The Best Laptop Backpacks of 2018

The simple modern design is fashionable. Unfortunately  without a great organization system in place  it's more of a looker than a performer.
Looking for the best laptop backpack? After perusing over 60 different models, we purchased 11 of the top contenders on the market. We cruised city streets and bombed downhill trails on a mountain bike, putting each pack to the test. Our experts checked out all the features, marched around town, and stuffed each to maximum capacity. We tested them on different body types by giving them to friends of all genders, shapes, and sizes. We even put them in the shower to simulate getting caught in a rainstorm on a daily commute to the workplace. We rated each on six key metrics, selecting award winners to help you find the laptop backpack that checks all your boxes.

Read the full review below >

Test Results and Ratings

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Analysis and Award Winners


Review by:
Katherine Elliott

Last Updated:
Wednesday
May 16, 2018

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Updated May 2018
As new products hit the market, we continue to identify the newest and best laptop backpacks out there. In this update, we have a new award winner. The Incase Icon is ideal for any gadget lover that needs to safely carry and store several electronic devices and accessories throughout the day. The Osprey FlapJack hangs on as our reigning champ for the best model overall.

Editor's Choice Winner


Osprey Flapjack


The Flapjack in Burnt Orange
Editors' Choice Award

$77.00
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 2.01 lbs |Volume: 21L
Comfy and spacious
Secure and reliable laptop protection
Can't sit upright on its own
The Osprey FlapJack is the highest scoring product in our review, and although it faced fierce competition, it is the clear winner of our Editors' Choice Award. With an incredible amount of compartments, pockets, and even an external zippered side pocket, it's our favorite for both storage and versatility.

This is a bag that can comfortably carry anything you need and is not limited to being an electronics carrier. We love its overall design, which provides a plethora of options for staying organized. It has pockets for carrying more than one size of a laptop and proved to be one of the most water-resistant bags in our tests. If you seek a great combination of laptop protection, comfort, organization, and great features, this is an excellent option that will handle whatever gets thrown your way.

Read review: Osprey FlapJack

Best Bang for the Buck


The North Face Borealis


Best Buy Award

$66.71
at Backcountry
See It

Weight: 2 lbs |Volume: 28L
Awesome organization
Versatility
Plenty of room for storage
Lacks style
Might be larger than necessary
The North Face Borealis will only set you back $89, making it one of the least expensive bags in our review, and a fantastic overall value. We love this bag for its simple design and the ability to protect our laptop while keeping an outdoorsy feel. It is burly and durable. It also has a simple and sleek design, while still including necessary organizational features, such as an external water bottle pocket and organizational pockets on the inside and out.

Large, versatile, with tons of features and pockets for organization of all of your various accessories, it is a fantastic pack for work, school or running errands. It's one of the highest-performing in every metric that we measured, as it can carry what you need wherever you would like to go; it will do a good job of protecting your laptop as you jaunt about your busy tasks in life. Perhaps the best feature that differentiates it from the rest is the ability to adjust for the load you are carrying, via the side adjustment straps.

Read review: The North Face Borealis

Top Pick for Gadget Lovers


Incase Icon


Incase Icon
Top Pick Award

$105.98
at Amazon
See It

Weight: 2.1 lbs |Volume: 17L
Efficient storage & capacity
Comfortable ergonomic fit
Very adjustable
Pricey
Minimal cushioning on pack's bottom
If you seek organization and a high capacity to store all your gadgets in one place, the Incase Icon is our top recommendation. This backpack is perfect for loading up one (or two) laptops or tablets, your lunch, an extra layer, and any other gadgets you might need on a daily basis. This is a highly organized laptop backpack that allows one to use all of its storage efficiently.

So what's inside? The primary compartment holds flat items such as magazines or folders. The secondary compartment is perfect for loading up all the accessories you might need — think power cords, hard drives, cameras, and more. The fleece-lined laptop compartment does a great job protecting from the elements and sits comfortably across the back for ultimate protection. In addition, there is a dedicated pocket specific for a tablet or iPad that is accessed from a side-zipper. All of these great organizational features make this laptop backpack a perfect fit for anybody who needs a backpack that can hold a lot of gizmos.

