Messenger bags were originally produced for exactly what they are named after – carrying mail and messages. In the old days, they were filled with essential or secure pieces of mail that were too valuable to be carried in the saddlebags worn by horses in the Pony Express, which was the predecessor to today’s US Postal Service.
A tactical messenger bag is a versatile piece of gear, consisting of a briefcase-sized bag with many different shapes and sizes of utility compartments. They’re a perfect type of bag to carry items you might need for a short excursion, workday, a day at the beach, or any other action-filled activity that requires you to take more items than you can carry but still want to travel light.
By utilizing a chest strap, the valuables could be attached directly to the letter carrier, and if the horse with the mail was stolen, the shoulder strap acted as a bit of a rudimentary security device, as it would take more effort on the part of those wishing to rob the carrier of his belongings than if these were on the back of the horse. Carriers also used them hold essential pieces of mail or their own belongings that they would need on the trip.
This tradition continues today for mail carriers that have to walk from box to box on their route versus those who drive up to each box using a mail truck. The bag increases the amount of mail that they are able to carry on each walking trip, and thereby increases the mail-carriers efficiency. However, in today’s world, many other professions and activities take advantage of these versatile pieces of storage equipment besides letter carriers.
- Here Are the Best Tactical Messenger Bags
- 1. UTG Multi-functional Tactical Messenger Bag (Budget Pick)
- 2. Lifewit Laptop Messenger Bag Briefcase
- 3. Tactical RUSH Lima by 511 (Recommended)
- 4. Direct Action Messenger Bag
- 5. Tactical Briefcase Military Laptop Messenger Bag
- 6. SHANGRI-LA Multi-functional Messenger Bag
- 7. Tactical 5.11 Unisex Adult Patrol Ready Bag
- 8. GES Tactical Laptop Bag
- 9. Mobile Edge ECO Laptop Messenger Bag
- 10. SOG Responder Bag
- 11. RAPDOM Messenger Bag
- 12. Military Laptop Messenger Bag
4 Tips to Find the Best Messenger Bag for You
These bags are incredibly versatile; there are literally thousands of variations on the market. Luckily for you, I have compiled a short list with only the best messenger bags out there right now. Remember, when choosing the right bag some things just come down to personal preferences.
Material: Tactical messenger bags can come in a variety of material, ranging from a subdued leather that resembles a briefcase in size and function; to canvas, denim, or another durable cloth for rugged outdoor activities or activities that require a high degree of mobility. Find a bag that is made from a material that aligns with what you’re planning on using it for.
Do Your Homework: I don’t really need to list this because if you’re reading this you’re clearly doing just that. It’s important to read reviews on each of the bags to see what other customers and people who actually own the bag are saying about it.
Waterproof: This is an important feature for protecting what is inside of the bag from the elements, be it a laptop or other valuables or simply a large cache of documents that you spent loads of your precious time preparing for your client. If you are on the move frequently and need to have your supplies with you constantly, there is a good possibility that you may accidentally set your bag down in a puddle of water my mistake. If you find yourself in this position, having spent the extra money on a waterproof variety could literally end up being a priceless and invaluable decision, and the small extra investment will do a world of good in protecting these valuables from harm. If you find yourself in a position like this and find that your bag is NOT waterproof, you will quickly find that having a bag made of a waterproof nylon, canvas, or canvas-like material will become the most important feature in your next bag.
Functionality: When it comes to functionality, you are going to again need to evaluate your needs. Will you be using the bag inside or outside the majority of the time? Will you be using it to store valuable essential gear or electronics; or will you be using to to make deliveries of interoffice mail from one site to the next Depending on your answer here, it may be more important to you to find a bag that includes the ability to sort items going to different places, such as a bag with multiple dividers inside of the large compartment versus a bag with one large open space in the main compartment. Do you need to carry the contents close to you and secured with a strap or would you rather your messenger bag have a handle instead of a strap? No matter your requirements, there is a tactical messenger bag
Ok, that’s enough with the introduction, let’s get into the list, here are what I think are the best messenger bags out there right now. After reading this review, you might also want to check out our favorite tactical backpacks here.
Here Are the Best Tactical Messenger Bags
1. UTG Multi-functional Tactical Messenger Bag (Budget Pick)
Estimated Price: $35
I found a YouTube video that explains some of the features of this bag. You can check out the video below. Personally I like the 5.11 bag listed below better, but as far as value this bag is a steal!
