How to wear a messenger bag properly?

Susan Fernandez February 02 2022

What is a messenger bag?

A messenger bag is typically a large, flat leather or canvas purse which has two shoulders carried straps. The main function of the messenger bag is to be strung across the chest and carry heavy loads on one side of your body rather than on both sides as traditional backpacks do. This relieves strain off your shoulders and allows you to distribute weight more evenly across your core, making it easier to carry around if you're moving quickly (such as walking or biking).

Speaking of biking, that's another advantage for Messenger Bags; they are not rigid like backpacks (which makes them difficult to carry on bikes) because their "soft" structure allows them to conform to the shape of your body. Another attribute attributed to this type of bag is the ease of access.

The messenger bag's flap can either snap closed or be rolled down to allow for easy access to your goods instead of opening a traditional backpack where you have to reach behind you, often resulting in spills or messed up papers if you're doing it on the run. There are many different types of messenger bags, be they leather, canvas, nylon - no matter what type you choose there are certain guidelines that should be followed when wearing one properly.

NOTE: Most Messenger Bags are designed with "evil" shoulder strap clips that are meant to tear into your clothing and break away easily in an emergency situation (badass). These means don't wear a silk shirt with these straps! Wear only which aren't too delicate.

Why do you need a messenger bag?

A lot of people choose to carry messenger bags for convenience. Not everyone wants to carry a backpack and messenger bags save the hassle of having to wear one. They offer a more fashionable way to transport your belongings, especially if you're interested in fashion and design, and also save you the hassle of carrying around a purse with short straps or wearing bulky backpacks which can be uncomfortable.

What are some benefits?

The biggest benefit is that it provides great access as noted above; the flap folds open easily allowing for instant access without taking it off your shoulders (if your bag doesn't snap closed) or fumbling for an opening like with traditional backpacks.

The second benefit is that they're light on your shoulders making them easier to carry than traditional backpacks. The third benefit is that the flap on most bags allows for special storage of your mobile phone and/or tablet (though not as much as a dedicated MOLLE pouch) and also eliminates the need to shove it into your backpack where it will probably break or get tangled up in all your other stuff. Just as convenient is that many messenger bags with a water bottle holder. Which obviously makes it easier to carry other things.

What are some limitations?

The biggest limitation is that they cannot be used as a proper backpack, so if you intend of carrying around heavy loads, this bag is not for you! They may have more pockets than traditional backpacks but they will still hold less due to their limited shape. Furthermore, since there isn't any rigid frame providing structure, items inside can easily lose their place and become a jumbled mess with time. This can be alleviated by neatly packing your bag and folding clothes and such so they retain their shapes.

Different types of Messenger Bags

  • Materials

Canvas: Canvas messenger bags are best for daily use at school or work since they can withstand a lot more wear and tear than leather messenger bags that might get scuffed easily. The fabric also provides breathability which is great in the summer months when you tend to sweat more.

Leather: Though not as common due to leather's high price tag, leather messenger bags are generally considered higher quality than canvas or nylon/polyester materials used. If cared for properly, these types of bags will last for years! However, keep in mind that there may be limitations on what colors and designs are available due to the limited nature of leather's material properties.

Nylon/Polyester: These types of materials are often used for messenger bags that excel at staying dry (waterproof), though they aren't as durable as Canvas or Leather. They're great for biking around in the rain! However do note that these types of non-leather materials may be more likely to tear if you load your bag up with too many sharp objects like metal pens and book corners, so keep them out of harm's way!

  • Sizes

Size Note: People talk about messenger bags being sized under 20 inches but just know that this means it can hold a lot less than its bigger cousin the backpack which is normally sized at over 20 inches. The length here doesn't refer to the strap length, but the entire size of the bag itself.

Small: This will generally carry only your essentials - your phone and wallet at most. We use this when we don't need to bring much with us, which is great for traveling light!

Medium: The standard size for messenger bags are medium-sized ones, which are perfect for bringing around your daily needs without requiring too much effort in packing/unpacking. You can fit a water bottle or coffee mug in these if needed!

Large: These are best described as "mini backpacks", since they're similar in shape except shorter (they tend to extend up to your waist). If you've got lots of books that you need to carry around or just a lot of stuff in general, these are your best bet!

Is a messenger bag bad for your spine and posture?

The problem with this type of bag is that you have only one strap, which means you have to twist your body in awkward positions to flip the bag around on your back or front. This can be uncomfortable for some people since it puts pressure onto their spine - especially if they're not used to carrying a bag this way.

If you wear such a bag for a long time, your muscles will pain and your back will hurt. You will notice that you don't have as much energy as before. So, using this type of bag is not recommended for people who walk long distances or stay in the same place for a long time.

