We love trips that let us truly unplug, but when travel mixes business with pleasure, or involves shooting lots of photos and video, we need a laptop computer—and a backpack to carry it in. With dual shoulder straps that keep heavy electronics from feeling burdensome, and padded sleeves that safeguard fragile laptops, the following backpacks provide the best combination of protection and convenience. Their features vary; some specialize in accessory organization; others emphasize streamlined good looks; a few even offer space for clothes and shoes. After traveling with a wide range of options, we winnowed the list to these seven favorite laptop backpacks.
Pacsafe Metrosafe LS350 Anti-Theft 15L Backpack
Buy Now: $100, pacsafe.com
When you need a compact tote for around-town travel, the trim Metrosafe LS350 fills the bill. It’s perfectly proportioned for a day of sightseeing, with just enough space for a jacket, sunscreen, water bottle, and umbrella. Petite wearers particularly liked how its 15-liter capacity suits short statures.
As you’d expect, this small backpack accommodates a small laptop. A 13-inch MacBook fit perfectly into the main compartment’s padded sleeve, which leaves the top quarter of the computer exposed (some travelers will prefer designs that cushion all four corners). Owners of 15-inch laptops should consider the Metrosafe LS450 ($120), which offers a 25-liter capacity and a larger computer sleeve.
With a suite of clever anti-theft features, the Metrosafe keeps your valuable electronics safe. The metal pull tabs on both exterior zippers lock together using discreet carabiners stitched into the pack, which deters the kind of fast-acting pickpockets who work Paris’s flea markets. The fabric looks and feels like ordinary nylon twill, but it’s reinforced with steel screening that a knife can’t cut. A pair of steel cables runs through the shoulder straps, and a locking clip on one of them lets you detach the strap and loop it through a chair or luggage rack to prevent grab-and-dash theft.
The Metrosafe is also smartly laid out. Along with laptop storage, the main compartment includes an RFID-blocking pocket that protects your encoded credit card and passport data. The outer organizer pocket arranges a phone, power bank, and a book or two. The two exterior side pouches may be the only things about this pack that are too small: Many water bottles were too wide to fit through their narrow openings, which are better-suited to a foldable umbrella or granola bar.
Thule Accent Backpack 23L
Buy Now: $120, backcountry.com
Some tech-obsessed backpacks focus more on the laptop than the person carrying it. The Thule Accent considers the many things that real people rely on—even those as small as sunglasses. A rigid, zippered compartment on the top of this pack offers a safe place to stash them when they aren’t resting on your nose. Why don’t all bags have this super-convenient feature?
We also used the “SafeZone” to transport a ceramic figurine; on another trip, it housed a wide-angle camera lens. Plus, this pocket has a false bottom: Pulling the microfiber-lined tray out of the compartment exposes a small pocket for a passport or billfold.
The 23-liter Accent does secure a 15.6-inch laptop and a tablet in separate padded sleeves. There’s no dedicated zipper for the laptop zone, so at TSA checkpoints, you have to open the backpack’s main compartment to retrieve your computer. We didn’t find that objectionable, but some travelers will prefer to keep their pack contents private.
The Accent’s strength is the way it hits the organizational middle ground. There are enough pockets and dividers to ensure that essentials are easy to reach: We slid a water bottle into the stretchy side holster and tucked a power bank into the zippered side pocket. The unsegmented main compartment accommodates a neck pillow or sweater, and a secondary, side-access compartment is large enough for over-ear headphones and includes an open-topped pocket that’s handy for corralling charging cords. But the pack isn’t cluttered with pockets.
The beefy, moisture-wicking shoulder straps and back panel (with molded dimples that allow for some airflow) comfortably carry this relatively small pack. And when you want to ditch it altogether, a nylon strap on the back panel slides over the handles of a rollerboard.
Bellroy Oslo Backpack
Buy Now: $130, bellroy.com
Many laptop backpacks include a plethora of exterior pockets and zippers, which can create a cluttered, utilitarian look. The Bellroy Slim Backpack takes a refreshingly minimalist approach: A fold-over lid and magnetic clasp are the only embellishments on this clean and simple tote.
There is one external pocket, but its zipper is hidden along a side seam. A leather pull tab on the zipper makes this hand-sized pouch easy to access, and it proved to be a convenient place to stash a charging cord.
