Backpacks Vs. Briefcases: Differences Compared For Work

As a modern professional, you may be wondering what kind of bag is more suitable for the workplace: backpack or briefcase? 

It might seem like an unimportant question, but appearances matter. The type of bag you choose to carry makes a statement about you and influences how others see you. That makes it every bit as important as your suit, shoes, or watch.  

In this battle of the bags, we’ll be comparing backpacks vs. briefcases to see which is best for work and business. We’ll also discuss the similarity and differences between the two. Let’s get started!  

Pros & Cons of Backpacks

In a nutshell, a backpack is a sack attached to two adjustable shoulder straps. It’s typically worn on the back, which is where the name comes from. 

Backpacks have been around for a very long time - their roots can be traced all the way back to ancient Scandinavian voyagers. However, modern backpacks didn’t appear until around 1910.  

They can be used to carry items hands-free, which makes them a versatile bag. They’re used by students, soldiers, and cyclists as both a place to carry items and a fashion accessory. Larger backpacks are also commonly used by people who travel as a form of luggage.  


  • Greater versatility
    Backpacks can be used to carry items of all shapes and sizes.
  • Larger carrying capacity
    Backpacks typically offer more storage space than briefcases
  • Hands-free
    Backpacks can be worn on the back instead of held
  • Popular fashion accessory
    Backpacks can be used to complement your outfit.
  • Even weight distribution
    Thanks to the shoulder straps, backpacks distribute weight equally across the body, making them more comfortable.


  • Can look immature
    Backpacks are associated with students and younger people.
  • Cheaper-looking
    Backpacks tend to be made with lower-quality materials than briefcases.
  • Less sophisticated
    Backpacks lair the air of sophistication and style that briefcases have.
  • Inconvenient
    Backpacks have to be taken on and off, making them a little less convenient to get things in and out of.
black backpack on bench

Pros & Cons of Briefcases 

There are many different types of briefcases (including satchels, attache cases, and portfolios). However, they all share certain features. Briefcases tend to be rectangular and flat in design and are worn by the side rather than on the back. 

Some briefcases are worn with a shoulder strap, but most are designed to be carried in the hand by a handle. Certain briefcases only have one single internal space, but others may have external pockets.  

Due to their flat design, briefcases are used for carrying flat items like papers, laptops, tablets, and books. In the past, they were used by lawyers to carry ‘briefs’ into court, which is where the name ‘briefcase' is derived from. 

These days, they’re mostly used by business people and professionals in the workplace.  


  • Quick access
    because they’re already by your side, briefcases are ideal for quickly getting items in and out of your bag.
  • Formal and professional-looking
    briefcases are a status symbol and are well-suited to formal occasions. They can also help you to present the right image at work.
  • Less bulky
    briefcases are usually less big and bulky than backpacks, making them more convenient in certain instances.
  • Style and sophistication
    Briefcases might not be as fashionable as backpacks, but they offer a unique sense of style and sophistication.
  • Maturity
    Unlike backpacks, briefcases aren’t commonly used by students. Therefore, they convey a sense of maturity.


  • Overly-formal
    Briefcases can look overly formal if used on the wrong occasions (you might look a little odd taking a briefcase to the gym).
  • Discomfort
    study from 2008 found that briefcases shift the user’s center of gravity substantially. This can cause postural sway and discomfort. 
  • Not suitable for rounder or bulkier items
    briefcases are slender and won’t typically fit large items or round items.
  • Not hands-free
    Most briefcases have to be held in the hands.
brown suitcase

Backpack Vs. Briefcase (Key Differences & Which Is Best?)  

Next, we’ll look at some more key differences between backpacks and briefcases and what each one is best for. 

1. Style & Design 

Briefcases are generally made of high-quality materials like leather and metal buckles. Backpacks, on the other hand, are usually made from materials like canvas, nylon, and polyester which are generally cheaper. As a result, briefcases have a more 'upmarket,' sophisticated style.  