Read review: Incase Icon

Top Pick for Style


Burton Tinder


The 2018 Burton Tinder
Top Pick Award

$59.96
at MooseJaw
See It

Weight: 1.8 lbs |Volume: 25L
Handsome looks
Comfy and durable
Lacks water bottle storage
Sub-par organization
We know you are crazy for the outdoors. Functionality should always be the first consideration. But let's be honest here, laptop backpacks are primarily for use in the city, for going to work or school, for our everyday lives, not our spectacular weekend adventures. And in the city, for most people anyway, style matters. That's why we gave the Burton Tinder our Top Pick Award for Style.

Designed to look like a bare-bones, old-school 80's rucksack, the Tinder is urban and hip in a way that these other bags only wish they could be. The Tinder looks great mostly because of all the stuff that it doesn't have. While it underperforms in organizational ability and laptop protection, its single top-loading compartment with double drawstring closure will do one thing for you very well: hold lots of stuff. If that's all you need — and want to look good doing it, then give Burton a try.

Read review: Burton Tinder

Top Pick for Weather Resistance


Patagonia Black Hole 25


Weight: 1.8 lbs |Volume: 25L
Easy to use straps
Comfy on your back
Resists all kinds of weather
Not much laptop protection
Fits small
When your work life and your play time frequently coincide, get your hands on the Patagonia Black Hole 25L. It won our Top Pick Award for Weather Resistance, being the right combination of trendy and functional and one of the most adaptable laptop backpacks in the review. With its superior water protection and sleek, streamlined design, it won't disappoint whether carrying your laptop to the office or holding your gym clothes for an after work hours gym session.

The shoulder straps are comfortable in any scenario, and the sternum strap offers a little extra support when your cargo is heavier than normal. The sleek single compartment design keeps things straightforward and easy to use. So if you are a laptop welding individual with a draw to the outdoors, the Patagonia Black Hole is a worthy partner to have in your backpack arsenal.

Read review: Patagonia Black Hole 25

Top Pick for Frequent Flyers


The North Face Surge


Weight: 3.1 lbs |Volume: 33 L
Excellent for getting through security quickly
Lots of organization
Fleece-lined pockets
Heavy
Not ideal for large items
Folks who air travel with a laptop will appreciate The North Face Surge the most. It performs ahead of the pack in most categories, like laptop protection and organization, but truly shines in its ease of use, specifically at airports.

The TSA-approved laptop compartment completely unzips to lay flat on the conveyor belt to be screened at security without taking the laptop out of the backpack. When traveling, deleting a step as you rush through the airport is a bonus. It's one of the more expensive models reviewed, but for a great pack that makes airports a little less stressful, we dig it.

Read review: The North Face Surge

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
90
$110
Editors' Choice Award
Perfect pack for commuting to and from the office, school or play; this is a one stop shop.
82
$200
Top Pick Award
If you seek a great bag perfect for storing many gadgets, this model is our recommendation.
78
$129
Top Pick Award
While it looks a bit school-ish, we love this pack for airport travel especially.
75
$129
Top Pick Award
Versatile backpack for commuting to work and heading to the climbing crag or gym.
75
$89
Best Buy Award
An excellent size and capable of a variety of uses, this pack offers loads of incredible features.
73
$99
A classic and all-arounder, the Recon excels in many activities.
70
$95
Top Pick Award
Simple and functional, you'll want to swipe right for this pack.
68
$79
More designed for the outdoors than the office, this bag is a high value option.
66
$99
The most timeless laptop backpack we have tested.
62
$60
Decent for going to and from your classes or the gym, your laptop itself will need more protection.
60
$130
Armed with loads of features, the City will keep you comfy and organized.

Analysis and Test Results


After testing a series of laptop backpacks, we honed in on the most important considerations. A great model is exemplified by a balance of comfort, functionality, and style. In addition, it should protect your laptop, whether you accidentally throw it down on the kitchen floor, or gently place it on your desk. While all products in this review suffice as a bag to hold your laptop, there are several different options with unique features. When perusing this review, keep in mind what you are looking for in a laptop backpack to find the best option for you.

The field of contenders selected for our review  with the Editors' Choice winner standing in front.
The field of contenders selected for our review, with the Editors' Choice winner standing in front.

