Faculty-appropriate backpack and messenger bag recs?
June 1, 2016 1:35 PM   Subscribe

I (male) am a freshly minted university lecturer. My cheapo grad school backpack won't cut it anymore, so I'm looking for a replacement that will not scream "student". It should be fairly small and light (I rarely carry a lot of books, sometimes a laptop) and comfortable for walking. Also looking for a messenger bag for days when I bike or drive to campus. Hoping to keep it under $100 for each. Recs?
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Except for the price, I'd suggest looking at bags from Tom Bihn. They are pricey, but they are handmade in the USA by well-paid workers, they are cleverly designed, and they are extremely durable, so they'll last a lot longer than many other bags. Depending on how much you need to carry, the Synapse 19, Synapse 25, or Smart Alec might do for a backpack.

For cycling and driving, you might also consider Arkel's briefcase and laptop pannier. I use an earlier version of it, and it's much nicer to carry the bag on a bike rack rather than on my back.

I've been a satisfied Bihn customer for many years now: I used a Brain Bag and an Empire Builder briefcase for a long time, and now a Cadet briefcase because the Empire Builder encourages me to carry too much stuff....
posted by brianogilvie at 2:03 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend Rickshaw messenger bags - their medium comes in right at your price point, and is the one I have. It fits a laptop and a book or two. Their "Performance Tweed" fabrics are a great look for academics, in my opinion (that's what I have, and I think it looks appropriately professorial while still feeling young and fun). If you happen to live in the Bay Area, you can go check out all the fabrics at their factory/shop, or you can order online.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:08 PM on June 1, 2016

I have this bag, and it's awesome. I highly recommend Timbuk2 - their messenger bags are great, but this backpack is the best one I've ever owned, and as a bonus, is great for travelling.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:19 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I also have a Rickshaw messenger bag and can't say enough good things about it. You can customize the colors for no extra charge. (I have one in their gray and white performance tweed but I chose to line and pipe it in purple because that's how I roll.)
posted by phunniemee at 2:20 PM on June 1, 2016

I've had a Crumpler messenger bag for going on twenty years now. It's been a fantastic value and it's still in excellent shape. For a decade or more, it was my primary bag as a bike commuter.

I and my wife have both used Tom Bihn bags of various sorts for the last five or six years, and we won't go back to anything else now. She really, really likes her Smart Alec pack. It's her daily bag and has been all over the world now. My daily is an Empire Builder. Again, very happy with it (but perhaps less what you're looking for).

The final recommendation I have is for MEC bags. I've got one more than 30 years old (modern version), and still in good shape. It lasted me for years as my primary climbing/hiking/daypack/overnight bag.
posted by bonehead at 2:51 PM on June 1, 2016

I bike to work with a Timbuk2 backpack. I like their new higher end designs. The Sunset backpack and the Sunset messenger are less student-y without breaking the bank (unlike their really pricey designs). Those are a little over $100 but you could easily bike with either, so you may only need one bag.
posted by beyond_pink at 2:57 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd strongly advise sticking with the messenger bag exclusively. There is no backpack that will not, as you say, scream student or at least scream young and unprofessional.

Look at your peers, and assess critically. If you see one sporting a backpack and you genuinely think he or she manages to make it look faculty-appropriate, then by all means ask for the manufacturer. More likely, I think, you'll notice the ones who look professional in a way you'd want to emulate are not using backpacks.
posted by cribcage at 3:42 PM on June 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am a faculty member and I have the Timbuk2 Uptown Tsa-approved backpack. I love it for the ability to quickly pull out and put away my laptop on the endless cycle of class to office to meeting to lab to bus. It also has room to carry a stack of papers to grade and a textbook. I find it much more comfortable than a messenger bag, and as far as I know my career has not faced any repercussions for looking overly studenty or just young and unprofessional.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:07 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my experience, any bag that one regularly bikes with rapidly comes to look scruffy. So I suggest that you get two bags.

The first bag, for cycling, should be tough and completely waterproof. I suggest something from Chrome. I know that Chrome bags are rather expensive - but they last a long time, and will take a lot of abuse. And their waterproofing is excellent.

For the second bag ... I agree with cribcage that a backpack is unlikely to look smart enough. I suggest, instead, a satchel or briefcase. Samsonite perhaps?
posted by HoraceH at 5:12 PM on June 1, 2016

Seconding the Crumpler suggestion: they're practical and full of nice design features. They're also damn-near indestructible, which is nice. Their current range of laptop bags has some understated blues, blacks and olives that are professional without sacrificing style or functionality.
posted by prismatic7 at 6:11 PM on June 1, 2016

If you are a freshly-minted lecturer, then you probably have a freshly-minted salary as well, so you can do what I do: use the tote bags that textbook reps give you constantly. I seriously have a freakin' ton, and the one I got from Pearson was especially well made. Cengage gave me a sturdy one as well.

Just a thought.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:20 PM on June 1, 2016

FWIW, I know at least two national research chairs/departmental chair/senior journal editors that use bog-standard Janisport backpacks as their daily carry bags.
posted by bonehead at 7:00 PM on June 1, 2016

My husband is a prof at a West Coast university and I assure you he looks very professorial with this Herschel backpack I got him when he started.
posted by The Toad at 7:53 PM on June 1, 2016

I've been using this Pacsafe bag for several months and it's been fantastic. Capacious enough for a Chromebook + iPad + reading materials on a business trip (it raised no eyebrows that I'm aware of) and comfortable enough for walking six miles a day. Also approved for car and bus commuting. I needed a backpack, not a single-strap messenger bag or tote bag, to avoid muscle problems, and so while I still have a fancier leather bag for fancier meetings, this seemed like a good quotidian compromise.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:13 PM on June 1, 2016

I am another academic with a Rickshaw messenger bag in performance tweed. I've been carrying it for a couple years now and it still looks brand new.
posted by pemberkins at 4:45 AM on June 2, 2016

I'm partial to Banjo Brothers bags for simple, affordable bags that are made for cycling, but don't look like it all the time.
posted by entropone at 5:48 AM on June 2, 2016

Guy-agonalize is an assistant prof at a schmancy East Coast university, and he uses an Everlane backpack everywhere he goes. He regularly gets compliments on it, and I think it looks quite professional, but he is also in a field with relatively low sartorial standards, so your mileage may vary.
posted by Diagonalize at 6:40 AM on June 2, 2016

Faculty here.

I use http://www.amazon.com/BBP-Hamptons-Messenger-Backpack-Obsidian/dp/B000GHED9G
posted by lalochezia at 6:47 AM on June 2, 2016

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