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Messenger Bag vs. Backpack for Travel

Leather messenger bag and backpack on the grass.

Travel bags have been around for millennia. Today, there are many types of bags that you can choose from. While both messenger bags and travel backpacks allow the user to carry heavy and/or bulky items, each bag type serves specific purposes. Each one also presents its own set of pros and cons.

You know what kind of traveling you want to do. So, if you want to purchase one of these two options, you should consider the pros and cons of each and then select the bag that does what you need it to do.

A Brief History of Messenger Bags

People have referred to messenger bags as courier bags, carryalls, sling bags and satchels (although actual satchels have a different shape). Military bags may have influenced the design of modern messenger bags since both are rectangular in shape.

However, most historians say that messenger bags used in recent decades by postmen, bike couriers, and Pony Express staff evolved from the 1950s bags that were created for line workers.

Messenger Bag Features and Benefits

Man with brown leather messenger bag.


Early messenger bags were made of cotton canvas and lined with water-proof fabric. Various courier companies began to buy bags that were made with a particular color so as to help brand their company.

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Nylon bags came along in 1984. They featured light-reflective stripes and buckles. Today, messenger bags are made from various materials, with leather being the most popular.

Long shoulder strap

The messenger bag’s singular long shoulder strap makes this bag type useful to bicycle couriers. This strap design allows the user to swing the bag around to the front whenever he needs to access the bag’s contents. Then he can put the heavy bag on his back again while in transit.

Stabilizing strap

The more utilitarian messenger bags, such as the ones that bicycle couriers use, also have a second, stabilizing strap that goes across the chest or around the waist. This strap prevents the bag from moving around to the front while leaning forward and pedaling.


Some messenger bags include handy fittings, such as those that enable easy adjustment of the shoulder strap. Some of the buckles are quick-release buckles, while others are adjustable hinged ones. Some messenger bags give users the ability to attach various accessories, such as a phone, u-lock, or lights.

Shape and build

The sturdiness and the flat, rectangular shape of a messenger bag enable quick access to the bag’s contents. These features allow the user to keep important papers flat and uncrumpled.

Users can also easily access large flat items stored in them, such as laptops. Therefore, besides couriers, business people, freelancers, students, and others use messenger bags to safely transport items.


Style-wise, messenger bags are not as formal or old-fashioned as briefcases are, but they’re not as casual as backpacks are either. Not only do these business-casual bags allow everybody to use them, but they have actually become an urban fashion icon.

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Utilitarianism has met high-fashion style. However, leather messenger bags scream sophistication, quality, and style as they perform their utilitarian functions.

Pros and Cons of Using Messenger Bags for Travel

Messenger bags are good for using when traveling because they:

• Are often made with vinyl waterproof tarp lining

• May use standard PVC waterproof lining

• Are durably made, with thick gauges of canvas, ballistic nylon, leather or some other material

• May have a second strap for stabilization

• Can handle heavy loads

• Let you easily access everything

• Keep paper and other fragile things in good condition

• May include hardware that lets you personalize your bag

• Suit just about everyone because they’re between formal and casual

• Let you show off your highly popular urban fashion accessory

Messenger bags may present travelers with drawbacks because they:

• May be hard to keep in the middle of a cyclist’s back

• Don’t distribute the bag weight evenly between the two shoulders

• Would be uncomfortable for long trips because of the weight distribution problems

History of Travel Backpacks

Brown backpack

Before backpacks, people hauled their clothes and other things in a cloth bag that the people hung over their shoulders. Henry Merriam patented a “knapsack” in 1878. It had a frame and no straps.

But he did not make any of them for the masses. The Army recognized its usefulness and proceeded to manufacture and use Merriam’s invention.

During the next few decades, other people invented similar backpacks in an effort to be more comfortable on their outings. One inventor added zippers in his 1938 invention.

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In 1950, someone created an easy-access backpack that sat high on the back and had leather straps. Light-weight backpacks with covered frames and padded shoulders were introduced in 1952.