That being said, backpacks are more trendy and fashionable in a more casual way. The best choice for you will depend on what kind of style you’re going for.  

2. Carrying Capacity 

Another difference between backpacks and briefcases is in the carrying capacity. Because backpacks have dual-strap support and better weight distribution, they can typically hold more than briefcases. Depending on the size, the average backpack can carry anywhere from 10 to 50 liters. 

Briefcases, on the other hand, tend to have lower carrying capacities. The usable space is also less due to the slender design. You should be able to fit your books, folders, and laptop/gadgets in there, but you’ll struggle to get anything larger or bulkier than that.  

Overall, if carrying capacity is a priority, a backpack is probably the best choice. 

3. For Laptops/MacBooks 

Briefcases are rectangular and therefore an excellent choice for carrying laptops or MacBooks. In fact, many people who use briefcases prefer them specifically for this reason. That being said, some backpacks can be suitable for carrying laptops too. Just make sure you choose one with a built-in padded laptop compartment, rectangular shape, and enough space.  

If you have a larger laptop (17”), you’ll need a backpack or briefcase with at least 19” in length to allow space with a couple of inches of clearance.  

4. For Business/Work 

Briefcases are ideal for business and work for two reasons: 

Firstly, if you commute on cramped public transport, a briefcase allows you to avoid inadvertently whacking the people next to you with your backpack (we’ve all been there). 

Secondly, briefcases have also long been a symbol of corporate success. This might be less true today than it was a couple of decades ago, but briefcases can still help to confer legitimacy to the user. If you’re a high-flying exec aiming for a promotion, a briefcase can help you to present the right kind of image. 

Backpacks can be useful for work in certain situations (such as if you cycle to work and need to go hands-free, or if you work in a casual office environment). However, in most cases, a briefcase is the better choice. 

5. For School/College 

Backpacks have long been a popular choice amongst students. Not only do they offer more room for all your stationery and textbooks, but they’re also easier to carry around with you all day. 

Briefcases look very formal and aren’t usually appropriate for school or college (unless you attend a very elite private school where this is part of the uniform).  

6. For Travel 

Backpacks win hands down when it comes to travel. This is especially true for long-term 'adventure travel' (there’s a reason it's called 'backpacking').  

Large travel backpacks offer adequate space for all your clothes and other belongings you need to take with you. Many are also designed with special anti-theft features to keep your stuff safe on your travels. 

Briefcases, on the other hand, offer very little room. They’re not suitable for travel unless you’re just using them as hand luggage, alongside the rest of your luggage. 

7. Price 

Briefcases tend to cost more than backpacks. Expect to pay around $100 at the lower end to $1000 at the luxury end of the market.  

Backpacks tend to be much more affordable. They can cost as little as $10 at the budget end of the market. However, premium fashion backpacks and highly-specialized backpacks can cost up to and over $400. 

woman using laptop

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Should Your Briefcase Match Your Shoes?  

As a general rule, it's a good idea to match the primary color of your briefcase to your shoes. That being said, fashion changes all the time, and ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. If in doubt, a neutral color like black will go with most shoes.  

Are Briefcases Only Used By Men?  

No! Women can, and often do, wear briefcases too. However, most briefcases are designed with men’s fashion in mind. Most women opt for a stylish tote, handbag, or women’s backpack instead. 

What Is The Difference Between A Briefcase And An Attache Case?  

An attache case is a specific style of briefcase - one that is small, thin, symmetrical, and usually opens into two distinct compartments. 

Can You Wear A Backpack With A Suit?

Yes, you can. However, a briefcase tends to be more well-suited to a suit as it looks more formal and professional. You have to be aware that, how you wear it depends on the type of backpack you have.


That concludes our comparison of backpacks vs. briefcases. So, what’s the final verdict? Overall, we’d recommend backpacks for casual, day-to-day use and briefcases for the workplace and formal occasions. 

We hope this helps! 

  • Updated November 3, 2021