What To Look For In a Work Backpack

On The Go

The world of practical-yet-stylish work backpacks. These are backpacks that hold everything you need to make it through a day at the office, from your laptop to your packed lunch, yet still, look stylish enough to take to dinner once you’re off the clock. What makes a backpack perfect for work is different from the characteristics of a regular bag, here are some things to look for: 


1. Materials to Consider

In a work environment, the best backpack needs to look the part – neutral colorways and smart, low-key designs all contribute towards creating an air of dependable professionalism.

The materials of a backpack play a large part in determining how the overall bag looks and functions. With a work backpack, you want to look out for materials that are very wearable; meaning that the materials themselves are a reflection of your profession and how you go about your workday.

Depending on your profession, here are some common types of materials that go well with a backpack that looks professional:


The ISM backpack is made from a considerate mix of full-grain leather and nylon.



Leather is a classic material that gives any work backpack a premium and stylish feel. Tried and true in the business world, leather bags have been used by working professionals for years, so a leather backpack can help you fit right in with a history of elegance.

Because leather doesn’t come on a roll like other types of bag materials, it costs more to produce and make in a backpack. Backpacks made from leather also require more craftsmanship so if you’re looking at a leather backpack, be prepared to spend more than a backpack made with knitted materials.


See the ISM Backpack


Nylon & Polyester

Nylon and polyester are great materials for a work backpack because they’re simple and durable while still giving off a quality and premium feel. Both are traditional materials found in early uses of backpacks and bags (Prada and Longchamp have iconic nylon bags) and they'll last a while without ripping, tearing, or pilling.

Heathered & Variegated Materials

Wool and denim are both examples of this since they are both used in everyday worn items from Shirts to Pants. Going for a heathered or variegated material will fit a certain type of aesthetic and profession because it will match with the clothing that you’re already wearing, giving you a consistent head to toe look.




2. Materials to Avoid

Cotton Canvas

Cotton canvas is typically seen in many day packs for school (like Jansport, Herschel) and the casual looking material can give off a seemingly unprofessional vibe. Canvas is also not waterproof (though some bags do add a layer of water-resistant coating to the canvas), and it’s a fabric that is very fine and therefore is more susceptible to tears or rips.

Noisy, Thin Linings

If you’re at a meeting and getting something out of your bag, the last thing you want is to draw attention to you from the crunchy sound that a backpack’s lining can make. Lining that’s made with cheaper, thinner materials lend themselves to making sounds, whereas you won’t have that issue with a lining made from thicker materials. 


The ISM backpack lining is made from a polyester twill which gives it a soft hand feel, but durable exterior.


3. Features & Functionality To Look For

Structured Backpack

Work backpacks should have a structured look since it makes them feel more presentable and serious. This can be achieved with padding throughout the bag, and padding is also great for protecting your valuables.

Another benefit of having a structured backpack is that it will stand up straight when placed on the ground. You want to be able to put your bag down, open it, get what you need and move on with your work. Having a bag next to you that doesn’t look all crumpled is an easy way to look more professional.



Lightweight & Portable

Whether you’re commuting to work or out for meetings, it’s important to have a backpack that’s lightweight so you don’t have to worry about back or shoulder pains.

A great work backpack is ideally made with materials that are lightweight, so it’s something to keep in mind when looking for a backpack made with heavier materials, like an all leather bag.

When you’re at the office, it’s great to have a backpack that is also easily portable, so having a secondary carry handle is a very useful feature. Accessory handles on the top or side of the backpack allow you to carry your backpack like a briefcase when you’re walking into your office or in a crowded area like the subway.




Padded Laptop Compartment

If you’re carrying your laptop or tablet to and from work, having a padded laptop compartment is a must have. Great laptop backpacks will have extra padding underneath the bottom of the laptop sleeve to keep your tech safe.

When evaluating a laptop compartment in a backpack, be sure to check if the padding in the laptop compartment extends all the way to the bottom of the bag or if there are a few inches of space between the laptop sleeve and the bottom of the bag.

Extra points here go to a padded laptop sleeve that lives in a separate compartment from the main compartment of the backpack, so you’ll be able to easily access your tech without having to rummage through all of your other belongings.



