Versus | Magazine

Which is better, backpack or messenger bag?

One strap or two? One shoulder or two? A back-to-school grudge match.

Photos from AP

With the new school year here, students need a suitable way to tote their belongings. A case can be made for both backpacks and messenger bags, two of the most popular options. But which one reigns supreme?


Backpack: 2

Messenger bag: 1




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Backpack: Books

Messenger bag: Laptops



Backpack: As anyone who has boarded an MBTA train at rush hour can attest, bulging backpacks gobble up much-needed space and batter other passengers.

Messenger bag: Shifted deftly to the front or back, the messenger bag can typically avoid drawing the ire of fellow passengers.


Backpack: In a 2014 survey by the NPD Group, backpack sales jumped 17 percent over the previous year for men — and 18 percent among women.

Messenger bag: In the same survey, messenger bags saw a 20 percent sales jump with men — but just a 3 percent increase among women.


Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones carries a messenger bag.

Backpack: Fed up with the bags of the time, an outdoor-store owner in Boulder, Colorado, reportedly created the first zippered backpack in 1938.

Messenger bag: The tote received its first big break in 1981 when it appeared on the shoulder of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in Raiders of the Lost Ark.


Backpack: More than 14,000 children are treated annually for backpack-related injuries, with 5,000 ending up in emergency rooms.

Messenger bag: One shoulder bears all the weight, which can lead to “tension, pain, or even spasms,” according to Men’s Health magazine.


Backpack: Lowell-based Bullet Blocker sells a $490 model, the Bulletproof 50. Promotional products industry leader Geiger of Lewiston, Maine, supplies drawstring backpacks for as little as $1.07 (if you buy 2,500).

Messenger bag: Frank Clegg Leatherworks of Fall River produces a $915 beauty. Geiger’s polypropylene Rhythm model is just $1.99 (if you buy 1,000 of them).


Messenger bag: “It’s not a man purse. It’s called a satchel. Indiana Jones wears one.”  — Zach Galifianakis as Alan in The Hangover

Backpack: “I showed up in LA with $500 and a backpack and I stayed at a shelter, so nobody handed me anything. I worked for every single thing that I have.”  — Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto


Messenger bag: They’ll always have their place in the pantheon of portable baggage . . .

Backpack:  . . . but the standby is an American icon.

Sources: NPR; NPD Group;; GQ; Men’s Health; US Consumer Product Safety Commission; IMDb

Dugan Arnett can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.