The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Messenger Bags

Thursday August 22, 2019
Messenger bags and bikes go together like peanut butter and jelly. We made sure to try every bag on a bike when packed to its max in order to fully assess both comfort and functionality.
Messenger bags and bikes go together like peanut butter and jelly. We made sure to try every bag on a bike when packed to its max in order to fully assess both comfort and functionality.

Selection Process


To find the best bags for our review, we started with an initial list of over 60 popular products. After much deliberation and debate, we decided on the top 8, singled out based on brand reputation, previous reviewer experiences, and a complex amalgamation of factors that included everything from intricate spreadsheets to simple personal likes and dislikes based on the common user. We then purchased these bags from ordinary online retailers (we don't want any special treatment or hookups) and ran them through a series of both objective and subjective tests. Ultimately, we rated each bag for its performance across the six categories we selected as most relevant to messenger bags: Comfort, Packing & Organization, Electronics, Ease of Use, Wear & Tear, and Volume-to-Weight Ratio.

We tested some of the best messenger bags around to find out which ones stand out and which ones are best left at home.
We tested some of the best messenger bags around to find out which ones stand out and which ones are best left at home.

Testing Metrics



Comfort


To assess this relatively subjective category, we commuted on foot, bike, ferry, bus, and car, noting any issues that developed over the short- and long-term. We tried to spend as much time in as many different scenarios as possible to get a full picture of the limits, strengths, and weaknesses of each model. Padding, adaptability, ergonomics, and versatility are all factors that played into this metric and are discussed in detail.

For months we carried around every bag in this review  packed to the gills and in all manner of scenarios  to figure out which are the most comfortable and user-friendly.
For months we carried around every bag in this review, packed to the gills and in all manner of scenarios, to figure out which are the most comfortable and user-friendly.

Packing & Organization


We established a typical "test load" for this metric which we tried out with each bag. As we packed and unpacked, we recorded how much of the load each model could carry, and if the bag was still comfortable when it was overstuffed and heavy. We also paid attention to pockets and zippers — some bags it was easy and natural to find a place for all our belongings, no matter how big or small or oddly-shaped they were. With other bags — even if they had a lot of pockets or features — everything felt awkward and unintuitive. Packing and unpacking a bag multiple times a day reveals very quickly if it's a good fit for your lifestyle.

We created a standard kit of everyday items to test each bag's capacity.
We created a standard kit of everyday items to test each bag's capacity.

Electronics


This is a critical category for a lot of people because so much of our lives nowadays — both personally and professionally — are dependent on gadgets and gizmos. We noted how optimally a laptop, tablet, phone, and various cords could be stashed and organized in each bag and how well our electronics were padded and secured. This included paying attention to aspects such as water resistance and durability.

While we loved the lightweight and versatile Mission Sling for a lot of things and were able to fit a 13" laptop inside  there's no dedicated sleeve or padding for such things. Leave it up to the OGL staff to figure out what you can - but shouldn't! - do.
While we loved the lightweight and versatile Mission Sling for a lot of things and were able to fit a 13" laptop inside, there's no dedicated sleeve or padding for such things. Leave it up to the OGL staff to figure out what you can - but shouldn't! - do.

Ease of Use


We decided how easy each bag was to use by, as mentioned above, packing, unpacking, and repacking each one over and over again. We paid attention to the placement of pockets, zipper functionality, the intuitiveness (or not) of the internal layout, the ease (or lack thereof) of strap adjustments, the fluidity of getting the bag on and off our bodies, and many other small subtleties along the way. While much of this assessment will depend on what you plan to carry and by what means you commute, we offer a lot of useful information in each review to help guide your purchase.

Just because a bag has tons of features doesn't mean it will be easier to use. If it's not well-designed or it's the wrong layout for your personal needs  daily usage will become more of a headache than a pleasure.
Just because a bag has tons of features doesn't mean it will be easier to use. If it's not well-designed or it's the wrong layout for your personal needs, daily usage will become more of a headache than a pleasure.

Wear & Tear


We beat up these bags on various laps to the grocery store, multiple bike rides, crowded flights, and long dusty road trips — just to name a few things. We braved both rain and sun, urban jungles and trails, to find the strengths and weaknesses of each contender. We even sprayed them down with a garden hose to test waterproofness.

The bags in our review were not safe from anything during our rigorous testing period.
The bags in our review were not safe from anything during our rigorous testing period.

Volume-to-Weight Ratio


To gather data for this metric, we weighed each bag when empty, then stuffed them with ziplock bags full of water or soft non-compressible items matching the volume each manufacturer claimed the bag should fit. Just because something says it will hold 10 liters doesn't mean it can do it as well or as easily as another bag of the same size. From there, we took measured volume and divided it by the measured weight to determine a number that represents how many ounces of bag you have to carry per liter of capacity. This number is quite useful if you want to maximize available space while keeping your carrying vessel as light as possible.

Each bag was subjected to rigorous scrutiny and testing procedures in order to determine it's limits and practical usability.
Each bag was subjected to rigorous scrutiny and testing procedures in order to determine it's limits and practical usability.