To help you narrow down your options, we selected award winners and top picks to help guide your process. We also laid out six key metrics to evaluate and compare each bag. These include; laptop protection, comfort, organization and storage, ease of use, style, and water resistance. Within each metric, we considered several factors. To better help you understand what we tested for, how we tested, and which backpacks fared best and worst, we break down and describe each category below.

Value


When considering a laptop backpack, the price is a significant factor for most of us. You will find backpacks that range from $50 to hundreds of dollars. Some may contain outlandish fancy features, while others may stand out as super simple and versatile. While fancy features may seem attractive, it's important to consider if you're going to need them or not. You don't want to throw your money away on things you don't need. If you seek a simple laptop backpack that will carry your computer in addition to a lunch and a few other items, choose a lower priced contender. However, if you are in search of a specific feature, say a TSA-approved option or a backpack that is very water-resistant, paying a little extra may be necessary. That said, consider options that fit your criteria, and don't be attracted to the most expensive option. While more expensive options are typically more durable and functional, it doesn't always mean that it's the best option for you.


Laptop Protection


The main job of any laptop backpack is protection. What good is a bag that can't protect a laptop? Considering this fact, we made this the most important metric (25% of the total score) to consider when comparatively rating each backpack. When considering this metric, we looked at the padding. Specifically, the amount and its placement (sides versus bottom). In addition, we looked at the laptop compartment size, the securing system that keeps it in place, and laptop location. While most backpacks do a decent job of protecting a laptop, no system tested was perfect. In fact, we are surprised that companies don't emphasize this metric deeply in the engineering and design. Below, we dissect all these important considerations, providing an overview of which laptop backpacks provided the best in protection. The Osprey FlapJack proved to be the most protective, though still not perfect in design.


Luckily for us, no actual laptops were broken in the testing of these packs! To test protection, we loaded them up with a 15" MacBook Pro, as well as the much smaller and thinner iPad Mini and sometimes, if room, an Asus Chromebook.


The Borealis comes equipped with an array of different sized laptop sleeves for your eclectic mix of electronics.
The Borealis comes equipped with an array of different sized laptop sleeves for your eclectic mix of electronics.

Padding
Laptops are fragile and expensive machines and need protection from knocks and blows that could potentially damage or break them. The most common types of padding were plastic sheaths or plates and simple foam pads. It seems evident that there should be padding on all sides, yet many of the systems we tested left significant gaps in the protection. A critical area for padding is, of course, the bottom of the pouch against which the laptop rests.

This is less of an issue for those packs which feature an adequate suspension system. The Osprey FlapJack not only has a properly suspended laptop sleeve, but it offers a large velcro strap to secure your laptop in place while transporting. A few manufacturers chose not to suspend the computer above the bottom, and thus need extra padding to absorb a blow from setting the backpack on the ground. In general, we feel this method of protection is inadequate compared to suspending it in the middle of the bag, particularly since the backpacks tend not to include as much padding as we prefer.

The Rogue's super thin mesh laptop padding made it one of lowest scoring bags in laptop protection.
The Rogue's super thin mesh laptop padding made it one of lowest scoring bags in laptop protection.

Laptop Compartment Size
The size of the compartment that holds the laptop is critical because if it is too large the computer will move around, exposing it to potential knocks and friction. Virtually every bag we tested is designed to fit a 15" laptop, except for the Incase City, which holds up to a 17" Macbook. None of the main laptop sleeves were specifically designed for an 11" machine, which causes smaller ones to move around considerably in almost every bag. Luckily, most of the packs feature a separate compartment for carrying a smaller electric device. In many cases, issues in compartment size were minimized when the bag was filled to capacity with other items, but we chose not to account for that in our assessment since a fully stuffed bag isn't always the case.

Most of the laptop backpacks had a protected option for carrying smaller electronic devices along with your larger laptop. Here is the Granite Gear Rift 2 with multiple padded sleeves for a variety of different sized electronics.
Most of the laptop backpacks had a protected option for carrying smaller electronic devices along with your larger laptop. Here is the Granite Gear Rift 2 with multiple padded sleeves for a variety of different sized electronics.

