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Messenger Bags vs. Backpacks for School

by Stephanie Petersen

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Are you shopping for a bag to take back to school this year? You'll carry that bag every day, so you want it to have the right features and the perfect style. Which is the best for you: a messenger bag or a backpack? Each one has pros and cons, so you'll want to ask yourself a few questions and consider all your options before you choose.

Messenger Bags and Backpacks:

  1. How much do I carry? Most messenger bags are spacious, so they can hold as much stuff as a backpack. However, if you carry several heavy textbooks regularly, you may prefer the way a backpack distributes the weight across your back. Backpacks often have more interior compartments to organize all of your things.

  2. Do I need to access items quickly? Because your messenger bag hangs by your side, getting to a ringing cell phone or a pen to jot down notes is easy. With a backpack, the zippers and flaps are behind you, making it trickier to reach your stuff in a hurry, although some have pockets on the shoulder straps to keep small items, like a cell phone or a few pens, on your chest.

  3. Do I ride my bike to school? Many bike riders prefer the weight distribution of a backpack, but some report that it makes their backs sweaty. You could look for one designed with air flow in mind; check the product description if this is a concern of yours. While many people wear messenger bags hanging off one shoulder, these bags were created for bicycle messengers, who wear them across their bodies and tighten the straps enough that the weight doesn't feel uneven while they ride. If you don't mind cinching the strap tight, then you could wear it on a bike like they do.

  4. What's my style? Both backpacks and messenger bags come in many materials and colors, so you can find one to suit any taste. Overall, though, backpacks have a sporty feel while messenger bags tend to be dressier. The bag you choose will be an accessory to all your outfits, so think about what will match your wardrobe.

  5. How much comfort do I need? If you wear a heavy backpack for many hours a day -- walking to school, around campus and back home again -- look for one with padded straps. Some backpacks have an additional waist strap for heavier loads. Many messenger bags have a sliding shoulder pad on the strap; this is often enough for all but the heaviest loads.

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