Inside the pack’s 16-liter main compartment, an open-topped pouch holds a water bottle or compact umbrella. Two open-topped, fleece- and foam-lined sleeves secure a 13-inch laptop and tablet. The rest of the space is left open for a jacket or over-ear headphones.
Technically, the bag can fit more, but overstuffing will strain the magnetic clasp. When we filled it with a neck pillow, extra layers, a lunch, snacks, and a hardcover book, the top kept popping open. So although the streamlined Slim manages to hold more than you’d expect, it’s better at accommodating flat contents (like a box of cookies) than round, bulky ones (like a quart of market strawberries).
The Oslo’s leather trims were produced using the strictest environmental standards (as established by the Leather Working Group). And the woven polyester fabric proved to be durable and water-repellent: It kept contents dry from a water bottle spill and shed rain showers during a brief dash to the metro station. But there’s no ventilating mesh or air channels in the bag’s back panel, so it’s not ideal for energetic pursuits. This is a smart-looking bag for around-town transit.
Tortuga Setout 35L Backpack
Buy Now: $179, tortugabackpacks.com
The 35-liter Setout Backpack is much more than a way to transport a laptop. It takes a smart approach to carrying outfits too: A long, C-shaped zipper opens the main compartment like a clamshell, which makes it easy to pack and locate your items. It can hold a change of clothes or two and shoes—enough for weekend trips or longer, if packed efficiently. Zippered mesh pockets inside the lid organize smaller items, and a stretchy exterior pouch on one side holds a water bottle or thermos. A separate zone behind the pack’s back panel stores a 17-inch laptop, paper files, and cords.
The laptop sleeve doesn’t extend to the very bottom of the pack, so your computer won’t rest or bump on the floor when you put the Setout down. And that compartment’s dedicated zipper at the top of the pack makes it easy to remove electronics at airport security.
What really won us over is how comfortable the Setout is to carry. Taking its cues from backpacking packs, the bag’s ergonomically curved shoulder straps are impressively sturdy, with stiff foam that’s perforated for breathability. Substantial hip belt straps support heavy loads and keep the pack from pulling on your shoulders. We loved stashing an iPhone 6 and wallet in the belt’s two easy-access zippered pockets. And three plump, sweat-wicking pads on the back panel hold the pack away from the body, allowing some air circulation.
Plus, all straps can be tucked away to turn the Setout into an understated handbag carried by a fat, comfy handle on the side. It’s brilliant for any multi-nighter that involves work and play.
Mystery Ranch Super Booty Bag
Buy Now: $99, mysteryranch.com
Travelers who love small-batch bourbons and hand-stitched shoes will appreciate the craftsman style of the Super Booty. Its burly nylon twill fabric looks like old-school cotton, and the simple, 28-liter one-size-fits-all main compartment shuns fussy additions in favor of versatility. It’s the casual-looking backpack we want for lakeside picnics and bike tours—and it sneaks a dedicated zippered sleeve for a 15-inch laptop into the back panel.
We like that the laptop access is located on the top of the pack, rather than along the side, which kept the zipper teeth out of the sand when we parked the Super Booty on the beach. It also provides a measure of security, since the shoulder straps extend over the top of the pack. To open the main compartment, you have to loosen the shoulder straps and push them aside, out of the way of the roll-top closure.
That’s both a pro and a con. It keeps contents from spilling out, even when the pack is overstuffed and placed on its side (as it was when we stashed it beneath airplane seats). But it complicates access to the main storage area and laptop sleeve. To withdraw our computer during TSA screenings, we had to set the pack down, loosen the straps, and unzip the computer compartment.
Accept that, and you get a pack that can haul nearly anything—even bulky, odd-shaped objects. A wooden box filled with heirloom antique silver fit just fine. A hammock and sleeping bag for a night of stargazing? No problem. We even slid a super-shooter water cannon into the broad exterior stash pocket, which is also handy for securing a rain jacket.
There is one zippered pocket on the exterior, so your headphones and book don’t have to ride inside. A second zippered pocket located inside the big stash pouch is a stealthy spot to hide a passport. And the roll-top allows the pack to adjust to varying contents, so when you’re toting a small load, the Super Booty shrinks into a low-bulk bag.
