Work Backpack vs. Briefcase – Which Works Best For You?

man holding a briefcase in hotel lobby

In the past two decades, laptop briefcases and professional backpacks, also called “business backpacks”, have climbed the corporate ranks at lightning speed. Today, the work backpack, brief, or laptop bag has mostly replaced the traditional, rectangular, hardsided briefcase, once considered the most important accessory for any businessman or woman.

The old fliptop briefcase was a symbol of professionalism and worked great for execs and attorneys toting paperwork or business briefs to and from work and court. But the advent of laptop computers and tablets, along with a substantial increase in business travel, commuters, and remote workers, proved to be more than the briefcase could handle.

Enter, the business brief – a briefcase for laptops, created in the 1980's. Still popular today, the brief has been joined by the business backpack and travel backpack on the “must have” list of work bags essential for business and travel.

Over 35 years later, laptop backpacks and briefs have evolved almost as much as the laptop itself. Modern business backpacks and computer bags are lighter, can handle more, and are carried by most professionals and college students, as well as business and leisure travelers.

As the popularity of professional backpacks and briefs have soared, so has the selection of business bags available. Work bags and professional backpacks now range from smaller profile bags–like slim laptop backpacks and women’s briefs–to all-in-one totes that combine a briefcase for laptops with separate storage for tablets, paperwork, and even a change of clothes. Read more about which luggage size is right for you here.

different backpacks and briefs

Whether you commute, work from home, go to an office, or just travel for pleasure, chances are you already haul your laptop, tablet, or other devices around in a tote bag, business briefcase or backpack of some type. But is your travel or work bag working for you?

Does it protect your devices with padded laptop compartments or tablet and phone pockets? Can you charge your devices on the go? Is it water resistant? Does it provide quick access to other necessities, like water bottles, keys and cellphones? What about your other needs? Would it be ideal to have a bag that also fits your gym clothes, a suit and tie, or sweater? What you carry is as important as how you carry it, whether you prefer a shoulder bag or shoulder straps.

So, how do you decide between a travel / work backpack vs. briefcase, rolling tote, or other bag? And which work bag, business backpack or laptop briefcase is right for you? Below, we demystify your choices to help you find the best travel and work companion for your needs.

Work and/or Travel? It’s in the Bag…Backpack… and Brief

To keep your laptop computer or tablet safe while working and traveling, look no further than a durable laptop briefcase, business backpack, travel tote with built-in padded laptop pockets, or a carry-on with dedicated laptop storage space. Travelpro® makes rolling and non-rolling laptop bags for a wide variety of needs in designs and colors to match your personal style.

platinum elite business backpack with laptop pocket

Business Bags that Go the Distance

When you have to carry books, extra equipment, or need a bag that can play double duty as a small suitcase and business briefcase, a wheeled brief or larger travel backpack are great choices.

Travelpro® offers a wide variety of extremely strong but lightweight travel bags designed to protect your electronics and keep your business essentials organized wherever you roam. For short trips, try an all-in-one tote or backpack that offers padded storage for laptops and tablets plus ample space for a change of clothes or two and other overnight needs.

Rolling All-in One Laptop Luggage

Whether you are traveling, commuting, or just protecting your back from hauling heavy computer equipment and paperwork, rolling laptop luggage is ideal for lightening your load.

The Maxlite® 5 Rolling Underseat Carry-One is a perfect lightweight option designed to fit under the seat on most domestic airplanes. Like traveling with a personal assistant, this compact wheeled bag solves needs with everything from a padded laptop / tablet sleeve to a removable, hanging, wet pocket, perfect for cosmetics or office supplies.

