The 6 Best Briefcases | Reviews by Wirecutter

2022-10-16 18:49:43 By : Ms. Linda Hu

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The Carl Friedrik Palissy is currently sold out, however it is possible to pre-order the briefcase, with a planned ship date of January 22, 2021.

Even if your journey to the office these days is from your bed to the kitchen table, a briefcase can help you get into the work mindset. (Though for now you may just use it to store your laptop when it’s time to eat.) If you’re traveling to an office, a briefcase is a stylish, professional way to carry your stuff. (For heavy loads, however, it won’t be as ergonomically friendly as a backpack or messenger bag.) We’ve tested 25 briefcases over the past three years—loading them up and then walking, running, commuting, biking, and flying with them. These six should work for many different carrying needs, looks, and budgets.

A briefcase often signifies that you’re a professional, and it’s sometimes still the go-to gift for law school or MBA graduates. Practically, it’s a holdover from the days when office jobs required more-formal dress. Unless you’re in an industry where you do wear a suit jacket to work, consider getting a backpack or a messenger bag, both of which will do a better job of distributing their contents’ weight, saving your shoulders and spine some anguish.

You can distinguish a briefcase from other bags because it’s designed to be carried primarily by a hand strap or handle. Carrying a bag by its shoulder strap can damage the shoulder of your coat, since it puts a large amount of pressure on the garment, and that can crumple or destroy the underlying structure. Although most modern briefcases come with shoulder straps, they’re meant for temporary use—while you’re running for the train, for instance—not for lugging around the contents of your entire office.

If you plan to get a briefcase, you’ll be happiest and most comfortable if you keep in mind that these bags are designed for short trips between car, office, and boardroom, or for commuters who travel light. If you try to load one up with a water bottle, your gym clothes, and a hardback novel, you’ll be very displeased.

The Cary is comfortable to wear, has an impressive capacity, and will look good dressed up or down.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $335.

Who this is for: Someone who needs a good-looking briefcase with ample space—one that can be used with almost any outfit, from a suit to jeans and a bomber jacket.

Why it’s great: The Stuart & Lau Cary Single Briefcase offers an unmatched combination of style, capacity, and comfort. Even though the Cary is made of nylon, its fully waterproof exterior looks more luxurious than utilitarian, thanks to the refined leather handles, straps, and detailing. The pairing of nylon and leather gives the bag aesthetic flexibility. Whether your daily attire is a pinstripe navy suit or a pair of dark jeans and a printed button-up shirt, the Cary will match your look. The original bag we tested in 2018 was updated and renamed the Single in 2019.

Even before the Cary’s leather handle gets broken in, it’s soft and comfortable to hold and doesn’t pinch your skin. The shoulder strap is padded enough that you shouldn’t experience any discomfort while carrying the bag, even if you fill it to capacity (the Cary fits a laptop, an e-reader, a notebook, a pair of over-ear headphones, an umbrella, a portable USB charger, several charging cables, and a pen and pencil, and still has room for more).

Beyond these basic features, the bag is chock-full of little extras, including a magnetic dock for keys and a sleeve that slides over a rolling suitcase’s handle, for easier travel. Plus, Stuart & Lau bags are all guaranteed by a lifetime limited warranty against manufacturer’s defects.

Pockets and organization: The Cary has enough pockets and sleeves to easily hold everything you’ll need for a day at the office—and then some. Inside its main zippered compartment, there is a lightly padded 15-inch laptop sleeve, four small pockets (including one sized to fit a paperback book or an e-reader), a narrow pocket for pens and pencils, and two zippered mesh pockets. On the front, the bag has leather straps that you can slide an umbrella through and a few pockets for small miscellaneous items. On the back, the Cary hides an easy-to-access but discreet zippered pouch for your cell phone, and there’s another large sleeve with a magnetic closure.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Cary’s robust organizational system can feel like too much of a good thing. Its large capacity might encourage you to fill the bag with just about everything you can imagine—clothes, lunches, textbooks. Doing this may seem like a more efficient use of space, but it’ll just make the already heavy Cary unpleasant to walk around with. That said, this is a problem with all briefcases of this size. As long as you’re aware of what you’re packing, you should have no trouble holding the briefcase by its handles.