A separate waterproof zippered laptop compartment is one of the main features in the ISM backpack.


Comfortable Back & Straps

Comfort is another key feature in a work backpack. While it doesn’t need to have all the padding and functionality of a hiking backpack, there are a few must-have features to allow for a comfortable carry. 

One of those is having a back panel that is padded. A comfortable back panel will have some sort of memory foam (EVA/EVE) or mesh padding inside of it to give your back a nice soft surface to lean on. Having breathable materials on the back panel is great for those hot summer days when you’re trying to keep sweat marks to a minimal.

Padding on the shoulder straps is also a nice feature since it decreases the pressure on your shoulders and allows for an easier carry. Unlike a single shoulder bag, backpacks distribute weight evenly between two straps. The equal weight distribution provides relief on your shoulders and back caused by toting or sitting at a desk for hours on end. 


Memory foam and mesh straps and back padding make the ISM backpack lightweight and comfortable to wear during any season.


Plenty of Internal Organization

For easy access, choosing a backpack that has a U shaped zipper opening is your best bet. A backpack with a U shaped zipper like a panel loader, or tombstone shape makes sit easy to see where your stuff is while making getting things out simple. Types of backpacks to avoid if you value easy access are bag shapes like a roll top or top loader since these require you to untie a drawstring or unroll a part of the bag first before you’re able to get into the main compartment.

For staying organized and on top of your game, it’s convenient to have a work backpack that has at least two main compartments, with one of them being a dedicated laptop compartment for keeping your tech safe and secure.

In the other compartment, it can be convenient if the backpack has some dedicated space for organization, like a zippered pocket, mesh pocket, or key rings and retractable cords. More is not always better in the case of an organized work backpack, so its best to find a bag that has all the necessary organization but not too many pockets that will probably go unused and feel cluttered.



See the ISM Backpack


Easy Access Pockets

When you’re commuting to and from work, having easily accessible pockets is a must have. An easy access pocket can be typically found on the front, side, or back of a backpack. Whether it’s a subway card, phone, wallet, keys, headphones, gum, or any small item that you carry, having an easy access pocket makes getting items out much easier, especially since you won’t have to take off your backpack. If you like to carry a water bottle to and from work, then using a backpack that has an easy access pocket for a water bottle is also convenient.

Durable & Weather Resistant

Having a work backpack that’s weather resistant is a nice feature since it’ll give you peace of mind that your electronics are safe if you get caught in the rain. This could be a waterproof zipper that keeps your laptop compartment secure or choosing a backpack that has been coated with a water-resistant layer.



4. What To Avoid

Heavy Branding

With a work backpack, you want the focus to be on you and not your bag so it’s best to avoid heavy branding and noisy graphics. Instead, go for a backpack with a subtle logo and clean aesthetic. When it comes to your outfit, by keeping your work backpack to a minimal aesthetic, you can highlight other accessories you might wear like a watch, socks, or jewelry.

Excessive Details

Keeping it simple and minimal is best for conveying a professional look with work backpacks, so try and avoid things like excessive buckles, pockets, or zippers. You want to find a backpack that has just enough detail, but not more than what’s required for a workday.




5. Final Thoughts On Finding the Perfect Work Bag

There’s no black and white way of using a work bag, it comes down to preference and what kind of profession you’re in. One thing we do recommend though is looking for a work backpack that has a sophisticated mix of materials. If you have a bag that uses all of the same material, then nothing really stands out as there is no contrast. But having a bag with a mix of two materials can give it some contrast and uniqueness that can take an all black backpack and give it some subtle distinctiveness.

The perfect bag was something we had a hard time finding. Most functional bags were bulky. We wanted something that was both useful and sleek. To do this, we interviewed hundreds of professionals on what features they actually used every day and designed our backpack around them, while keeping a minimal and timeless aesthetic.

Meet the ISM Classic Backpack and The Daypack. One bag for all day in two sizes depending on your fit. We use premium materials and provide a lifetime warranty on the bag (it's made at the same manufacturer as TUMI, Armani, and Longchamp).

See the ISM Backpack




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