With so many different backpack choices being sold on the market choosing the right backpack for college can be somewhat frustrating.
After all there are a number of great backpacks that provide a range of different uses to fit your needs, but it can get overwhelming.
In order to help simplify your search for the perfect backpack we’ve put together our top 16 favorite backpacks for college.
Each backpack comes in a different size and offers its own unique features and design elements to fit your everyday needs.
1. Herschel Supply Pop Quiz Backpack
Herschel’s Supply Pop Quiz Backpack is a stylish bag that is made of durable canvas/polyester material. It features a nice front external pocket and a fleece-lined laptop pocket that is designed to fit most laptops up to 15 inches.
This bag is available in a variety of colors and styles including black, grey, navy, plaid, polka dot and others, and some designs are even available with several Herschel’s wallets that will provide a nice complementary look. Whether you need a backpack for school, work or travel Herschel’s supply pop quiz backpack is an excellent option.
2. Herschel Supply Co. Little America
Another excellent bag from Herschel is their Little America Backpack, which is made using 100% polyester material and features a magnetic flap closure and a small exterior pocket for additional storage. The bag combines a classic mountaineering style with a modern touch and great functionality.
Notebooks of up to 17 inches (depending on model) can fit comfortably inside of the backpack and its unisex design makes it a great option for both men and women.
Each bag comes with the classic Herschel trademark design label and features beautiful contrasting/complementary straps that make the backpacks elegant features stand out. For those looking for additional choices, this designer backpack is sold in over two dozen colors/styles to ensure you’ll find a bag that matches your taste and personal expression.
3. Under Armour Hustle II Backpack
Under Armour designs a range of excellent clothing, shoes, bags, and accessories. Their Hustle 2 Backpack Bag is made from a blend of polyester and nylon material, which allows it to remain very durable, yet flexible enough to meet a wide variety of needs.
A soft internal laptop sleeve enables you to comfortably fit a notebook of up to 15 inches while 3 interior slip pockets and 5 exterior pockets provide great storage and organization capabilities.
In addition to being a shoulder strap bag it also has a top grab handle for easy mobility and 2 side water bottle pockets to keep you hydrated at all times. If you live/work in an environment with highly diverse weather or you just need a bag that will hold up to a fair amount of abuse this highly-water resistant/repellent bag is an excellent option.
4. JanSport Classic SuperBreak Backpack
JanSport offers a great selection of backpacks for school and college students, and their Classic Superbreak Backpack is no exception. This stylish backpack is made from a durable polyester material with enough storage space to fit laptops of up to 15 inches based on customer feedback.
The bag comes with a large main compartment for storing books, school items and accessories, a front accessory/utility pocket and padded shoulder straps for additional comfort. JanSport’s Superbreak backpack is offered in over 30 different color and patterns variations, so there is an option for everyone regardless of your style.
5. High Sierra Curve Backpack
High Sierra’s Curve Backpack incorporates a sleek curved design with numerous compartment spaces to maximize storage opportunities. There’s a large front-load main compartment, a core organizer compartment and front zippered media pocket for keeping all of your items separate, yet easily accessible.
The S-shaped padded shoulder straps are designed to improve the comfort and fit of the bag while the bags synthetic material improves durability and long-term use.
6. Vera Bradley Campus 2 Backpack
Vera Bradley is a popular maker of quality bags and offers their take on the backpack with this Vera Bradley Campus 2 Backpack, which is sold in a number of beautiful design patterns. The bag is made using durable cotton with nylon lining and features a zipper closure mechanism.
Storage space for the bag includes a spacious main compartment with two slip pockets, a back zippered pocket with two open slip pockets and a third zippered for keeping your items well organized.
Additional side pockets provide space for a water bottle or other similar sized items while padded straps provide a comfortable carrying experience while navigated school grounds. If you’re a fan of the Vera Bradley brand or just love this bag you should give this one a definite look.
7. Herschel Supply Co. Heritage Backpack
Our third Herschel bag, named the Herschel Heritage Backpack establishes a vintage design with modern functionality. The bag is made with their signature striped fabric liner and is large enough to store a 15-inch laptop in its dedicated sleeve pocket while a main compartment and media pocket keeps other items separated and safe.
A separate single front pocket keeps the bag from being over-complicated and allows room for some basic accessories. Solid color, two-tone contrasts, and decorative patterns are available in over a dozen variations for those looking for alternative choices.