Securing system
The securing system works hand-in-hand with the compartment design to hold the laptop in place, ensuring that it doesn't move. Adjustable Velcro straps, like those found on the Osprey FlapJack, seemed to work best. Others incorporated an open top design, which confined the range of motion inside the backpack, but would not keep the computer stable in its position. Most of the bags had no securing system at all, meaning you'd better be very careful to set your bag down upright and gently, or pay the possible price.

The large sturdy velcro strap on the Flapjack makes it an excellent choice for laptop protection.
The large sturdy velcro strap on the Flapjack makes it an excellent choice for laptop protection.

Laptop Location
The final critical feature is the location of the laptop storage compartment within the pack. All the models we tested place the laptop next to the back, thereby using the back support to double as laptop support and padding. The North Face Borealis offers a well-padded yet firm back support which we liked. Having the laptop against the back also minimizes movement if the computer is the only thing in the bag. However, a critical feature of these specialty backpacks is a designated compartment that is suspended above the bottom of the bag, so that when the bag is on the ground, there is no impact on the computer. Not all bags in our test group included this.

Equally as important is whether the back support is rigid enough to absorb the blow of the bag being put on the ground. Some of the packs that feature suspended compartments lack this element, thus nullifying the advantages of the suspension design. In a few of the tested bags, the side edges or top corner, of the laptop are located much too close to the edges or zippers of the bags, where there is no padding, making the computer vulnerable to an impact from the side or top.

This contender has a secret zippered access compartment for your laptop. While it was a fun feature  it had a very thin padded back panel and laptop sleeve  making this a low ranking pack for laptop protection.
This contender has a secret zippered access compartment for your laptop. While it was a fun feature, it had a very thin padded back panel and laptop sleeve, making this a low ranking pack for laptop protection.

In the end, none of these backpacks do a perfect job of protecting the laptop, which was disappointing. Regardless of which bag you use, your best protection is diligent awareness of how you move with your pack on and how you set it down. Although there were refinements we would like to see made, we deemed the Osprey FlapJack the most protective. On the other end of the spectrum, we determined that the Timbuk2 Rogue was the bag most likely to leave you with a broken or damaged computer, even though we liked the bag in general.

The Osprey Flapjack in its natural environment. It was a great choice for someone looking for superior laptop protection and a means of staying organized.
The Osprey Flapjack in its natural environment. It was a great choice for someone looking for superior laptop protection and a means of staying organized.


Comfort


Perhaps the most critical component of any backpack is how comfortable it is to carry. After all, if you can't stand to put the bag on your back for more than a couple minutes, how effective will it be for carrying things all over town, or the world? To test comfort we wanted to make sure that we mimicked real-life conditions. We loaded these bags up with our around town necessities and carried them everywhere we went. On the other hand, we also wore them almost empty to see how each felt without a laptop or much else. Testers and friends of different shapes and sizes donned each model to determine how they fit a range of body type, too.


To be sure, we then compared them head-to-head by adding a lot of weight to each one (computer, textbooks, binders, folders and notebooks, clothes, lunch, and snacks) and had numerous people put them on and adjust them for their body type. Testers then walked around to determine each pack's level of comfort. The Top Pick Winner for style, the Burton Tinder, doesn't look like it would be a comfortable bag with its sleek design and hardly minimal padding on the back and shoulder straps; however, it turned out to be a comfy fit.

Our Editors Choice Winner the Osprey flapjack strutting its stuff around town. It remains of of the most comfortable bags to carry  along with keeping your gear organized and your laptop protected.
Our Editors Choice Winner the Osprey flapjack strutting its stuff around town. It remains of of the most comfortable bags to carry, along with keeping your gear organized and your laptop protected.

The two most critical features in regards to comfort are the design of the shoulder straps and the design of the backplate. The amount of padding in the shoulder straps is not nearly as important as how far apart the straps are where they attach to the top of the pack. Further apart meant less friction and biting into the neck. Just as important is how wide the strap material is to disperse the weight of the load. The Osprey FlapJack is hands down our favorite based on comfort alone, while the Incase City has the least comfortable shoulder straps and lacks a sternum strap for added stability.

The lack of sternum strap on the City was unfortunate  as the width of the straps made it rather uncomfortable for carrying. It tended to pinch our underarm area.
The lack of sternum strap on the City was unfortunate, as the width of the straps made it rather uncomfortable for carrying. It tended to pinch our underarm area.