STM Goods Myth Backpack 18L
Buy Now: $120, stmgoods.com
The Myth may look like a basic backpack—the exterior isn’t crowded with pockets and features that advertise its technical competence—but its laptop protection is among the best we’ve found. The interior’s padded, fleece-lined computer pocket (designed for 13- and 15-inch models) stops short of the pack’s edges and bottom to insulate the laptop’s corners from shocks. Should you drop this pack on an airport’s tile floors, your computer stays cushioned.
The 18-liter interior also features no fewer than 10 open-topped pockets that separate cords, a tablet, a phone, and pens. Some sections, identified with a lightning bolt, integrate cord clips that route cables and prevent them from becoming tangled, or even untidy. An inconspicuous clip near the top of the pack holds earbuds—provided you loop them into a tidy skein before stashing them away.
There’s a fleece-lined optics pocket for sunglasses on the exterior, as well as a zippered pocket to hold a wallet or boarding pass. And with discreet logos and tags, the Myth’s styling is sleek enough for urban wear.
While we appreciated these storage options, we were most impressed with how the Myth stayed comfortable after hours of wear: The curved, body-contouring shoulder straps are lined with sweat-wicking mesh and include a helpful sternum strap that keeps the pack from slipping off the shoulders. And the back panel features two mesh-covered strips of padding that create air channels between your back and the pack, so the Myth ventilates much better than most—even when you’re hustling to catch a flight. Finally, a sheath of fabric on the back panel can secure the pack to the extended handles of a rolling suitcase when you do need a break.
Roka Transition Pack
Buy Now: $275, roka.com
Roka built the Transition Pack for triathletes, who need to separate soaked swimsuits from other gear and their laptops (used for analyzing training data). But you don’t have to be an elite athlete to love these organizational features: The main interior area is divided into three mesh-topped sections, separated by padded, removable panels: One traveling parent dedicated a compartment to diapering essentials; for another tester, the sections cushioned camera equipment.
The pack also comes with a roll-top waterproof bag for storing wet items. That’s handy when you want to hit the airport gym during a long layover.
If you run out of pockets with this pack, you’re carrying too many things. We counted 25 individual pockets and pouches—plus a detachable strap that clips a bike helmet to the front. Stash a phone, power bank, and charging cords in the exterior pocket. A 17-inch laptop slides into the zippered sleeve behind the back panel (where it can be speedily accessed at TSA checkpoints). Water bottles, toiletry kit, bedroom slippers—all fit into this 38-liter backpack.
There are downsides. Durable construction, generous capacity, and endless pocket options make the Transition weighty: Empty, it registered four pounds, 10 ounces on our scales, so most travelers will find it too bulky for city day trips.
And the Transition isn’t made to carry papers or folders. We could fit a few notepads into an interior sleeve, but when we carried, say, wet towels, our papers got bent and became damp. However, for those who’ve embraced the paperless age, the Transition effectively organizes gear and tech.
Sherpa Adventure Gear Yatra Adventure Pack
Buy Now: $80, sherpaadventuregear.com
Your grandfather might’ve once carried something that looked like the Yatra Adventure Pack. But instead of waxed cotton canvas (which results in a heavy pack, even when empty), the roll-top Yatra is made of a lightweight yet super-tough Cordura polyester with micromesh fabric on the shoulder straps and backpanel to wick away sweat.
The interior is surprisingly embellished: The taffeta lining is printed with fanciful snow lions, endless knots, and other Himalayan designs (founded by Tashi Sherpa, this company honors the unsung heroes of Mount Everest). A side zipper permits fast access to the padded laptop sleeve built into the backpanel, and a zippered pocket and open pouch inside the pack secure small electronics or a wallet—although the long, dark tunnel created by the rolled opening makes these storage spaces tricky to reach. We found the external storage to be more practical because the elasticized side pockets keep a water bottle secure and a sunglasses case fits neatly into either of the snap pockets.
If you travel light, you can fit a weekend’s worth of clothing into the Yatra, because the adjustable closure accommodates big loads and small ones: Shoes, a toiletry bag, and a few outfits will fit, but you can as easily carry a few picnic essentials without feeling them roll around in a too-big bag. And with each Yatra purchased, Sherpa Adventure Gear donates a children’s book to a Nepalese student.
>>Next: The Avid Traveler’s Guide to Buying Luggage
Kelly Bastone Happiest when she’s outside, Kelly Bastone lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but she chases outdoor adventure around the world. She covers gear and outdoors as a freelance writer.