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The best business travel backpacks

By Higginbotham on May 25 , 2021

Travel backpack

With airlines continuing to tighten restrictions on the amount and size of carry-on items, it’s become more necessary for business travelers to pack smart. Whether you’re traveling for a week-long trip or an overnight meeting, you want to make sure your business essentials get to your destination safely while having them at the ready during your trip.

Backpacks historically have been used by students, families and outdoor enthusiasts who want an easy way to transport items such as books, activities, snacks and gear. But with the advent of portable technology like laptops and iPads, backpacks have become increasingly streamlined and professionalized as “offices in a bag” for many business travelers.

Before purchasing a business travel backpack, it’s important to determine your specific needs. Are you looking for something small and lightweight to carry back and forth to the office? Do you want it to be compact enough to fit under a standard airline seat? Or do you need it to have all the bells and whistles so you can essentially have everything you need at your fingertips?

The following guide will help you determine the kind of business travel backpack that is best suited for your needs and the best options for you based on those needs.

Business Travel Backpack Features

First, here are some of the features you may want to consider when purchasing a business travel backpack.

Laptop Compartment or Sleeve

Most business travel backpacks will have a padded compartment for a laptop; the key is to make sure it can accommodate the size of laptop you have. A laptop compartment is essential to keep your electronics secure and protected. Easy access is important, especially when you're moving through airport security.

Hideaway Straps

As functional as backpacks are, you don’t always want to walk into a conference room with one slung over your shoulder. Hideaway straps allow you to transform the business travel backpack into something that looks more like a briefcase or laptop bag.

Expandable

Depending on the duration of your trip, you may want to utilize your business travel backpack as an overnight bag; or maybe you want to bring back some souvenirs for the kids. If this is the case, look for a travel backpack with expandable zippers or clips so you can tailor the size to your needs.

Water-Resistant

This is a plus regardless of the reason for purchasing a backpack. While you may not be hiking the Appalachian Trail, you may be stuck in the rain waiting for a shuttle to take you to a meeting. A water-resistant business travel backpack will also help ward off stains from that spilled coffee or snack at the airport.

Internal Frame

Internal frame backpacks usually have one big main compartment and one or two external compartments for smaller items like headphones, phones, chargers and travel documents.

In contrast, external frame backpacks have several small external compartments, making them look like backpacker bags. A business travel backpack with an internal frame looks more “business-like" and is also easier on your back when you’re lugging it through an airport.

Carry-On Compliant

Carry-on bag requirements can differ from airline to airline, but you’re usually safe abiding by general Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines. Make sure the business travel backpack you’re considering meets the size guidelines before you buy. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing it in checked baggage, plus you’ll also lose your ability to get some work done on the plane.

Sturdy Material

A good business travel backpack is going to be made of sturdy material and seams so it can carry the weight you need and be durable enough for travel. Sturdy zippers and well-made compartments will also help keep valuables secure.

Nylon is usually the best material, especially if it is very high density. Ballistic nylon, originally used for flak jackets worn by World War II airmen, resists wear, moisture, dirt and abrasion. On top of that, nylon is easy to clean and can take a good scrubbing when necessary.

Full-grain leather business backpacks, while more attractive, are less durable and require more care. While they can be water resistant, too much water could damage the leather. To help avoid this, it's advised to apply some oil to the backpack every now and then.

Polyester is another sturdy material, but it’s not quite as durable as nylon. Also, polyester doesn’t have the best water resistance, which can be unfortunate if you're stuck in the rain with laptop in tow.

Multiple Compartments

In addition to a designated compartment for your laptop, you want to make sure the main compartment is large enough to accommodate what you need and that there are enough smaller compartments in your business travel backpack so you can easily locate items like computer accessories, headphones, pens, passport and other travel items.

External compartments for water bottles are preferred since you’ll run less of a risk of damaging anything internally if it leaks or spills.

As an alternative to compartments, packing cubes are another way to organize and separate items in your backpack. Packing cubes are small bags that function like mini-luggage inside your luggage. They're good for anything from computer accessories to toiletries to clothing and shoes. Think of them as fancier, more durable Ziploc bags for your luggage.

It's important to find the right packing cubes to fit your luggage. Some travel backpacks include packing cubes as an add-on so you can be sure to get the right fit.