8. KAVU Rope Bag
If you’re a fan of slung bags or just want something a little different than your traditional backpack then check out this cool Rope Bag from KAVU. This bag is created using 100% cotton material and features an adjustable “clipped” rope shoulder strap for quick and easy carrying.
Storage space for the bag is made up of two interior multi-functional pockets as well as two large exterior pockets, which can be found on the front of the bag as both a storage and design feature.
In regards to exterior design the bag incorporates an ergonomic design with KAVU embroidery and is available in over a dozen color/style options that range from traditional solid, 2 tone and 3 tone colors (with color accents) to striped, floral and dot patterns among others.
9. EcoCity Vintage Canvas Backpack
EcoCity offers a casual looking Vintage Cotton Canvas Backpack, which is available in several stylish colors. The bag features numerous interior pockets include a cellphone pocket, credential pocket and interior zipper pocket along with an iPad sleeve.
The exterior includes several additional zippered pockets for extra space and adjustable shoulder straps to ensure a comfortable carrying experience.
10. Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack
Osprey’s Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack is great for college students, backpackers or those who like to travel a lot. This durable bag comes with a large main compartment, which features internal compression straps to help keep sensitive gear secure as well as an additional front pocket that contains a padded laptop/tablet sleeve.
A double ripstop design is implemented to keep this bag durable and sturdy in tough environments. In addition to utilizing shoulder straps the bag also incorporates a chest and torso strap to keep the bag secure and in place while walking or traveling over long distances.
This bag is available in several colors including charcoal, blue and red and is offered in two different size options for those with a smaller or larger torso.
11. Leaper Causal Style Lightweight Canvas School Backpack
Leaper’s Casual Style Canvas Backpack comes in medium or large options and offers an array of different print patterns to match your style and personality. This bag is made from lightweight canvas material and offers enough storage space to comfortably fit laptop or tablet under 14″.
Numerous pockets can be found within the main compartment for organizing your items, accessories and gear while the outside features a second zippered front pocket and side pockets for storing your phone, umbrella, etc…
Comfortable shoulders pads help ease the pressure on your shoulders so that you can focus on traveling instead of focusing on discomfort.
12. Roxy Juniors Huntress Backpack
Roxy Juniors Huntress Backpack is a modern bag with a fancy checkered design that’s sure to please. It features a padded laptop sleeve for your notebook or tablet as well as numerous spacious front pockets that feature beautiful contrast zipper lining.
A padded back-panel with logo embroidery and adjustable shoulder straps with a locker loop are incorporated to ensure a pleasant experience while worn on the back.
13. The North Face Surge II Backpack TNF
North Face makes a variety of excellent products including this North Face Surge II Backpack, which is available in half a dozen colors. This bag is designed with hyper-durable ballistic nylon to maximize its strength and long-term durability, so that it can take a lot of abuse and keep on ticking.
The spaces bag features a zip laptop compartment, which can fit most laptops of up to 17 inches and has a dedicated tablet sleeve along with three other main compartments, allowing you to stow, organize and carry a large number of items with you during your travels.
If you need a bag that offers plenty of space and can handle ruff usage then be sure to check out this bag by The North Face.
14. 5.11 Tactical Rush 24 Back Pack
If you’re looking for a bag with a tactical edge take a look at this Tactical Rush 24 Backpack from 5.11. This backpack is designed with water-resistant 1050-denier nylon, which is tough enough to stand up to a fair amount of abuse.
The bag features a spacious main compartment which is large enough to comfortably fit a large tablet or small laptop, and also includes a plethora of internal/external pockets (including a hydration pocket) and compartment spaces for maximum organization and accessibility of all your important items.
This backpack is great for students who travel light and don’t have to pack too many books or items in their bag at one time, but want a bag that can withstand lot’s of abuse and seasonal/environmental changes.
15. Element Men’s Mohave Backpack
Element’s Men’s Mohave Backpack blends together style and functionality with this modern looking bag. This men’s bag is designed using tough polyester material and features an internal laptop sleeve, front zip pocket and zip side pockets for simple storage and organization.
Shoulder strap D-ring’s and buckle skate straps are incorporated into the bags design to offer maximum security and maneuverability while a stylish accented logo, front zipper and bottom provides the bag with a nice, original look. For those who want other color options there are over a dozen color/style options to choose from.
16. Dakine Women’s Garden Backpack
Dakine’s Women’s Garden Backpack is designed with a padded laptop sleeve that is made to fit most laptops up to 14″.
The main compartment is spacious for carrying books, binders or other large items while an additional organizer pocket and side mesh pockets allow for extra storage options and make it easy to keep all of your items organized and secure.
