33

It's starting to pop up at my work place with acceptance, but I want to know what consensus is like for other workplaces/American working environment at large.

I'm in my late-twenties and currently three years in with a large distribution firm. Our company sponsors a variety of leadership development events, and at many of these has provided backpacks custom embroidered with the company logo.

I see these in daily use often enough to notice, but still relatively infrequent. Typically used in place of a laptop or leather bag, that is. The company-sponsored backpacks have encouraged several others to use their own personal backpacks. It's mostly managers, directors, and VPs I see with these--rarely if ever analysts, and I don't think I've seen anyone senior to a VP with one.

So while this seems to be accepted well enough within my own company, I'd like to know how prevalent or accepted this is in most other work places. It surprises me because, I suppose, it strikes me as a very lax or personal approach to handling business content and affairs. I know briefcases have gone the wayside for some time, but I'm surprised how accepted it's become here to look like (what I think) a meandering college student.

closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, Masked Man, AndreiROM, Jim G., user9158 Apr 10 '16 at 22:17

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 79
    If you bike to work, a backpack is basically the only reasonable choice. – Brandin Apr 8 '16 at 13:21
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Apr 9 '16 at 11:04
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    “I'm surprised how accepted it's become here to look like (what I think) a meandering college student” What’s wrong with being a college student? A college degree is probably a requirement of the job. – Paul D. Waite Apr 9 '16 at 15:54
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    if people are wearing them, then obviously, yes, it is accepted – Kilisi Apr 10 '16 at 12:53
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    And what's wrong with meandering? – Nolo Problemo Apr 12 '16 at 18:26
61

It is becoming more prevalent for several reasons, especially in the cities.

  1. Many people are taking mass transit and it's more convenient, especially if your commute involves a good degree of walking
  2. It's a bit of theft prevention. if it doesn't look like a laptop bag, it's less likely to get stolen
  3. The culture itself is getting more relaxed. The briefcase is going the way of the Fedora in the business environment.
  • 1
    Backpacks are ubiquitous in the commuter systems in Washington, DC. The only other carrying device that I see nearly as often as backpacks are rolling luggage. I think some people are actually commuting to and from work with so much stuff that they have rolling luggage for it. Everyone else using the luggage is probably taking mass transit to an airport, train station, or bus terminal. – Todd Wilcox Apr 8 '16 at 16:26
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    I imagine a backpack is better for your back if your things are heavy because it distributes it evenly across both sides instead of a single shoulder. – Captain Man Apr 8 '16 at 17:51
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    Specific to number 3 the culture is getting more relaxed and the style is just changing. Briefcase laptop bags used to be the trend for newly appointed laptop-carrying power workers. They looked young and resourceful because hey, he has a laptop, he must be pretty smart. Now that we have had to look at those for going on 15 years, the backpack equivalent is coming up as the younger (hence more desirable) version of the same. Fashion trends will probably reverse in 10-15 years when we get tired of the backpacks. – Jeff Meden Apr 8 '16 at 20:40
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    Also, briefcases were designed to hold paperwork, pens, and the like. Those are not as fundamental now since we're so electronic. Thus briefcases are generally obsolete. A packpack holds a laptop or pad, as well as lunch. Also, a briefcase would not wear or wrinkle a suit. Now that we don't wear suits as often, another barrier to the more useful backpack is gone. – Tony Ennis Apr 9 '16 at 17:51
  • @TonyEnnis And you can still carry paperwork, pens, etc. in the backpack, too! – JAB Jan 23 '17 at 21:25
29

From what I have experienced backpacks are very accepted. Avoid your daughter's Barbie or a climbing pack; there are many business/school packs that look professional. In a suit, go with a dark or leather pack.

If you drive to work and go in and out of a lot of meetings then a briefcase may be more convenient. You will see more VPs with briefcases as such is more formal and also fits the typical nature of the job.

In the tech industry a backpack, where practicality trumps appearance, is a norm. For an attorney presenting papers to a client or in court, where formal appearance is more important, a brief case is the norm.

Taking off a pack is more commotion, so if I am going into a meeting or someone's office office I will just take it off and carry it like a brief case. You can find square packs that look a lot like a soft brief case.

A backpack with a laptop sleeve, especially one with a couple of small pockets, facilitates bringing a lunch and/or gym clothes to work in the backpack without having to carry them around all day in the backpack.

Backpacks can be more convenient as your hands are free and you are balanced. I think a backpack is more secure as you are not setting it down.

For business travel a pack is the way to go. Why use up your personal item on a brief case? Why carry a briefcase? Get a pack that will fit under the seat in front of you. Airlines will publish some pretty small numbers for personal item but from my experience if you can squeeze it under the seat they will let you on.

With the extra space over a briefcase I like to carry a light jacket. I go into server rooms but you can also find yourself in a cold meeting room.

  • If in the Pacific Northwest, any 'outdoor' pack smaller than a full-frame pack would be acceptable. ;) – blaughw Apr 8 '16 at 17:01
  • Boys can have Barbie backpacks too. Indeed, men and women can too. – smci Apr 9 '16 at 19:07
  • I can confirm for the technology industry. – Kimberly W Apr 10 '16 at 20:57
19

I carry a backpack for two reasons:

  1. I haul a LOT of gear

    • two laptops
    • two backup drives
    • 6-port usb hub
    • power strip
    • tablet
    • ipod
    • lunch
    • water bottle
    • headphones
    • power bricks for everything
    • thumb drives
    • cables
    • tool set (hex wrenches, screw drivers)
    • duct tape
    • para cord

    (Yes, I use all that stuff on a regular basis!)