Front-Loading vs. Clamshell Design

Whether you purchase a front-loading or clamshell business travel backpack is based on your personal preference. A backpack with front opening design is much easier to organize and pack. It also gives you much better access to everything packed inside when your backpack opens like a suitcase. This is in contrast to the top loading design, which has a opening at the top of the backpack.

However, top-loading business travel backpacks can be more secure as there’s less of a zipper to potentially leave open. Items in top-loading backpacks also might be easier to locate in confined quarters, like an airplane, versus the clamshell design.

FAQs About Business Travel Backpacks

What is the best size for a carry-on business travel backpack?

It isn't necessarily dependent on TSA guidelines for the best business travel backpack sizes; it's more focused on what your individual airline requires. Though you might find an inch or two difference with various airlines, the standard domestic carry-on size is 22" x 14" x 9", which includes the handle and the wheels. This size limit ensures your bag will be able to be stored safely in the overhead bin for your flight.

Sometimes, a business backpack can be considered a personal item. Personal items, usually defined as a purse, briefcase, laptop or small backpack, are usually - but not always - allowed on a flight in addition to a carry-on. As a general rule, the personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. 

How do you pack a business backpack for travel?

Essentials are key when packing a business travel backpack. It's important to pack things you may need at the ready - your phone, wallet, passport, etc. - at the top or in an easy-to-reach compartment.

Since a business travel backpack usually stays with you during a flight, it's a good idea to pack what you absolutely don't want to lose, like medications, keys and laptop or tablet. Then, include anything you might need on the plane, such as computer accessories, headphones and portable charging devices. If you have room, it's never a bad idea to pack a change of clothes in case your luggage is lost or delayed.

Top-Rated Business Backpacks

Business travel backpacks come in a wide variety of shapes and materials. Features can range from basic to all the bells and whistles, and the prices reflect that. Here are some of the more popular backpacks for business travel.

NOMATIC 40L Travel Bag

The NOMATIC 40L Travel Bag combines the best characteristics of a duffel, suitcase and a backpack, with a minimalistic design. It's the perfect travel bag for a three- to seven-day trip. It's made from durable, water-resistant material called tarpaulin. The patented detachable strap system allows you to go from duffel to backpack carry for those times when you need more flexibility.

The NOMATIC includes a custom laundry bag to keep dirty clothes separate as you travel. There are multiple compartments for shoes, clothes, tech and even a water bottle pocket to help you keep your gear organized as you travel.

The backpack has a radio frequency identification (RFID) pocket with a TSA-approved lock. RFID technology enables a bag to be tracked. It is a chip embedded in an airline's luggage tag that is attached to or put in your luggage at the baggage counter. The RFID tag emits information about the bag (including its geographic location) over radio waves that can be picked up by the airline's scanners, and that data can be pinned to a map for you to see.

Ambor Travel Laptop Backpack

The Ambor travel backpack is on the list of best budget laptops. Available at under $50, this bag has a total capacity of 40 liters, which is spread over multiple compartments and external pockets.

This travel backpack has a spacious front-loading main compartment for clothes, a separate shoe compartment at the bottom of the bag and a wet pocket in the front compartment. The laptop compartment features sleeves for a 17” laptop and a tablet inside.

The Ambor backpack has thick padding and breathable mesh on the back panel, with soft shoulder straps and a sternum strap for improved stability. The compression straps on either side of the bag enable you to dictate the size of the laptop backpack. A luggage strap in the back allows you to mount the backpack onto a bigger suitcase for easier maneuvering.

TUMI – Alpha Bravo Tyndall Utility Laptop Backpack

Crafted in nylon, this streamlined yet spacious backpack is equipped with a multitude of smart interior and exterior organizational pockets - including larger side pockets, a gusseted laptop compartment that holds a 15" laptop, space for a tablet, cords and accessories and a fold-open front flap that gives access to its roomy main compartment. The material of this backpack is a durable, ballistic nylon.

The Tumi includes the TUMI Tracer, an exclusive, complimentary program that helps reunite TUMI customers with their lost or stolen items. The core of the program is a unique 20-digit individual product number printed on a special metal plate that is permanently affixed to TUMI products. That number, along with the owner's contact information, is entered into a Tracer database when a bag is registered with TUMI and used to help aid in the recovery of lost or stolen items that are reported to them.

Mancro Slim Backpack

This functional backpack offers useful security protection for your belongings with an anti-theft metal combination lock. The dedicated laptop compartment fits up to a 17" laptop, with a separate spacious compartment suitable for iPads and other tablets.