In regards to appearance and style you can choose from well over a dozen prints that come in basic, light and dark designs. Dakine’s lightweight backpack is made using strong polyester material that designed to make life easier and withstand the rigors of everyday use.
Whether you’re going to school or planning a day to go hiking this bag will help you get the job done with less effort.
What size backpack do I need?
When it comes to size the type backpack you should purchase will depend on your personal needs and class requirements.
College books are often one of the biggest space hogs for students and can leave little room for other school items and gear.
In many cases students will purchase a backpack without realizing all of the other essential items they’ll need to carry around, therefore it may be a good idea to choose a backpack with additional space beyond what you think you might need, especially if you have classes that require extra items such as a multiple binders, a laptop or a stethoscope.
If you are a part time student taking 1 – 3 classes then you may be able to get away with a fairly compact and lightweight backpack, however if you are going to college full time and/or taking classes such as nursing or science that require additional equipment you should identify all of your potential needs for that class in advance.
Check your class requirements online, ask a professor or speak to a guidance counselor to see what you will need for all of your classes before choosing a backpack as it is common for students to buy a bag only to find out that their backpack doesn’t accommodate everything they need to carry around.
To help make your buying decision a bit easier and give you better understanding of what size bag you should purchase here is a list of items you may need to carry in your backpack.
Essential collage items/supplies to consider:
- Post it notes/Page markers
- Flash cards
- College books (Determine the number and size of books you need)
- Laptop/Tablet/Smartphone (choose a backpack that can accommodate your laptop/tablet)
- Printer/Scanner (For printing, organizing and uploading notes)
- Class specific equipment/items (stethoscopes, math calculators, school clothing, props etc.)
- Personal hygiene items
How to choose the right backpack
So now that you have a good idea the items you may need to carry around in your backpack (based on your class requirements) it’s time to help you narrow down your choices so that you can choose a bag size that is appropriate for your needs.
Before buying your college backpack consider purchasing all of your books, school supplies and accessories in advance. This will help you get a realistic sense of how much space your college books, items and gear will be taking up, and you may realize that you need a bigger bag than you originally thought.
Also think about purchasing a backpack that offers plenty of slots for keeping school supplies such as pencils, highlighters, flashcards, rulers, staplers, calculators, notebooks, binders, personal hygiene items and other things secured and organized.
If you need to carry around a laptop, tablet or printer/scanner around also consider a bag with dedicated compartments for these items and make sure the backpack can accommodate their size.
This will allow you to get the most out of your space and provide you with access to what you need quickly. If you’ve ever used a backpack in the past that had limited organizational space/compartments you know how frustrating it can be fishing around the bottom of your bag searching for a pencil, highlighter or eraser.
In additional to compartment space make sure you know the measurements, capacity and weight limit of the bag you want to buy in advance so that you don’t purchase one that is either too small or too large. Images and even descriptions can be deceiving, so don’t purchase a backpack based solely on how large and spacious it looks in the pictures or is described to be.
Check out the measurements, capacity and weight/load section of the product for specific details on what it can or cannot carry.
If necessary read some customer reviews to see what and how many items they were able to comfortably fit in their backpack.
Finally consider purchasing a second backpack, as this could be one of the greatest factors in getting the best out of your experience.
Having two backpacks allow you to double the amount of space you have available, and potentially reduce the weight you have to carry by half.
If you have 2-4 class that you always go to on Mondays and Wednesdays, and a separate set of classes you go to on Tuesdays and Thursdays you can organize your bags to accommodate your school schedule and significantly lighten your load.
Aside from providing you with additional space and convenience, having a second backpack can also reduce the stress you place on your back, neck, shoulders and joints, which can be great for minimizing potential injuries down the road.
Tips to remember:
- Purchase all of your books, school supplies and accessories before purchasing a backpack
- Buy a backpack with plenty of slots/organizers to maximize space and utility
- Know the backpacks measurements, capacity and weight limit before making your purchase
- Purchase a second backpack to optimize space and minimize weight
How much should I spend on a backpack?
The cost of a backpack can vary greatly depending on the brand, size, material and features of the backpack.
Most quality backpacks will range between $30 – $150 and can offer a number of different advantages based on the bag you choose.
Some of the features a backpack can offer include extra durable materials for better tear resistance and longevity, water resistance to protect against rain, splashing and puddles, increased organizational slots to keep items secured and appropriately grouped together, laptop and/or smartphone compartments to protect against damage and even allow for listening to music through a headphone slot, larger compartment spacing to store additional books and accessories, roller options with telescoping handles for easier handling and more.
