The Best Bags for Walking to Work

the best bags for walking to workWhat is the best bag to carry if you walk to work? Reader A wonders…

I’ve had a bag dilemma for years and though this venue might provide a solution. I thought perhaps someone out there might have found the holy grail of bags to address the following issues, and I’m sure others are looking for the same. I would certainly love a post on this. I’m a lawyer and I walk almost two miles to work everyday. Here’s what I’m looking for:
– Big enough to carry folders, papers, occasional laptop and occasional change of clothes
-Color-neutral enough to be worn with anything for everyday use
-Professional looking
– Comfortable to carry long distances, such as a cross-body style with comfortable strap. Maybe a backpack style?

Does such a bag exist? I sure hope so.

I’ve always loved walking to work, and I’ve regularly schlepped about that distance. While there are so many benefits to walking to work (fresh air! clear head! some exercise!), I do feel like I’ve done some serious damage to my body from walking so much. For example, whenever I get massages, the masseuse always comments on the huge knot on my right upper back (where I usually carry my bag), and I honestly blame the first few years of walking to work (back in the days when I wore Steve Madden 3″ stacked heels regularly — for the 2 mile commute!) for the feet problems I have now. (I suppose there’s another post idea there, but my secret belief is that feet problems are like dreams: no one else wants to hear about them.) So: I gotta say that Reader A may be asking for too much. A laptop? A change of clothes? This all seems like a lot for a regular commute, and probably the smart advice to her is to find another means of transportation if she has to carry so much. That said, on the rare occasion where I wanted to carry a computer or a change of clothes, I suppose I could have fit a super-lightweight, small laptop (like my netbook) into my bag, and I also could have possibly fit a pair of jeans (for a night out) — but not both, and certainly not with a change of shoes.

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Cole Haan - HW Parker Medium Hobo (Greige) - Bags and LuggageFor the past few years my bag of choice has been a large hobo. I’ve found that a single strap is a must (it stays on your shoulder better than two straps), and a good bag that has pockets keeps your phone, ID/subway pass, and lipgloss close at hand. My all-time favorite is a Cole Haan hobo (I have 3 or 4 of these — I had to put a moratorium on myself! They’re all similar to the “greige” one pictured (also available in plain black), but I also like my Kooba hobo (similar to this one, pictured, Kooba – Alexander (Berry)), and my Rebecca Minkoff hobo (Rebecca Minkoff – Nikki (Red) (not pictured)). They generally fit all the stuff I keep iKooba Alexandern my bag, with space for an extra pair of shoes if I need to carry them, or perhaps the laptop/change of clothes that Reader A is dreaming of. Keep in mind, I’m not saying this is the smartest choice — I’m just saying, this is the kind of bag that I found worked best for my commutes.

LeSportsac - Deluxe Everyday Bag (Fly Away Black) - Bags and LuggageIf we’re talking smart choices, though, you probably do want a crossbody or a backpack, to better distribute the weight; you might also want to look for a lighter fabric bag (such as a nylon) instead of the leathers and canvases that I always prefer. I might point you to a LeSportsac Everyday bag (pictured), which has been my gym bag for years, and is now my favorite diaper bag. I vastly prefer my leather hobos for style, but the Everyday bag can’t be beat for being lightweight and well organized. I might also point you to the Marc Jacob nylon knapsack — it’s pictured at the very top of this post in pink iris, but it’s also available in black. LeSportsac also makes a nylon backpack, as does Tumi. My personal $.02 is that fashionably speaking, the backpack is kind of at the bottom of the pile — but sometimes you have to be kind to your body and prioritize comfort above fashion.

Readers, do you walk to work?  What bags do you carry?  Have you developed any “best practices” for commuting?

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  1. Do any of you have any recs for creative writing classes in NYC area for beginners? I’ve never taken any writing courses so far but I’ve always wanted to write (though I don’t write that much anymore, except for my tech writing stuff at work)

  2. Woods-comma-Elle :

    I walk about 2 miles to work and I have been carrying a backpack because I haven’t been able to find the answer to this. I don’t need a big bag every day, but when I do, I feel really frumpy turning up at the office with the backpack!

    • I’ve been in the same situation on occasion. I see women with three bags, though, and figure I’m better off!

