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10 best messenger bags

Whether it's your laptop or an office-ready suit, pack all the essentials into one of these practical carriers

Aaron Roe
Tuesday 07 November 2017 11:03

Think cool urban cycling and we bet you’ll have that classic courier image in your head: fixed-wheel bike, cap at a jaunty angle and big bag strapped across their back.

You might not have the handling skills of a professional courier but at least you can fake it till you make it with one of our amazing bags. A messenger is a great way to carry your stuff, especially for anyone who needs rapid access – just slacken the strap, twist the bag round to the front of your body and bingo.

Our selections come in a range of hard-wearing materials, from traditional waxed cotton through to recycled truck tarpaulin, so it’s up to you to just pick whichever suits your image and lifestyle. If you’re planning to use your bag mainly on the bike then look for details such as loops for U-locks and lights.

We’ve put everything from cavernous carry-alls through to smaller “sling” versions through their paces, both in and out of the saddle, so we’re sure you’ll find something that’s right for you.

Trakke Wee Lug Mk2: £200, Trakke

Like a single malt whisky, this handmade offering from Scotland just gets better with age. The waxed cotton material develops an attractive patina as it creases up over time, subtly changing the look of the bag every time you use it. The broad padded strap with its rugged AustriAlpin buckle is extremely comfortable, either with the bag slung across your back on the bike or hanging at the hip while walking around. A lot of thought has gone into making the strap easy to adjust with one hand for the perfect fit. With 17L of space to play with, there’s room for a 15in laptop in its own section with a waterproofed zip. Under the outer flap are two surprisingly large pockets, again with waterproofed zips. We really put it through its paces during a week in Wales – stuffed with a laptop, cameras, lenses and spare clothes, it never let us down whether cycling down country lanes or being bounced around in a boat. It’s not a cheap bag, but then there’s nothing cheap about it – it’s one you’ll cherish for many years. Available in five colours.

Buy now

Freitag F17 Joe: £215, Freitag

This hip offering from Zurich is as close to an HGV as you’d want to get on a bike – it’s made from reclaimed truck tarpaulin and old inner tubes. It was the most expensive bag we tested but it’s rugged and the build quality is awesome. There’s a large main compartment with a sleeve where you can stow your laptop, plus plenty of room for other day-to-day essentials. You can also loosen the straps to really open it up for bulkier items. At the bottom are extra straps where you can attach longer items such as a track pump or a camera tripod, while on the front there’s a water-repellent pocket for your phone or wallet. In line with the recycling theme, the edges of the front flap are finished with rubber from old inner tubes, while the shoulder strap was once a car seatbelt. One to buy if you want to stand out from the crowd – there are 44 different eye-catching designs to choose from.

Buy now

Osprey Flap Jack Courier: £44.99, Wiggle

If you’re worried you’ll have parcels thrust into your hands each time you walk into reception with a bag slung over your shoulder, then this more conventional-looking number is for you. It’s packed with features – we counted nine different pockets – and the grab handle on the top is a thoughtful addition. You can keep essentials like your phone and wallet close to hand in a zippered section on the top so you don’t have to open up the main body of the bag, where there’s a padded laptop sleeve big enough to hold our 13in laptop. The shoulder pad proved comfy on the bike and there’s a removable waist strap to prevent it swinging around as you ride. Commuters will appreciate the inclusion of a pocket for a water bottle along with a loop to attach an LED light, and it’s easy to find a comfortable length for the main strap using the simple plastic buckle. Available in black or green.

Buy now

Restrap Pack Messenger Digital Camo: £49, Brick Lane Bikes

“Made by Jade” proudly states the signed label on this smart little bag from Leeds, Yorkshire – and Jade’s done a fine job. With just three inside pockets, plus a zippered section under the flap, it’s not the most innovative bag on the market but it’s well-made and comes at a great price. At 10.5L, Restrap’s was one of the smaller bags we tested, but it’s made from tough, waterproof Cordura fabric, so should take plenty of day-to-day knocks and scrapes. It’ll hold a 13in laptop inside, along with enough essentials to see you through a busy day in the office. One outstanding feature is the magnetic clasp on the support strap – to release, you just hold it between your thumb and fingers and make a clicking motion. It’s so simple, yet so secure, we can’t understand why more manufacturers haven’t pinched the idea. There’s no pad on the main strap but it felt perfectly comfortable and stayed firm as we whizzed through town traffic. Available in black or this digital camouflage design.

