Grown-up Questions: Backpack or Briefcase?

backpack or briefcase

Should you carry a backpack or briefcase?

If you’re a grown-up, you should carry a briefcase.

When I was a kid, my dad went to work everyday with a black, metal attaché from Samsonite that had a combination lock and spring-loaded latches and hinges. I used to play with it and pretend I was an adult and that it carried important documents, and maybe a gun.

Those were the good old days. Today, the briefcase has been largely supplanted by the more convenient and versatile backpack, which can carry more all-important stuff while keeping your hands free to do other tasks like eat, drink, take out your wallet, or ride a bike.

Why should you use a briefcase then?




Carry less stuff

You are probably lugging around too much stuff already. A briefcase will force you to be more selective with your everyday carry inventory.

You only need a notepad, one or two pens, and whatever documents or books you will use that day. Leave everything else at home.

Even if you are tethered to an electronic device, chances are it’s a tablet or lightweight laptop. No one carries around big honking supercomputers anymore.

Keep your books razor sharp

Either a backpack or briefcase can be used to haul around books, but a briefcase is horizontally oriented, so when you drop your books inside, they can go in spine-side down, meaning the cover and page corners will face up.

Conversely, backpacks are vertically oriented, so unless your books are tiny, they will have to go in with the spines facing the side. This makes the corners rub against the lumpy, uneven bottom of the bag, causing wear and tear.

backpack or briefcase
Left: Skool books suffering wear and tear against the bottom of the backpack. Right: Book corners preserved in a briefcase.

If you’re a student, you want to keep your books in mint condition so you can sell them off once your class ends and you are finished (not) reading them.

Even if you’re not a student, dog-eared covers and pages are never attractive.

Pretend to be an adult

Much like my childhood self did, you will feel like an adult while carrying a briefcase.

I love backpacks too, and they certainly have their uses, but they are heavily associated with school, and therefore with being a student. There’s nothing wrong with being a student, but the unfortunate stigma that comes attached with the status evokes cluelessness, disorientation, and naiveté. Even if you are a student, those aren’t traits you want to highlight.

If you’re not a student, carrying a backpack around tells people you are still trapped in a student’s mentality.  You do what you’re told, don’t rock the boat, and aren’t completely sure of what you’re doing. We’ve all been there. No need to put it on blast though.

n00b wearing backpack
Don’t be caught wandering the hallways like this guy.

A briefcase tells people you’ve graduated, so to speak, from being a bumbling student and now are in control of your destiny and are ready to take on the world. You will look more assertive, and people will be more likely to listen to you and respect what you have to say. Who doesn’t want that?

This is especially important if you are in the workplace (or even in graduate school) since people’s perception of you makes a huge impact on your career trajectory and the opportunities that will be available to you.

boss with briefcase
Reliability and control are assumed.

Folks make assumptions all the time, whether they are accurate or not. If there’s an opening for a new VP position, do you think the CEO is going to pick someone who looks completely in charge of his game, or someone who looks like he is looking for his locker on the first day of school?

backpack or briefcase
Imagined contents of backpack: comic books, Game Boy, Pokemon cards, milk money, grilled cheese sandwich. Imagined contents of briefcase: redacted documents, top secret files, gold bullion, unmarked bills, gun (maybe).

Conclusion: backpack or briefcase?

Don’t get me wrong, I still use my backpack all the time, like when I actually do have to lug around a ton of stuff (such as while traveling) or items bulkier than would fit in a briefcase (cameras, food, etc).

Otherwise, for daily operations, if I have to choose between backpack or briefcase, I almost always elect to carry the briefcase. It keeps my day confident and simple.

What do you use to carry your everyday stuff? Let us know in the comments!

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