If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, Rolling Stone may receive an affiliate commission.
With more and more people heading back into the office in-person, chances are, you’re going to have to think about how to lug all your stuff on your commute pretty soon. You don’t need a seriously padded briefcase or a pricey leather backpack to get the job done, ether—just a solid, durable day bag with enough room for all your standard gear (think laptops) and non-standard, commuting boredom-busting gear (think a Nintendo Switch).
The best budget-friendly commuter bags are sleek and professional, but comfortable enough to sling, carry, and hold throughout the entire travel time. Whether you need pockets to stash your noise-cancelling earbuds, or an easy-access courier flap to get to reach for your favorite subway read, think about what style of bag is best for your commute. If you’re a student heading to an off-campus job, you might want a backpack that can carry extra books. Or you might want to consider the simplicity of a stylish tote if your commute is under 30 minutes.
Either way, if you’re looking to pick up a new work bag for the office, you’re in luck: these brands haven’t sacrificed on functionality or form, offering some of the best affordable commuter bags for work that we’ve ever seen.
1. The ReNew 15-Inch Transit Backpack
Everlane’s ReNew was designed for travel, but it’s ideal for commuters. It has a dedicated exterior pocket for a 15-inch laptop, plus interior slip compartments for magazines and notebooks, and zip pockets so you can fit the gear you need to carry into one backpack. The bag itself is lightweight for the 27L capacity, and design is super durable, made of recycled materials with a water-resistant finish. If you need a backpack for traveling, the ReNew has pass-through straps that easily attach to your luggage handle, as well as two water bottle pockets to stay hydrated for your entire trip.
2. Herschel Britannia Messenger
Ideal for any commute length, travel and carry-on Herschel’s commuter-friendly messenger bag has a waterproof main compartment with a number of internal mesh pockets, convenient storage areas, and a key clip. Measuring 12 inches tall by 16 inches wide by five inches deep, this stylish bag has mesh sleeve that fits a 13-inch laptop, plus stowable contour straps that convert the entire bag into a backpack if you want to go hands-free.
In fact, the entire bag 19L can be carried as a briefcase, backpack or shoulder bag. Just want to use the carrying handle? The padded shoulder strap is easily removable.
3. Solo New York Re:New Briefcase
When you’re looking for a briefcase, you want something slim, yet roomy enough to schlep everything you need for your workday (maybe even tossing in an e-reader too). This briefcase bag fits laptops up to 13.3 inches without getting too bulky, along with a full-sized zip-down organizer compartment with enough pockets for notebooks, a tablet, pens, and even a key clip.
The bag measures about 11 inches wide by 15 tall and 2.5 inches deep, and is lightweight enough to fit into overhead storage or slide underneath chairs on public transport. The shoulder trap is removable, and for flights, you can slip the bag onto most luggage handles through the back pocket.
4. Timbuk2 Scholar Convertible Tote Backpack
With a zippered top and an oversized design, this Scholar Convertible Tote from Timbuk2 makes a bag that works as well for shorter commutes as it does for your business trip. Unlike a regular tote bag, the zip-top won’t let your stuff fall out or get easily stolen, and two zippered front pockets also allow quick access to essentials like your wallet, phone or keys. The bag also features dual side pockets are great for storing a water bottle and umbrella for running to work in the rain.
The Scholar isn’t just a regular a tote, it’s large and sturdy enough to carry a 13-inch Macbook Pro. And whenever you need to use your arms freely, you can just untuck the hidden straps and carry it as a backpack.
5. Peak Gear Sling Compact Crossbody
When you’re not looking to lug an entire laptop across town, this bag from Peak Gear is a streamlined, compact alternative work bag. Spec-wise the sling bag is just over 13 x 8.5 inches, but still comes with a ton of secure, zipper pockets, and a main pocket that’s great for bringing along books, stashing after-work snacks, and even fitting a smaller tablet or ereader.
There’s a magnetic snap-lock front pocket that adds an extra layer of security to easily access to smaller items like your keys, wallet or earbuds. But overall, the bag is one of our most lightweight picks, featuring and adjustable shoulder strap that’s breathable and gently padded for comfort. One thing that makes it a true travel companion though is access to “ReturnMe” with your purchase, a company that works to identify and recover your bag if it’s ever lost or stolen.
6. Cuero Handmade Leather Messenger Bag
When you like the look of a genuine leather bag, but don’t want to be shelling out thousands of dollars, we like brands like Cuero who specialize in making affordable, accessible hand-crafted leather goods. This messenger bag has a vintage look and feel thanks to hand-distressed goat hide. The leather will even soften and wear the more you use it, so it’ll last through your next two or three jobs.
The bag also just delivers a ton of storage room, at 18 x 13 inches, with a large outer pocket for your tablet, notebook and other essentials. Inside, you’ll get a padded compartment for your laptop (and it fits up to a whopped 18-inch computer), and smaller zipper pockets for valuables. Treat yourself to this work bag, or get is as a gift for any leather aficionados in your life.