Equally important, as far as comfort goes, is the construction of the backplate. Some of the backpacks we tested have super stiff stays or plastic sheets to add rigidity and protection to the laptop. While these may do a better job protecting your laptop (a key factor), packs which incorporated soft padding in the back plate were the most comfortable in our tests, both for walking and bike riding, like The North Face Borealis.

Soft padding means a flexible fit. Rigid padding and rigid back plates didn't move and flex with our bodies as well, and in general are less comfortable. While sternum and hip straps were appreciated at times to help stabilize a heavy load, we didn't feel that they added or detracted significantly from the comfort of the pack. We rated comfort as 20% of each backpack's total score.

Organization & Storage


What use is a backpack if it can't store everything that you need to carry? In our view, not much. We determined that two factors are most important when comparing storage: 1) How much can it hold? 2) How well does it stay organized? While there is certainly a fine balance between a backpacks volume and organization capacity, backpacks come in all shapes and sizes. Each is designed to carry specific items like important papers, pens, wallet, passport, sunglasses, iPad or other electronics (and even an attachment for a skateboard). While some are a little too small to fit everything we could imagine carrying (like food, water, or a jacket), others allow you to take it all with you. Those that did best in this metric offered a perfect combination of high volume and organizational capabilities. The Incase Icon exemplifies all that is awesome in organization and storage, making it a Top Pick for folks and their gadgets. Since storage is important, we gave this 15% of the total score.



A few of the bags we tested, like the Burton Tinder and the Patagonia Black Hole are a top-loading style, similar to a classic rucksack, and while they carry enough for us to be happy, they include very few features to help us stay organized.

Organization is crucial in maintaining a happy relationship with your laptop backpack  the Osprey Flapjack had a great system in place with lots of ways to stay organized.
Organization is crucial in maintaining a happy relationship with your laptop backpack, the Osprey Flapjack had a great system in place with lots of ways to stay organized.

For those who are interested in the exact breakdown of volume for each bag, check out the specs table at the top of the review where we list each pack's volume. The bags range from 17 liters on the small end to 33 liters (the Surge) on the large end. The Icon is the smallest pack according to measurements, coming in at 17 liters, but its efficient design allowed us to pack and store all we needed for everyday use properly. In this case, size alone isn't everything. In the specs table, we break down the division of compartments that each pack has — large pockets, small pockets, external side pockets, and zippered pockets. A compartment refers to the number of separate large (textbook or bigger sized) storage spaces the pack has.

The Explorer didn't take home any awards but it had a clever function for attaching a skateboard  or electric skateboard in our case  to the back of the pack.
The Explorer didn't take home any awards but it had a clever function for attaching a skateboard, or electric skateboard in our case, to the back of the pack.

Large pockets are big enough to fit many small items, or a few medium-sized things, while small pockets are for things like keys, pens, or a wallet, and help with specific organization. In the case of small and large pockets, some of these are found on the inside of the bag, while some are accessible from the outside. External side pockets refer to un-zippered pockets on the outside of the bag, designed to hold water bottles or extra clothing.

Ease of Use


While all of the backpacks listed here are designed to carry laptops, we also wanted to compare how well they hold everything else and how well they handle everyday use of other items besides laptops. We specifically addressed different contexts and activities and measured how easy it was to perform these tasks. Is the bag big enough to carry water? Does it come with a hydration reservoir? Can it carry a jacket, climbing shoes, and harness for a session at the gym, or even a full change of clothes? How about picking up groceries for dinner on your way home from work?


And what about using the bag when you weren't headed to work, school, or the coffee shop? Could you ditch the computer and happily take this pack for a day hike? Our Best Buy Winner, The North Face Borealis, makes the transition from laptop backpack to outdoor backpack very well, especially with the option to use the laptop sleeve as a hydration bladder. If heading to the airport, you'll be most pleased with the Surge, which is the only pack reviewed that allows you to pass through the security checkpoint without removing the laptop.

The North Face Borealis had all the making of an award winning bag all at a reasonable price.
The North Face Borealis had all the making of an award winning bag all at a reasonable price.

