Cyclescheme is the UK's most popular cycle to work benefit, creating more cyclists than any other provider.

Round up: 10 of the best backpacks and messenger bags

Carrying your commuting essentials on your back works well for shorter journeys and lighter loads. Here are some of the best bags to use

Backpacks and messenger bags aren’t as comfortable as panniers for longer trips or heavy loads but for shorter journeys – a handful of miles, perhaps – they’re super convenient. You grab your bag and go. There’s no need to fit or remove the bag from the bike because it automatically goes with you, which saves time. That’s particularly useful if you make multiple stops. It’s why delivery riders use backpacks.

A backpack or messenger bag can be taken on any bike, whether or not it has a pannier rack. Many road bikes, fixies and mountain bikes can’t easily be equipped with racks, and nor can some folding bikes. When the bag goes on your back, that’s not a problem. You can commute on whichever bike you wish.

Try to avoid buying a bigger bag than you need. The more space there is, the more tempting it is to lug around things that are really just dead weight. A heavy bag on your back soon becomes unpleasant: you’ll sweat more and your shoulders, hands and backside will ache more.

Wide shoulder straps are more comfortable than thin ones. Padding on the straps and the back of the bag also helps. Backpacks are more comfortable for longer than messenger bags, which carry more of the weight on one shoulder. But messenger bags can be swung around the body to access contents without removing the bag from your back.

Both backpacks and messenger bags benefit from secondary straps. Backpacks are better with a chest or shoulder strap to stabilise the load and keep it snug. Messenger bags are better with an extra strap running across your body to prevent it swinging around when you lean forward on the bike. All the bags featured here have secondary straps.

Some bags have one big compartment, while others have multiple pockets and dividers. A big compartment is a more flexible space but risks jumbling everything together – tools, laptop, spare clothes, lunch – unless you add your own organising system (padded laptop sleeve, tool and lunch bags, etc). As with any commuting luggage, weather resistance is important in the UK. Even if your commute is fairly short, your bag needs to be able to shrug off a shower.

The prices below are RRP. Don’t forget your Cyclescheme savings!



Elops Cycling Backpack Speed 520 £69.99

Decathlon’s 25-litre backpack is made from TPU-coated tarpaulin that’s tough and waterproof. It has a rolltop closure so rain can’t get in there, as well as a side zip to access the main compartment. On the outside there’s a small zipped pocket for a phone or wallet, plus a water bottle pocket and a decent amount of reflectivity. The inside has a padded computer pocket big enough for a 17in laptop and separate compartment for other stuff. Straps are wide and padded.

 Elops Cycling Backpack

Oxford Aqua Evo 12L Backpack £69.99

There’s also a 22-litre Aqua Evo with a laptop sleeve, but this 12-litre version will be ample for many commuting loads. Like its big brother it’s made from waterproof, welded-seam fabric and has a rolltop closure, so it’ll endure even a deluge. There’s a small external pocket for a phone and an internal one big enough for tools and/or a spare tube. The outside of the bag has reflective lines around the sides and back, as well as a couple of attachment points for auxiliary rear lights.

 Oxford Aqua Evo

Altura Thunderstorm City Waterproof Cycling Backpack 20L £80

Another rolltop backpack made from TPU-coated polyester, Altura’s Thunderstorm City is waterproof to level IPX6: protection against “powerful water jets”. The rolltop has a hook-and-loop closure, which isn’t as quick to use as Velcro but should be more durable. Inside there’s a padded laptop sleeve big enough for a 15in machine, plus a zipped valuables pocket. The outside has copious reflective print and three attachment loops for lights. While the adjustable chest strap is removable, the bag sits better on your back if you use it.

Altura Thunderstorm City Waterproof Cycling Backpack

Ortlieb Velocity 17L £105

German brand Ortlieb pioneered waterproof and frankly bombproof bike bags. The Velocity has been in the range for years, but this more compact 17-litre version is relatively new. Inside it’s mostly one big compartment, except for a padded laptop pocket with a large zipped pocket on its outer face. This is held in place with Velcro so you can remove it when it’s not needed. The back of the bag is particularly well padded, and there are chest and waist straps to stop it moving around while riding. Larger and more reflective versions of the Velocity are available.

 Ortlieb Velocity

Restrap Rolltop Backpack 22L £184.99

It’s a lot of money but Restrap’s Rolltop Backpack has some nice details. It’s made from rubberised, waterproof TPU fabric and it has the rolltop closure you’d expect from the name. There’s a padded (14in) laptop sleeve that’s separate from the main compartment and accessed by a long zip on one side. On the other side there’s a smaller zip pocket for valuables. Both sides have compression straps so it’s easy to stop smaller loads from bouncing around. All the straps – shoulder, chest and waist – are highly adjustable.

Restrap Rolltop

Messenger bags

Apidura City Messenger 13in £91

Apidura is best known for its bikepacking bags but also makes a couple of waterproof backpacks and messenger bags for commuters. This is the larger of the messenger bags, although it’s still fairly compact. It’ll take a 13in laptop in its padded sleeve, with room for lunch and one or two bits of clothing. There’s an external pocket for keys and other smaller items, as well as an attachment point for a light. The shoulder strap is ambidextrous: it can be clipped to the opposite corners. 

Apidura City Messenger

Osprey Metro 18 Messenger £125

Osprey’s 18-litre messenger bag is made from 500D nylon with a water-repellent coating. It’s not waterproof in itself but the bag comes with a hi-vis rain cover. There are some reflective graphics and a loop for a rear light. The laptop/document sleeve inside is big enough for a 16in laptop. As well as the main compartment, there’s a separate, zipped organiser pocket in the front of the bag with compartments for a phone, pens, keys and the like. The main flap fastens with a hook-and-loop closure.

Osprey Metro

Carradice Kelbrook Satchel £136

An altogether more traditional bag than the others here, Carradice’s Kelbrook is rightly called a satchel rather than a messenger bag. Look at it: it’s made from waxed waterproof Cotton Duck rather than synthetics, and fastened with leather-and-metal straps and metal poppers. It’s hefty and hardwearing, so much so it will probably outlast you. The 17-litre main compartment includes a laptop pocket, which feels slightly anachronistic but should swallow a 16in computer. There’s also a zipped internal pocket and a small popper-closed pocket on the outside, under the flap. A leather tab on the flap works as a light mount.

 Carradice Kellbrook

Chrome Kadet Max £142

Chrome has a wide range of shoulder bags, ranging from massive messenger bags to small slings. For many commuters, this 15-litre cross-body bag will be the sweet spot for size. It’s big enough to swallow a 15in laptop in its dedicated laptop sleeve and has an external zip pocket to help organise whatever else you carry, but it’s not so large you’ll end up hauling around the kitchen sink. There are cargo straps on the outside if you need to strap, say, a jacket there. The shoulder strap’s orientation can be switched. While water resistant, the Kadet Max is not fully waterproof.

 Chrome Kadet

Timbuk2 Especial Stash Messenger Bag M £199

With many messenger bags, you get either waterproofing or plenty of pockets and dividers to organise your load. Timbuk2’s Especial Stash provides both, which helps account for its high price. There’s a laptop pocket for a 15in machine, internal dividers and a range of external pockets – including one for a bottle and one in the flap that’s accessible when the bag is strapped shut. The shoulder strap is ambidextrous, like Chrome’s and Apidura’s, and there’s reflective detailing for nighttime conspicuity. The Especial Stash also comes in size L but this 17-litre M should be plenty big enough. 

Timbuk 2