Tote or Backpack for Work?

What’s you choice for work, readers — a great work tote or a backpack?

For my $.02, I’ve always preferred a tote — I just think they look sleeker and more polished in general than most backpacks. But there are some great work backpacks out there now (including the Tumi one, pictured) so let’s debate.

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Great Totes for Work: The Pros

In my mind, there are a lot of pros to totes for work — they expand and collapse as needed, accommodating to fit extra shoes, water bottles, folders, work papers, and more — yet always kind of read like “big purse.” I think for years they’ve been the classic choice if you’re a woman lawyer or other professional, much more so than a proper briefcase or another choice.

The cons: They are not ergonomically great! If you’re regularly schlepping a lot of stuff to and from work, you can definitely feel a little lopsided. (Every massage therapist I’ve ever had has been able to tell which shoulder I carry my bag on. Tiny violins, I know.)

{related: how many bags should you bring to work?}

More cons: Depending on the tote, they may or may not hold their structure well — although you can always try organizing inserts like Omystyle (12,000+ good reviews at Amazon) or Olunsu (5,600+ good reviews at Amazon).

We’ve pictured the Seville laptop tote from Lo & Sons in the blue graphic at the top of the post — I’ve always loved the structure and organization of the tote.

collage of 6 totes, including 1) Street Level 2) Cuyana 3) Madewell Transport 4) Tory Burch Ella 5) Lo & Sons Seville and 6) Tory Burch leather tote

Backpacks for Work: Pros and Cons

On the flip side of things, you’ve got the stylish backpack for work, which has really gained a lot of traction in recent years.

The pro here is that a backpack is ergonomically correct, and if you get a sleek one it can blend with most work outfits.

The con here is that (to my mind, at least) you may face some underlying assumptions about using a backpack for work, even if they aren’t necessarily negative. Oh, she must bike to work, I might think — or huh, maybe she’s got back problems. I tend to also associate work backpacks (at least, work backpacks worn to networking events) with either very young women (especially those who went straight through from college to law school or grad school), women who have a long commute, or women who, in general, don’t care about style very much. But again, these assumptions aren’t necessarily negative, and maybe they’re particular to me.

We’ve pictured the Carson bag from Tumi in our graphic at top.

The Best of Both Worlds? Convertible Backpacks for Work

Something I’m seeing more and more of these days is convertible work bags, most often ones that turn from a backpack into a north/south tote or another handheld bag. The idea here is that you get the ergonomic benefit from the backpack during your commute, and then as you’re walking into the building or meeting you can transfer the bag to your hand and look sleek and polished.

The downside is that you’re often losing one of the things you really want — if it’s a proper backpack with ergonomic straps it may look a bit funny as a tote, for example. This is one of the reasons I’ve always recommended the Lo & Sons Rowledge backpack — there are actually zippered little pockets to hide the backpack straps (AND there’s a trolley sleeve!). The other two big convertible backpacks I know of right now (M.Gemi and Senreve) both look great as totes but have skinny little backpack straps that may dig on a long commute and easily break.

The Rowledge backpack is pictured below and ooh: it’s on sale.

Readers, what are your thoughts: backpack or tote? (Or messenger bag, or convertible backpack, or… some other option?) What is your preferred bag for commuting to the office?

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