21 Best Backpacks for College: The Ultimate List

best backpacks for college

College courses require a lot of superfluous expenses that one might be able to opt out of, but a proper backpack is not one of them. The best backpacks for college aren’t always cheap, but spending a little extra can be the right investment for your future health. Here are the best backpacks for safely distributing a heavy book load without sacrificing style.

What Are the Best Backpacks for College in 2020?

best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Large opening
  • Compact design
  • No zippers
Price: $60.17 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • 34L volume
  • Easily organized pockets
  • Durable
Price: $135.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Large pockets
  • Condenser straps
  • Full-body zippers
Price: $74.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
targus drifter 2 backpack Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Shock-absorbing straps
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • 30L storage volume
Price: $50.36 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Low price tag
  • Two water bottle pockets
  • High storage volume
Price: $34.54 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Laptop sleeve
  • Two water bottle pockets
  • Bottom padding
Price: $109.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Many compartments
  • Vintage style
  • Low price tag
Price: $29.89 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
high sierra swerve backpack Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Many different styles
  • 36.5L storage volume
  • Ergonomic design
Price: $40.30 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
fjallraven kanken 17 laptop backpack Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Comes in many styles
  • Durable material
  • Compact design
Price: $129.95 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • 32L storage
  • Comfy back panel
  • Lots of pockets
Price: $179.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
under armor hustle 4 backpack Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Water-resistant
  • Many compartments
  • Two water bottle pockets
Price: $40.42 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
jansport big student backpack Amazon Customer Reviews
  • High storage volume
  • Ergonomic design
  • Front organizer pocket
Price: $59.95 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Two deep water bottle pockets
  • Internal organizer
  • Padded laptop sleeve
Price: $24.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Waterproof backpack cover
  • Massive storage volume
  • Chest and waist strap
Price: $34.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Slim, professional design
  • Hardshell pocket
  • Padded laptop sleeve
Price: $55.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Large opening
  • Compact
  • Organizer pouch
Price: $39.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Smooth rolling wheels
  • Rigid design
  • Spacious main pocket
Price: $82.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Large opening
  • Water-resistant
  • Built-in stadium seat
Price: $47.54 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
element jaywalker backpack Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Skateboard straps
  • Lightweight design
  • Sternum strap
Price: $58.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Lightweight
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • High storage volume
Price: $20.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
best backpacks for college Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Large and smooth zippers
  • Two water bottle pockets
  • High storage volume
Price: $31.72 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Our Unbiased Reviews
  1. 1. Herschel Supply Co. Retreat Backpack

    Pros:
    • Large opening makes it easy to pack and unpack
    • Compact and convenient design
    • No zippers means less frustration
    Cons:
    • Laptop sleeve pocket needs more padding
    • External sleeve pocket too small
    • No side pockets

    Herschel Supply Co.’s Retreat backpack is as known for its reliability as it is for its distinct design. You will never have to worry about a caught zipper, as this pack uses stylish straps to secure a wide opening on the top.

    This makes it easier to load your pack in a rush. The top flap closes with sturdy magnetic pin clips. Inside, the pack is fully padded and fleece-lined in its characteristic pinstripe design.

    This pack’s internal dimensions are 17 x 12 x 5.75 inches, making for a total 19.5L volume. It can expand to hold three large books plus other smaller items. Those who have an above-average book load may prefer Herschel’s larger Little America pack, though. This pack has a laptop sleeve inside, but it does not offer enough extra padding to protect the laptop from drops. You’ll want an actual laptop sleeve to be safe.

    The shoulder straps are contoured and padded with air mesh, making this pack nice and comfortable. This is the kind of bag that is a breeze to carry around all day. It is one that can last against years of use (or abuse) as well.

  2. 2. Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack

    Pros:
    • 34L volume
    • Easily organized pockets
    • Highly durable
    Cons:
    • High price tag
    • Will be too large for many users
    • Bag can get incredibly heavy

    As its name suggests, Oakley’s Kitchen Sink backpack is for the student who brings everything with them. With its dimensions of 20 x 14 x 8 inches and volume of 34L, you could probably fit an actual kitchen sink in it, but that would be a total waste of this brilliantly compartmentalized pack.

