Academic Equipment: The Work Bag


This is the first in a series of occasional posts about the things academics tend to use—the tools, equipment, accessories, and other products we need (or want) for our work.

What have you made use of and liked (or disliked) and why? What do you recommend? What are you curious to hear about? What’s on your wish list?

The idea is to discuss a wide range of products, sharing opinions and reasons to help others think about what will work for them.

We’ll cover various different types of equipment in the series. Up first: work bags.

There are a lot of options to sort through here. Even before getting to brands or specific products, there’s the matter of type: backpack, messenger bag, briefcase, tote… other?

So when it comes to bags, what’s your bag?

(You’re welcome to include links or images in your comments.)

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David
David
12 days ago

Saddleback Leather Co. Briefcases! I’ve used the flightbag daily for six years. It fits everything I use and it isn’t even their largest model!

Steve
Steve
Reply to  David
11 days ago

I also have a Saddleback Leather messenger bag/briefcase. It’s heavy but it’s beautiful.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
12 days ago

Tom Bihn everything but the pop tote for work. It isn’t designed for a laptop but will fit one. https://www.tombihn.com/products/pop-tote?variant=54905514951

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
12 days ago

A good Burton backpack will carry anything you need and more just about everywhere and make you look like a student until students realize, no, you’re just a philosophy professor who doesn’t want to grow up.

Fritz Allhoff
Fritz Allhoff
12 days ago
benjamin s yost
benjamin s yost
12 days ago

Crumpler backpack to look just a bit less studenty… I was just moved to see how old it is and I was astonished to find out I’ve had it for 13 years. It still looks new.

Cameron J Buckner
12 days ago

My Filson is a beast. It’s elegant without being pretentious, and seems indestructible. I used to go through a work bag every year or two and then got this one, which despite intense abuse looks the same as it did 10 years ago.

Bob
Bob
12 days ago

My 20 year old Jansport backpack is still going strong.

NowWithBackpack
NowWithBackpack
12 days ago

I don’t like how many backpacks look. They often appear like they’re for kids, or for hiking, or for something “tactical.” Nonetheless, I decided a backpack would be the best option for me and found this one, which I’ve been happy with (for about a year so far). It’s minimalist, waterproof, and the brightly-colored interior makes things easier to find. https://www.stubbleandco.com/en-us/products/the-everyday-backpack?variant=44040245477605

SCM
SCM
11 days ago

I have an Osprey Manta 34 that I use for day-to-day commuting to campus with my laptop. It is super-comfortable to wear, even when heavy, which is important the older you get. (Osprey primarily makes hiking packs, so they design most of their products with that need in mind.)
I also use it as a carry-on when traveling abroad — it fits my laptop, iPad, camera, lenses, etc., that I would rather not check in — and as a general walking-around-interesting-places-taking-photographs bag. It’s a hydration pack too, so useful on hikes.
Plus I got it as a free replacement from Osprey when my much older Manta got a small tear.

Colm McGivern
Colm McGivern
11 days ago

I find anything Swissgear (usually) holds up pretty well. Currently I use the Swissgear 1900 ScanSmart Laptop Backpack, which works great for on campus, as well as for travel of all sorts. Is it super attractive ? No, but it gets the job done, and is able to hold up to the uses and abuses of everyday academic life.
https://www.swissgear.ca/en/backpacks/school-backpacks/swissgear-sa1900-scansmart-backpack-sleathe-black

Jacob Joseph Andrews
11 days ago

I have a messenger bag I pulled out of a college dorm dumpster the day after move out day. It’s apparently by “Rickshaw Bagworks.” I found it in 2016 and it looks a bit ratty but the bones are still good.

Ásta
Ásta
Reply to  Jacob Joseph Andrews
9 days ago

Rickshaw is fabulous. Handmade in San Francisco. Started by a former CEO of Timbuk2 in 2007. Well made, good customer service, some customization possible, not pricy.

Daniel Weltman
11 days ago

I’ve had something sort of like this for six years and it has worked fine. They don’t make the exact kind I have (the Gibson, as opposed to the linked one, the Tech Gibson) as far as I can tell but I imagine anything from the company is probably pretty similar.

nappy bags by another name
nappy bags by another name
11 days ago

gender neutral nappy bags! the brand I have (leke sky) only seems to be stocked by resellers now but it’s been great. I admit I’m a bit of a pack rat but I loved the double bottle holders (for water and a thermos) and the doctor bag style wide mouth opening. great for when I have extra activities after work.

Christopher Bartel
Christopher Bartel
11 days ago

I have had a CourierWare messenger bag for decades. They hold up very well, very rain resistant, and comparatively inexpensive. It makes for a good carry-on bag too. Does it make me look like I’m trying to hold onto my student-days? Probably. Am I though? Probably! haha

sahpa
sahpa
11 days ago

I avoid backpacks now, since they are generally bad for shaped sports jackets/blazers/etc. They crush the shoulders and chest, which have a lot of shaping work put into them. That’s another reason (besides looking like a child) to avoid them that my apply to you, intrepid scholar.

