What do your dinged laptop, shvitzy gym clothes, and rumpled K95s have in common? They all belong in one of these, the very best backpacks for men. See, the right backpack should be more than just another place to store your stuff. It can be an outfit-making accessory, a mobile office, an ad hoc weekender, a TSA-ready carry-on, or all four—at the same time.
Unlike the slick crossbody bags you toss on before running a quick errand, you know the ones that can carry the essentials but not much else, a backpack was built for the long haul. It’ll stash your non-negotiables–wallet, keys, phone–with ample room to spare for, um, an impromptu trip to both the local farmer and flea markets. They also double as an excellent carry-on when you’re ready to get out of town.
Contrary to popular belief, not all backpacks are the same. A solid backpack offers peace of mind in bag form, the only accessory we know of that can comfortably house all the knickknacks you insist on schlepping around throughout the day, along with enough H2O and trail mix to fuel a JV football team—y’know, just in case. (It will also, and we don’t say this lightly, spare you the particular ignominy of patting down every pocket on your body to find the small doohickey you thought you left in your jacket that morning, only to realize it’s still on your desk at home.)
These days, plenty of backpacks outperform across multiple categories, but the ones we’re inclined to recommend most zealously boast a special set of skills specifically designed for your needs, whether you’re gearing up for your daily commute or booking tickets to the far-flung locale of your choice. (To wit: A brisk stroll to the office might require a padded laptop sleeve and minimal compartment space, but for a long jaunt halfway across the globe you’ll need a roomier exterior, enforced back panelling, and generously cushioned shoulder pads.)
All of which means the journey to finding the right backpack for you can be just as exhausting as the journey to wherever you’re actually headed. So to streamline the process, GQ Recommends went deep on our favorite options on the market, deciphering the juicy specs that make each well-equipped to handle a dust-up in the airport terminal or some gentle jostling on the train—and look pretty damn great while they do it. Whether you’re looking to upgrade from the wilted canvas tote you swiped from your ex (be better than the canvas tote!) or jonesing for a ‘roided up sling bag with a heckuva lot more functionality, the best backpacks for men have your, uh, back. These are the 25 we’ve been relying on since we started writing this piece.
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The Best Backpacks Shopping Guide
The Best Budget Backpack
Sometimes you want to secure the bag without dropping one. Enter the Dawson, a medium-sized classic backpack from the carry-on whizzes at Herschel. Its dual pocket design is reminiscent of some of the best fanny packs on the market right now (spoiler alert: Herschel makes a great one too), sans the hoary associations and with a ton more storage space. Don’t let the sub-$100 price fool you: it comes kitted out with the same specs as its pricier counterparts, and then some. Practically speaking, that means drawcord closures, magnet-fastened straps, a front pocket organizer bigger than most NYC apartments, and a fleece-lined laptop sleeve so your computer stays cozy. More of a visual consumer? Just take a gander at its unassuming good looks. Go ahead, judge a bag by its cover. For less than a Benjamin, you can afford to.
The Best Travel-Ready Backpack
Wrestling to fish a laptop out of an overstuffed carry-on while a less-than-thrilled TSA agent glares on is a very particular type of hell. Mercifully, Porter-Yoshida & Co.’s aptly-named laptop backpack is so airport-friendly it might just make TSA’s day. It boasts a spacious interior sleeve to make accessing your portable computer a breeze (though iPad users might opt to use the front pouch for an even quicker grab), and a sleek nylon exterior and top-zip fastening that signal you’ve got an eye for efficiency and aesthetics. We’re not saying it’ll nab you a complimentary upgrade purely thanks to how easy it made customs for everyone else, but we’re not not saying that either.
The Best Heavy-Duty Backpack
If “heavy-duty” calls to mind the type of extra-bulky luggage that looks like it could double as an impromptu shield, relax: Filson’s journeyman backpack is compact enough to help you rethink your associations with the term. The American brand is famous (and famously beloved) for its durable, oil-finished tin cloth canvas, which it puts to use here in tandem with an industrial-strength twill to keep all your precious belongings impeccably dry. Its unassuming good looks feel consistent with the label’s ever-popular briefcases, but the the padded, moleskin-lined shoulder straps and reinforced panelling make a strong argument for its superiority. Basically, it’s like Superman in his Clark Kent disguise—and would probably look just as good in skintight spandex.
The Best Backpack for Stashing Your Workout Gear
For sworn devotees of Lululemon’s straightforward activewear, the brand’s fuss-free backpack is a no-brainer. Normally, we wouldn’t put too much stock in a product name, but the legging juggernaut’s Everyday bag lives up to the mandate. It’s got ample room for an extra pair of running shoes, plus bonus space for your work computer if you need to liaison with the marketing team in between sets. A sturdy nylon exterior and an all-important water bottle pocket ensure you’ll always look like you know what you’re doing, no matter how frantically you’re googling “best workouts for bigger traps” from the comfort of the shoulder press. Pick from an array of downright luscious jewel tones and then cram your sweaty exercise duds into it post-workout—no one will suspect the damp mess it conceals.
The Best Backpack for Your Morning Commute
You probably didn’t see yourself carrying a backpack every day after you snagged your college diploma, yet here you are, a few years fresh off the podium, looking for the best one to haul to the office. As it turns out, your aging shoulders require equal weight distribution, and would like to not buckle under the agony of one way overpacked tote bag, thank you very much. Everlane’s sleek take on the commuter pack has everything a 9-to-5-er (or digital nomad) needs: A 15″ laptop sleeve, several interior pockets for important documents, two water bottle sleeves (because offices are dehydrating), and a handy pass-through strap that attaches to luggage in the off chance your work demands frequent travel. It’s the backpack you’ll actually want to show up to work wearing, feeling no less the adult than you are.
The Best Backpack for Braving the Great Outdoors
Spend enough time trawling the internet for the best men’s backpacks, and you’ll encounter dozens of options promising some variation of alliterative versatility. (The train to the trails is the new boardroom to the bar!) In this case, though, all that marketing hoopla is true. Patagonia’s recycled polyester backpack is big but not bulky, merging a durable, water-repelling exterior with a spacious interior you can pack with trail mix and a first-aid kit or the trappings of urban life. (The padded laptop compartment and phone pocket help.) Its outdoorsy bona fides—see: the two-way zip closures and lash points—mean it’ll serve you well while you’re exploring the wilderness, but it’s compact enough that your coworkers won’t mistake you for the team member who signs on to Zoom from a different location every week.