All of these early backpacks consisted of a bag that was attached to a back-conforming frame. But in 1967, a man created a lower-hanging backpack with the first internal frame. It also had a stabilizing hip belt and other straps. That same year, a contemporary made a teardrop-shaped nylon version.

Backpacks were initially only used by people when they camped, climbed rocks, hiked and did other outdoor activities. That’s because backpacks distributed the weight evenly, left the hands free, and didn’t fall or move when the person moved to the side or leaned forward.

But when Jansport created a “Ski and Hike” nylon backpack in 1970, the general public became interested in backpacks. They saw other possibilities, namely low-cost, comfortable travel.

Today, you’ll find backpacks in various shapes and sizes. Backpack types include duffle backpacks, laptop bags, everyday packs and rucksacks, to name a few. Some of them are made with slash-free material. Some of them even have smart technology and include anti-theft locks.

Who Uses Backpacks

Campers with backpacks.

Hippies and the hippie lifestyle were a thing when Jansport brought backpacks to the attention of the general public back in 1970. People initially looked down on backpack tourists. They thought of backpacker tourism as the only way that poor people could travel and they didn’t see any other benefits of traveling in this manner.

Today, yesterday’s hippies are much older and two newer generations have come along. Backpack tourism is widely-used and is an accepted form of tourism.

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Young people commonly travel with a backpack during gap years. Some older people do it when they’re between jobs or during their retirement years. Not only do people from English-speaking countries participate in backpack tourism, but also Europeans and Asians.

Backpack tourists can engage in a more educational and fulfilling form of tourism. That’s because they can see and experience what they want to instead of visiting just the places that come in a tour group’s package deal.

And because a backpack tour is not confined to a schedule as a tour group trip is, people can take longer vacations. People sometimes work in another country for a short while to help finance and prolong their visit.

Others live full-time as digital nomads, making their living using technology and calling no one place home. Backpack tourists commonly use public transport and inexpensive lodging. Backpacks enable a minimalist lifestyle that some people crave.

More conventional people also use backpacks. They use them when tootling about the city because backpacks are convenient and make a fashion statement. Students, in particular, use backpacks.

Students do a lot of running around between home, school, local hangouts, restaurants, friends’ homes, and other places. Young people in general embrace the various backpack types, along with the smart technology and anti-theft locks available on some of them.

Pros and Cons of Using Travel Backpacks for Travel

Woman with backpack, hat, and camera on the bench.

Travel backpacks are good for using when traveling because they:

• Are the most comfortable way to carry heavy items

• Can handle bulky items, such as clothing or campfire cooking supplies

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• Don’t fall off when leaning forward or to the side

• Often made with many compartments

• Are multi-purpose

• Are light-weighted

• Are durable

• Are colorful

• Enable inexpensive travel

• Enable people to afford longer trips

• Enable more educational travel experiences

• Enable a fulltime nomad lifestyle

• Make a stylish fashion statement, especially among today’s youth

• Can include smart technology

Travel backpacks may present travelers with drawbacks because they:

• Are cumbersome to put on when using both straps

• Do not allow the wearer to access its contents while wearing them

• Do not allow the user to easily access everything when using a vertically designed one

• Are not designed to prevent papers from being crumpled

• Are casual in appearance and would therefore not be acceptable in formal business meetings


Messenger bags had their beginnings in the courier world because they were designed for easy access to its contents. Their flat and sturdy build makes them suitable for keeping papers in good condition and for toting laptops.

And because of their business-casual, urban chic style, messenger bags are an especially good choice for people who need to take a bag into business meetings.

These bags are not as comfortable as backpacks are when riding a bicycle, however, some of them do have stabilizing straps. Messenger bags will suffice for short-distance travel, but they’re not as comfortable as backpacks are for long trips.

Backpacks are the perfect solution for casual situations. In addition to providing a comfortable and hands-free outdoor experience, backpacks let people travel comfortably and they’re perfect for today’s students.

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