In a similar profile to the Maxlite® bag, the Crew™ VersaPack™ Rolling Underseat Carry-on also offers roomy interior space for clothing and shoes along with padded laptop and tablet storage. An external USB port lets you charge your devices anywhere using your own external power bank (not included) that stays tucked in a dedicated side pocket. A removable hanging organizer offers water-resistant compartments, and two side pockets fit a water bottle and other needs. With ultra-strong wheels, corner guards, and other built-in armor, expect this compact carry-on to look great mile after mile.

crew versapack rolling underseat carry-on interior with laptop/tablet pocket, removable organizer and external usb port

Multiple zippered compartments on the the Crew™ Executive Choice™ 2 Wheeled Brief are designed for storing files and other business essentials separately from clothing. This great-looking briefcase for laptops and more also features USB charging capabilities using an external power bank (not included) and a Travelpro®ID TheftBlock™ pocket that keeps credit cards and passports protected against loss and identity theft.

Portable “Offices” for Travel and Daily Use

If a mobile office on wheels isn’t your speed, a non-rolling business brief might be your bag.

The Crew™Executive Choice™ 2 Pilot Brief puts you in command with many of the same features as the Wheeled Brief in a smaller profile. Complete with signature leather details, this bag is big on style and function, featuring multiple pockets, built-in organization, and the same impressive warranty as the rest of the Crew™ Executive Choice™ 2 collection. Carrying options include carry handles, a comfortable padded shoulder strap, and a rear strap for stacking on top of a wheeled bag.

For packing flexibility, the Platinum® Elite Expandable Business Brief offers a zippered expansion option for increased packing capacity when needed and luxurious design details that stand out with style.

Opt to wear your business gear with a backpack sized to fit your work and everything you need for a night or weekend away. With ample packing space and plenty of features, the Crew™ Executive Choice™ 3 Large Backpack offers endless uses. It’s a well organized satellite office, an all-in-one for short trips, a stackable companion to your other luggage, and your new favorite personal bag with built-in USB A and C charging ports with fast-charge capabilities. (Battery not included.)

Crew executive choice 3 medium and large backpack features: built-in USB A and C ports, sunglass pocket, earbud storage, laptop/tablet pockets

The Travelpro® Crew™ Executive Choice™ 3 Medium Top Load Backpack also stacks well, packs plenty, and lets you fast charge on the go with external USB A and C ports and a dedicated pocket for your backup battery (not included). A wraparound zipper on top of the bag adds unique flair and convenient access to contents.

Slimming Down Without Sacrifice

Prefer a sleeker bag that still holds plenty? For laptop briefcases, check out the Platinum® Elite Slim Business Brief and Platinum® Elite Women’s Brief – both beautifully styled in a variety of palettes and finished with lots of built-in organization inside out. Laptops and tablets store in padded sleeves, pockets keep supplies where they belong, and quality construction backed by Travelpro® warranties give you lasting peace of mind.

You can also banish bulk with a backpack sized for daily use that also works well as travel companion to your other luggage. The elegantly slim Platinum® Elite Women’s Backpack is big on utility but not on size, with built-in padded laptop and tablet sleeves, numerous compartments, and a rear strap for stacking on a rolling bag. Padded, adjustable straps ensure comfort even when packed full. 

platinum elite women's brief

The Crew™ Executive Choice™ 3 Slim Backpack is another great option for daily use or travel. Beautifully appointed inside out, bonus features include an exterior top-zip sunglass pocket, Travelpro® ID TheftBlock™ pocket, padded airflow back panel for comfort, and padded shoulder straps with dedicated strap pocket for earbud storage.

Plan for Success

Whichever style and model you choose, your work bag should make your work easier, just like great travel bags make travel easier. Look for padded laptop compartments, water resistant materials, built-in organization, and comfort features like padded and adjustable straps. Plus, a great warranty will help protect your investment. Just like a well-packed suitcase, your work backpack, brief, or tote will help you be your best no matter where you roam.

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Guide to Luggage Size  Hardside vs. Softside  2 Wheel vs. 4 Wheel  Guide to Carry-On Luggage  Guide to Lightweight Luggage  Backpack vs. Briefcase  Why Use a Garment Bag?  Guide to USB Luggage