    It has a side-access sleeve for up to 15-inch laptops, exterior daisy chains, a front organizer panel, a mesh sunglasses pocket, a media pocket, a bottom shoe compartment, and side pockets galore.

    This does make the pack extra bulky, but it houses pretty much everything you need for the day. You can pack away your laptop, a full bibliography, a 1-gallon Camelbak, two footlong sandwiches, a head-to-toe change of clothes, and you’d still have room left over.

    The Kitchen Sink pack makes carrying heavy loads easy too, with a compression-molded back panel and adjustable shoulder straps. It also has a horizontal sternum strap and a hip belt to safely distribute the weight. This may well be the most heavy-duty backpack for college. Now, do you need to fill up that massive bag just for a couple of classes? That is a conversation for another time.

  3. 3. SwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart 1900

    Pros:
    • Large pockets with plenty of subcompartments
    • Condenser straps to resize pack as needed
    • Full-body zippers make any part of the bag accessible
    Cons:
    • Easily confused with other SwissGear models
    • Backpack does not stand easily on its own
    • No sternum strap or added support

    The Travel Gear ScanSmart Backpack from SwissGear warrants a comparison to the iconic Swiss Army knife. It fits an unreal amount of utility into a sleek, sizable package.

    This durable travel pack has a variety of useful features that are just as relevant for international travel as they are for walking across campus. The Travel Gear has a mobile phone pocket, a sunglasses holder, a side water bottle pocket, an organizer pocket, an accessory pocket, and a padded compartment that holds a laptop up to 17 inches and a tablet up to 13 inches.

    All of these pockets provide a total 31L of storage when the bag is expanded to its max dimensions (18.5 x 13.5 x 9 inches), or it can be cinched down with its condenser straps to secure a smaller load. However, it is not just the size of these compartments that I love but also their accessibility.

    The laptop pocket zips all the way down for easy access and quick trips through airport security. The rest of the zippers are nearly as long and can practically open the pockets to the bottom. That way no corner of the bag shall go unchecked when you are looking for the granola bar that you are sure you packed this morning.

    The Travel Gear is comfortable to wear too. Its mesh back panel has wide channels for airflow and its shoulder straps are nicely padded. There is no waist or sternum strap, unfortunately. One of the only other shortcomings of this design is that it does not stand up when packed, so it pretty much always has to lay on the floor.

    Aside from this, the SwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart 1900 is an excellent choice all-around.

  4. 4. Targus Drifter II Backpack

    Pros:
    • Shock-absorbing straps and back padding provide maximum comfort
    • Limited Lifetime Warranty
    • 30L storage volume
    Cons:
    • Backpack depth not adjustable
    • Limited color options
    • No sternum strap or added support

    Targus’ Drifter II Backpack is one of the most talked-about backpacks on Amazon, and for good reason too. It is comfortable, spacious, and durable, which is pretty much everything you would want out of a backpack for college. The only thing it is lacking is style. Good luck finding this backpack in any color other than black.

    This grip aside, the Drifter II is an impressive backpack. Its exterior dimensions of 14.6 x 20.1 x 7.9 provide over 30L of storage volume across several compartments. The two main compartments are best for packing large books. The back compartment also has a 17-inch laptop sleeve.

    The Drifter II also has more exterior zippered compartments than you can shake a stick at, plus interior file storage and two side water bottle pockets. Unfortunately, it does not have any compression straps so this backpack gets very saggy when it isn’t fully loaded.

    The bag’s shock-absorbing shoulder straps and thick back padding help ease the burden of a full load. It is one of the most comfortable ways to carry around a semester’s worth of Poli-sci textbooks. Granted, a hip belt and sternum strap would make heavy loads even more manageable, but for short walks between classes the Targus Drifter II still gets the job done.

  5. 5. AmazonBasics Laptop Backpack

    Pros:
    • Low price tag
    • Two water bottle pockets plus sub-compartment storage
    • High storage volume
    Cons:
    • Boring design
    • Minimal fabric padding
    • No sternum strap or added support

    When it comes to offering the backpack features you need at the right price, the AmazonBasics Laptop Backpack is a clear winner. This backpack offers 32L of storage volume at a price point that is hard to beat.

