Selecting the best messenger bags for photographers can be a mammoth task, but it's worth it. Not only do you get a stylish bag that looks great for all situations, but you also get a sophisticated system for carrying your camera(s). The best messenger bags come with customisable interior dividers that can be shaped around the needs of your gear, and many have extra features like rain covers, tripod holders and more.
There's a reason why messenger bags are some of the most popular camera bags ever made. That's why all the major names you see in photography bags – including Manfrotto, Billingham, Think Tank, Lowepro and more – have all made sure they've got messenger bags on offer.
Slinging across one shoulder, messenger bags are as useful for a daily commute as they are for photo gear, which makes them extra enticing if you plan to use the bag for multiple purposes. Their slim profile makes them great for city breaks and day trips; if you're looking for a bag for a long photo hike, it might be worth taking a gander at our roundup of the best camera backpacks instead.
We've made our picks of the best messenger bags based on a number of factors: capacity, weatherproofing, comfort, style and price. No matter your priorities, your camera setup or your budget, we reckon there should be something on this list to suit you.
Let's get to the bags!
The best messenger bags for photographers in 2020
This is pretty much everything you want from a photography messenger bag. The Lowepro ProTactic MG 160 AW II Messenger Bag is one of the more recent offerings in this sector, and as such it features all the latest bells and whistles. Its interior divides for maximum versatility, with a bespoke 'Quick Shelf' system that allows you to safely house a 13-inch laptop as well as your camera kit.
An all-weather (AW) cover is included to protect from the elements, and thanks to the customisable strap, it can be worn in three different ways: slung low in traditional messenger style, high on the shoulder, or across the body with the stabiliser strap.
There's a tripod attachment on the bottom of the bag, and an easily accessible front pocket for sundry items like a smartphone that you want to access quickly. While it looks a little less chic than some of the other bags on this list, it's one of the most practical, and available at a great price.
The Hadley One's standout feature is a 13in laptop slot behind the main compartment. It’s a practically sized bag without being unwieldy, although you only get a half-width padded insert included. This will swallow a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, plus an ungripped full-frame body with a 50mm lens attached. The remaining space in the main compartment is great for personal effects, or you can add an optional second camera insert. Two large front pockets, meanwhile, are perfect for keeping lenses reachable during a shoot. But the real reasons you buy a Hadley One are its supreme quality, and a timeless style that’ll suit any occasion. The smell of the leather straps and reinforcing trim is worth the money alone, while the rugged canvas outer material and slightly domed flap shrug off abuse and a heavy rain shower.
Read more: Billingham Hadley One review
The Veo Range 36M/38M bags are light, practical and affordable shoulder bags with some neat touches. They can take a laptop and a good quantity of kit without feeling overstuffed and it’s great to be able to put a tripod in the base and not have to strap it to the outside – though it’s going to have to be pretty small tripod when folded in order to fit. The Veo Range 36M would be ideal for a mirrorless camera system (though it will take a DSLR too), while the 38M would be better for a DSLR system and a slightly longer travel tripod (up to 41cm folded length).
Read more: Vanguard Veo Range 36M review
The Peak Design Everyday Messenger is a bit of an icon in the world of camera messenger bag design. It looks as smart as a briefcase, but it packs in as much camera gear as any regular shoulder bag. There are so many clever design touches it's hard to take them all in straight away. So is it the best bag ever? Nearly, but not quite. It has a couple of features and quirks that might not suit everyone. The main compartment is covered only by the lid – there's no zipper – and the internal FlexFold dividers seem designed for larger cameras and lenses, so smaller items may rattle around.
The Signature 13 has a boxy 37 x 27 x 16cm exterior that retains its shape well and offers a high level of gear protection, with extra security from an internal zippered secondary cover. Although the bag is compact, arrange the quality dividers to split the main compartment into three sections and you’ve got an optimal layout for a DSLR with a 24-70mm lens attached, and two reasonably sized optics on either side. A 13in laptop will slot in behind, while a large expanding front pocket is ideal for a flashgun and filters. The manufacturing quality is top-notch; the wool-like fabric feels soft yet hard-wearing, and there’s a leather base and accents that’ll worry Billingham. A long, leather-backed neoprene shoulder pad is also especially comfortable.
The Noreg Messenger-30 is not just designed to be a camera bag – it can be turned into your work bag or overnight bag too. It's a regular shoulder bag with a removable padded insert that has its own shoulder strap, giving you a smaller photography bag for quick photo expeditions. And there's a removable padded 15-inch laptop sleeve on the back that you can unzip and take in to meetings, or just leave at home if you don't need it. If you just need an overnight bag that fits airline carry-on regulations you can take off the laptop sleeve, remove the camera insert and stuff in all the clothes, wash bag and other bits you need for your overnight stay. There are straps for carrying a tripod too, as well as a pull-out raincover.
Read more: Manfrotto Noreg messenger-30 review
Tenba's slick, upgraded Skyline 13 is a terrific messenger bag for zipping around a city with your camera gear in tow. It's capable of holding a mirrorless or DSLR camera with around 3-5 lenses, and can also hold a 13-inch laptop in its dedicated pocket. All this gear will also remain protected from the weather thanks to the tough, water-repellent fabric (which Tenba is confident enough in to forgo a dedicated rain cover), and there are tons of useful extra features like a carry-handle and extra zipped compartments for odds and ends. The interior dividers are customisable but only up to a point thanks to limited surface for the velcro to cling onto, which is a bit of a shame, but this is still a great, stylish bag for its price and well worth picking up.
The Century Traveler Camera Messenger features locking side-pocket zippers, and a class-leading Fidlock fastener that latches and releases the main flap effortlessly and silently. The flap has an easy access slot on top, under which is a compact but fairly practical main compartment that’ll just about stash a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV or a Nikon D850 with a small attached lens, plus a couple more optics alongside. Behind this is a sexy suede-lined 13in laptop pouch, although the two end pockets won’t fit much other than the included rain cover. As you’d expect from Gitzo, build and material quality are very good, with leather trim and premium hardware. The carbon-effect accents won’t be to everyone’s taste, but you won’t feel short-changed.
The Manfrotto Manhattan Speedy-30 Messenger has an attractive, streamlined appearance. It’s perfectly sized for use as carry-on luggage or as an everyday commuter bag. Inside it has a removable padded section for housing a DSLR or mirrorless camera along with four or even five lenses – including a 70-200mm f2.8. Manfrotto has used dense foam inside the dividers, so although they’re quite thin, they protect your gear nicely. There’s a mesh zip-closing top to the removable camera section, which means your valuables won’t spill all over the place when you pull it out of the bag. At the back of the bag there’s a padded laptop section that can accommodate a 15-inch laptop, and just in front of it there’s a padded pocket for a tablet. There’s another long zip-closing pocket on the inside of the bag lid, which is divided in two to help keep small items like pens, memory cards or business cards organized.
5 things to look for in a messenger bag
1. Will you need space for your laptop's charger and maybe an external drive?
2. Is the interior adaptable? It's often useful to make space for everyday items too
3, Velcro fastenings are secure, but they can also be noisy when you open the bag
4. A slimline bag will be easier to handle on buses, trains and aeroplanes
5. Don't get a bigger bag than you need. Big, overstuffed bags are unwieldy and tiring
The 50 best photography accessories in 2020
The best camera sling bags
The best camera backpacks
The best luxury leather and canvas camera bags
The best camera holsters and toploader bags
The best roller bags for your camera