Size and weight: 12 by 16 by 3.9 inches; 3 pounds, 3 ounces

Colors: navy/tan, navy/black, olive/black, black/black, brown/dark brown, brown/tan

If you don’t want to spend too much and you need a small bag that’s nicely laid out, the Knomo Princeton will work well for light loads.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $121.

Who this is for: Someone who wants a light, slim briefcase with a good balance of organization and style at a very reasonable price.

Why it’s great: The well-priced Knomo Princeton is our favorite slim briefcase for carrying light loads. It has a nicely designed layout that holds more than you’d expect, based on its size and shape. The bag’s looks don’t suffer for its organizational capabilities, either: It’s nearly as svelte as the smaller Knomo Hanover (a similar but slightly dressier—and more expensive—case we liked). Though the Princeton’s removable strap is unpadded, this bag was still comfortable to wear.

The Princeton also comes with a unique Knomo ID, which allows the company to find and track a lost registered bag—a useful feature that a minority of manufacturers offer.

The Princeton’s herringbone pattern and leather detailing elevate it high above other affordable bags we tested. Its polyester exterior may not resist abrasion as well as nylon or waxed canvas, but it felt light, soft, and comfortable in our testing—even if you have a tendency to overpack.

The Knomo Princeton is one of the most affordable briefcases we tested, and it comes with a two-year repair and replacement guarantee. During our testing, we spoke to a Knomo representative who confirmed that the company would replace any defective bag at its expense. The Princeton also comes with a unique Knomo ID, which allows the company to find and track a lost registered bag—a useful feature that a minority of manufacturers offer.

Pockets and organization: The Knomo Princeton has two big compartments. There’s a zippered front pouch with one large, two medium, and three small pockets, and pen pockets. There’s also a bigger zippered compartment with folds to hold your 15-inch laptop or an iPad, and there are two medium-size pockets to hold your favorite power banks. The Princeton bag has a second outer pocket on its back, to hold a wallet or passport.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The shoulder strap is comfortable enough, but it has no padding to cushion your shoulder. Knomo offers only a two-year warranty for the Princeton (as well as for the Hanover). You shouldn’t expect the Princeton to last as long as other briefcases we recommend at this price.

Size and weight: 11.4 by 16.1 inches by 3 inches; 2 pounds, 3 ounces

The Filson offers less structure than other briefcases, but it has a rugged charm and includes a lifetime warranty for wear and tear.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $260.

Who this is for: Someone who wants a hard-wearing briefcase for a casual environment.

Why it’s great: The Filson name has long been associated with items of rugged quality, and the Filson Original Briefcase is part of that legacy. Although it’s definitely on the casual end of the spectrum for a briefcase, it’s still good-looking enough—with a certain rustic charm—that it won’t seem totally out of place accompanying a tweed coat or a blazer. This bag is water-repellent, with a storm flap to make doubly sure your laptop doesn’t get splashed. Its straps are made from bridle leather, which is created through a process that treats the leather with oils and then wax on both sides; this creates a stiffer leather that takes longer to break in but that’s smooth, hard-wearing, and traditionally blessed with a deeper color.

Filson’s lifetime warranty covers regular wear and tear, so if anything goes wrong with the bag—even with advanced wear—the company will cover you for repair or replacement. The internet is littered with stories of people’s excellent interactions with Filson repairs.

Pockets and organization: Inside the main section, the Filson Original has two full-length laptop or folder pockets, as well as a series of smaller internal pockets for miscellanea. It also sports a large outer pocket on either side where you can tuck in minor flat extras like newspapers.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Filson Original is perhaps too rugged and casual for more-formal situations, especially with its huge metal fixtures and thick, waxed-canvas exterior. But you can be the judge of that based on the occasion and venue.

As soon as you pick up the bag, you feel the high quality of the leather strap and handles—but they’re also extremely stiff and can hurt when you’re carrying heavier loads. This leather is the sort that will soften and become more comfortable to hold with age, but it will be a bit rough on your hands for a while. We’ve heard of people returning their bag because they just couldn’t, erm, handle it. And the shoulder strap runs long: A 5-foot-2 tester found that even its shortest length was a bit long for her. Luckily, since it’s a leather strap and buckle, you can easily punch more holes to customize the length.

None of the internal pockets have closures, and if you’ve ever accidentally upended an open bag, you know that a snap or zip can be very handy. This briefcase also doesn’t attach easily to a roller bag, so frequent flyers might be better served by a bag like the Stuart & Lau Cary Single Briefcase.