Moreover, if you wear it always on one shoulder, your spine and neck will be twisted. This can lead to pain in the vertebrae area.

How to wear a messenger bag properly?

In order to alleviate ailment of the spine and neck, you should wear it as a backpack. Just make sure that both straps are on your shoulders. In this way, you can distribute weight properly and wouldn't feel pain.

Furthermore, if possible, try to use messenger bags with a cross-body design. It would be much better because then both straps will be supported by your shoulder.


  1. Put one strap over the opposite shoulder and sling the bag diagonally across your body so it rests atop of your back or in front of you (as shown). If there isn't a strap to hold onto at the top of the bag, dig your arm underneath and grab onto its handle whilst supporting some of its weight with your shoulder.
  2. Swing the bag around to your front, so it's resting on your lower back (as shown). If the bag has buckles or fastenings which prevent you from swinging it around, undo them beforehand and refasten after you've got the bag in place.
  3. Tighten both straps so that they evenly distribute weight across your shoulders and torso. The waist strap is for extra stability, but is not necessary - if you don't have one then just pull tight what you do have!
  4. Adjust the position of the bag on your back by repositioning where it falls diagonally from your upper body. You can also adjust how high/low it sits on your back by tightening/loosening the straps accordingly.
  5. Adjust the strap on the front of your body so that it sits comfortably and snugly against your lower chest area. This strap also helps to secure the bag in place by acting as a buckle, though this isn't entirely necessary for everyday use if you don't want to do it.

It might take some patience and time to get used to wearing a messenger bag properly, but once you've perfected it, it'll be second nature! All those who have been using this kind of bag for many years will not even face any problem carrying one around.

What is a good alternative?

To put it simply, if you want to wear this type of bag all day long, choose one which has a wide pad on the shoulder strap. It should also distribute the weight evenly so that your back won't hurt after wearing it for hours.

If possible, try to use a backpack instead of a one-shoulder bag. The first option provides better posture than the second since it let you adjust straps according to your size/height. If you insist on using a messenger bag even though they are bad for your spine, make sure that you don't carry extra weight inside! Even choice would probably be a duffle bag which you can wear as a backpack.

For everyday usage, you can also choose a purse or small sling bag which you wear on your forearm.

How can you choose a proper messenger bag?

Back pain and muscle aching may happen to be even if you selected the wrong messenger bag. So, you need to find out if the bag is proper for long usage. Take a look at these types of bags:

  • The sizes of bags should be moderate. There shouldn't be any pockets or compartments which are unreachable. Every pocket should be easy to open and close so that you can easily get your belongings in and out. This will allow you to maximize usability and minimize hassle while wearing it.
  • Fabric straps are better than leather ones because they have much more to give to them, allowing them to remain comfortable on your shoulders when worn over time. Leather may be seen as fashionable but is too rigid, leading to discomfort with extended wear.
  • For women especially - choose a body-friendly strap pad height that's designed for your body height. This will ensure that the bag's weight is distributed evenly and comfortably across your torso, instead of pulling down on one shoulder excessively!
  • The size of the pad on the shoulder strap should be wide, as this will provide you with more comfort and stability - especially if you're carrying a lot of weight in your messenger bag. If it's too thin or small then it won't properly distribute pressure and may dig into parts of your torso/shoulder which may lead to pain and discomfort over time.
    For people who are larger-framed, there shouldn't be any issues; even though they might consider getting thicker pads for more comfort. But for slender/smaller individuals, wider padding would be a better option to carry a bag for hours.
  • The strap should be adjustable. This will allow you to adjust it according to your body's own dimensions. If you're petite, consider the adjustment mechanism carefully so that you obtain maximum adjustability and comfort! You can choose either a snap-button or Velcro type of strap, depending on your taste/preference.
  • Stiffness doesn't mean rigidity. Not all stiff materials are bad - some are actually good because they help keep their shape better over time. However, stiffness also means that there is less give, which may cause discomfort especially when worn directly against your skin without layers between.
  • Make sure that the buckle fastening system is easy to use. It may sound trivial, but buckle mechanisms can be quite stiff and difficult to operate when the bag is new. Especially if you've bought it online, consider testing out the fastening mechanism in-store or at least check its description/reviews to see if users mention that they find it tricky.


If you want a good posture and your back feeling good, please consider some of these tips before buying it. Wear a messenger bag properly - you need to wear it as a backpack, not as a sling bag! You should wear it higher than your waistline.

If you're shorter, then balance the weight on both shoulders or go for small bags that can be worn on your forearm(with a protective layer between body and bag)