Coming in at under $30.00, this all-black messenger bag is made of polyester. It features a build in sidearm holster and magazine pouches, as well as all sorts of roomy compartments for all of your essentials. It comes with a fully adjustable and padded shoulder strap and weighs under 2 pounds. The main compartment is drawstring-closed, which may be a concern for more security-minded individuals. This bag is obviously geared towards the outdoor life, and is perfect for hunting, shooting, and law enforcement applications.
- Built in holster, water bottle holder, and other multifunction utility compartments
- Excellent quality per customer reviews
- Very affordable
2. Lifewit Laptop Messenger Bag Briefcase
Estimated Price: $50
With an inside capacity of 17 inches, this is one of the largest bags I’ve seen. It has 4 outside pockets, modular in design, that will allow you to store things that need to be kept separate from one another. It is constructed out of the same water-resistant nylon as more expensive offerings at around half the price of comparable bags. It is large enough to store a laptop as well as sunglasses, cameras, keys, and still have room to store a decent-sized cache of documents. This bag is definitely the best value of any of tactical messenger bags that we have reviewed, and it even includes an anti-collision system for protecting sensitive electronics in the main compartment.
- Huge inside capacity
- Water-resistant nylon construction
- Anti-shoch, anti-collision inner seclusion section for laptop protection
- Lots of extra compartments
3. Tactical RUSH Lima by 511 (Recommended)
Estimated Price: $100
This badass bag is the most versatile bag on this list for rugged applications. It is MOLLE compliant, like the last two we have reviewed, and it is fully constructed of water-resistant 1050D nylon. Its large capacity means that you will always have room to spare. This is the first two-toned bag we have reviewed, and it is a very attractive toning indeed, with contrasting black and light grey fabric used in its construction.
It is rather pricey, coming in at just under $100, but versatility, utility, and protection is essential to your mission-critical applications, the price tag is justifiable. In my opinion, for the money, this is still the best tactical messenger bag out there right now. For more information about this bag, check out the video below.
Here is a good video review on this bag:
- Secure, versatile, and attractive
- MOLLE and Back-Up Belt System Compatible webbing components
- Extra roomy
4. Direct Action Messenger Bag
Estimated Price: $90
Although this is one of the more expensive messenger bags on this list, it has a TON of awesome features that I feel justify the price.
The front flap of this bag is my favorite thing about it. It has very high quality laser stitched molle system along with a large velcro square that also has laser stitched molle. The front flap actually zippers open to a large pouch for items you need to access quickly.
The side of the bag has a water bottle compartment with bottle retention strap that is large enough for a hydro flasks but not a Nalgene. The other side of the bag has a zipper pocket with 2 mesh organizational pouches and a key keeper.
The backside of the bag has 2 D rings for a stabilization strap and a large zipper compartment for iPads or other small electronics.
The bottom of the bag has a rubberized coating to prevent moisture from soaking in on most days. There is also a drawstring attachment system on the bottom of the bag where you can attach other small items to the bag if you’d like.
The backside of the flap has a clear map compartment. Underneath the flap of the bag there are two large compartments that zipper closed. Inside the pockets there is velcro, additional storage compartments, another key keeper, mesh pockets, pen holders, and other organization pockets.
The main compartment has a large sleeve with a retainment strap that can hold 13 inch laptops easily. The main pouch is lined in velcro so you can attach accessories, holsters, and other items.
Here is a good video review on this bag:
- Well stitched laser cut molle
- Quick release buckles on the shoulder strap
- Main compartment lined with velcro.
- 12 different color and style options
- Comfortable handle for briefcase style carry
5. Tactical Briefcase Military Laptop Messenger Bag
Estimated Price: $37
This bag is a bit more subdued in its design, making it the perfect bag for professionals. One unique feature is it’s MOLLE webbing so that you can add on or customize the bag with other MOLLE-compliant gear. It is constructed out of high-strength nylon, making it both protective and lightweight. Its main compartment is lined in order to protect a laptop from spills and shocks, and it can hold up to a 13 inch laptop (standard size bag) all the way to a 15.6 inch for the larger upgraded model. It is perfect for carrying keys, wallets, writing instruments, documents, clothing, electronics, and just about anything else that will fit inside.
