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Finding the best laptop bags: A buying guide

carrying laptop or tablet


Best laptop bags: how to find durability, safety, and style

by Tablets for Artists

Finding the best laptop bag for your lifestyle doesn’t have to be a chore. But there are a lot of things to consider before taking the plunge. You want a bag that’s going to last and serve your needs for a long time to come.

Many of us carry a laptop as well as a tablet. So the best laptop bag for digital artists should have certain features, chief among them a dedicated laptop compartment or pocket, and a dedicated tablet compartment or pocket. These should be padded.

Laptop and tablet sizes are measured diagonally and referred to by screen size. So a 15” laptop would fit into a computer bag of 15” or larger. Most laptops are 13.1″ to 15″. 17″ is fairly common too, and some are 19″. There are netbooks that are much smaller. Tablets come in many sizes, but 7″, 8″, and 10″ are common. Some bags specifically state computers that will fit into them; it doesn’t mean that other computers won’t, but customers could be searching for a bag for their MacBook Pro.

pelican computer case

The Pelican 1495 Black Computer Case is a hard-shelled briefcase with protective foam inside.

A waterproof pouch on the inside to protect your electronics is a useful feature. Extra outer pockets for books and magazines, paper notebooks/ work items, an e-reader, water bottle, and other sundries are a good addition.

There are laptop bags you carry over your shoulder; backpacks; rolling backpacks; cross-body bag, e.g., messenger bags; roller bags with two or four wheels (spinners); pocketbook styles; and briefcases. There should be room for chargers, headphones, external hard drives, and the like. A very small container can be handy for small electronics that get lost easily, such as SD cards, USB sticks, batteries, and other small personal items. Photographers who don’t want to carry a separate camera bag would also look for a pocket to carry a DSLR and lenses. Especially handy for artists are small pockets for pens and styluses and pockets for extra nibs.

Does the bag’s style match its purpose? You probably don’t want to go to the office with a bag that looks like you’re going hiking, even if the hiking bag is one of the best laptop bags there is.

Are the zippers well made?  Lockable zippers–ones that have ports that allow you to add a luggage lock–are important.

A rolling bag takes the weight off you. Spinner bags have four wheels instead of two. They are easier to maneuver, but can be hard to control. Their wheels take up extra space. Roller bags tend to have cutouts for the wheels and the wheels tend to be larger.


Delsey rolling bag for laptops

This Delsey Luggage Helium Aero spinner has an external compartment that gives you quick access to your laptop and helps speed you through airport security. See it on Amazon.

victorinox laptop roller bag


victorinox trevi

This Victorinox Trevi Laptop Brief is a (pricey) example of a two-wheeled bag specially made to accommodate a laptop. It’s got pockets galore! Victorinox is considered one of the best luggage brands.

Many bags come in different colors and sometimes patterns.

While most bags are unisex, there are laptop bags specifically aimed at men or women, mostly based on style.

Your bag should be structured and firm, but offer some flexibility.

For a tablet, you will want a soft sleeve or hard case to keep your screen safe in the tablet compartment of the bag. For a laptop, if the pocket is larger than your computer, you may want to use a sleeve to keep the computer from moving around too much in transit, as moving toward the sides of the bag can increase any impact on the device. A tablet or laptop should fit snugly into the pocket. Some bags have straps to secure devices.

Art tablets. For a graphics tablet like an Intuos that doesn’t have a screen to scratch, you can get away without an extra sleeve if the bag has enough padding. Some art tablets, particularly the older Cintiqs, have a large amount of gear you need to carry to power them. Make sure your bag can accommodate the necessities. At the very least, wrap your 13HD in a t-shirt and put it in the middle of soft clothing so there are inches of clothes around it. The larger-size Cintiqs and other large display tablets are generally better off in a hard-shelled roller bag with a sleeve, plenty of extra cushioning and optionally, a box or hard case. If you still have it, you could use the box and packing material the tablet came in.

Being TSA-compliant is a timesaver for travelers. This popular Timbuk2 messenger bag has a TSA- compliant outer laptop sleeve. You can open it up flat with your laptop showing and easily remove your laptop. It also has a tablet sleeve.

timbuk2 messenger tsa

Weight is an important consideration. Get something that doesn’t add too much weight to the gear you’re putting in it, but not something flimsy or nonsecure.

When online shopping, you can’t try putting your laptop in. So if you’re unsure your computer will fit, you can contact the manufacturer. Remember to take the thickness of your computer or tablet, sleeve included, into account when fitting a bag.

Sometimes bag companies seem to forget to add product images of the inside. More images can be often be found on the company’s Web site or you may need to download or request a catalogue.

