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There’s no doubt a good bag can improve your day-to-day life. When you have a reliable bag you can toss your essentials into without worry, you can focus on the things that matter most, such as your coursework.
The best backpacks for college are durable, comfortable, affordable, and perfectly sized. Want to find yours? Read on to see our handy buying guide and our top 8 recommendations!
How to Choose the Best Backpacks for School
Style is just one of many factors to consider when shopping for the best backpacks for students. It only makes sense that you like how your bag looks, but what else should you look at before buying? Check out our buying guide below for a bit of help!
Backpacks can vary wildly in cost. You’ll easily find college backpacks for anywhere from $20 to well over $100. If you choose to shop designer, it’s entirely possible you may pay even more — several hundred or even over a thousand dollars.
You should always consider the backpack’s cost before you click the checkout button. Consider something between $30 and $100, which we believe is an excellent sweet spot for affordable bags without compromising quality.
Your school backpack should be able to survive carrying your essentials day in and day out without fail. Durability is an important thing to consider when shopping for your backpack, as the last thing you want is for the bag to split apart mid-commute. The best school backpacks will be durable enough to last you at least a year, but should undoubtedly live for many years (depending on wear and tear).
Stability and Weight Distribution
As you look at and try different backpacks, you’ll notice that not all offer the same level of stability. Some bags may be poorly designed, throwing weight distribution off-kilter, which can, in turn, throw you off balance or cause some back and shoulder pain later on. Check reviews to see whether some users have complained about a bag’s comfort level. And, when putting your stuff in your bag, always put the biggest and bulkiest items closest to your back (and the straps).
Size and Storage Capacity
Book bags should always be the right size to accommodate your daily essentials. The best way to figure out what size your bag should be is to go by your laptop or your largest textbook. The first step is ensuring that your largest items will fit into the bag. Then, you can start considering what else you intend to bring during your daily commutes. Add a bit of allowance from there, and you’ll have a backpack of the perfect size.
If you aren’t sure where to begin and just want general suggestions, we’d say try something between 20L to 30L in capacity, then adjust from there.
Pockets and Compartments
A basic backpack is great for carrying your stuff around. But, if you want to be able to organize everything, then you’ll want a bag with pockets and compartments. Look for backpacks that offer you enough interior and exterior pockets to keep your items accessible and organized. That way, you aren’t reaching into a vortex whenever you need to find something in a hurry.
If you intend to bring your tablet or laptop around with you daily, it’s a good idea to buy a backpack that offers your delicate tech enough protection. Some bags have dedicated tablet pockets, while others have larger padded laptop compartments to protect your computer during travel.
The best laptop backpack for college will fit your computer perfectly, have soft material to prevent scratches, and be padded enough to help your laptop survive an accidental knock. Note that some bags offer more protection than others and that you shouldn’t throw or kick your bag around just because it’s padded.
Any backpack you purchase should be adjustable simply because you want it to be perfect for you. Stay away from bags that do not have adjustable shoulder straps, as they can easily be a one-way ticket to constant discomfort and pain.
Some backpacks are made of outer material that offers some water-resistant properties. If you expect to spend a lot of time outdoors or just want some extra protection against the elements, you may want to look into a bag that’s water-resistant or has a waterproof cover (more common in hiking backpacks).
If you’re just using your backpack while going to and from campus, there’s really not much need to worry about security. However, if you handle sensitive documents or intend to travel with your bag, you can look into RFID blocker features to prevent digital data theft. Note that some bags also have anti-theft features such as double zippers, slash-proof fabric, and more. At this point, these features are more novelty than anything else, but they’re still worth looking into if you want to protect your valuables.
Who is this best for?: The Patagonia Refugio Daypack is one of the best backpacks for students who are looking for a little extra support and better weight distribution. Also a fantastic choice for the environmentally conscious.
17.7” x 11.97” x 6.5”; 26L Capacity
Comes in multiple colorways
Also has a 30L version available for those craving more space
Uses durable 100%-recycled polyester with a PFC-free water-resistant finish
Fair Trade Certified; made in Vietnam
Offers a “desk caddy” compartment and a padded, removable 15” laptop sleeve
Has a hydration hanger and a breathable back design for hiking and commutes in the heat
Patagonia’s Refugio Daypack is sustainably made and Fair Trade certified. It uses 100% post-consumer recycled material, reducing its impact on the environment. Because of its sustainable background, high capacity, removable laptop sleeve, and wealth of pockets for organization, the Refugio Daypack is easily our choice for the best grad student backpack overall.
