouch would’ve been more practical. Rock it on the beach or when wandering aimlessly through Peckham, Hackney or any other trendy area. A fun, eye-catching offering by a cool, forward-looking brand.

Forclaz compact waterproof 20l backpack travel 100

Decathlon is one of the best places to go for reliable, budget sportswear and equipment, and it hasn’t let us down here. This super-light, 20l, waterproof men’s backpack compresses down to a convenient pencil case-sized pouch, so you can slip it into your pocket once you’ve polished off your packed lunch.

It comes with two soft drinks holders o the side, two adjustable aerating mesh straps and a chest belt for extra support. It’s not going to last a lifetime but is spot on for short hikes, city breaks or throwing in your day rucksack as a back-up bag.

Riutbag X35 hybrid

This Mary Poppins-of-a-backpack holds 35l and is about the largest bag you can take on a flight as hand luggage – great for those looking to save cash on check-in bags. If it sounds too bulky, don’t stress, thanks to founder Sarah Giblin’s ingenious design, you can clip it down to around 15l and have plenty of space left should you need to do a post-work shopping run.

Riutbag’s main USP is that everything is hidden behind your back – making it perhaps the safest backpack on the market. And this hardy, design-first rucksack has heaps of other features, too, including a well-cushioned 15.6 inch laptop pouch (with a separate zip), two soft stretchy drink holders, various internal mesh dividers and a cunning case strap. It’s pricey but it’ll last you donkey’s years.

The North Face base camp duffel

Though popular with hipsters due to its edgy aesthetic, this sunny, barrel-like duffel bag by was built for extreme conditions. Don it on rainy mountain hikes, chuck it down boulders when climbing or fling it in the back of a kayak.

And should you want to use it as a day bag when skiing, the main compartment has heaps of room and would comfortably fit goggles, a hat, gloves and extra layers. Available in a range of bright colours and sizes depending on your taste and needs. Like a backpack version of Bear Grylls, it’s made to survive the great outdoors.

Berghaus brand bag 25

If you’re in the market for a compact men’s day rucksack then this two-tone modest offering by Berghaus has you covered. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles that some of our other picks do, but it’s well-priced, good-looking and durable enough to hold up to fairer elements.

With just a 25l capacity, it’s a good size to use as carry-on luggage as it’ll easily slot under the seat in front of you. Could also be used as a gym or work bag, but we’ll let you decide. Get it in eight different colours.

Rains men’s backpack

As symmetrical as a Wes Anderson movie set, this beautiful backpack is made for a fashion-first punter. We’re particularly fond of the intricate, industrial-looking single buckle clip on the front. As well as the sneaky pocket, masked by your back, designed to keep your wallet safe from wandering hands.

Inside the main compartment, there’s a shrewd laptop sleeve that fits gadgets up to 13 inches and a small zip pocket. The matted, wellington-boot-like material on the outer shell looks the part but will be scuffed up if you’re not gentle with it. Danish-designed, chic and waterproof, it’s a no-brainer for a city dweller who doesn’t have too much kit to cart around.

Sandqvist dante vegan

Sandqvist was started by three childhood friends from Sweden over 15 years ago. And if that’s not cute enough to make you smile, the delightful aesthetic will. Just look at the suave roll-top finish, abstract blue and black neeric print and tidy single metal hook closure system.

What’s most pleasing is that it’s 100 per cent vegan and big enough to fit a 15 inch Mac. It comes with two well-placed hardwearing handles and has an easily accessible zipped pocket on the front for your important bits and bobs. A dreamy city cycling bag.

The verdict: Men’s backpacks

Our top pick is Helly Hansen’s contemporary, all-black Stockholm backpack, which is a resourceful all-rounder (smart, affordable and resilient). Although if money wasn’t an object, we’d likely opt for the hard-wearing, comfortable, super-secure Riutbag X35.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.