Back support is important to remember when looking for the best laptop bag. It can be hard to carry a laptop around even for fairly short periods if you have back pain, and it can make back pain worse or even cause it. So the part next to your back should be strong but flexible. The straps should also be padded, comfortable, and easy to adjust.  A chest strap is good if you will be carrying a heavy load and want added support. A waist strap can also add support and take some load off your spine.

If you’re going to be carrying the bag by hand, choose a bag with extra fabric on the carrying handle or a smooth, rounded carrying strap. Your hand can feel cut up from carrying a heavy bag.

Not enough little pockets? If your bag is missing some of these features, you can buy an organizing grid to increase your packing options. We love this Cocoon Grid-it Organizer for the little things. It not only straps things into place, it has a zipper pocket to keep more items. If you have a lot of chargers they won’t get tangled up together. (It does take a bit of work to arrange things this artfully).


best laptop bags grid-it organizer

See the Cocoon Grid-it Organizer on Amazon.

There are many things to keep in mind when choosing from the best laptop bags.

Do you want an open bag, such as an over-the-shoulder type, to easily take out your laptop/tablet, or do you want to keep it zipped or buttoned? One without a zipper or buttons is much less secure and open to pickpockets. But it might be OK for indoors, such as walking around an office, or for quick errands. Still, keep the device in a sleeve.

What is the bag made of? Bags come in many materials. Polyester is popular and easy to clean. There’s also leather, both real and synthetic, both of which protect from water; thick cotton canvas; neoprene, and hemp. Protection is accomplished via padding, air cells, or elastic slings. Obviously, the hard ones can handle more impact. But your laptop and tablet needs to be protected from the hard sides themselves, so they should be put in a sleeve.

Zippers should be strong and sturdy. It’s preferable if they have a loop to make them lockable. The zipper should not have jagged teeth, which can hurt your hands while opening and closing the zipper—I had that happen with one bag. Be sure that the zipper is in good condition when you first get your bag, and that any buttons, and clasps are securely attached. Broken zippers and falling buttons can make your bag less useful and less attractive. Magnets can be good closures, but be careful to not leave magnetized cards around them, as the cards can get demagnitized.

What’s around you? Consider your environment. Will the bag see rough weather? Would you be using it often? Would you fly with it as a carry-on personal item? Will you be biking, hiking with your laptop? If you’re going to get sweaty, getting breathable fabric with padded straps tha have mesh is optimal. If you’re going to school and will also be carrying books, be mindful of back strain. If you’re a parent, when purchasing a bag for a child, be sure it’s not going to be too heavy, and be careful of how much goes into it.

Will you be in crowded spaces such as trains? If so, you might want one with a slender profile and/or a handle on top to avoid banging into people. As well, many museums will let you carry your backpack in only by hand, so if you’re an art lover you may want a bag that’s not so long it or parts of it would drag on the ground, and a top handle helps. This Dakine Mission backpack is slender and the straps cleverly form a back handle.

best laptop bags dakine mission

How tall are you? You don’t want to be dwarfed by your bag. And you don’t want a bag that fits tightly.

Do you want to carry other things besides your digital equipment? If so, you might want a weekend bag type of laptop carrier, one with room for some clothing and other items. Using it for work? You might want there to be a sleeve that can carry folders. You might want to check the specs to make sure you can put folders in the way you want. Horizontally is best, so your papers can face up.

Many bags have some padding, but the best laptop bags have ample padding on the bottom as well, as that part of the bag is likely to receive some knocks no matter how careful you are. If the bag does not have a lot of padding, use a padded laptop sleeve. You might want to use one at all times even if the bag is padded; however, if the pocket is both well-padded with a cushioned interior and firm exterior, your laptop should be safe for every day carrying.

Some of the best laptop bags offer advanced security, antitheft, and safety features. These can include zippers that lock, cut-proof shoulder straps, cut-proof fabric, lockable compartments, reflectors, secret pockets for your passport, and RFID blocking. Safety features can include a reflector and loops to attach carabiners, a flashlight, and a whistle. Having an accessible pocket for your cell phone is both a convenience and a safety feature.

As well, some have small, fleece-lined pockets for cell phones and glasses or ski goggles.

osprey backpack for laptop


This Osprey Quasar laptop backpack offers many antitheft features, including RFID, which stops thieves with electronic readers from being able to read your credit card numbers.

We hope this has covered the basics of what you need to know to find the perfect laptop bag to be your travel companion–so go ahead and compartmentalize.

end of Finding the best laptop bags: a buying guide