How I Found an Affordable Professional Backpack for Work

Why is it so damn hard to find a good professional backpack for work that isn’t expensive?

Quick story time. About two months ago I started working at my new job at a digital marketing agency. As a result, I wanted to upgrade my tech gear–not just to impress everyone–but more so because I could really use it. So I went out and might’ve gone a little overboard. Yes, I splurged and got Bose headphones, new wardrobe, an apple watch, and I upgraded to a Macbook Air.

At this point, I was broke as a joke and needed a new bag for work. I had a messenger bag, but here’s the thing–I have to bike about 25-30 minutes to work. I figured a backpack would be more comfortable.

This is where things get ridiculous.

As I started looking online for a backpack for work and laptop backpacks, I kept running into two problems:

  1. The styles I saw were mainly briefcase messenger bags (which I wanted to avoid).
  2. Any decent backpacks that I found were a.) over $200 or b.) some type of animal skin.

So between the designer briefcase bags and the leather backpacks, it was disappointing that I couldn’t find anything at a fair price. I still wanted a stylish, high-quality bag, but not for $495.00!!! (eBags, looking your way).

The good news is, about a week ago, I found the best professional backpack that is a.) stylish, b.) affordable, and c.) practical. It’s got a few kinks, but overall it’s the most comfortable backpack I’ve ever biked with.

So if like me you’re looking for a high quality, yet affordable professional backpack for work, I have some tips that might help your search along.

Below is a review of the professional backpack for work I chose, as well as my thoughts on two runner-ups that didn’t quite make it, and my reasons for it.

Let’s begin.

My Backpack Checklist: What I Look For In a Work Backpack

To start off, when you’re looking for a backpack for work, it’s important that you outline what you’re looking for beforehand, otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed with options.

Below is my personal checklist of what I look for in a bag. Feel free to use this system, and be sure to customize to your needs.

A Work Backpack Absolutely Needs to Have…

  • Standard zip-up backpack (no roll top, side opening, etc.)
  • Depth of at least 6” (I’ll explain why later)
  • High-quality fabric
  • Good support

I Would Like a Work Backpack With…

  • Wide variety of color options (not just black)
  • Minimalist looking exterior

I Cannot Have a Work Backpack With…

  • Too much outside bulk
  • Poor quality fabric
  • High price

This type of checklist allows you to look at bags and decide quickly if it suits your needs. You can actually do this for any online purchases that you want to make, believe it or not. The key is just to identify what you absolutely need, what you would like to have, and what you can’t accept.

Now, let’s talk backpacks.

Third Place Runner Up In My Search for a New Backpack:

Timbuk2 Cask Laptop Backpack – $278

laptop-backpack

I see a lot of Timbuk2 bags where I’m from so I went to their store location to look around. I will say this: they offer a great variety of bags. From what I could tell, they clearly target the fixie type of audience so I was pretty optimistic that I’d find a few potential options.

My first choice was the Timbuk2 Cask Laptop Backpack. What initially drew me to the bag was the design. Although the exterior was canvas material, it didn’t feel flimsy at all. The bag also fell just above my lower back which is ideal for comfortable bike travel.

Overall, these were the positive qualities that I saw in the bag :

Pros

  • Sleek exterior looked very professional
  • Comfortable fit
  • Quality fabric

However, the bag wasn’t fit for my needs. I was looking for a practical bag that could carry everything while I biked to work. These are a few of the downsides that I found with the bag:

Cons

  • The price is out of my range
  • The depth is only 4.5”
  • Quality of interior was lacking

I’m still unsure as to why the price was so high considering that the interior wasn’t great quality. I assume it must’ve been the leather binding and trim. Either way, I decided that if I was going to pay that much money for a bag, it should at least be weather proof, which it was not.

Second Place Runner Up In My Search for a New Backpack:

Timbuk2 Parkside Laptop Backpack – $69

I tried looking for something at a lower price range and I found the Timbuk2 Parkside Laptop Backpack. The style is very much like a standard backpack, with even more depth to offer than the Cask Backpack. This bag also has more pockets and compartments than the other one, which is what makes it great for carry-on travel.