Many colorways to choose from
Plenty of compartments plus a unique removable laptop sleeve with padding and extra pockets
Versatile design allows for use for school, hiking, and more
Patagonia is a brand known for its commitment to environmental awareness
Who is this best for?: The MATEIN Rolling Backpack is easily the best college backpack for students who want an affordable 2-in-1 convertible that lets you carry your bag or wheel it around when you’re tired.
Has a built-in USB charging port (power bank sold separately) for charging your devices on the go
Multiple color options are available
If you’re looking for a cheap backpack that doesn’t compromise on price, the MATEIN Rolling Backpack is a great choice. As an added bonus (though to some, this may be more of a drawback), this backpack is a 2-in-1 convertible. You can wheel this bag around if you get tired! Plus, the handy built-in USB charging port adds more convenience!
Choose from several colors
Built-in USB charging port is a handy way to stay powered
Convertible design allows for easy switching between wheels and back straps
Decent support and weight distribution
The built-in USB charging port can cause problems if you’re out in the rain for too long or if your bag gets wet — extra care needed
May not be the most durable, considering its price point
Who is this best for?: The North Face Borealis is one of the best backpacks for college students and graduate students who want a comfortable way to carry their essentials daily.
19.75″ x 13.25″ x 9.75″; 28L Capacity
Also available in a women’s version designed to be more suitable for female anatomy
Offers plenty of accessible pockets for easy organization
Your laptop will be well-protected in the dedicated compartment
Many colorways to choose from (note that only certain colorways have water-repellent finishes)
The overhauled suspension system allows for better weight support and distribution
The well-vented back design keeps you cool
The North Face Borealis is a sustainably-made backpack built to be extremely comfortable in daily use. The Borealis works well for students looking for a comfy bag for their daily commute to grad school, but also functions perfectly as a hiking or “outdoors” bag.
Versatile and durable enough to survive hiking and traveling
Larger capacity allows you to carry more
Dedicated laptop compartment keeps your machine safe
A bit pricey
Can be somewhat confusing when choosing between the men’s/women’s version
Who is this best for?: The Bellroy Classic Backpack is a fantastic bag for students with laptops who don’t need too much in terms of carrying capacity.
15.7” x 10.2” x 7”; 16L Capacity
Many colorways are available
13” laptop sleeve included; may be able to fit 14” MacBook Pros
Many small pockets for organization
Uses recycled woven water-resistant fabric to help keep your valuables safe
Has a three-year warranty
If you don’t think you’ll bring much more than your laptop or tablet and a few other essentials, the Bellroy Classic Backpack is an excellent choice. At 16L capacity, you won’t be able to fit much but you’ll have a lightweight bag in a small package that’s far less cumbersome to bring around. The only thing we don’t like as much about this bag is its price — it may be worth waiting for a sale!
On the smaller side, making it more lightweight (perfect for people who only need to bring their laptops and a few other essentials)
Comes with a three-year warranty to protect your purchase
Who is this best for?: The Topo Designs Daypack Classic is a great bag for students who like no-frills designs.
11″ x 19″ x 5″; decent capacity
Has a laptop sleeve that fits machines up to 15”
Many colorways available
Has pockets for organization, including outer side pockets for water bottles and other quick-access items
Durable material and study YKK zippers ensure the backpack will last you years
The Topo Designs Daypack Classic is certainly on the pricier end. However, for the price you pay, you get a classic backpack made out of rugged, durable materials that can handle outdoor activities. In fact, this bag even has an ice pick loop, pointing to the fact that you can use this for climbing. If you just want a bag with a simple design without a high price, consider one of the other bags below.
Simple design offers no-frills but still gives you pockets for organization
Durable materials and zipper makes this bag extra reliable
Has a 15” laptop sleeve to keep your computer safe
Who is this best for?: The Herschel Classic XL Backpack is a fantastic bag for graduate students who like simple designs.
17.5″ x 12.5″ x 6″; 30L
Multiple colorways available
Features a simple, classic design that never goes out of style
Large capacity with a huge main compartment, a sleeve for your 15” laptop, an easy-access zippered front pocket, and exterior outdoor pockets
The Herschel Classic XL Backpack is in the running for the title of best backpack for college because it offers the perfect mix of style, durability, price, and comfort. This backpack is perfect for grad students who only need a bag for school and occasional travel. Thanks to its 30L capacity, the XL also makes a perfect weekender bag.