- Options for standard size or upgrade to larger compartments
- Customizable with MOLLE webbing
- Universal and subdued look for a wide array of applications
- Can use shoulder strap or handle
6. SHANGRI-LA Multi-functional Messenger Bag
Estimated Price: $45
This beautiful messenger bag also includes MOLLE-compliant compartments and webbing. Constructed of 1000D nylon and packed full of special features and versatile compartments, this bag features a sling-style strap for a secure, over-the-chest carry. It is roomy and comfortable, meaning that you will find this bag perfect for just about anything you can imagine, including short excursion equipment, documents for professional use, and even a diaper bag. Below is a good video that covers its basic features.
It comes standard with a 2-year satisfaction guaranteed warranty (at the time of listing, double check before you buy) that will be given as money back if anything happens to the bag or if damage to the contents is caused by defect and not negligence on the part of the user. You can’t go wrong with this bag if you are in the market for a tactical messenger bag, no matter if you are a button up professional or a professional special operator. It comes with build-in camera and small electronics compartments as well, and this bag can also be used for CCW applications.
- One of the most versatile bags on the market
- MOLLE compatible
- Large compartments
7. Tactical 5.11 Unisex Adult Patrol Ready Bag
Estimated Price: $70
This bag is named the “patrol ready bag” for a reason. It is perfect for on-the-go professionals, such as law enforcement and first responders. Inner dimensions of the main compartment measure at 18.5”x8”x12”, and includes two water bottle pouches, two end pockets, and two side pockets. Can be carried over the shoulder via the detachable shoulder strap or it can be carried in your hand via the strong handle. Pockets close with zippers for added security. This bag is constructed from 6-denier polyester for added strength.
- Incredibly versatile
- Large and roomy
- Zippered enclosures
8. GES Tactical Laptop Bag
Estimated Price: $50
This waterproof tactical bag is attractive and sleek, yet is jam-packed with utility pockets, a waterproof insert, and a compartment large enough to carry a laptop, tablet, and digital camera with the laptop inside of a sleeve. In addition, the side pockets are numerous and large enough that you do not have to sacrifice essential equipment for the sake of space. The adjustable shoulder strap is padded, creating less strain on your shoulder than a comparable bag. The design of this bag makes it near universal in applications and will keep you looking good while carrying your equipment. At around $50, you definitely get your money’s worth. This bag is perfect for hiking, school, work, EMTs, tactical missions, and just about anything else you can imagine having a messenger bag for.
- Padded Shoulder Strap
- Sleek design and large pockets
9. Mobile Edge ECO Laptop Messenger Bag
Estimated Price: $35
If you’re looking for a heavy duty messenger bag that is large enough to fit up to a 17.3-inch laptop, this bag by Mobile Edge is a solid choice. This is one of the first messenger bags I ever had and I loved that it could fit my ASUS gaming laptop, calculator, notepads, and other EDC items all in one easy to carry bag.
It has enough pockets to keep everything organized and tough enough to hold up even when carrying a heavy load. The shoulder strap on this bag is padded and very comfortable.
Potential cons:Many users report the olive color is browner than displayed in the photo. I have also heard a number of people complain about the stitching and that the threads started to unravel after several months of everyday use.
- Eco-friendly all natural cotton exterior
- Fits up to 17.3 inch laptops
- The empty weight is about 2.1 pounds
- Padded computer Compartment
10. SOG Responder Bag
Estimated Price: $20
First and foremost, if you’re not a hiker, hunter, or shooter this bag probably won’t interest you much, as it’s better suited for those purposes than everyday carry.
This bag is an absolute steal considering it’s under $20 and made by a quality company like SOG.
If you haven’t heard of the Studies and Observational Group Company, most commonly referred to as the SOG company, they’re a very reputable company based in the United States that became famous for the reproduction of the SOG Knife from the Vietnam era. They currently manufacture SOG SEAL Pup and other popular knives carried by Navy Seals and other military personnel.
While the SOG company is better known for its specialty knives and tools, it’s not surprising that they make an awesome messenger bag.
One of the features I really like about this bag, and what makes it an awesome range bag, is the three magazine pockets on the outside of the bag that can hold up to 6 magazines. With fully loaded magazines and other gear inside the bag, it can get pretty heavy. Thankfully, SOG has incorporated a very comfortable pad on the strap to distribute the weight nicely.
When you’re using it for purposes rather than shooting, you can use those pouches to store water bottles or other gear.