  2. It is easier on my body back if I carry all that weight (25-30 lbs / 11-14 kg) on my back with both shoulder straps.

I've worn my backpack in very lax environments (startups) as well as in more formal settings (corporate headquarters, business casual).

If someone in authority said my backpack was inappropriately "casual" or somesuch nonsense, then I would happily expense a more appropriate model:

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    omg a thousand dollar backpack. I've seen it all. – Tab Alleman Apr 8 '16 at 19:15
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    So, does a monogram add or detract from a thousand dollar backpack? I'm in the tech industry - thus fashion challenged - so I needs to know. – davidbak Apr 9 '16 at 3:40
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    Not really relevant but I'd question carrying backup drives in backpack. If anything happens to originals (got stolen, crashed in car accident etc.) it would likely affect the backups too. – Maciej Piechotka Apr 9 '16 at 15:31
  • @TabAlleman: have you seen the Lotuff Leather backpack, it smaller and cost more ( $1,300)? – jmoreno Apr 10 '16 at 5:32
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    @stannius: I didn't say that the statement would be true, but you can still tell people that... :-) – Bob Jarvis Apr 11 '16 at 16:57
5

If carrying a backpack makes you look like a "meandering college student" it's probably because of how you're dressed. Carrying a briefcase in shorts and a t-shirt isn't going to make you look professional.

How you arrive at work shouldn't be that big of a deal. I've worked at places that required a coat and tie, but I didn't always wear the tie into work and the coat ended up on the back of a chair.

Meeting with clients or going to a meeting is another situation especially if you're in a high dress-code company or industry. Leave the backpack at your desk.

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    Were you a scientist working at Black Mesa? youtu.be/5Qf8Ehinrc8 – Marc.2377 Apr 10 '16 at 4:20
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    @Marc.2377 - it felt like it at the time ;) – user8365 Apr 11 '16 at 22:37
4

I have been bringing a backpack to the workplace for over 30 years now (since graduation from university). I plan on bringing my book bag / backpack until it dies.

I find that briefcases are uncomfortable to carry and can't squish into places like drawers. Also, they can't be thrown into the clothes washer to be cleaned.

As others have said, book bags / backpacks are easier to carry on mass transit such as buses and trains. I would use mine as a pillow on the train.

I'm to the point where I would rather be judged on my abilities than my wardrobe and accoutrements.

4

This really depends on the type of workplace. With most tech companies (and not just startups) it is a non-issue. Appearance can be important, but extending policy to the type of bag one carries seems overly rigid for the average workplace. Unlike your clothes, the backpack is normally used to get your stuff into the office, and then take it home after work. Unless you are using it as an accessory, or to shuttle your laptop into meeting rooms, its impact on business appearance is minimal. You might as well start demanding that people drive to work in black limousines.

3

Yes, using backpacks is accepted in most US workplaces. In fact, I would venture to say in terms of how you bring your stuff to and from your car/other transit to your cube/office/whatever - in general no one cares. Backpacks, messenger bags, rolling bags, reusable shopping bags, I've seen it all... When I started working in a variety of office environments 25 years ago it was less common and briefcases or portfolio bags were more common, but starting about 15 years ago (I've worked at a variety of companies in a variety of states) I'd say backpacks and "whatever else you want" have become the rule. Backpacks are generally used more when someone has a bunch of stuff they need to bring (laptop, gear, clothes) and are of course less popular if you're bringing nothing/a couple folders to and from.

If you interact with customers especially in formal environments, then any bag you take to that environment (which may be different from whatever you brought your lunch in to your desk) should be more formal, of course. But that's more of a "in your workplace" vs "front facing" issue and some people have a separate bag for that the way they keep a blazer hanging in their office for those occasions.

If your workplace is stylish/politicized (aren't they all in some way) then you may be judged/categorized by some folks by the kind of bag you use, clothes you wear, and car you drive, so you may see clustering of "like" bag use in certain segments similar to Burhan's answer. So bag use may or may not help you fit in with a given peer group.

2

I know you asked specifically for an American workplace, but I thought I would throw my hat in coming from a very traditional suit-wearing workplace (a bank) on what I see during the morning and evening elevator commute:

Even for us, the traditional suitcase has gone by the way of:

  1. Rolling laptop bag, yes like the kind you would take on a weekend trip. One of the CEOs carries this.

  2. A laptop bag / case. Normally black with no embellishments.

  3. A "modern" bag (usually Tumi or some such), carried by middle management. Rarely includes a laptop.

  4. Messenger style bags; usually by middle-managers. Still very muted and austere.

  5. Logo'd messenger bags and backpacks; carried by IT support crowd.

  6. A modern messenger/backpack. Carried by a few.

If we see a suitcase, its usually carried by a company rep.

1

I'm unsure how common it is. Last job I had I would put my gym clothes in a backpack and take it to work. I noticed several people carried backpacks but not by much.

At my current job we all have backpacks to carry our laptops. This is a small size team and not a company wide accessory. So it's common within the team I'm in but uncommon within the entirety of the company.

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