Again, here are the overall positive features of the Parkside Laptop Backpack:

Pros

  • Depth of 7.3”
  • Affordable price
  • Ventilated back
  • Doubles as a carry on bag

However, where the bag makes up in functionality, it lacks in quality. I tried the bag on to see how it fit, and unfortunately, I found that the padding was lacking a bit. Another flaw that I found was in the laptop pocket sleeve–not enough padding as I wanted.

Cons

  • Lack of strap and back padding
  • Lack of laptop padding and protection
  • Poor quality fabric

I weighed the pros and the cons and decided that if I’m going to spend the money, it might as well be on something that’ll last.

The Best Work Backpack Winner: Hazen Professional Backpack Black– $139 ($125 with 10% off)

This backpack surprised me, mainly because online buying sometimes leads to rip-offs.

Here are my tips for avoiding online shopping fraud and making sure you’ve found a real company:

    1. Check online presence. This includes their social media, blog mentions, etc.
    2. Check out reviews. Look for verified purchase reviews both on site and on Amazon.
    3. Check for shipping and return policies. Read the return policy carefully and make sure you keep the receipt.

I researched Just Porter and found that they were a small company based out of Chicago. After checking out their collection I was torn between the Logan Square Backpack and the Hazen, but I decided to order the Hazen bag in black.

In the box came a handwritten note from the CEO, which was such nice touch.

Upon opening, I could feel that the bag was made of high quality. The exterior is made of Cordura nylon, which feels smooth yet durable to the touch. There is significantly more padding on the straps and back than the other bags I looked at. Compared to the other two bags from Timbuk2, the interior quality of the Hazen professional backpack seemed far better.

Without further delay, these are the qualities that I think make the Hazen professional backpack stand out.

Pros

  • Depth of 7”
  • High-quality fabric
  • Great strap and back padding
  • Protective laptop padding
  • Comfortable fit
  • Good compartmentalization

The Hazen professional backpack delivers on everything that I looked for in a backpack for work. It has an insane amount of space without looking too bulky. The separate laptop padding in the back is perfect for both easy access and keeps my laptop safe from unnecessary scratching.

The two exterior front pockets and sunglass holder are perfect for my smaller items. I put my Bose headphones in the bigger exterior pocket, along with my phone and wallet. On the smaller, exterior pocket I sometimes stash my Moleskin, or a book if it’s small enough, just something to entertain me on my commute. As for the sunglass pocket, it’s perfect if you don’t want to crush your Ray-Bans.

Other perks

  • Easy to clean interior
  • Magnetic chest buckle
  • Side water bottle pockets
  • Compression straps

The magnetic chest buckle is such a cool feature that I haven’t seen in another bag before. It’s great for biking because it gives me an extra sense of security while I bike to and from work.

I use the side pockets for miscellaneous items, like my keys, bus card, or random notes I have to stash. It’s also great for my water bottle, but I find that thinner bottles fit better.

The compression straps on the side were a good call in the design of the bag. Aesthetically speaking, I prefer a bag that looks thinner. But when you carry as much as I do, thin backpacks tend to look overpacked. Compression straps are a nice option on days I decide to travel light.

The only downside that I can see is that the bag is not weatherproof. However, I did bike in the rain once and managed to only wet the outside. The inside, including my laptop, was dry.

This last point may have tipped the scales in my decision making, but for good reason. With every purchase made Just Porter donates a bag with school supplies to a child in need. A company with a good social cause? I’m down.

The 10% off discount code didn’t hurt either;)

Final Verdict: The Hazen Professional Backpack for Work Won This Round

In the end, I did buy the professional backpack for work at the cost of $125 with free shipping. Considering the other higher priced, lower quality options, I’d say this was a bargain. It has enough room to take everything I need, while also aiding a social cause? Hell, yeah!  Even though I still don’t understand why some work bags are so expensive, I hope this guide will help you in your search for an affordable backpack. Cheers!