Commuting Is Hard Enough — These 6 Work Bags Will Make It That Much Easier

Doubling as a backpack, the Caraa Studio Tote is the only bag you’ll need.

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Best Work Bags for Women
Freja New York/ Dagne Dover/ Madewell/ InStyle

Nothing is more frustrating than getting ready for work and realizing you can't fit everything in your bag. Or perhaps you can, but it'll feel like you are carrying a thousand bricks on your shoulders. When space is this precious, every little item counts, so it's between taking your water bottle or lunch box at this point.

Instead of taking whatever fits the most stuff, regardless of what it looks like, we found plenty of designs that don't force you to sacrifice fashion for function. We spoke with stylists and used our own first-hand experience to bring you a list of the best work bags. With its durable materials, never-ending pockets, and ability to be worn as either a tote or backpack, the Caraa Studio Tote won our best overall spot.

Whether you commute by car, train, or foot, here are the best work bags to make your mornings a little easier.

Best Overall: Caraa Studio Medium Leather Tote

Caraa Medium Leather Tote

Caraa

What We Like: With the option to switch between a tote or backpack, you get the best of both worlds.

What We Don't Like: We wish it came in more colors than just black.

The ideal work bag should hold everything without feeling too heavy or becoming disorganized. The Caraa Studio Tote can do just that. "The Caraa tote is the best bag I've ever used for commuting. It fits everything I need — extra pair of shoes, lunch, water bottle — and if it gets too heavy, I convert it to a backpack," says Shannon M. Bauer, Senior Commerce Beauty Editor at InStyle. "It's also my go-to bag for travel when I need to bring my laptop along too." Bauer has the medium-sized tote, which can hold a 15-inch laptop. She notes that bulky lunch containers take extra finagling to squeeze it in because it is on the narrow side. Luckily, they make a larger size, which fits a 17-inch laptop. Both have seven different pockets and compartments to organize your belongings.

And Chloe Anello, Senior Commerce Fashion Editor at InStyle, recommends this bag, too. (Note: it was gifted to her a few years ago.) "I have a two hour commute coming into the city, so I need something that can stand up to a lot of abuse on public transit. I've never used a more durable bag — I have yet to notice a major flaw after three years of constant use," she says. She owns the nylon fabric bag, as does Bauer, because it's lightweight, waterproof, and easy-to-clean, but the bag comes in high-quality leather, too. You can even choose between gold or black hardware. We appreciate how wide the removable, leather backpack straps are. The wider the straps, the better they distribute weight, so they're less likely to dig into your shoulders, according to Los Angeles-based stylist Joanna Angeles.

Material: Nylon or Leather | Dimensions: 12 H x 7.5 W x 17.5 L inches (medium) | Colors: 1

Best Budget: Ecosusi Ecosusi Laptop Tote Bag

gray tote bag

Amazon

What We Like: Despite the low price, this tote is sturdy, protects your electronics, and looks stylish.

What We Don't Like: It doesn't have any pockets on the outside.

After seeing a blogger Martina Damico post about this bag, I assumed for how expensive it looked, it would go way over budget. Turns out, you can buy it on Amazon for less than $60. The faux leather material, minimalistic design, and neutral shades look elegant. On the inside, you'll find a padded sleeve in the center to keep a 15.6 inch laptop with additional pockets to hold your phone, keys, and other knick knacks usually rolling around in the bottom of your purse. And to prevent anything from spilling out, a magnetic clasp on the top keeps everything safe.

Reviewers appreciate that the tote stands up on its own thanks to the sturdy construction and flat bottom, which coincidentally makes it great for flights, too, because it can easily slide under the seat without falling over onto your feet. If you've ever had a bag with a dark or black interior, you'll know that makes things harder to find, especially when digging around mid-flight, so thankfully this design has light colored fabric on the inside. And as an overpacker, I know from experience that when your bag is especially stuffed, it's uncomfortable to wear it right under your armpit. With adjustable shoulder straps, you can simply increase the length for a more comfortable fit.

Material: Faux Leather | Dimensions: 11.8 H x 5.1 W x 16.5 L inches | Colors: 5

Best Splurge: Freja New York LAFAYETTE TOTE CAPPUCCINO

LAFAYETTE TOTE CAPPUCCINO

Freja New York

What We Like: You don't have to sacrifice style or space with this gorgeous vegan tote.

What We Don't Like: Outside pockets are sacrificed for the sleek design.

If you'd prefer something that doesn't scream "work bag" immediately, we recommend this vegan leather tote from Freja, which is also an AAPI-owned brand. With its minimalistic silhouette and luxe fabric, the tote belongs at brunch as much as it does under your desk. "I love my Caraa bag, but for something that looks a bit more put together, I opt for this vegan leather tote that Freja kindly gifted to me," says Anello. "I shove more than one should into a tote — laptop, book, lunch, makeup bag, dozens of receipts, spare change, and garbage — but even with everything I need inside, I still had room in this bag."