Size and weight: 13 by 16 by 3½ inches; 3 pounds, 6 ounces

If you’re looking to invest in a beautiful leather bag that will develop a lovely patina over time, the Carl Friedrik Palissy will handle day-to-day loads with unmatched sophistication.

Who is this for: Someone who wants a refined leather briefcase—for a formal or business setting—that looks as good as bags costing thousands more.

Why it’s great: The Carl Friedrik Palissy is a functional and beautiful briefcase for a more-formal office. During testing, the Palissy’s symmetrical design and the smooth, deep tone of its leather immediately stood out. It’s stiff and well constructed, with feet that give it extra stability and raise the bottom off the ground. The Palissy also has a unique design that makes it easy to load and unload, with zippers that run all the way around three of its sides (the Linjer, which looks most similar to the Palissy, has a zipped opening across its top only). And when you set this bag down, its comfortable handles fall to the side, rather than sticking straight up like rabbit ears. This makes the bag a little trickier to sweep up in one motion, but it also makes the Palissy look more elegant and neat when you’re not carrying it.

The Palissy is a stately bag that pairs easily with a suit. And, if you’re into wearing a mix of high and low, it’ll go great with a pair of jeans. This bag has neither the bulky pockets nor the softness of the more-casual Fossil bag we also recommend. The Palissy is constructed of vegetable-tanned leather; the process produces tougher leather that’s more prone to showing scratches but that also leads to a pleasing patina over time. Some cases—like the Linjer and Fossil models we tried—use softer, more forgiving chrome-tanned leather.

This briefcase’s handles are firm without being uncomfortable—they didn’t pinch our hands. The Palissy also comes in a wide range of colors and with two different linings, which means you can flaunt your personal style wherever you go. You can also personalize the bag with your initials (either inside the main compartment or on the shoulder strap) for an addition $35. And for $65 more you can add a pass-through attachment, to secure the bag to luggage. These are two great options that other leather briefcases at this price point don’t provide.

Considering all that the Palissy offers, we think it’s a reasonably priced bag—even though it’s not cheap. Its precise stitching, firm structure, wide zipper pattern, comfortable handles, options for customization, and handsome leather make the Palissy’s price easier to swallow. In our opinion, its quality and style are on a par with that of other bags costing hundreds more. Other minimalist briefcases we tested suffered from an overly soft structure, a limited zip, or an uneven hide, but the Palissy manages to deliver in all of these categories for less than $600. You’d need to spend far more, on brands such as Berluti, Mulberry, or Burberry, to find the style and extras that come standard on the Palissy. Carl Friedrik offers a lifetime warranty that covers repairs or replacements for functional damages.

Pockets and organization: The Palissy offers less organization than other briefcases we tested—it has only one primary storage pocket, which zips all the way down on both sides for easy loading and unloading. Inside, you’ll find a large laptop sleeve, a medium-size zippered sleeve, and three smaller, open pockets for accessories like a small battery pack, phone, or a stack of business cards. It has also two pen pockets and a little external pocket, which really won’t be useful for much beyond your keys or an office key card. The pocket is flat but deep, which means you may have to stick your entire hand in to retrieve anything.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Carl Friedrik Palissy is a compact bag with little in the way of organization. You shouldn’t expect to fill it up with anything beyond a laptop, a tablet, and a few extra accessories.

Size and weight: 11.7 by 15.4 by 2.4 inches; 3 pounds, 2 ounces

Colors: cognac, chocolate, navy, black with a choice of gray or orange lining

If you want to spend a bit less, the Carl Friedrik Vallance is a sleek leather briefcase that won’t hold much more than a laptop. But it will look great on your arm.

Who is this for: Those who want a slim leather briefcase that’s less practical but more gorgeous, for a couple hundred dollars less than the Carl Friedrik Palissy bag.

Why it’s great: The Carl Friedrik Vallance is, in a word, chic. Whereas the Palissy uses clean lines and symmetry to sell itself, the Vallance could be marketed by its spotlessness. Instead of the heavier-duty straps that line the sides of the Palissy briefcase, the handles on the Vallance touch only the top of the bag. Also, the Palissy has a considerable zipper, while the Vallance zips only across its top. The Vallance looks pristine, and it’s easy enough to open and close, as long as you’re carrying only the essentials—a laptop, your wallet, and a road map for your glamorous, wind-swept road trip along the coast. Like the Palissy bag, the Vallance is made from vegetable-tanned leather, and we expect this bag to look just as good with a blazer as it does with a puffy jacket. Also, its tough sides help it stand tall without any support. For the Vallance, Carl Friedrik offers a lifetime warranty that covers repairs or replacements for functional damages.

