The 3 Best Briefcases of 2023 | Reviews by Wirecutter

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When it comes to carrying your belongings from A to B, there’s no shortage of options out there—but it’s hard to beat the polish, elegance, and timeless allure of a briefcase. While it’s not as ergonomically friendly as a backpack or messenger bag (our preferences for carrying heavier loads), a briefcase will elevate any ensemble. Kenneth Cole Duff Guy

The 3 Best Briefcases of 2023 | Reviews by Wirecutter

We put 25 contenders to the test—packing them up with workday essentials and toting them onto trains, planes, and automobiles. Ultimately, three bags stood out for their form, function, and quality: a polished leather investment piece, a spacious waterproof briefcase, and a charmingly rugged oiled-canvas bag that will last a lifetime.

Though all of our picks cost more than $350—spendy, yes, but not unusual for briefcases with this level of craftsmanship and durability—we also found a couple of solid, more modestly priced options, which appear in the Other good briefcases section.

We looked for timeless, attractive bags with excellent craftsmanship.

We sought out briefcases that would be comfortable to carry, evaluating their top handles and (when applicable) shoulder strap.

We focused on bags that are slim yet spacious enough to accommodate at least a 13-inch laptop and some other work essentials.

We preferred briefcases with useful pockets that make it easy to stow and retrieve your belongings.

If you’re looking for a forever bag, this beautifully made Italian leather briefcase offers timeless style and unmatched sophistication. It’s not as spacious as our other picks, but it’s more streamlined.

The Carl Friedrik Palissy is ideal for people in search of a polished, tailored briefcase. This is a pricey bag, with the quality and craftsmanship to match—and it looks as luxe as briefcases that cost thousands more. It’s made of Italian leather that comes in four deep, rich colors and develops a distinctive patina over time. The Palissy pairs perfectly with a suit, but its clean lines work just as well with casual ensembles, too. It also delivers function: It has comfortable handles, a detachable shoulder strap, and an easy-access zipper that runs around three sides.

Note: We also tested the slimmer Carl Friedrik Vallance briefcase, which is made from the same high-quality leather as the Palissy, and recommend it in our Other good briefcases section. Its smaller size, lack of an optional shoulder strap, and limited zipper access make it less practical and appealing than the Palissy, but it does cost around $200 less.

It’s stately and structured. We were immediately struck by the Palissy’s elegant, symmetrical design and stable structure—the leather is stiff enough to stand on its own without collapsing, while metal feet at the base of the bag give it extra stability and raise the bottom off the ground. And when you set the bag down, its firm, comfortable handles fall to the side (rather than sticking straight up like rabbit ears), giving it a neater appearance.

It’s made from smooth, high-quality leather. This bag is made from Italian Vachetta leather—a full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather that’s famously used by luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, known for its buttery texture and durability. While the vegetable-tanning process does make the leather more prone to showing scratches, it also leads to a pleasing patina (a unique pattern of darkening and wear) with time.

There are a few ways to carry it. If you’re not a fan of using top handles, the Palissy also comes with an optional leather shoulder strap—and for an extra $65, you can add a detachable luggage pass-through strap.

It offers easy access to its contents. A smooth, heavy-duty zipper runs all the way around three sides of the bag, making it uniquely easy to load and unload. (Many briefcases, including our other picks, open only across the top.)

Its internal organization is fairly minimal. The Palissy has no bulky external pockets, which keeps it slim and streamlined. But it’s lighter on organization than our Stuart & Lau Cary Single Briefcase pick. It has just one large compartment, which includes a 15-inch laptop pocket, a medium-size zippered sleeve, three smaller slip pockets, and two pen pockets. There’s one external zippered pouch that’s flat but deep, where you can stash a passport or other smaller items.

Its price is high, but so is its quality. While it’s our most expensive pick, considering all that the Palissy offers—exquisitely smooth leather, firm structure, precise stitching, easy access, and comfy handles that don’t pinch—we think it’s a reasonably priced bag.