Besides how much it can hold, the tote stands out thanks to how realistic the vegan leather looks."Typically, faux leather looks and feels, well, faux. But you truly would never know with Freja's craftsmanship," says Anello. "Because they make each bag with an ultrafiber material — a vegan leather-like material that's constructed from layering resin over microfiber and typically used for sporting goods — it will stand the test of time, unlike plastic leather-alternatives, which are no friend of the environment. Each bag has been thoughtfully created, and it truly shows."

Material: Vegan Ultrafiber Leather | Dimensions: 11 H x 5.5 W x 19 L inches | Colors: 3

Best Leather: Madewell The Zip-Top Medium Transport Tote

Madewell The Zip-Top Medium Transport Tote

Madewell

What We Like: Made from beautiful leather, this tote is surprisingly durable and functional.

What We Don't Like: Due to its soft construction, the bag won't stand on its own.

For those that prefer leather, you can't go wrong with Madewell's Transport Tote. It's made from pebbled leather, which better fends off scuffs and scratches than smooth leather, according to New York City-based stylist Beverly Osemwenkhae. I used this tote throughout college and can confirm it withstands lots of wear and tear from lugging my books around. While it may not be the largest tote out there, it's still roomy enough to hold a 13-inch laptop, textbook, and other essentials. The compact size lends itself to more versatility — I've worn it off duty, and it felt just like a regular purse.

The interior pocket keeps your keys and wallet secure while the slip pocket on the outside gives easy access to essential items, like a phone. The zipper at the top adds extra reassurance that nothing will fall out during a commute. And whenever I want to be hands-free, I slip the long strap over my sounder to wear it as a crossbody bag. I mainly bought this tote for its classic leather design — the black and mahogany shades also look luxe — but I've been pleasantly surprised with how functional the bag is, too.

Material: Leather | Dimensions: 12.75 H x 5 W x 11 L inches | Colors: 4

Related: The Best Black Work Pants

Best Lightweight: MZ Wallace Medium Metro Deluxe Tote

Mz Wallace Medium Metro Deluxe Tote

Nordstrom

What We Like: You can stuff this quilted bag to the brim without feeling weighed down.

What We Don't Like: There's no special compartment for your laptop.

While a sturdy, structured bag has its place, sometimes you need a design that is lightweight and packable — cue the MZ Wallace Metro Tote. When I lived in New York City before the pandemic, I constantly saw this bag on my commute to work. I asked around to see what all the fuss was about. Fellow InStyle writer Caitlyn Martyn describes the easy-to-clean nylon bag as Mary Poppins' never-ending-bag. "I really like how flexible the bag is. I've been able to stuff not only work items [into the bag] but a change of clothes and a makeup bag, glasses, sunglasses, water bottle, etc. too, and it somehow always fits," says Martyn. Considering that it has five exterior pockets and six interior pockets, its capacity isn't that surprising. It doesn't have a dedicated space for your laptop, but a 13-inch laptop fits perfectly in the center. To prevent back pain, the nylon straps on this tote are padded on top of being wider than most. There's also a detachable crossbody strap.

Material: REC Oxford | Dimensions: 12.7 H x 9.4 W x 11.6 L inches | Colors: 18

Best Backpack: Dagne Dover Dakota Neoprene Backpack

dagne-dover-dakota-neoprene-backpack

Saks Fifth Avenue

What We Like: You get all the functionality of a compact, durable backpack in a grown-up design.

What We Don't Like: The fabric does show stains, but you can wash it.

We all know that backpacks are better for our shoulders, but we often can't look past the bulkiness or child-like style. However, Dagne Dover has converted us with its Neoprene Backpack. Hawaii-based writer Nicol Natale swore off backpacks after college until she saw her aunt wearing the Dakota and decided to give it a chance. The neoprene fabric, which comes in stylish colors immediately impressed her because it cushions the straps and back, so it never feels too heavy. It's also easy to clean — just wash it with warm water and detergent and it'll look as good as new. Best of all, the neoprene is water resistant. "I live on an island where we get a ton of rain," says Natale. "Whether I'm caught on a hike or out running errands, the exterior absorbs the rain and my belongings stay dry inside."

Despite its compact size, the Dakota holds all of Natale's essentials she uses as a reiki and yoga instructor. There's a laptop sleeve, shoe bag, and smaller pockets on the outside to hold your phone, headphones, and keys. "This is an adult backpack that compliments my outfits while still holding my things and feeling so comfortable to carry around. I use it every day and would buy it again and again," adds Natale.

Material: Neoprene and Air Mesh, Recycled Repreve Lining | Dimensions: 17 H x 5 W x 11.5 L inches | Colors: 7

Best for Business Trips: Baggallini Fifth Avenue

Baggallini Fifth Avenue

Amazon

What We Like: The luggage sleeve, pockets, and duffle shape make this your perfect plane companion.

What We Don't Like: More functional than fashionable, this isn't the sleekest bag out there.