Simple, no-frills design keeps this classic backpack stylish forever
Large capacity makes it possible to carry everything you need every day
The laptop pocket doesn’t offer the most protection, be careful with your machine!
Not many pockets or compartments to help with organization
Who is this best for?: The Eastpak Out of Office Backpack offers an affordable option to those who want a roomy bag with protection for their laptops.
17″ x 11.6″ x 8.6″; 27L Capacity
Many color options available
Included laptop sleeve can accommodate machines up to 13.3”
Made out of 100% nylon, made to be durable to last you a long time
The Eastpak Out of Office Backpack offers you plenty of storage space thanks to its 27L capacity. It’s comfortable and durable enough for daily wear and tear. The only thing we don’t like is that its laptop sleeve only accommodates computers 13.3” or below.
Simple no-frills design means this backpack will never go out of style
Padded straps and back allows you to be comfortable while carrying a heavier load
Who is this best for?: The Herschel Pop Quiz is the perfect backpack for students looking for a smaller bag with a simple yet stylish design.
Plenty of colorways to choose from
6 x 11.75 x 17.5 inches; 22L
Has a lined internal laptop compartment fitting 15” machines; compartment is padded with fleece
Easy-access front pocket with smaller pockets for more organization on the inside
Has a pocket with fleece lining for your small, delicate items, such as sunglasses
Uses canvas outer material, which means no water resistance
If you enjoy a classic, simple style, the Herschel Pop Quiz is the perfect option. This bag comes in a wide variety of colors and prints, adding a bit of flair to the classic design. At only 22L capacity, this bag allows you to carry your laptop with a few extra essentials. Don’t expect to be able to bring this bag around for weekenders unless you have an extra bag (or pack extremely lightly)!
Simple, classic, stylish design with many colorways for you to choose from
Interior laptop compartment is fleece-padded and lined; fits 15” machines
22L capacity means this bag is lightweight and has a smaller footprint
Only 22L, won’t fit many textbooks
Why Should You Trust Us?
We want our readers to succeed in their educational pursuits and aim to help by providing the best, most accurate information we can. That includes information on tools and items that can help their studies, such as academic planners and, of course, school backpacks.
To put this list of the best college backpacks together, we spent hours upon hours researching. We looked closer at products and their specifications, read countless reviews, joined online forums, and asked some grad students for their recommendations.
We put together a massive list of bags, then moved forward with our process below.
How We Selected the Best College Backpacks
Once we had our list of bags in hand, the next thing we did was to consider a few factors.
We looked at each bag and considered factors such as:
The pack’s price and whether it fits within our ideal range of $30 to ~$100
The bags’ sizes and storage capacities and whether they fit what we think would be the best range for a backpack for college
How durable the bag is and whether it will survive getting put through the wringer, figuratively (and maybe literally)
The pack’s comfort, stability, and ergonomics
Whether the product comes from known, reliable backpack brands (they’re usually popular for a reason)
Once we considered the factors above, we slowly eliminated products from our list until we arrived at the ten you see above.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you wash a backpack?
The best way to find out how to wash your particular bag is to check the manufacturer’s instructions. Some bags can be tossed into the washing machine and hung out to air dry, but others with water-resistant properties may need extra attention.
What size backpack is best for college?
The best backpack size for college is around 20-30L capacity, with enough room to fit your tablet or laptop and a few other books and supplies. However, if all your course material is digital, you can opt for a smaller bag; if all your materials are physical textbooks and paper, you may need a bigger pack with more strap support. Of course, we recommend that you use your judgment in cases where you need to bring unique items like a microscope for lab classes.
How much should you spend on a college backpack?
When it comes to backpacks, the price often corresponds to quality. In some situations, you’ll undoubtedly be paying extra for a brand name (hello, designer backpacks), but in general, more expensive bags tend to be more comfortable and last longer overall. That doesn’t mean you should spend hundreds of dollars for a bag — something in the vicinity of $30 to $100 can do as long as you’re careful to read reviews.
Do I really need a big backpack for college?
Not necessarily. The size of your backpack depends entirely on what you expect to bring daily (with some allowance for other occasions). For example, there’s no need to have a massive college backpack if all your books and course materials are digital, and all you need to bring is your laptop or iPad (or both!).
A bag is a vital tool for your schooling and education. The right one will help you conveniently tote everything you need for classes and other activities around without fail. When choosing your pack, consider factors like those we mentioned in our buying guide above.
We hope that our guide and recommendations have helped you choose from the best backpacks for college and find the one that suits you best. If you think we missed an item that should be on this list, let us know in the comments below!