I truck my leather Brooks Brothers briefcase to and from the office and I know the MT guidance going back a decade+ is that backpacks (nice ones) are no-go. But often, I have a coffee in hand, sometimes carrying my lunch, plus the briefcase and open doors, climb stairs. A backpack would be much easier. I don't work at a Fortune 100 or anything. I am the highest IT professional for my organization. I never wear a suit to work (usually button-up and chinos/trousers) and occasionally wear a blazer. Has guidance changed in 2020? One thing I saw as a "sign" is Hartmann doesn't even sell briefcases anymore on their website. But they do sell some sweet backpacks! Check these out:
What do you use?
Perhaps go more local for your guidance?
If you're top guy, others will emulate you. This is a great opportunity to ask advice of your boss, his peers, and up the chain a little. Is there a particular image/attitude the organization wants to reinforce? Does briefcase versus backpack affect how this is seen?
For myself, I'm technical at a startup, so backpack is definitely the way for me to go right now. Earlier in my career, at large companies, I was always low enough in the hierarchy (individual contributor or small-team lead, no management responsibility) that it didn't matter which we chose. I did briefcase then roller-bag for awhile, then messenger-bag, then backpack -- sometimes alternating or even a few at once. Had one boss who preferred us using briefcases for site visits to clients, where that better reassured some of their higher-ups. I loved the backpack when I wanted to encourage a more informal and fluid environment, briefcase to tighten things up.
The times I've gone with briefcases, I altered my rhythms to suit. Grabbed my tea only after setting briefcase down in my office, for instance, which encouraged chatting with my mind firmly in "work" mode not "commute" mode.
While I think briefcases in their traditional sense are not widely utilized anymore and I rarely see them on the street, even in larger city business districts, other than in the hands of "senior" looking executives (and that is still rare). When you think about it everything we used to haul in our briefcases can pretty much now be found in our smartphones or tablets.
That being said I often have paperwork, files or even a laptop that need to be carried to mertins, sales calls or client visits. I find a nice leather messenger bag is a good compromise. Use it without the strap and it looks like a nice bag (backpacks never look good being carried by the top handle or straps). Using the messenger bag by the strap still allows the use of both hands for coffee, opening doors, etc.
This is similar to what I find works for me:
There's more than one answer
I've been in both large and small companies as a manager and IC. The large companies are Fotune 100 sized so you can get an idea of the climate.
In the large companies, breifcase/ messenger bags were the go to. I'm at a small company now and have continued that tradition. The other managers here are in the breifcase/ messenger bag camp as well.
That being said, when I travel, I use the backpack. I have a very durable, good looking Eddie Bauer that works well for me. I'm typically travelling for 2 weeks at a time internationally (pre-COVID) and the bag just didn't work. It didn't hold enough, could spill out, and I was worried about the leather going from plane to cab to hotel. With the backpack, I can lug my laptop, books, chargers, and converters with no problem.