      • I have to carry my laptop (not a netbook, a regular sized laptop) to/from work every day, and I had to go with a backpack. But so many of them are overwrought, big, and just plain ugly! I ended up with a Timbuk2 Swig backpack and it’s amazing — sized for a woman, sleek, comfortable, and the top is waterproof. I carry a small purse for wallet, e-reader, and metrocard.

        I previously had a bad experience with Tumi — bought a backpack that was promised to be water resistant, but leaked like crazy in light drizzle — and am so much happier (as is my wallet) with my Timbuk2.

        • I got a Timbuk2 backpack a few months ago and I LOVE it! All the function of a backpack, with well-thought-out pockets, but a sleek urban look. And much more waterproof than any bag I’ve ever had.
          Mine’s the candy bar only black :-). Plenty of good-quality shoulder bags too, and made in the USA.

      • I had a Timbuk2 laptop bag when I had to carry my laptop back and forth almost every single day (small kids, never knew when I might unexpectedly end up teleworking the next day). I loved, loved, loved that bag. Sadly, it appears that Timbuk2 no longer makes that particular bag … but overall, their quality was awesome and the price was great.

    • I have a 45 minutes walking commute and have ALWAYS used a backpack since I developped a huge and PAINFUL knot on my left back thigh/upper buttocks due to my habit of carrying my (often heavy) handbag on my left shoulder. Every. Day.

      I have a simple “sports-like” grey backpack where I put my regular handbag and work shoes (I change 50 mt before the office). I also use it to pack my groceries on the way home and save a lot of pain when I have to carry heavy stuff.

      It definitely isn’t pretty, feminine or whatever. But it’s just for the commuting time. The rest of the day I have a much more professionnal look and everything’s fine! (additionnally, my boss assumes that I do a lot of sports, which is good for my image – think dynamism, work/life balance, etc) :)

      • Hi, I found myself in similar position – 45 min walking distance between office and home. Definitely good for health – mom and I love her to walk me to work whenever she visit me -or I like to think that I walk with her on at least part of her daily exercise route ; ) Her recent annual medical check up result show significant improvement in good cholesterol and her doctor gave her a big thumbs up.
        So here are the things I do to make myself comfortable with the walking:
        1. A light durable backpack in black (for the consistent of a sporty and professional look). Inside my backpack, I have a bottle of water and a pair of smart office shoes to change when I get to office.
        2. A colourful sweater / black jacket on me or in my backpack depending on the weather when I leave home.
        3. A pair of sport shoes on my feet
        Like mlle-cassis, I use my backpack for almost everything – bring my shopping home, travelling and also for my notes for evening postgraduate classes. As I do not have a pair of broad square shoulders, I find the backpack sits better on them then the handbag.
        Occasionally, when I have to carry the big laptop assigned to me at work (no joke, it’s meant to be a 17.5″ mobile workstation), I use a carry-on size trolley instead of the backpack.
        All in all, I value practical comfort over femininity. My preference is to keep it simple and travel light. So i prefer to carry a bag on my back rather than multiples on each side of my shoulders. I use the trolley solution when the capacity requirements exceeded what my backpack could handle. I am comfortable with my backpack for its good mix of sporty professional look and feel.

        Hope you find a suitable bag and enjoy your morning walk soon : )

  3. Does anyone have thoughts about makeup for photos? I normally use a liquid foundation with SPF, and a Bare Minerals powder over it, but I keep hearing that SPF and mineral powders do not photograph well bc they make you look greasy. I have some special events coming up, and I’m wondering if it’s worth it to buy all new make up . . .

    • FormerPhotog :

      If it’s just one day (like headshots, or a portrait session), consider going into a Sephora and having them put your foundation on – I think that Makeup Forever’s HD line is the absolute best for being photographed – it was designed for use on HD camera.

      Mineral makeup tends to look very white under flash, simply due to how it’s made. I find that barrier SPF does the same, too, so if your regular foundation doesn’t have barriers in it, you can probably use that and either a different powder, or just blot before the photos are taken.

      Multiple events, I’d just try a different powder, or some blotting tissues instead of powder to mattify as needed.

      • Thanks a mil! I’ve got graduation events and a wedding coming up so I might have to invest in at least a powder. Do you recommend the MUFE HD powder?

