There are several ways to carry stuff while on the bike, but when it comes to on-body cargo-carrying choices, few options match the versatility and comfort of the classic messenger bag. As the name implies, messenger bags have their roots in sturdy, cavernous load carriers used by postmen and bike couriers.
The popularity of messenger bags as work bags soared in the second half of the 20th century with the rise of bike courier services especially in large cities in the United States.
In the 1980s and 1990s, messenger bags were adopted by the fashion world as a unisex accessory, and added new materials and features to the simple original cotton canvas bad popularized by De Martini Globe Canvas Company in the 1950s.
The purpose-built nature of messenger bags mean that the original design has remained fairly unaltered for a long time. It’s a formula for a bag that just works. Carries lots of stuff, made from sturdy materials that withstand day-to-day use and abuse, and comfortable to carry whether on foot or on the bike.
With hundreds of messenger bags on the market today, it can be a little overwhelming to decide which one to choose. In this article we look at what we believe are the best of the bunch when it comes to messenger bags on the market in 2021.
Top 10 Bike Messenger Bags in 2021
1. Timbuk2 Lightweight Flight Messenger Bag
Timbuk2 is a company that offers some of the best messenger bags on the market, and it’s difficult to feature a single Timbuk2 bag on this list, but we choose the Lightweight Flight Messenger Bag because it embodies the simplicity and versatility of original messenger bags in subtle modern styling. The compact size and lightweight also suits a wide range of day-to-day usage scenarios, but best of all it would be a great bag for those who travel often due to the quick-access passport pocket.
2. Chrome Industries Mini Metro Messenger Bag
Chrome Industries is another company that makes iconic messenger and commuter bags. If you don’t mind a little bit of bulk and weight for the sake of a sturdier bag, the Mini Metro by Chrome Industries might be the bag for you. It doesn’t have any fancy organization features, and lacks adequate padding for fragile electronics (if you have an expensive laptop you might want to consider other options), but it is a no-frills, well-constructed bag that will endure hard use on a daily basis.
3. Brooks England Strand Messenger Bag
Brooks England is a British manufacturer of bicycle saddles with a history that goes back to the late 1800s. Nowadays, Brooks’ product range isn’t limited to saddles, featuring a range of high-quality on-bike and on-body bag options. The Strand Messenger Bag features adjustable shoulder and hip straps to keep the bag in place while on the bike.
It is constructed from durable and waterproof PU coated nylon and Cordura, with YKK Aquagaurd zippers which further enhance the waterproofness of this bag. An outer compartment on the front of the bag offers easy access to items that you might need while riding. Reflective details keep you visible on the bike in low light conditions.
4. Barbour International Duke Messenger Bag
If you want a stylish bag for an office commute this bag ticks many boxes. This heritage-inspired messenger bag by luxury and lifestyle goods brand, Barbour, features a padded laptop sleeve and a large main compartment for clothes and other essentials, while your smaller items can go in the two outside studded patch pockets. The classy style doesn’t come at the expense of sturdiness, though, as the waxed canvas construction assures durability.
5. Arc’teryx Granville 10 Courier Bag
Arc’teryx is a Canadian company known for making innovative (and expensive!) active outerwear. Their Granville 10 Courier Bag comes in modern active styling with weatherproof technical synthetic fabric and taped seams to ensure no water comes near your precious electronics.
An external zippered pocket with n integrated key clip holds your wallet, phone, keys and other smaller frequently accessed items. The strap improves on the classic messenger bag cross-body design by adding a 3-point system that holds the ag securely to your body and minimizes unnecessary movement when the bag is fully loaded.
6. Frye Logan Messenger Bag
If cost is not a concern, and you want the most luxurious messenger bag you can find, the Logan bag by Frye should be high on your shortlist.
The cognac-colored natural leather is very supple to the touch and just oozes luxury and class, and the large flap features a magnetic closure for easy access to contents. This is a bag that will be at home in executive board meetings and still offers fantastic functionality and style on the bike.