The Palissy’s quality and style are on a par with that of bags costing hundreds (and even thousands) more. Other minimalist leather cases we tested suffered from an overly soft, collapsing structure, limited zipper access, or an uneven hide, but the Palissy sailed through these tests, and costs less than $700. It’s also covered by a lifetime warranty against any defects that would affect its functionality.

Size and weight: 11.7 by 15.4 by 2.4 inches; 3 pounds 2 ounces Colors: black, chocolate, cognac, navy Warranty: lifetime warranty that covers repairs or replacements for functional damages

This versatile case is roomy, waterproof, and sharp-looking—plus, it has lots of handy pockets. It’s comfortable to carry, as long as you don’t overpack it.

If you’re after an attractive briefcase with ample space, consider the Stuart & Lau Cary Single Briefcase: It offers the best combination of style, organization, and comfort that we’ve found. Made from hardy waterproof material with leather accents, the Cary has an unstuffy elegance that works dressed up or down.

It has a versatile aesthetic. The Cary can be paired with whatever you pull from your wardrobe, whether it’s a pinstripe suit or jeans and a button-up shirt. Even though it’s made of a durable synthetic material, polished details—like the leather handles and detachable shoulder strap, and four protective metal feet on the bottom—make it read more refined than utilitarian.

It’s waterproof. The Cary is made from Duralite, a sturdy material that’s completely waterproof—so even if you get caught in the rain, your laptop and other valuables will remain dry and protected. The fabric is also lighter weight than other weather-resistant materials like ballistic nylon, waxed canvas, or leather.

It’s spacious. Measuring 12 inches tall, 16 inches long, and 3.9 inches wide, the Cary is roomy enough to contain everything you’ll need for the day. In our testing, ours fit a laptop, an e-reader, a day planner, a pair of over-ear headphones, an umbrella, a portable USB charger, several charging cables, and a pen and pencil, with plenty of room to spare.

It has a spot for everything. Inside the Cary’s main zippered compartment, there’s a lightly padded 16-inch laptop sleeve, an array of slip pockets, and two zippered mesh pouches (one of which conceals a clever AirTag pocket). It also has a removable laptop caddy that can accommodate computers up to 15 inches.

On the front of the Cary, there are two leather straps that you can slide an umbrella through, and a few pockets for smaller items. On the back of the bag, there’s a discreet zippered phone pouch and a luggage sleeve that can slide over the handle of a rolling suitcase. The Cary is also chock-full of little extras, including a magnetic key fob that you can clip to the inside of the bag, and a packable shopping tote.

It’s a pleasure to carry. Even before the Cary’s rounded leather top handles get broken in, they’re soft and pliable, and won’t pinch your skin. The briefcase’s detachable padded shoulder strap proved comfortable during testing as well, and felt good even when our bag was loaded up—although we don’t recommend overstuffing this already rather heavy briefcase.

Size and weight: 12 by 16 by 3.9 inches; 3 pounds 3 ounces Colors: navy/tan, black/black, espresso/brown Warranty: limited lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects

This oiled-canvas briefcase is tough—it’s backed by a lifetime warranty for wear and tear—and has a rugged, relaxed charm. The leather top handles feel stiff at first, but they soften up over time.

Filson, an outdoorsy brand that’s been around since 1897, has long been associated with hard-wearing items of high quality—and the Filson Original Briefcase fits that bill. In addition to being tough as nails, this oiled-canvas bag is handsome in an effortlessly confident way—it doesn’t give off traditional corporate vibes and would pair especially well with, say, a tweed coat or blazer and corduroy trousers.

It’s a buy-it-for-life briefcase. The Original is made from a thick, durable cotton-twill canvas that’s been treated with a water-repellant oil finish; a storm flap makes doubly sure that your laptop and papers won’t get wet in light rain and snow. The bag’s straps—a detachable leather shoulder strap and top carry handles—are made from smooth, super-strong bridle leather, which has been treated with oils and then wax on both sides for a deep finish and added strength.