When choosing a backpack determine which factors are most important to you before making your buying decision.
These factors may include:
- Lightweight/Heavy duty version
- Compartment size
- Organization spaces
- Laptop/Smarphone slots
- Roller options
- Type of shoulder strap
- Water resistance
- Security features/Tamper resistance
If you are having difficulty deciding which backpack is right for you try using online resources such as Amazon.com to help you whittle down your choices.
Websites such as these provide tons of customer reviews, star ratings, editors choices and best seller lists to help you figure out what you might like and ultimately want to buy.
Reading customer reviews is also a great way to learn about the unique features and/or shortcomings of a bag you might like to help push you in the right direction.
Best of all many of the customer reviews come from owners who have already examined, used and determined the usefulness of the backpack you are interested in. Just make sure you look for verified reviews that give honest feedback as they may not always be accurate or true regardless of the website you buy them on.
Going with trusted websites and trusted brands is a great way to improve your odds of making sure the product you choose is inline with the customer reviews and exceptions of the products based on its description and images.
Where can I buy/purchase a backpack?
There are a number of locations where you can purchase a quality backpack at a reasonable price and customarily feel happy with your purchasing decision.
Some of these places may include physical and online stores such as JCPenny, Target, Staples and Kohls, and large online retailers such as Amazon.com, Overstock and eBags among others.
Specialty stores and school supply warehouses may also sell backpacks for school and college use.
Depending on what matters most to you there are advantages to shopping online vs shopping in a physical store.
Advantages of shopping online
When you shop for a backpack online there are a number of factors that stand out immediately such as having tons of customer reviews readily available to help you better determine whether or not the backpack you are looking at is right for you, being able to comparison shop easily on factors such as price, features, brand, best sellers and more, and having a huge variety of backpack choices at your disposal to give you the widest selection possible.
Online stores do a great job of offering tons of information to help you make a good buying decision and often offer competitive pricing on bags with similar features and functionality.
Another advantage of shopping online is that you don’t have to travel from store to store, wasting time and spending money on gas in order to try and find a backpack you’ll like.
Advantages of shopping at a physical retailer
While shopping online has many advantages over retail stores there are some reasons why shopping in a store may be preferable to you.
For starters shopping at a physical store gives you the opportunity to actually touch and try the bags out in person, so you can see what they look like before you make your purchase.
Buying in store also allows you to quickly purchase the item and use it immediately, instead of having to wait for it to arrive in the mail.
If you don’t like the bag you purchased you can quickly return it to the store you bought it from or speak directly to a sales associate/employee to help you find a backpack that is suitable for your needs.
Getting the most out of your backpack
Now that you’re ready to purchase your backpack and use it for your daily grind it is important to make sure you get the most out of your backpack so that you can enjoy using it without having to worry about it getting damaged, being broken into or causing you headaches when you need to search for your stuff.
Invest in quality backpack
A backpack is largely as good as the craftsmanship and material it is made of.
An expensive backpack may be good for the price, but if it is made using low quality material or craftsmanship it may tear and wear out fairly quickly.
Spending a little extra money on a backpack that can last you years and carry heavy books, laptops and college essentials without wearing out may not only save you money in the long run, it can also save you from the headache of having to carry around a broken backpack halfway through your semester.
A damaged backpack can also cause discomfort and lead to back-pain, especially if the shoulder straps aren’t working correctly or all of the heavy items are leaning to one side.
If you find yourself having to buy a new backpack every year or semester think about going for a backpack you know will provide you with long lasting benefits and fewer headaches.
This has been mentioned numerous times but it’s worth bringing up again.
Be careful not to over-pack your bag as this can lead to weakening/damaging the bag and even cause back-pain due to consistently walking around with a heavy weight strapped to your back.
Removable pouches/organizers and owning an additional backpack (as we’ll explain soon) can play a substantial role in reducing your daily load, organizing your college life and even giving you more fashion/style options.
In most cases there is no benefit to carrying around extra books and items when you don’t need them, but there can be downfalls to putting all of that additional weight in your bag and on your back.
So take an extra 5 minutes if necessary to lighten your bag and reduce your stress, especially if you have a long day ahead of you and it involves a lot of walking.
Buy a lock
Locks are a great way to keep your backpack secure and can help prevent an individual from being able to quickly reach into your bag while you’re wearing it on your back or sitting it next to you on the floor.
