Over the last few years the bike messenger backpack has become increasingly popular with commuter cyclists. Originally designed for bike couriers, these are strong, hardwearing bags, designed to carry bulky loads with minimum fuss. Think big, utilitarian and cavernous, with one main large compartment to stuff whatever you need to carry. It needs to be comfy when cycling with the right support, and tough as nails on the inside and outside so it can handle any situation, and water resistant to protect your cargo.
Our short-list of bike messenger backpacks tick all the right boxes for commuter cyclists.
Ortlieb are renowned for their great quality cycling bags, and the Messenger Bag is another classic. It’s a solid workhorse that won’t break the bank so you won’t be too precious about stuffing it full and putting it through its paces.
This bag is made from waterproof tarpaulin on the front and back. The black Cordura sides are super tough and will look great for years, even with the heaviest of use. It has reflective strips on the sides and reflective yarn on the straps for extra safety at night.
Internally there is one large compartment with a large 39 litre capacity, accessed via a roll top closure that enables flexible packing heights. Opened and closed with hook and loop fastener for quick easy access. There are no internal organisation pockets but a couple of elasticated bands help keep things in place. If you want more internal organisation options, compartments and organisers can be purchased separately that simply button onto the inside to provide additional storage options.
On the back there are a series of foam panels that sit against your back for added comfort and to help with ventilation. These are great at keeping you cool, keeping the tarpaulin material off your back. The padded shoulder straps are well placed for comfort, with the additional sternum and waist straps providing additional support. To keep the bag looking good for longer, Ortlieb have designed in abrasion protection in the lower rear corners to protect the edges of the bag when you put it down.
We love the simplicity of this bag. The clever design makes this bag look slender, despite its large capacity. These bags are used by bike carriers all over the world and it’s easy to see why. The Ortlieb Messenger Bag is really made for the job, looks good and is built to last without being too expensive. The 5-year warranty period, plus the option of buying spare parts and additional customisations make this a great all-rounder bag.
Chrome Industries are famous for creating amazing bags and the Warsaw 2.0 Messenger Backpack is another fine example. Chrome Industries have refined the design of this messenger backpack over the last 20 years based on the feedback from the people who really know their bags: bike couriers. The result is this beast of a bag. When you get this bag, the first thing you’ll notice, other than the huge amount it can hold, is the attention to detail and thoughtful design solutions. Anything you need to carry will fit in this bag.
This bag has a whopping 59 litre capacity. Rather than looking bulky, Chrome Industries have managed to make a slender looking bag. This bag should really be called the Tardis: it’s almost unbelievable how much this bag can carry without looking too massive on the outside. By making the bag wider and deeper but keeping the height at 19.5 inches, a similar height to the Ortleib Messenger bag, this simple design feature allows it to hold an extra 20 litres. Another clever design feature is the four compression straps. These straps allow this bag to be squeezed right down when you don’t need all that extra capacity, making this bag quite compact when there’s no load to carry.
Beside the one large main compartment, there are useful storage pockets for smaller items under the flap and on the side. The extendable front strap on the front cover flap is a great feature of the bag. Extremely useful for attaching additional loads on the outside of the bag, it’s great for items too bulky to fit comfortably inside the bag. The front strap is extendable so it gives even more flexibility to the size of items you can carry. This strap also features a reflective strip for extra night visibility, which is complemented by a reflective Chrome logo on the bottom of the bag.
On the back of the bag, moulded pads provide extra comfort and ventilation. The air mesh shoulder straps are well positioned and comfortably padded. The sternum strap provides extra stability and the hook and loop accessory mounts on both shoulder straps are great for attaching any extras you need. A handy zipped pocket at the back of the bottom of the bag can be used for storing personal items, and can be easily accessed while wearing the backpack.
This is by far the largest messenger backpack in our shortlist. It’s great if you need to carry a lot of stuff; however, it can also become relatively small which means it can be used in most situations. Chrome provide a life time guarantee on their bags so you can be sure this is a quality made product. Being quite wide, this bag will look very big on people with smaller frames but is still light enough to carry with ease.
The Empire Lite (LG) is part of Manhattan Portage’s Black Label series of professional bags. As with the other bike messenger bags in our shortlist, this bag is built for professional bike couriers but is also perfect for commuters. It can carry a large a load, it’s waterproof and super strong, comfy and easy to carry when cycling.
The bag has a large flap at the front with adjustable straps, making it easy to attach additional items on the outside of the bag. Simply strap the item in with the buckles, and the flap will keep it in place and dry. Two reflective strips on the front provide additional visibility and a clear vinyl front pocket allows for easy customisation.
Inside the bag, you’ll find a large main compartment with a wide opening for easy access. This bag can hold 36.5 litres so while being the smallest of the bags on our shortlist this is not a small capacity by any means, with the clever design ensuring a huge capacity for a backpack of this size. The wide opening and front flap makes the interior space very accessible and easy to carry bulky items. The vertical document sleeve at the rear of the main space is great for holding documents or folders. It’s also perfect for storing a large laptop.
Smaller storage pockets, including a zippered pocket, are under the front flap keeping all your belongings orderly and secure. Two additional pockets, one open and one zippered, at the bottom of either side of the bag are great for storing things like water bottles or other items you need to access while wearing the backpack.
On the back there is comfortable air mesh padding for good ventilation. The backpack straps are well padded and positioned for heavy loads. Additionally there is an added chest strap for extra stabilisation. A top handle provides additional carry options once you’re off your bike.
The materials used on this bag are incredibly strong and provide good protection from wet conditions. The outside of the bag is made from super tough and durable 1000D Cordura. Inside you’ll find a waterproof 420D nylon lining.
This bag comes in great selection of seven colours so you’ll easily find one to suit your style. Manhattan Portage also provide a limited lifetime warranty ensuring this bag will last you a long time.
Final thoughts for the bike messenger backpack
All three bags on our bike messenger backpack shortlist are really well made and designed bags. You won’t regret buying any of them. The Ortlieb Messenger Bag is the most basic out of the three bags but it is still great bag. However if you’re looking for more internal storage options than the other two will probably suit you better. If having the largest capacity is your main criteria, then the Chrome Industries’ Warsaw 2.0 is the bag for you. Combined with the great compression system, this bag is simply so versatile which makes the Warsaw 2.0 our top bike messenger backpack.
Let us know what you think and which bag you end up buying.