Uniquely, the Original is backed by a lifetime warranty that covers regular wear and tear; our other two picks are covered by a warranty against defects only, which is more standard. So if anything goes wrong—even after years of tossing your bag around—the company will cover your repairs or replacement. (The internet is littered with stories about people’s excellent interactions with Filson’s customer service.)

The leather handles take some time to break in. As soon as you pick up the Original, you’ll notice the high quality of the leather shoulder strap and top carry handles—but because they’re made from bridle leather, they’re stiff at first. Brand new, the wide, flat, top handles feel a bit rough on your hands, and the strap can dig in when you’re carrying heavier loads (at 3 pounds 6 ounces when empty, this is the heaviest bag we recommend). But trust us: The leather softens up beautifully over time.

The shoulder strap on this bag is longer than most—even on its shortest setting, it was still much too long for our 5-foot-2 tester. But since the strap is leather and has a buckle adjustment, you can easily punch new holes in it to shorten it up.

It has large, spacious pockets. The Original’s interior has two full-length pockets for folders or a laptop, as well as a series of smaller internal pockets to contain odds and ends. (None of the internal pockets have closures, though, so if you accidentally upend the bag, your stuff may spill out.) There’s also a large outer pocket on either side of the briefcase, where you can stash non-bulky items like newspapers.

Size and weight: 13 by 16 by 3.5 inches; 3 pounds 6 ounces Colors: tan, olive, navy Warranty: lifetime warranty, including regular wear and tear

Let’s be candid: Depending on how much you typically carry, and for how long and far, a backpack or a messenger bag may serve you better than a briefcase. Both of those do a superior job of distributing their contents’ weight, potentially saving your shoulders and spine from anguish.

But for some, a briefcase will always have irresistible allure—a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s more than merely a bag; it’s a signifier as well, often used to announce that you’re a professional, or mark the passage from one significant stage to the next. (Hence, its popularity as a go-to gift for law school or MBA graduates.) Practically, it’s a holdover from the days when office jobs required more-formal dress.

If a briefcase is calling to you, by all means, go for it. Being realistic about your commuting needs when you choose one will give you the greatest chance of enjoying your purchase.

The briefcases we tested—and most briefcases in general—are designed for short trips between car and office, or for commuters who travel light. They’re not intended to be loaded up with all your work gear plus a water bottle, gym clothes, a hardback novel, and the rest of the kitchen sink.

From an initial list of more than 70 briefcases, we selected 25 to test, paying special attention to the following:

Aesthetics and craftsmanship: We looked for classic, attractive bags made from high-quality, durable materials.

Capacity: We sought out slim styles that weren’t more than 5 inches thick, but that could still hold a 13-inch laptop and other work essentials. We packed (or attempted to pack) each bag we tested with a laptop, an e-reader, a book, a notebook, a compact umbrella, pens, a USB battery pack, a pair of headphones, and charging cables.

Organization: We considered each briefcase’s pockets and organizational features, and how easy the bag made it to both stow away and access our things.

Comfort: To assess how comfortable the briefcases would be to carry, we loaded each of them with gear, then walked around for anywhere between 30 minutes to four hours. We alternated between using the top handles and shoulder strap, when applicable, to weigh the comfort of each.

Price: Briefcases tend to be expensive—but a great one can last a lifetime. We tested bags costing up to $800, though we wanted to find picks costing far less than that (and succeeded).

Reliability: We considered bags from a variety of well-known and respected manufacturers, as well as smaller boutique brands with strong editorial and customer reviews. All of our picks are backed by solid warranty policies, should anything go wrong.

If you want a gorgeous, minimalist leather briefcase for light loads only: The sleek Carl Friedrik Vallance is a former pick in this guide, and we still think it’s stunningly beautiful. It’s also a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the Carl Friedrik Palissy, our pick from the same manufacturer. Like the Palissy, the Vallance is made with luxe Italian Vachetta leather, it’s structured enough to stand on its own, and it’s covered by a lifetime warranty against functional defects. But whereas the Palissy offers both form and function—with ample space, a zippered opening on three sides, and sturdy, comfortable straps (including a detachable shoulder strap)—the Vallance is less practical. It can’t hold much more than a laptop, its zipper opens only at the top of the bag, and it has flat, less comfortable top handles and no shoulder strap. The Vallance has a 13-inch laptop pocket (although a 15-inch computer can fit in the main compartment), two medium-size internal pockets, and a small, flat external pocket for a passport or billfold.