- Set up for right side carry
- Molle functionality
- Great for shooting, short hikes, and hunting
11. RAPDOM Messenger Bag
Out of Stock
The first thing thought when I finally got my hands on this bag was that it is an almost perfect size bag so long as you don’t need to carry a large laptop. I haven’t personally carried a laptop in this bag but I have read that many people successfully carry small laptops with it.
One thing I really like about this bag is all the molle attachments on the outside of the bag. If you find there isn’t quite enough room to fit all of your everyday carry items in the bag, you can just get extra molle attachments for the outside of the bag.
The bag is very comfortable to carry and the reverse side of the bag is covered in Aerofoam padding that is extremely comfortable.
- One large and two medium size compartments
- High quality zippers
- High quality zippers
- Can take a beating
12. Military Laptop Messenger Bag
Out of Stock
Overall, this is one hell of a tactical laptop bag. It is lightweight and a perfect size for everyday carry. Do note that this bag comes in various colors and sizes, so be sure to select the size that makes the most sense for the size laptop you intend to carry.
The bag is made from a durable 1000D nylon fabric that is very durable. The bottom compartment on the front of the bag has molle webbing that allows you to easily attach pouches and other accessories.
The carry handle of this bag is very comfortable and has a great grip.
One thing I do think DYJ could have put more thought into is the shoulder strap. It’s very basic and lacks padding. The good news is the shoulder strap can easily be swapped out or upgraded.
- High-quality velcro and zippers
- 3 nice size pockets on the front of the bag
- Awesome carry handle
- Lots of padding and softly lined sleeves
What Messenger Bags Are Good/Used For?
In modern times, besides the uses above, the tactical style of the classic messenger bag is a useful rendition of the classic, with more of a military-tech look and versatile compartments that can fit a variety of items for making sure one is prepared for the path ahead.
They will generally always have one or two large compartments, large enough for a laptop and rugged enough to protect expensive valuables from spills, drops, and other damage. These bags will usually also have several other accessory or utility compartments surrounding the major compartment for storing extra items and supplies, such as a laptop charger, fishing line and lures, or even extra magazines and ammunition.
Regular messenger bags come in a variety of materials, as do tactical bags, but the tactical style usually incorporates thick nylon and even reinforced material to protect the contents from the elements, theft, falls, spills, and other damage that is likely to occur while you are moving about in tight situations.
Some of these features are purely superficial and meant for fashion purposes, while other built-in features are incredibly useful for a variety of situations.
Messenger bags are perfect for situations where you may find yourself needing to carry some very essential items while at the same time having the need to travel light without carrying your entire pack. They are perfect for special operations personnel who have a need for specialty tools, arms, and supplies to complete a mission, but stealth requirements or space constraints make it impossible to carry your entire rack on. Aside from military and/or other covert operations, these versatile bags have many different uses in the civilian world as well.
By their very nature, they are built to secure the contents of the bag and also appear unassuming so that the bag in itself does not give a clue a to what is inside.
If you aren’t for sure of what a messenger bag is, or if you have ever heard of anyone call one of these awesome and versatile bags a “man purse,” be prepared to have your mind changed by the end of this guide.
The first thing that will come to most people’s minds when the thing of a tactical messenger bag would be the constant companion of TV’s terrorist-hunting badass Jack Bauer, of 24 fame. No one would ever in their wildest dreams tell Jack that he was wearing a man purse and still be breathing by the end of the conversation.
If you are familiar with that show, you already know how versatile these bags can be, with Jack having had used them for everything from carrying secure documents to weapons and even a lead-shielded piece of enriched uranium from a dirty bomb. Not that you’ll ever be in that position (let’s certainly hope not!), but these bags can be used for so many tasks, especially when you need to travel light but still need more equipment than you can fit in your pockets.
Instead of being worn on your back like a backpack, a tactical messenger bag usually has a strap that is worn diagonally across your shoulders and chest. This makes it so that anyone wanting to take your valuables from you is going to have a hell of a time, and with the bag hanging down on your side right above waist level, you can easily access whatever you have in it, whether you need to grab a knife out to cut your fishing line and retrieve your catch in the blink of an eye or if you need to quickly access a spare magazine to reload your weapon.
Because of these features, tactical messenger bags are perfect for outdoor recreational activities, such as hunting, hiking and fishing. They are the perfect companion to these activities because they are the perfect size for storing the supplies you will need to take along with you, from ammunition and extra magazines to lures, lines, weights, and other fishing equipment; to a canteen, food, and first aid supplies.