Pockets: The Vallance has one full-length pocket for a 13-inch laptop (you can fit a 15-inch laptop in the center of the briefcase, as shown above) and two pen pockets across from two medium-size pockets. There is also a small pocket on the outside of the briefcase for items that you’ll want to easily grab, like a wallet or a passport.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Vallance’s shorter zipper won’t open up as wide as zippers on other briefcases we recommend, but it does add to the bag’s slim and sleek aesthetic. Also, this bag doesn’t have a shoulder strap. But since we don’t think you’ll be carrying as much in the Vallance—if its size and its zipper opening are any indication—that’s less of a worry.

Size and weight: 11 by 15.4 by 2.6 inches; 1 pound, 13 ounces

Colors: cognac, chocolate, black with a choice of gray or red lining

This simple-looking leather case has a large capacity and lots of organization, and it weighs significantly less than other leather bags its size.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $300.

Who this is for: Someone who wants a simply styled, high-capacity leather bag that doesn’t weigh a lot.

Why it’s great: The Fossil Haskell Double Zip Briefcase will hold all of your essentials and still be comfortable to carry. The leather bag has room for a 15-inch laptop, a tablet or paperback book, a separate e-reader, a notebook, an umbrella, a USB battery pack, pens, pencils, and all relevant charging cables, with room to spare. But even when it’s full, the Haskell maintains its silhouette, because its canopy is divided into two zippered sections that encourage organized packing. Though it’s made of leather, the Haskell is relatively lightweight: It’s barely more than 2½ pounds, which is substantially lighter than any other leather bag we looked at. It’s comfortable to carry with either the soft leather handle or the shoulder strap.

Pockets and organization: The Haskell’s two zippered pockets are well organized: One of them has a 15-inch laptop sleeve and a larger canopy; the other pocket features a few smaller sleeves for slim books, e-readers, or incidental cables.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The understated aesthetics of the Fossil aren’t likely to turn heads or draw attention. This bag’s leather handle is also a little more rigid than those on many of the other bags we considered. We expect this handle will soften with a bit more use, but that it needs a break-in period is a tad annoying. Unfortunately, the bag has only a limited, one-year warranty that covers “defects in material or workmanship.”

Size and weight: 13 by 16 by 3½ inches; 2 pounds, 10 ounces

We assembled a list of more than 70 briefcases from manufacturers that were either extremely well known and respected (such as Jack Spade, L.L.Bean, and Tumi) or smaller boutique brands with strong editorial and customer reviews (such as Carl Friedrik, Linjer, and Custom Hide). Because briefcases serve as status symbols more than, say, backpacks and messenger bags do, and since they tend to be popular among those in higher-income professions, they carry price tags to match. With that in mind, we set our price ceiling to $600—to allow for bags ranging from the reasonably affordable to the accessibly aspirational. You can find well-known brands whose entire product lines sit above that ceiling, but we’ve seen enough great bags for less than $600 to be confident that spending above that is more of a style choice.

We looked for bags that weren’t more than 5 inches thick but that could still hold a 13-inch laptop, an e-reader, a book, a notebook, an umbrella, pens, a USB battery pack, a pair of headphones, and associated charging cables. Bigger bags make it tempting to load in too many extras (your lunch or gym clothes, for instance), and so they can become unreasonably heavy when full.

We then narrowed the list down to 25 bags based on specifications, aesthetics, materials, and price; we were able to dismiss some of the bags out of hand when we received them. We loaded the remaining bags with the above-mentioned gear and carried them while walking for anywhere between 30 minutes and four hours, alternating between using the top handle and the carry strap, when applicable.

We were underwhelmed by the Timbuk2 Smith Briefcase, compared with the Stuart & Lau Cary Single Briefcase we recommend. Though the Smith features a similar number of internal pockets, and we appreciate the inclusion of a zippered pocket for a water bottle or thermos, the waxed canvas bag’s lack of internal structure and rugged, bulky design would make it look out of place in a more-formal office setting. Plus, neither its handle nor its shoulder strap are particularly comfortable (the shoulder strap has no padding whatsoever).