Lastly, how well does the pack carry important documents, keeping them clean and unruffled, while also carrying everything else? We found that the incredible amount of features included on the Osprey FlapJack made it the most versatile pack of the bunch. Top-loading packs like the Burton Tinder and the Black Hole are perfect for carrying things like groceries, climbing gear, and clothing, but not as good for protecting documents when paired with the other gear in the packs. We weighted Ease of Use as 15% of a laptop backpack's overall score.

Fully unzip the laptop compartment of the Surge and lay it flat for airport screenings. Never remove your laptop again.
Fully unzip the laptop compartment of the Surge and lay it flat for airport screenings. Never remove your laptop again.

Style


In one of our previous laptop backpack reviews, we rated each of the packs for their "Professional Look." But the reality is that none of these packs look professional in the suit-and-tie sense, and are not designed to be. We used the same guidelines for style as in last year's review. Let's face it; it's tough to make a backpack look super professional. So we have substituted the words "professional look," with one word: Style.


"Style" is a subjective term. We rated each bag according to how well it meshes with the look of today. Essentially, this metric rates how well each pack fits in with the rest of your attire. Because style is objective, you might want to ignore this rating anyway and make the call for yourself which one you like. The retro-hipster look of the Burton Tinder is the runaway favorite here, while the extremely dated looks of The North Face bags didn't win many style points. Right behind the Tinder is the handsome Patagonia Arbor, which boasts a very similar style. Style is awarded 15% of the overall score.

The urban hip look of the Tinder put in in the top of the rankings for style out of the 9 backpacks we tested.
The urban hip look of the Tinder put in in the top of the rankings for style out of the 9 backpacks we tested.

Water Resistance


While we didn't expect any of these bags to be completely waterproof, it is nice to know that if you get caught out in a rainstorm, all of your precious and expensive gadgets will not end up water damaged. For that reason, we also decided to test these bags for water resistance. Testing these bags during the Fall in Tahoe, it was hard to find consistent rain to use for our purposes, so we were forced to create our own "rainstorm" in the shower. We devised a test which we thought was a fair and adequate test of water resistance and subjected each of the bags to the test.


Not wanting to risk the health of our own laptops, we instead used someone else's. Just kidding - what we actually did was put a piece of fresh dry paper in every pocket of each bag, including where the laptop would be stored, then filled the rest of the volume of the bag with dry clothing. We zipped and sealed the bag as tightly as it was designed for, then held it under the shower for 30 seconds. We quickly photographed the bag to be able to show you its relative merits and faults, then dried it off with a towel, dried our hands, and carefully removed the contents to check for water intrusion.

The Tinder is one classy laptop backpack. It has a minimal modern design and that makes it unique among the rest.
The Tinder is one classy laptop backpack. It has a minimal modern design and that makes it unique among the rest.

The results of the test were predictably all over the board. We noticed that two things in particular made for an especially water-resistant bag: a durable water resistant (DWR) coating and covered zippers. DWR coatings are applied to the fabric of a bag and help it to shed water upon contact, rather than absorb water. It's worth noting that over time and with wear, these DWR coatings will break down and wear off, and will need to be reapplied if the original amount of water resistance is to be maintained. Zippers, though, were the main point of water entry into a backpack.

The top scorers, like the Patagonia Black Hole 25and the Osprey FlapJack, seemed to employ water-resistant zippers for the small external pockets, or a giant flap that completely covers the internal compartments of the bag. The worst performers, like the Incase City, have many zippers that are not covered or water resistant and lay flat on top of the bag pointing directly up, toward the direction of rainfall. These top zippers leaked and allowed water to filter down amongst every major pocket and compartment of the bag. The importance of having a water-resistant bag is dependent mainly on the climate that you live in, but for this review, we rated Water Resistance as 15% of the total score of each bag.

Conclusion


The Borealis has everything you need in a laptop backpack and the best part is it's an affordable option  retailing at $89.
The Borealis has everything you need in a laptop backpack and the best part is it's an affordable option, retailing at $89.

Shopping for a laptop backpack can be tough, but fun! Do you favor style? Comfort? Water resistance? All three? We hope this review helps you in making a decision, but we do realize that you might still be searching for the perfect bag to suit your needs. If your questions remain unanswered, head over to the Buying Advice for additional information to help you decide which pack is right for you.
Katherine Elliott

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