If you carry around expensive items such as a tablet, laptop or smartphone in your bag then purchasing a lock can definitely reduce the stress of worrying about someone being able to easily snatch your things.
Also, if you don’t need to carry around expensive items it may be better to just leave them at home rather than carry them around if you’re not going to use them. Minimizing your risk of losing valuables should always be a concern.
You can purchase standard combination or key lock to secure your zippers, invest in a cable lock or go for a full mesh lock that covers the entire bag.
If you aren’t too concerned with your area then a simple non explicit lock is a great way to go and avoid bringing attention to your backpack.
You don’t want a lock that screams I’m carrying valuable stuff around if you don’t to have to.
Removable organizers are your friends
Organizers are a great way to keep your pencils, pens, erasers, paper clips, flashcards, wires and other accessories separated and easy to access.
A backpack with plenty of build in pockets is a great way to organize your stuff, however going a step further and buying separate mesh and/or bag organizers can really help you get the most out of your backpack.
Not only does this allow you to carry your wires, pens, pencils and other items in their own bags, it also allows you to easily access and remove the bags/pouches from your backpack when you don’t need them, which creates more space and prevents you from having to scatter items all over your room whenever you need to empty your backpack.
Why you should invest in a second backpack
We mentioned why owning a second backpack was a useful strategy earlier in the article, however if you skipped over that part or want a refresher on why you should use two backpacks rather than one there are several substantial benefits you should consider.
Owning a second backpack allows you to carry less books, school gear and items in each bag, which can significantly reduce the bags weight and put less stress on your back.
Reducing the amount of weight you have to carry around all day and minimizing the potential for a back injury in the future should alone be enough reason to purchase a second backpack.
Owning two backpacks is also great for keeping your school books, notebooks and other essentials organized by allowing you to use one backpack for your Monday and Wednesday classes and the other backpack for your Tuesday and Thursday classes, or whatever days your class schedule falls on.
This strategy helps you prevent carrying around unnecessary books and school items on days you don’t need them, so you only have to focus on carrying around the bare essentials.
If you don’t need your laptop on certain days of the week or you have less items to carry on your Tuesday and Thursday classes for example, choose a smaller/lighter backpack to maximize your comfort and make getting from class to class a much easier and more comfortable experience.
Aside from all of the benefits we’ve listed for owning a second backpack, having two bags also means you can switch up your fashion and go with a completely different style backpack whenever you want.
Preventing backpack back/spine injuries
Back pain and injuries are often a common theme among people who consistently wear heavy backpacks.
The weight of a fully loaded backpack can cause tightened muscles, put pressure on the spine and cause your back to be placed in an uncomfortable position for an extended amount of time.
Over time this can cause bad posture, muscle spasms and even serious back problems.
In order to minimize the risk of injuring yourself while wearing a backpack consider purchasing a second backpack and only loading each bag with what you need for your classes on that particular day.
For example if you have Chemistry, Biology and Math on Monday and Tuesday then you should load backpack one with the books and essentials necessary for that day, and load backpack two for the other classes you have on separate days such as Tuesday and Thursday English, Social Studies and Economics.
This will not only reduce the amount of weight you have to carry around, it will also keep everything nicely organized and easily accessible.
When you do wear your backpack be sure to use proper form and keep your spine straight to avoid bad posture. Also keep heavy books and items closest to your back to maximize balance, and lift with your knees when you need to pick up an item.
Your backpack straps should form a secure and even fit around your shoulders. Never wear your backpack with a single strap as this can put uneven stress on your back and spine.
If you have back pain or a medical condition, or you just can’t seem to make your backpack light enough to work for your daily needs consider getting a rolling backpack with wheels and an extendable handle.
These backpacks are great for keeping weight off of your back while maintaining good mobility.
Lastly, be sure to stretch and exercise regularly.
Stretching and exercising isn’t just good for minimizing back injures while using your backpack, it’s also important for your overall health and lifestyle.
Tips on preventing/minimizing back injuries:
- Invest in a second backpack to reduce your daily load
- Don’t over-pack your backpack with heavy books or items
- Keep heavier items closer to the back to reduce strain
- Use proper posture when walking with your backpack and avoid lifting other heavy objects while wearing your backpack
- If you need to pick something up while wearing a backpack keep your spine straight and lift with your knees
- Make sure your straps are firm, secure and evenly distributing the weight of your bag on each shoulder
- Exercise and stretch regularly
- If your backpack is too heavy or you suffer from a medical conditional think about purchasing a roller backpack