If you want a roomy, lightweight, and more-affordable leather briefcase: The Fossil Haskell Double Zip Briefcase—a softly structured leather bag with a double-zippered top opening—has ample capacity and plenty of organization. It’s comparable in size to the Stuart & Lau Cary and Filson Original briefcases, measuring 16 inches long, 12 inches tall, and 3.5 inches wide. Weighing in at just 2.5 pounds, it’s also significantly lighter than other leather bags of its size. We easily fit a 15-inch laptop, a tablet, an e-reader, a notebook, an umbrella, a USB battery pack, pens, pencils, and charging cables—and even with all that, it felt comfortable to carry with either the top handles or the fabric shoulder strap. This briefcase used to be an official pick, and we still think it’s a good option as a less-expensive everyday bag. But it’s not as stylish as our other picks, and the leather is a bit rigid and needs time to soften up, and it has only a limited one-year warranty.

If you want an ultra-compact nylon briefcase that’s stylish and well-priced: The chic Knomo Hanover is slim and light, with just enough room for a 14-inch laptop and a few essentials. It’s even smaller than the Carl Friedrik Vallance (also here in Other good briefcases), but it fits about the same amount of stuff since it’s more flexible. (Even when full, the Hanover maintains its sleek profile.) Eye-catching details, like gold-colored hardware and leather accents, dress up the bag’s water-resistant nylon exterior and pair well with more formal outfits (think: a wool suit or little black dress). The Hanover is comfortable to tote around: Its leather handles are well-sized for smaller hands, and their rounded edges don’t bite into your skin. At under $250, it’s also the cheapest briefcase we recommend in this guide, and it comes with a two-year repair and replacement guarantee. During our testing, the leather pull tab on one of the front zippers fell off, making it difficult to operate; a Knomo rep confirmed that it would be eligible for replacement.

This is not a comprehensive list of everything we tested in previous iterations of this guide, just what’s still available.

At around $25, the polyester Amazon Basics 15.6-Inch Laptop and Tablet Case Shoulder Bag is very cheap. Unfortunately, it’s also ugly, uncomfortable, scratchy, and poorly made.

When filled with just a few items, the Bellroy System Messenger Bag (previously called the Bellroy Slim Work Bag)—made from a water-resistant fabric—took on a balloon-like shape that made it unappealing to carry.

The Custom Hide Organizer Laptop Briefcase is a high-quality, traditional leather bag—but at 4 pounds 3 ounces when empty, it was the heaviest we tested. Once it’s filled with your essentials, it’s a struggle to lug around.

The Frank Clegg Leather Computer Briefcase felt buttery-smooth on the outside, but it has no inner lining. And it wasn’t built to stand on its own: As soon as it touches the floor, it collapses onto itself.

The minimal, chrome-tanned leather Linjer Soft Briefcase is a beautiful bag, but our Carl Friedrik Palissy pick is better: The Linjer doesn’t open as wide, has fewer pockets, and comes in fewer colors. Also, the Linjer is frequently out of stock.

Made from water-repellant canvas, the Topo Commuter Briefcase can convert into a backpack—which sounds clever, but the straps add unnecessary bulk and make it harder to carry at your side.

Additional reporting by Tim Barribeau, Daniel Varghese, and Justin Krajeski.

This article was edited by Ingela Ratledge Amundson and Jennifer Hunter.

Zoe Vanderweide is a staff writer reporting on style and accessories at Wirecutter. She has been wearing things for over three decades, and she has spent years covering streetwear, luxury, art, and design. Off the clock, you can find her painting the town rainbow with her (devastatingly stylish) daughter.

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The 3 Best Briefcases of 2023 | Reviews by Wirecutter

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