        What is a barrier SPF? I use Bobbi Brown which has SPF 15 in it, but not sure if it is barrier?

        • FormerPhotog :

          I love the MUFE HD powder. I wish my skin didn’t hate it so! (Seriously, it makes people look airbrushed without being weirdly shimmery. Amazing, amazing stuff.

          Barrier SPF is zinc or titanium dioxides, rather than chemicals like benzophenone and octinoxate. Barrier SPF works really well to prevent sunburn – and that’s what makes some sunblocks look white or pasty when you put them on. Chemicals work better to screen UVA rays (and for me, they keep me from itching and breaking out in hives – can’t use the “natural” sunblocks at all – or mineral makeups)

      • I’m a photographer too & agree with this advice. Another line I really like is Armani foundation — it has really nice coverage.

    • I posted on here in the fall about having a “glowy” face in photos while wearing mineral powder foundation. Several people responded that it was the mica or other reflective materials in the powder that caused this.

      If you’re being photographed alone, it might be as obvious, but these were candid flash photos of me with several coworkers, and my face appeared to glow and levitate in front of my me, while my coworkers looked normal. And, yes they did show these photos to the entire conference group on three screens the next morning.

      I would probably switch to liquid foundation for the day, and maybe use a chemical rather than mineral sunscreen. I’m sure others can answer better about the alternatives. I just wanted to chime in to say, yes, SPF and mineral powders may not photograph well.

    • I haven’t had a problem with BM in photos. My wedding photographer told me he never had trouble but we did some practice photos and the only one where it was noticeable was a shot where half my face was in the shade and half in the sun and the photo itself was super overexposed on part of it (it was the first test shot) and all the wedding photos came out great. If you use the clear radiance you might have issues.

      I will say that the SPF issue has actually caused a few photos to have a glare depending on the lighting but when I put powder over it the problem seems to disappear.

  4. Anonymous :

    In college I bought a fabulous LL Bean messenger bag that had a separate bottom compartment for shoes, easily fit a laptop, notebook, textbooks, etc., and included both the messenger strap and backpack straps. You could wear it like a backpack when walking long distances or carrying a heavy load, or switch it to the messenger bag style for light loads/short distances. It was solid black and looked professional enough that I still carry it on business trips 10 years later. Alas, they do not appear to make it any more, but if there is something similar to that still in production I would highly recommend it.

  5. I am a banana. :

    I walk 2 miles every day and I use a Lo and Sons OMG bag that was featured here once. Fits a laptop, change of clothes, and my lunch, and has a crossbody strap and it is nylon so I don’t have to worry about rain/fog ruining my things. It has held up to 6 months of hard use and still looks great.

  6. I have two LeSportsac totes, the Everygirl and the Erika. I love how lightweight but sturdy they are. I definitely recommend them.

    I usually carry two bags, my LeSportsac with my gym clothes and lunch and a DKNY colorblock tote with my work stuff. I walk 1.5 miles each way to work. I think the best way to go if you want to carry a lot of stuff is to have two bags, not one, so you can balance out the weight a bit.

    • Auditor's Commute :

      I completely agree that carrying two bags is better than one! I have a small duffle that I carry gym clothes, heels (wear tennis shoes for me commute) and my lunch. I recently purchased the Outdoor Products’ Power Pack Glide which I carry my laptop, work papers and a bunch of computer accessories. The feature I love about this backpack is it holds a ton of stuff but stays relatively slim considering its a backpack. This is also very helpful when I am on the subway!

  7. I’ve seen men (of all ages) show up to court wearing backpacks, and double-strapping at that. Don’t judge yourself.

  8. What about a Timbuk2 bag in a neutral color? Not the sleekest things out there, but they are practical and will save your back. Link to follow.


      Here are all the ones designed for laptops. There are plenty of options in both messenger bag and backpack styles.

    • A guy I work with has a partial walking partial transit commute and carries a Timbuktu cross-body. I think he looks pretty cool with it on.

    • My boyfriend (also a laywer) carries one of thses – the cross body style in green. He doesn’t carry it everyday and usually not to court, but a few times a week it makes an appearance at the office.