Julia
Julia
11 days ago

I have a bellroy tote that I’ve been using for 5+ years. Still looks brand new. I love it. Check out all the pockets! https://bellroy.com/products/tokyo-wonder-tote-15l?color=raven&material=baida_nylon#slide-0

Aaron Garrett
Reply to  Julia
8 days ago

They also make an excellent backpack/totebag combo. And the company is not entirely morally repugnant.

https://bellroy.com/products/tokyo-totepack

Ásta
Ásta
Reply to  Aaron Garrett
8 days ago

Yep. B corp

Cath
Cath
10 days ago

Just want to say that I love the idea for this series! Thanks for the answers already

So Fetch
So Fetch
10 days ago

I *like* my Prada backpack, but I *love* my tote bag from the 2019 APA Pacific Division meeting.

RS1
RS1
10 days ago

I’m surprised no one has mentioned this classic messenger bag: durable, water-resistant, light (it’s not leather), good pockets, good-looking. https://www.timbuk2.com/collections/all-messenger-bags/products/3718-commute-messenger-bag-20?variant=39495782137898

Carter
Carter
10 days ago

Why anyone would have a bag over a backpack is beyond me! What advantage is there? Who are we trying to impress!?

lu chen
lu chen
Reply to  Carter
10 days ago
  1. Not easy to search a thing on the go. Imagine not having a pocket for wallet and passport.
  2. My backpack is perpetually open because I can’t see it and often neglect to close it.
  3. I often wear my backpack on a single shoulder anyway, allowing more air.

TBU…

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Carter
9 days ago

One functional reason is the one I mentioned above – backpacks are bad for some kinds of clothing. But style and the ‘language’ of clothing also factor in. You can dismiss that as ‘trying to impress’ people, if you want, but that is reductive.

Prof L
Prof L
Reply to  Carter
8 days ago

To answer your questions:

  1. I’m not 12.
  2. looking cool.
  3. literally everyone I meet.

Kinda kidding, but I just like the look of a leather messenger bag. It’s something I carry around every day. I don’t think I’m particularly vain, but I do like to look somewhat professional, especially when giving talks etc. and the leather bag gives that vibe, the jansport backpack … not so much.

Too crotchety for coolness
Too crotchety for coolness
10 days ago

I screwed my back up pretty bad carrying a messenger bag with too many items in it (I wanted to look cool). I switched to a Nordace backpack and my back is grateful. I like the storage options in it and it can hold more than it looks like it can. I’ve packed everything I need for conferences in it.

Ryan
10 days ago

Reminds me of a version of that old joke, no doubt told in a few different ways, that goes something like:

A PhD is on a plane with her husband when someone up front has a medical emergency. The stewards, feeling the situation is serious, yell, ‘Is anyone on the plane a doctor? Please, any doctors?! Please!’

The PhD’s husband looks at her, knowingly, and after some nudging she finally stands up, looks around the plance, and says, “Okay, alright, I’m gonna need three erasable markers, a whiteboard, and a microfibre cloth go, Go, GO!’

Jason
Jason
8 days ago
Rosa
Rosa
7 days ago

I like my back too much for a messanger bag/purse/whatever, so I am now a backpack person. I love my Dayowl backpack. I think it looks professional, and it’s made from landfill-bound trash, has an external laptop pocket, and they offer a 30% off discount for teachers (including higher ed). I have the slim version, but there is a standard version for people who want more space. https://www.dayowl.com/products/clay-orange-slim-backpack?variant=39699879821360

Michael Gorman
Michael Gorman
6 days ago

I commute with a backpack, but for traveling to and fro on campus, I carry a briefbag. The one I have is not the color I’d have chosen; I’d intended to get one for myself when (if) I got tenure, but my father-in-law, himself an academic, got one for me ahead of time, as a vote of confidence, which was touching. I’ve had it for over twenty years now.

Anyway, the crucial thing is that if you pick it up without locking it shut, it’s ok, in contrast with that hinged kind of briefcase where, if you pick it up without locking it, everything goes all over the place.

I had one of those hinged jobs in high school, and this happened in the school lobby. Pens, books, everything flew everywhere. But then something magical happened: a teacher I particularly admired stopped in his tracks, looked at me, and said, “Oh, you do that too?”

Louis Zapst
5 days ago

Before the era of digital texts I used to carry a huge barrister’s leather brief to carry books or a minimalist A4 zippered pouch on days I didn’t need to carry books. Nowadays I would recommend vegan options. I now use a small Corkor vegan briefcase made in Portugal from cork. I also recommend anything from the London-based Wills Vegan Store, which sells awesome Italian and Portuguese made vegan shoes and bags online (free shipping to USA).