Whenever I travel, I inevitably overpack and end up sticking odd objects like a curling iron or pair of heels into a second travel bag. That's why I must travel with a functional duffle. After taking the Fifth Avenue Weekender Bag (I was kindly gifted it by the brand) on a business trip recently, where I needed sets of both business and party clothes, I was impressed with how much I could fit into the roomy compartments — it easily held my 13-inch laptop, two bags of toiletries, a magazine, book, laptop charger, and random essentials, like hand cream. Flying with a laptop makes me nervous that one bout of turbulence could break it, so having a padded compartment for my device eased my worries.

The four pockets on the outside made it easy to store things I wanted on hand, like my airpods and wallet. But not all the outer pockets have zippers, making it easy to slip my phone in and out as I waded through the airport. There's even a grommeted cord opening, so you can either plug your phone to the wall while it's still in the bag or hide a portable charger in the pocket and charge your phone on the outside. When filled to the brim, it of course did not feel weightless, but it sat securely on my suitcase using the luggage sleeve — it spent more time sitting on my carry-on than on my shoulder. When it came time to board, the duffle shape easily fit under my seat, standing upright, so nothing moved around.

On top of being great for the travel portions of a business trip, I wore the bag to the office, too, and not only fit a jacket inside, but also stored an extra pair of shoes in the built-in compartment. In addition to the shoulder straps, there's a detachable crossbody strap for when you want to be hands-free. While the nylon looks a little utilitarian, it's waterproof, lightweight, and durable. It doesn't scuff or tear easily and you can wipe it clean with a damp cloth.

Material: Nylon | Dimensions: 12 H x 6.5 W x 17 L inches | Colors: 3

Best for Parents: Dagne Dover Indi Diaper Backpack

5
Dagne Dover Indi Diaper Backpack

Dagne Dover

What We Like: This handy backpack doubles as a diaper bag and work bag.

What We Don't Like: Some customers complain the side pockets aren't large enough to hold a water bottle.

Whether you have a little one or not, a modern diaper bag like this design from Dagne Dover makes one incredible work bag. In fact, plus size model and actress Kelsie Nick swears by the Indie Backpack. "I know a diaper bag isn't the first thought when working or traveling, but it is so comfy, and can fit anywhere," says Nick. "All the compartments make it so easy to organize my things, from shoes to make-up brushes. My favorite part is the clip they use for a pacifier. I use it for my car keys."

New parents love how you can clip the backpack to a stroller and that it comes with a mini changing matt. But when playtime is over and you need to head to work, the laptop sleeve keeps your 15 inch device safe. Made from the brand's signature neoprene fabric, the material is water-resistant and easy to clean. Parenthood is expensive and time consuming enough, so if there's a backpack that can multitask between the office and playdates, we're here for it.

Material: Neoprene and Air Mesh, Recycled Repreve Lining | Dimensions: 13.75 H x 6 W x 12.25 L inches | Colors: 6

What to Keep in Mind

Straps

Straps are the most important part of a bag, according to Angeles. As a stylist, she always totes around a lot of items, so she knows the importance of comfortable and strong straps. "Check to make sure the stitching of the straps look secure and that the straps don't pull a lot at the seams holding the weight of the bag," Angeles advises, adding, "Avoid thin handles and shoulder straps." And if you still feel too much pressure on your shoulders, Angeles recommends a backpack that distributes weight more evenly.

Materials

A bag's fabric can completely change its form and function. Angeles says nylon is one of the most durable and lightweight materials, plus it's fairly easy to clean. It tends to look more casual than leather, so if you prefer a more elevated bag, Osemwenkhae recommends splurging for the leather bags. She suggests opting for pebbled leather, too, since it's more durable and doesn't show scuffs or scratches easily.

Pockets

Pockets are a game changer. If you take a laptop or tablet to work, look for a bag with a laptop compartment to keep it secured. Be sure to measure and double check that your device will actually fit inside, especially while your bag is already filled with other stuff. I appreciate when a bag has a variety of pockets on the inside and outside, so that I can keep some items secured inside and others on hand. For an added level of security, I suggest searching for a zip-top or button closure to ensure nothing can get in or out when in a crowded space.

Your Questions, Answered

How do I extend the life of my bag?

Now that you have a bag you love, you'll want to make it last as long as possible. First things first, don't hang your bags; it ultimately wears down the straps. Angeles recommends keeping them on a shelf, ideally in a dust bag with some sort of stuffing inside to maintain the shape. As a serious online shopper, I like to reuse all the tissue paper that comes in packages for stuffing my bags. You also want to keep your bags in a cool, dry place and away from sunlight which can fade the color, especially if it's leather.

How do I clean a bag?

Before cleaning your bag, check the label for any specific instructions. Angeles says you can usually clean a nylon or faux leather bag with a warm, damp towel and mild detergent or soap. Follow up with another damp towel to wipe off the soap and be sure you dry the bag completely with a dry towel. Unfortunately, cleaning real leather can be tricky, so Angeles recommends taking it to the professionals.

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