      Also, if you really need to carry lots of stuff regularly including a laptop, what about a rolling bag? I see attorneys bring these to court fairly often, especially for hearings where they need the full files available. They’re not the most stylish option, but professionals use them and they will certainly spare your back the pain from carrying bags.

      • Maybe I had the wrong bag, but the one time I took a rolling bag over a long distance outside I found it to be the worlds biggest PITA. They don’t really seem designed for all the cracks and ledges found in the world outside the airport.

  9. I walk more than 2 miles each way with a 5-pound Lenovo. It would kill me if I did that with any of your recommendations. It may not look cool, but a backpack is the only sensible solution if you want your back to survive. Tumi has a number of professional options, but I do find they are built more for men and not short-waisted women (are you listening Tumi? Please pay attention to us!). I currently carry a Herschel with a laptop sleeve. Herschel is slightly hipster, but they are pretty plain.

    • I agree. This is one of those situations where I just don’t concede anything to fashion. Save your back!

  10. Anonymouse :

    I have to go with a wheeled bag — bad genes and years of carrying bags on my shoulders has left me with the choice of switching to a roller bag or getting surgery. I found one that I really like — the McKlein La Grange vertical bag. I found it on Amazon for about $150. It looks like I spent a whole lot more than that. I was originally looking at the Jack George Milano, but decided for the $225 price difference, I would the McKlein. I’m glad I did. It has more room than most rolling bags I looked at and has the option to take the case off the wheels. If I’m really loaded down with stuff, I can set another bag on top of it and still not have any weight on my shoulders. I’ve been stopped a couple of times by people to compliment the bag.

  11. I have this one:

    A family member gave it to me for law school graduation, and although it wasn’t what I wanted (I wanted leather; I’m not into coach unless it’s their originals collection), I’ve found it to be really comfortable for my 15 minute walk from my parking lot to my work building.

  12. You could try a Longchamp travel bag:

    That one has a crossbody strap that might help with weight distribution. It comes in brown and black, which both look reasonably professional, to me.

    Depending how much space you need, you could use a smaller one, maybe down to one of the larger Le Pliage, but those do not have a crossbody strap as far as I know. They come in many more colors, though.

  13. Speaking from experience, be careful with messenger bags. I have a coach one that I’ve been using for a couple years now. I carry it on my right shoulder, not across my body. From all the movement from walking, the bag wears out the right side of clothes. It actually wore a hole through the pocket of my quilted Burberry coat. I also noticed certain clothes would start to pill on that side from the friction too (dresses, skirts, etc.).

    • I agree. And I’ve also had my leather cross body bag get roughed up by my wool blend coat from the friction. I’m very careful how I wear cross body bags now.

  14. Sorry for the TJ. Reposting from earlier.


    I’m hoping this isn’t too late and you guys can help me out on a project I am working on. I’m finishing up a paper on different strategies that women to mitigate any disadvantages they may face in professional negotiation, either when there is an explicit power asymmetry or an implicit or perceived asymmetry (for e.g. women may perceive themselves to be at a disadvantage when discussing certain “traditionally male topics”. I have good data from surveys but I REALLY wanted some stories of specific examples or stories. So I’m asking here (!) and will hoping that you wonderful, successful, charming, brilliant women will weigh in.

    Can you give an example of a time in your career when you had to negotiate in a situation in which you had (or perceived yourself to have) less power? It can from a time when you were negotiating as part of your job, not just when, for example, agreeing salary. What was the power asymmetry? What was your strategy? How did you handle it? Even if it was ultimately unsuccessful. Please note, even if the answer is: I went in there and I was d*mn competent and it had nothing to do with gender, that’s still a great answer!

    Thank you so much!

    Read more:

  15. I could never walk to work (my commute is 25 miles each way), but for those who do, how do you handle inclement weather? Do you drive/take public transport those days, or do you just brave the elements?

    • I walk/take public transportation so when it rains/snows, I don’t have a choice. Rainboots have been the best investment. I wear them in rain, snow. I have a coat with a hood for that weather too. Not much you can do but grin and bear it!

    • Depends. If it’s hot (over 85), and especially if it’s hot and raining, I know I will be absolutely disgusting after a 30-minute walk so I take the bus. I enjoy walking in cool or cold weather, even in rain or snow. I will take the bus if I’m already carrying 2 bags and adding an umbrella to the mix will be difficult to manage.