Buy now

Polaris Aquanought Courier: £39.99, Tredz

This is a seriously cavernous product for seriously bad weather. The Aquanought is a courier bag in its purest form – just a big waterproof sack that will hold a huge amount of kit. It’s big enough to accommodate your usual work bag if you think the attention-grabbing fluo yellow might be a “bit much” for the office. Whatever you carry, even the heaviest rain won’t get past the combination of weatherproofed zip and roll-down top flap – in fact, it looks like it could survive a few hours in the local canal without its defences being breached. You fold the top of bag over to fit whatever load you’re carrying and then secure it with the two side straps. There’s a matching fluo pad on the main strap and it comes with a waist strap to hold everything in place while you’re pedalling. Definitely one for die-hard bike commuters who laugh in the face of rain and snow. Also available in white or black.

Buy now

Chrome Welterweight Kadet Night Sling: £79, Urban Excess

Sometimes a full-sized bag is just too big for those short hops around , but this option from American brand Chrome is great for carrying the bare essentials plus a bit extra. Anyone who rides at night will appreciate the reflective front panel and straps, and there’s a loop on the strap to carry an LED. The padded holster at the back for a U-lock is a nice addition too. We found the strap, with its seatbelt-style buckle, the most comfortable on test. It’s also super-easy to slip on and off, and there’s a stabilising chest strap to prevent the bag moving around when you’re in the saddle. Although small, the Kadet packs an awful lot in – we carried an iPad, small jacket and camera with ease.

Buy now

M-24 Messenger: £60, M-24

Here’s another bag cannibalised from a motorway monster and given a new lease of life. Designer Mat Dusting (he’s the M in the name and he was 24 when he started making bags) struggled to find anything tough enough to carry his skis and snowboards, so he produced his own range from old HGV tarpaulins with seatbelts used for the straps and stabilisers. Five years on, his designs have got a cult following and Mat has a store in trendy Brighton. The lived-in look won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you want something loaded with character then look no further. It’s quite basic inside with just one large main section, a pocket for a laptop and a small space for essentials under the flap. But it’s tough and you’re guaranteed to have something distinctive unique. Available in a range of varied, colourful designs.

Buy now

Vaude Augsburg III M: £101.59, Amazon

Not everyone feels comfortable riding through city streets with a bag slung across their back – Vaude’s solution is to add a clip-on bar so you can attach it to a pannier rack until you reach your destination where it comes off with a flick of a switch. It has also made the shoulder strap super-simple to remove and reattach. The waterproof fabric feels really tough and you get the peace of mind of a five-year guarantee. Inside this 14L bag there’s a section for a 13in laptop and a large central section and space for a bottle or flask. There are also two smaller sections for bits and bobs, plus a space with a waterproofed zip just under the outer flap. The eco-minded will also appreciate the German firm’s commitment to keeping production PVC-free and climate neutral. Available in olive or black.

Buy now

Ortlieb Reporter L: £150, Tredz

Cycle tourists will be familiar with the Ortlieb name – it has been making quality waterproof biking luggage in Germany for more than 30 years. This stylish shoulder bag is aimed squarely at those who like to stay organised while commuting. There’s the usual laptop pocket along with two internal zipped pockets, a couple of penholders and a secure section with a Velcro flap where you can stow your phone. There’s also another zipped pocket under the flap for anything you want to keep close at hand. The main section is big enough for a change of clothes if you’re heading out after work. The strap includes a built-in stabiliser belt, and while it took us a few minutes to get our heads round using it, it does its job well and keeps it secure as you ride. As with the Vaude, it comes with a five-year manufacturer’s warranty. Available with either 11L or 17L capacities, and in black, blue or green.

Buy now

Mission Workshop The Shed: £170, Condor Cycles

This monster from the streets of San Francisco ticks all the messenger bag boxes – a huge 35L capacity, a big, wide shoulder strap, plus a vast array of pockets and pouches. Even fully laden it still felt supremely comfortable and stable while zipping through traffic. You can use it either as a roll-top for extra carrying capacity or fold the front flap down for a more conventional look, while the main strap and stabiliser can be swapped between left and right shoulders in a couple of minutes. The buckles holding the front flap shut on the latest version are a touch of genius – you just slide them up and down a pair of sewn-in fabric pegs to open or close, which means no more fumbling with cold hands. Stitching quality is top notch, so it’s no wonder Mission Workshop ships it out with a lifetime warranty. Available in five different colours.

Buy now

The Verdict: Messenger bags

We had some terrible rows trying to pick a Best Buy. Should we go for the exclusive ex-truck look, Scottish style or full-on courier cool? In the end, we thought the Trakke bag just edged it over the Mission Workshop offering, although it was almost too close to call. Buy the Trakke if you want a bag that’ll earn envious glances on or off the bike, and the MW if you’re looking for the ultimate load-lugger.

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