Made from durable, water-resistant polyester with metal zippers, the Mancro Slim backpack also has a built-in USB charger and charging cable.

The slim design makes this backpack easy to store under an airline seat, and the padded shoulder straps and are comfortable and durable. It also comes in five colors.

Solo Duane 15.6 Inch Laptop Hybrid Briefcase

This laptop backpack may look like a simple backpack, but the hidden, convertible straps can instantly transform it into a briefcase. 

The interior is roomy and well padded. The dedicated laptop compartment will hold any of the most popular devices measuring up to 15.6", and there's also a dedicated pocket for your iPad, tablet or e-reader.

There are plenty of additional storage compartments, including a large exterior pocket that can comfortably hold your charging cables and two quick-access front pockets for phones, keys, wallets and credit cards. It also features padded handles with magnetic straps, a removeable/adjustable shoulder strap and hideaway padded backpack straps for comfort.

SwissGear ScanSmart

The SwissGear ScanSmart holds a 17" laptop in a compartment with zippered access and a padded tablet pocket that is specifically designed to make getting through airport security quick and easy with its laptop-in-case scanning ability.

This travel backpack also includes a main compartment with an accordion file holder and a RFID-protected organizer compartment with a removable key/fob clip and multiple divider pockets.

The trolley strap slides over the telescopic handle of your carry-on, and two mesh side pockets accommodate water bottles and umbrellas.

This laptop bag includes ergonomically contoured, padded shoulder straps that help distribute the load equally, adjustable compression straps, airflow back padding and a reinforced, molded top handle.

Fresion Travel Backpack

The Fresion backpack has a TSA-friendly laptop compartment that opens 180 degrees, as well as a roomy front-loading main compartment.

The laptop compartment features two padded sleeves – one is suitable for computers up to 15.6”, and the other one will fit most tablets. There is a spacious zippered pocket inside the main storage area as well as an organizer panel and several smaller slip pockets. The front compartment also features multiple open and zippered pockets.

The Fresion laptop backpack also has open side pockets, a hidden zippered pocket on the back panel, another zippered pocket on the shoulder strap and a scratch-free pocket at the top of the pack. There’s even a handy USB port on the side, which lets you charge your devices on the go.

The back panel and shoulder straps are both heavily padded and covered with breathable mesh for ventilation. A sternum strap helps stabilize the load and keep the shoulder straps from moving around too much.

Ytonet Rolling 2-in-1 Convertible Backpack

This convertible backpack gives you the option to roll or carry, with a push button telescoping handle that retracts when not in use. You can also hide the shoulder straps in the back bag of the backpack to prevent the bag from being dragged while rolling.

The Ytonet includes one main compartment, one laptop sleeve compartment for up to a 17" laptop, one zippered file compartment for bulky items, one organizer compartment with multiple pockets, an easy-access front pocket and two stretchy water bottle pockets on the sides.

A set-in external USB charging port and inside charging cable offer you a more convenient way to charge your cell phone and other electronic devices while traveling or walking

When you want to carry this as a backpack, there's a cover for the wheels, and the backpack fabric is water and scratch resistant. While about a pound heavier than most backpack bags, it's relatively on the light side for a wheeled bag.

Ogio Renegade

The Ogio Renegade was made to keep your tech safe, with an armored laptop compartment that is surrounded by padding to make sure your computer is secure. One of the highlights of this business travel backpack is its innovative Reactive Suspension System (RSS) that acts as a safety net for your laptop if you accidentally drop the backpack.

There's also a crush-proof Tech Vault pocket with a soft tricot liner, perfect for anything else that needs ultimate protection, like a hard drive. Also included is a padded tablet pocket, mouse/digital camera pocket and a quick-access expandable phone pocket.

The backpack also features side pockets for water bottles, utility pockets and an organization panel with zippered stash pocket. Comfort is enhanced with a Hybrid Unibody Backpanel (HUB) and increased foam padding within the shoulder straps.

eBags TLS Business Backpack

Organization, versatility and convenience are the real highlights of the TLS business backpack.

The eBags TLS doubles up as a briefcase too, as it has a handle at the side so it can be carried horizontally. There’s an opening beneath and on top of the bag that allows a luggage handle to pass through the entire back panel, decreasing the chances of the backpack tipping forward as it sits on top of your rolling luggage.