      • Oh, and I will splurge on a taxi once in a blue moon. If I’m carrying work documents, it’s reimbursable anyway.

    • I don’t have a car, so I walk and take the Metro rain or shine or sweltering DC swamp weather.

    • I have a great full-length raincoat from Travelsmith, which has a hood (with a drawstring, so important if it is windy!). If it is flooding outside, I will wear waterproof hiking boots and change into my work shoes at the office, but if it is only mildly rainy I will wear black leather ankle boots that I can keep on.

      Regarding bags… if I am going into the office I normally carry a black tote bag that fits a ton of stuff, but on days when I can get away with it, I take my backpack, which has a hip strap as well as a chest strap, and a built-in waterproof cover. I wish they made it in dark grey, and with fewer straps and dangly bits, because then I would definitely take it everywhere!

    • Anonymous :

      Brave the elements because I don’t have a car. And have some choice words for inattentive drivers in the inclement weather.

    • Equity's Darling :

      I walk in the summer and when the weather is good, and otherwise (aka, all winter, and the few rainy spring/summer/fall days), take public transport.

      Winter is too terrible here to even consider walking most days (frostbite is an actual concern, even though I spend all of 4m outside on my 15m commute).

    • I live about a mile from the train station, and right near a bus stop, but I try to walk to the station as much as possible – it’s a guaranteed 15 min of excercise. I also live in Calgary, so although the heat isn’t an issue in summer at 7am when I’m walking, and we get fewer rainy days than many cities, winter is a concern.

      I stash my most-worn work shoes in my office and wear walking shoes or snow boots, and dress appropriately for the weather, meaning layers, snow boots, scarves, gloves, a down coat with a nice warm hood, etc. I use an umbrella if it’s raining (or my rain jacket with a huge hood) – but my hair is curly and loves the rain, so I don’t worry too much about getting my hair wet. Thankfully I’ve never had frostbite, and I’m glad I always have the bus as an option if I’m running behind (or just don’t want to brave the elements).

      • Equity's Darling :

        Ooooh, another Calgarian!

        • I wonder if we’ve ever seen each other on the train. I never have one blue fingernail or a hair band around my wrist, though.

    • I just brave the elements. I live in NYC. My walk isn’t that long though – about 15 minutes each way. I keep a ton of work shoes at the office and commute in flats, clogs, wedges or rain boots.

    • Braving the elements is rather exaggerated :-). I call it “dress for the weather”. You know, like have a really warm coat, a really waterproof raincoat, comfy shoes that don’t slip in the snow. Or conversely natural-fiber clothes and sunscreen.

    • Wow, these responses are so foreign to me. I’m from LA, which means I drive everywhere and always in 3.5″ heels.

  16. Does anyone have suggestions of how to carry things to and from law school? I’ll be walking anywhere from ten to thirty minutes and possibly on the subway (depends on route, speed, weather, etc.), but I’m the type of person to study at home, so I can’t just leave most of my books at the school.


    • I used a Coach hobo/tote style shoulder bag my first and second year when I lived 2 blocks from school. I could always carry things if needed and went home for lunch and between classes (this was my pre-library days). When I moved a little further away and for bar prep, I actually used a LL Bean tote bag and it held a TON! It is casual though so that’s the downside.

    • I walked 25 minutes to law school and, like you, preferred to get the h*ll out of there to study. I ended up carrying two bags (one on each shoulder, which I liked because it felt balanced) – a plain black leather C*ach tote (big enough for laptop and lunch/coffee) and then a plain black quilted Vera (nice and lightweight b/c cloth) to hold my books for the day. I still use both of them now that I’m working.

    • I was always a “study at home” person and I just forced myself to switch to studying in the library when I was in law school, and it actually turned out to be pretty productive for me (and that’s how I met my SO – so bonus!) …

      On the days when studying was not feasible, I would just make sure to carry the minimum: I’d take apart my materials or photocopy the book pages I needed so I wouldn’t be carrying textbooks, I made sure to have an extra charger in my locker so I didn’t have to carry one along with my laptop, I thought about every single thing that went in my bag and edited mercilessly, I gave up the heavy gorgeous leather “lawyer bag” that I bought for lawschool and switched to something very light weight with a supporting bottom … you get the idea.