7. Mammut Seon Messenger X bag
This bag by Swiss outdoor gear manufacturer, Mammut, features modern styling and all the features you’d expect from a versatile and supremely functional messenger bag for those who want a bag for both commuting and an active lifestyle.
The large roll-top main compartment offers 14L of storage with loads of internal organization compartments and padded laptop compartment. The Seon Messenger X comes in two modern stylish colorways, asp and white camo.
8. Ortlieb Daypack Urban 15 L
German manufacturer Ortlieb makes some of the best luggage in the world, and their Daypack Urban bag is like a cross between a messenger bag and a traditional roll-top backpack. The full CORDURA® construction offers durability combined with stylishness.
The large zippered flap opening makes for quick access to the main compartment while adding visual appeal to the design. The bag is IP53 dustproof/waterproof rated (which means that it can resist a minor spray, but it is not fully waterproof.
9. Dakine Concourse Messenger 20L Bag
If you need a high-capacity messenger bag with modern construction, ample features and an understated design, the Dakine Concourse might fit the bill. The cavernous 20-liter capacity offers loads of storage for all your items, with separate padded compartments for a laptop and a tablet.
The straps are breathable as well as stowable inside the bag when not needed, and back panel integrates with travel luggage which is perfect for the bike commuter turned business traveler. Unlike traditional messenger bags which use a roll-top or flap design, the Concourse has a split design which makes it usable as a mobile workstation.
10. Topo Designs Quick Pack Belt Bag
The Top Designs Quick Pack is essentially a large hip bag that can be used as a small messenger bag (or vice versa!). 1000D Cordura® and 400D Nylon construction ensures durability and the small size and plethora of carrying options make this a super versatile little bag.
Bottom compression straps makes it easy to adjust the pack size to the load, and heavy-duty plastic hardware further enhances durability. The shoulder strap is removable and the waist belt can stow inside the bag when not in use. A top carry handle provides yet another carry option when not on the bike.
What to look for in bike messenger bags?
Ample storage capacity
Pick a bag size that matches the amount of stuff you need to carry. Prioritize function over form. Some bags have a very smart visual design, but if they don’t offer what you need from a functionality standpoint, you may experience buyer’s remorse!
Comfortable carrying strap
There is nothing worse than a narrow, uncomfortable strap digging into your shoulder with a heavy fully-loaded bag. A well-designed, wide shoulder strap will ensure that your bag doesn’t dig into your shoulder or cause chafing.
If your bike commute happens in rainy conditions, you need a waterproof bag to protect the contents from getting soaked. Look for the waterproof rating which is often listed in manufacturer specs. Other features like taped seams or waterproof zippers enhance the water repellency features of messenger bags.
Padded electronics compartments
Most electronic devices, like laptops and tablets, are delicate and require additional protection. Pick a bag that has at least one dedicated padded laptop or tablet compartment.
Messenger packs come in a variety of modern materials, some are more durable than others. Some materials offer a more rigid structure to the bag which is something you may or may not prefer, depending on your personal usage scenarios and preferences. Get acquainted with fabric types and their features to know what to look for in your messenger bag purchase.
The materials and designs of messenger bags have significantly evolved and multiplied since the inception of the original concept in the early to mid 20th century, but the original idea remains fairly unchanged: a simple yet highly functional bag for daily use, comfortable for use on or off the bike.
The carrying capacity, ease of access to contents and durability makes it the bag of choice for commuters, bike messengers and other people who value the on-the-go utilitarian simplicity of the messenger bag.
With the range of available options of messenger bags on the market today, you’re bound to experience no difficulty in finding one that meets your criteria.
Hani Morsi is a seasoned multi-discipline cyclist with a particular liking for mountain and gravel bikes. Hani is also a mountain bike coach, trail builder and experienced bike mechanic.