Despite the name of the Topo Commuter Briefcase, it has backpack straps that add unnecessary bulk and make it harder to carry at your side. And though we appreciate the bag’s colors, it’s a little bit too thick to serve as a good briefcase.

The Bellroy Slim Work Bag’s canvas exterior seemed hearty, and it appeared to have decent organization. Unfortunately, once we began testing, it became clear that the structure and comfort of the other bags we reviewed were superior to this bag’s. After we added only a few items, the Slim Work Bag took on a balloon-like shape that made it unappealing to lug around. We think you’d be better served by our other options.

The Timbuk2 Hudson Laptop Briefcase 2015 was our previous top pick in this guide. We liked its high capacity and robust organizational system, how comfortable it was, and that it could be easily dressed up or down. Unfortunately, Timbuk2 has informed us that the Hudson is being discontinued. If you can still find it, it’s a good briefcase. But we expect that it will soon become difficult to track down.

Okay, the Amazon Basics 15.6-Inch Laptop Shoulder Bag is cheap. That’s it, that’s the hook. Despite its compelling price and decent size, the AmazonBasics’s handles were uncomfortable to wear, and its material felt scratchy. And over the month that we tested, some of its seams came loose. If you want a briefcase that will stand the test of time and troubles, wait until you have the money to buy one of our more expensive—and higher-quality—recommendations.

We appreciated the robust internal organization system of the Bellroy Classic Brief bag, but we found its shoulder strap and handle uncomfortable. The bag also lost its clean, rectangular shape when loaded with our daily work essentials—the lack of external structure made it balloon when full. If you want a briefcase with a similar look and price, we think the Knomo Princeton is a better option.

Even though we enjoy the previously recommended Knomo Hanover for its upscale aesthetics and small-but-comfortable size, our current budget recommendation, the Knomo Princeton, offers a similar vibe for around $40 less. Although both bags are light on organization, the Princeton toes the line of swanky and casual with greater ease than the more-formal Hanover, which is likely to clash with a dressed-down style.

Despite its ongoing stock issues, we love the minimal, chrome-tanned leather of the Linjer Soft Briefcase. But it didn’t hold up against the Carl Friedrik Palissy: The Linjer didn’t open as wide, and it had fewer pockets for organization. (That said, the Linjer does have a larger interior.) It also doesn’t offer as much customization as the Palissy; the Linjer comes in fewer colors, you can’t opt for customized detailing, and you can’t add a pass-through for attachment to a carry-on bag handle. It’s a beautiful bag, but we recommend the Carl Friedrik Palissy briefcase instead.

The Frank Clegg Leather Computer Briefcase felt buttery-smooth on the outside—and that’s not PR jargon, it actually feels soft and supple. But the Massachusetts-crafted briefcase has no inner lining, nor was it built to stand on its own. As soon as it touches the floor, and as soon you’ve removed any belongings from it, it collapses onto itself. This makes it frustrating to load and unload. And even though this bag seems luxurious, the Frank Clegg is mostly a headache to continually set up. But if you don’t mind that, this is a beautiful briefcase that comes in a bunch of colors and is made in the USA.

The Custom Hide Organizer Laptop Briefcase, a previous pick, is a high-quality, traditional leather bag with a lower price than those charged by many other bag manufacturers—and the Custom Hide bag comes with an impressive lifetime warranty. However, it was the heaviest bag we tested—4 pounds, 3 ounces empty. By the time you load up this bag with all your gear, it’ll be exceedingly heavy. We just don’t think the Custom Hide bag is suited to carrying for a long day; ducking from your car into the office will likely be more of a struggle than if you used one of the other leather bags we recommend. But if you want an ultra-traditional-looking briefcase, this is the one we’d recommend.

Tim Barribeau is the editor in charge of pets and carry coverage (the latter is anything you might take with you on the way out the door to work). He has been with Wirecutter since 2012, and previously headed our cameras section. A man with too many hobbies, he’s currently engrossed in leatherwork, and he might make you a wallet if you ask nicely.

Justin Krajeski is a former staff writer reporting on everyday carry at Wirecutter. He previously wrote about tech at Wirecutter. He carries things every day. He’s very well versed in carrying.

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