    • 1. Get your books cut up. Take them to your local copy store and they will cut off the binding and rebind the book with spirals into sections (I usually do 3-4, mark them with postits). It costs me ~30$ per book (in NYC) but it’s totally worth it.

      2. 90% of the girls at my school have a Longchamp tote. It weighs nothing and fits everything. I’d suggest that or something similar.

      • Ditto on the sectioning your books. They’re easier to carry plus the spiraling makes them easier to read.

    • I used big leather totes from Coach. They were really heavy, but always looked nice. To me it was worth the tradeoff, because I hate the look of backpacks. I also only carried one, maybe two classes’ worth of books, plus laptop, plus food. I can’t imagine carrying more than that.
      I have one black, one brown. They are similar to the Chelsea Leather Shopper currently on their website, but a bit bigger (I think probably .5-1″ larger on all dimensions). I got mine at the outlet, each for around $200. They’ve held up amazingly well consider the abuse I put them through.

    • Several of my commuting friends would buy unbound textbooks or pay to have the bindings removed and have the pages hole-punched. They kept binders at home for each textbook but transferred all their reading for the week into a binder and carried that binder and their laptops back and forth to school.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      Funny story that will further out me to anyone who reads this that went to law school with me. I started law school recovering from a hairline fracture and separated AC joint (aka invisible injury). I discovered quickly that I couldn’t wear a backpack or carry a tote. Until I could find time to buy a proper bag, I through my crap in a suitcase and wheeled it to school. (I had to park at least 4 blocks from the building). A few people laughed and made jokes. Within a few weeks though, I started to see more suitcases! I started a trend!!!

      Once my shoulder had healed enough to wear something on it, I bought a North Face hiking bag w/ super padded straps. Many of my classmates also bought LL Bean hiking bags. I got the kind w/ the waist and chest strap. It worked and saved my shoulder from further damage.

    • Alanna of Trebond :

      1. Cut books into sections, if possible
      2. Depending on how many books you have to bring that day–if it is a lot, this requires a backpack that has a built in laptop sleeve, which I used frequently (particularly 1L & 2L when I had a lot of classes met each day)
      3. If you don’t have to bring as many books/might not need your laptop, I used two different bags: A Michael Kors tote with two outside pockets (which I LOVE) and a black Badgley Mischka bag that closes shut for more somber outfits. Both of these fit my laptop, but are hard to stuff with more than one or two books.
      4. My law school also has coat check & lockers.

    • I often walked my 1L year (up and down a large hill) and I carried a Spire laptop backpack. It had room for 1-2 books (I could do 3, but that was too heavy for me, so I avoided that whenever I could) and a rigid + padded compartment for my laptop. It also had waist and chest straps like the LL Bean hiking bag already mentioned. Not cute, but more practical for walking through the city. Many of my classmates used rolling bags.

    • I recommend listening to these ideas of cutting up the books. I always used a backpack to carry my books and laptop on the train. It was so heavy–and I tried a new backpack each year! I am not sure my back has recovered. So in retrospect, I wish I had gotten one of those bags with wheels or had tried one of those options to cut up the text books. Also a good idea to keep extras of things like chargers at school to the extent that you can.

      Good luck!

  17. I highly recommend Dooney & Bourke, especially the Dillen II collection but also Portofino, Florentine, and others. The Dillen II medium zipper pocket sac is huge without looking it, and you can fit a few files in it if necessary. Some of the other styles will fit a laptop. Look on the D&B website for the biggest selection.

  18. Longchamp seems to work for me…but I guess I don’t LOAD it with stuff.

  19. This much weight, over 2 miles, regularly? You need a properly designed hiker’s backpack, or you’ll wreck your back.

    • Marie Curie :

      This. I only wear backpacks and I don’t care if that’s “weird” or unfashionable (it probably is). I can’t even do cross-body bags — too much pressure on one side. Every other woman in my class seems to carry a big handbag, but my shoulders and back thank me, especially when I need to take a laptop. (When I had a summer job last year, I used a small handbag because there was less stuff to schlep around. I actually felt like I was missing something on my back.)

      • My back went out for the first time when I was about 25. That much pain will make a believer out of the most dedicated fashionista!