All zippered compartments are lockable, particularly the laptop compartment that features a three-way zipper lock design. Located at the bottom front of the backpack is the removable crushproof case that can store fragile and important contents. The foremost compartment contains an array of pockets and slots.

As a plus, this backpack is covered by the eBags lifetime warranty.

Hynes Eagle Travel Backpack

The Hynes Eagle is another travel backpack that is good for the budget-minded. This bag converts from a backpack to a duffle bag and includes multiple pockets and adjustable side straps.

The laptop compartment fits most 15.6" laptops. The bag includes a side water bottle pocket, a front zip pocket with multiple interior pockets, adjustable sternum and hip straps for comfort and a variety of compression buckle straps that allow you to adjust the fit based on your height.

Hynes also offers three sizes of packing cubes to help you organize your belongings. Another plus: it's available in 15 colors.

Tortuga Setout Divide Backpack

The Tortuga Setout Divide Backpack is an expandable backpack with a clamshell main compartment, which means you can open it like a suitcase. It includes a front organization panel and dedicated tech storage and plenty of pockets to store your on-board essentials.

The top-loading laptop sleeve can fit a 17" laptop. The Tortuga Setout features a removable hip belt and padded shoulder straps that can be stowed away to give the pack the appearance of a regular bag.

The top and side grand handles allow you to carry this backpack in a few different ways, and it includes a fully vented mesh panel on the back for comfort.

Samsonite Kombi Large Business Backpack

Samsonite is a dependable name brand that's been around for decades, and its Kombi backpack is one of its best pieces of luggage for business travel.

The exterior of the bag is made from durable, water-repellant ballistic nylon, but the bag also sports some genuine leather details for a sleek, professional look.

Inside the main compartment, there's a laptop sleeve and a number of smaller slip pockets. This particular backpack can fit a 15.6" laptop, and other packs by this manufacturer can only fit smaller devices.

There are three extra compartments on the front of the pack and zippered pockets on the side. The back panel and shoulder straps are both padded and covered with breathable mesh for ventilation. There’s also a handy luggage strap in the back, which allows you to mount the Kombi backpack on top of a suitcase.

Amazon Basics Slim Carry-on Travel Backpack

A compact carry-on travel backpack like the one from Amazon Basics is a good choice for that quick business trip, with a full expansion zipper that creates 10 percent more packing space.

This pack is made with lightweight and durable polyester that is light and flexible; however, the material is not water-resistant. This travel backpack comes with an extra strap that allows you to instantly turn your pack from a backpack to a messenger style bag.

The main compartment opens up completely like a clamshell design. The laptop compartment is well padded and fits most laptop sizes up to 17". It comes complete with an organizer, expandable storage space, a key clip and a hideaway water bottle pocket.

TIMBUK2 Uptown Travel Backpack

The design of this backpack is TSA-friendly, so you won’t need to take your laptop out of the backpack when passing through security. There's a large main compartment and a laptop pocket that fits a up to a 15" computer or tablet.

A tricot-lined floating pocket protects your smartphone or other breakables, and there's a stretchy external side pocket for a water bottle. A clever extra is a vista loop for attaching blinking bike lights - if that's the way you're traveling.

The backpack is constructed from the durable nylon material and has a ventilated back panel for comfort. Timbuktu also offers a lifetime warranty, saying, "If there is a defect in the materials or workmanship we will repair the bag at our discretion for the lifetime of the product."

Kenneth Cole Reaction Business Travel Backpack

If you want a business backpack that looks professional and luxurious, the Kenneth Cole Reaction travel backpack is a great option for you. It is made from full grain Colombian leather, lined with tear-resistant polyester.

This backpack features a TSA-friendly laptop compartment that can fit computers up to 16” and has three zippered pockets inside, one of which can easily fit a standard 9.7” tablet. This pack also features a front compartment with an organizer panel and a key clip, as well as a small, zippered pocket on the top.

The back panel features three padded inserts that are covered with breathable mesh, and the rear has a trolley tunnel to fit over most upright trolley handles for hands-free carrying.

This bag does not have any side pockets, and the leather requires care and maintenance.

There are endless options and possibilities for business travel backpacks out there, so it's recommended that you make a list of the features you're looking for in a backpack, such as laptop size capacity, number of compartments, security and accessibility options, convertibility and overall size. Then, do your research and narrow down your options based on your budget. Remember - the gear you're carrying is valuable to you, so it's important not to skimp on a business backpack for travel that will get it from here to there safely while being accessible to you along the way.

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