When specifically used for professional reasons, they can be used to carry anything that you can think of, especially in any position that requires a high degree of mobility and security. This can obviously include everything from the aforementioned laptop compartment, or in lieu of a laptop, this large space can be used to store client files for an attorney; private papers or small items in the case of a courier; to military and law enforcement applications.
Different Styles of Bags
There are many different cosmetic styles of tactical messenger bags. For instance, a businessperson or attorney may be interested in a bag that is made of a leather or synthetic leather polymer and resembles more of a briefcase than anything else.
A student will likely find the tactical style of bag that appears more youthful and casual, while law enforcement or military will probably look for a more military-tech style of bag, which are generally made of a water-resistant material, such as 1000D or 1050D nylon.
Conversely, those who are use their bag for outdoor activities are going to focus on protection and durability, which will generally mean that they will opt for a tactical messenger bag that fits over the shoulder or over the chest securely and will generally be willing to sacrifice fashion for utility and protection, which means that these people will generally share their preference of bag with law enforcement or military style canvas/polyester or nylon bags.
The style you choose will depend on personal preference, intended use, need for security features, and level of activity that the bag will see.
Due to the fact there there are so many styles, it’s impossible me to pick the best messenger bag for you, as a lot of things come down to person preferences and needs.
What is the advantage of a messenger bag over a backpack?
This depends on what you plan on using the bag or backpack for. A backpack will almost always have a larger inside volume and will, as such, be able to handle a heavier load. However, if you are looking for a tactical messenger bag, it is likely that a backpack will not be your first choice anyway. Tactical messenger bags are designed to be opened and closed multiple times while still being worn, meaning that you will be able to access the contents much faster than taking a backpack off, sitting it down, unzipping it, removing what you need, zipping back up, and placing back on your back. With a messenger back, you can accomplish all of these tasks by simply opening up the closed flap on the bag, unzipping, and removing the content all while being worn on your shoulder. That way, you can keep moving with as little downtime as possible.
Besides this, if you work in a professional field, it is not very likely that your employer will be accepting of you wearing a backpack around the office, whereas a nice leather or canvas messenger bag will not be a problem at all.
How much weight can a tactical messenger bag support?
Quite a bit, actually. While the exact amount of weight that a bag is rated for will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and even model to model; the use of shoulder strap will distribute the weight more evenly if it is strapped across your chest diagonally instead of worn on a single side. You will have a slight uneven feeling on one side, especially if you are carrying something heavy. This is probably the one single drawback to using a messenger bag instead of a backpack, and can actually be a deal breaker for some people, especially those who work in a profession where either a backpack or a messenger bag would equally be appropriate for the task at hand.
To determine the exact amount of weight that a bag is rated to support, you can visit the manufacturer’s website for specifications for the specific model you are interested in.
How will I know if my bag is waterproof?
More like water-resistant than waterproof, bags made out of nylon are going to be the most commonly encountered material in water resistant bags. In order to know for sure, though, it is best to check the manufacturer specifications on resistance to water instead of just assuming it is or is not, as you may find yourself surprised by the answer. It is a good idea to look for water resistance as a main feature of your bag, as such a feature does not add much, if anything at all, to the price of your new bag.
Wikipedia: Messenger bag
A tactical messenger bag could be just what you need to give your professional or leisure lifestyle the organization, protection, and portability that it requires.
Make sure to accurately judge what your needs are in anticipation of the purchase, as it doesn’t make sense to buy a bag that doesn’t have all of the features that you need when you can find one including all of those features for the same price, in many instances.
Consider whether you will need water resistant material, MOLLE-compliant modular webbing, as well as design and inside capacity.
However, most people I know that have purchased a tactical messenger bag use it every day, and grow so attached to having it that they literally let it wear holes before even considering throwing it out. These bags can truly become your best friend in terms of preparedness, so keep that in mind as you shop.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments below.
Corporal Wabo is a former Infantry Squad Leader with 3rd Bn 4th Marines that specialized in Mortars. In his free time, he enjoys hunting, hiking, running, shooting guns, and reviewing gear. He started this website while transitioning out of the Marines, and since has recruited several other Marines to help him work on the Marine Approved website. We are currently looking for former Marines to join the team who are interested in writing about tactical gear, survival gear, hiking supplies, etc. For more information about us or joining the team, check out the “About Us” tab.