Backpack vs Messenger Bag - Top 5 Factors - Jack Stillman


Backpack vs Messenger Bag - Top 5 Factors

August 01, 2019

Backpack vs Messenger Bag - Top 5 Factors

Backpack vs Messenger Bag It’s the question that’s nagged mankind since the days of the pharaohs. Shouldst thou wear upon thine back a bag or slingeth it across the shoulder?

This comparison is written in the context of a daily carry bag or commuter bag only. I’m not suggesting that one could choose to climb K2 with either a backpack or a decent messenger bag. 

Both of these bags are constructed in different ways and have notable advantages from one job to another so knowing which better suits its intended job might save you time and money. 


Backpack - A backpack is very stable once it is in place. It rests across both shoulders distributing weight evenly between them. Militaries traditionally use backpack systems because they can take a decent weight and don’t hinder the soldiers movement because the cargo stays in one position; out of the way. It’s quite easy to run with a backpack or ride a motorcycle because it won't move very much from its intended position. It can move up and down but less so sideways. 

Messenger Bag - A Messenger bag slings across a single shoulder and can rest in place anywhere from the front to the back of the body. Without the use of a stability harness such as the T Brace, this means that sometimes, especially when the bag is light, it can swing around and change positions on the body. Running with a messenger bag can be messy and some motorcycle riders don’t like the potential for these bag to flap about at higher speeds.

HINT: Cinching up your Messenger Bag sling when you’re on your motorcycle so it sits across your back at roughly 45 degress makes it very stable and causes the downdraft of winds to push the bag down into your back.

MAD-13 Rucksack


Backpack - Once your backpack is on your back it’s out of your line of site. Generally this means that the openings and pockets of the bag are exposed to devious minds that might have an opportunity to infiltrate them. Whether this is a thing that most of us need to worry about comes down to where we live or visit but it’s worth considering.

Messenger Bag - One of the advantages of a messenger bag is the ability to change the position of the bag to suit your situation. As I mentioned above, when riding a motorcycle, sling it high across your back. Similarly, when you’re in a crowded market in Rio perhaps you might feel more comfortable having your messenger bag sitting in front of your body where you can see and feel it.

Weight Capacity

This is one of the important factors in my opinion because it has to do with user comfort and bag durability.

Backpack - A backpack can generally take more weight than a messenger bag regardless of size. This is because the weight is distributed across two shoulders on two straps. That means that the shoulder harness is dividing the load evenly with each only taking 50% of the stress. The same of course goes for your shoulders. Then also consider that the backpack design means that movement between these two shoulder straps is also minimal. As such the wide connection between the straps or shoulder pads is not placed under a heavy amount of duress.

Messenger Bag - As you can imagine, a messenger bag on the other hand is placing all of the load stress onto a single strap but more importantly it’s two strap anchors located on the main bag body. When you think about it, that’s a lot of pressure placed onto two points from both downwards force (weight) and sideways articulation from the general movement of a swinging bag. This is why most single sling bags fail at this point before anywhere else. The upshot is that placing too much weight into your messenger bag is, over time, going to destroy it.

Solo Messenger Bag

NOTE: It would be remiss of me not to point out at this point that one of my main efforts in bag design over the past 12 months has been the time we put into making stress points - stress proof. We use cross stitching, Coachscrew rivets and backing materials to ensure that anchor points on Jack Stillman bags are built to take a pounding. 


Backpack - Taking into account the information above, it’s pretty easy to workout that wearing the weight of a backpack carrying 15kg across both shoulders is going to be a lot less stressful than…

Messenger Bag - ...wearing the same 15kg across a single shoulder. Messenger Bags have many notable advantages to a backpack but carrying a lot of weight is not one of them.


Backpack - This is a big one for me personally. I love the comfort of a backpack but I get annoyed by the fact that to utilise the cargo space I have to take it on and off. Generally all of the pockets and main compartment openings are facing in the opposite direction to the articulation of your arms so…

Messenger Bag - By far the most accessible bag in my opinion. If you wear the sling long and low you can usually access what you want when you need without even looking. A good design with lots of defined spaces is handy for easily finding what you need when you want it.

So what do you think? Was this a helpful comparison? Did I miss anything? Let me know

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