    Its external dimensions of 15 x 7 x 19 inches allow this pack to easily hold a 17-inch laptop in its special padded compartment. Additionally, you have organizational compartments for pens, keys, a cell phone, et cetera. There is even a smaller padded pocket for tablets. These sub-compartments are practically distributed throughout the five main pockets of the pack. There are also two water bottle pockets on the side.

    The only thing that this backpack is lacking is any sort of style. It is quite plain-looking. It also lacks any kind of hip belt or sternum straps. But on the plus side, it is also virtually devoid of any branding.

    It is comfortable to wear with padded straps, but its padding to protect the main pocket could be a little more robust. Of course, even if you bought a padded laptop sleeve to supplement this, you would still be saving money compared to buying a sturdier, fancier backpack.

  6. 6. The North Face Jester Backpack

    Pros:
    • Holds laptops up to 15 inches
    • Two water bottle pockets plus front elastic bungee
    • Extra bottom padding protects delicate items inside
    Cons:
    • Limited storage volume
    • No waist belt for larger loads
    • Needs to be more waterproof for serious hiking

    The North Face Jester is one of the best backpacks for college, but its versatile design also supports a variety of other uses. Its multitude of pockets make it great for organizing everyday carry items and its breathable design is quite useful on a hike.

    The Jester has dimensions of 22 x 15 x 5 inches and a volume of 26L. This is to par with most other hybrid commute/hike packs and is suitable for light to medium campus use.

    This North Face pack has a chest strap with a safety whistle buckle, but no condenser belts or waist belts, which means you can’t overpack it or else your shoulders will suffer. But your body will forgive you carrying an oversized load a short distance, as the FlexVent injection-molded shoulder straps are quite comfortable, even when using the padded laptop sleep to carry laptops up to 15 inches.

    The main compartment has plenty of internal organization pockets, including a secure zippered pocket and a velcro pen pocket. In addition to the large main pocket, this pack has a front pocket for sunglasses or small items, a front elastic bungee, and two side water bottle pockets.

    The backpack as a whole is very well padded. The largest compartment has a heavy foam tube on the bottom that absorbs shock when you set your pack on the ground. That helps the North Face Jester to outlast pricier backpacks.

  7. 7. Vaschy Classic Vintage Backpack

    Pros:
    • Many compartments for organized storage
    • Classic vintage style
    • Low price tag
    Cons:
    • Less durable material
    • Only holds laptops up to 14 inches
    • No built-in organizer

    Vaschy’s Classic Vintage Backpack offers a simplified and stylish storage option for someone with straightforward luggage needs. Its dimensions of 12.6 x 16.9 x 6.7 make it a manageable pack that you would have no trouble sliding under a lecture hall chair.

    Conversely, the Vaschy Classic Backpack has a more limited storage capacity. With a 22L volume, this bag can still carry plenty of textbooks and binders but it can only hold laptops up to 14 inches. If you regularly carry oversized items like a gaming laptop, then this backpack may not cut it.

    In addition to the 14-inch laptop sleeve, this bag also has two inner zipper pouches, an outer zipper pouch, a secret back zipper pocket for small electronics, and two internal water bottle (or umbrella) holders.

    The polyester material isn’t as water-resistant as other nylon blend bags but it is still sufficiently durable to last you through your undergrad years. This pack also gets style points for its attractive suede bottom, a quality leather logo, and leather zipper pullers. This isn’t the toughest backpack out there but it is definitely one of the coolest and cheapest.

  8. 8. High Sierra Swerve Backpack

    Pros:
    • Many different styles to choose from
    • 36.5L storage volume
    • Ergonomically shaped shoulder straps
    Cons:
    • Zippers can be finicky
    • Internal mesh can pill shirts and coats
    • No sternum strap or added support

    High Sierra’s Swerve Backpack is a versatile pick for any kind of course load and activity level.

    Whether you’re packing some 600-page textbooks, a laptop up to 15 inches, a change of clothes to the gym, or all three, this bag has got you covered.

    Condenser straps allow you to flatten out this high-volume 36.5L pack, but you will most likely be using it at full size. When you do, you can take full advantage of its fully padded laptop compartment, tablet sleeve, multiple large compartments, shoulder strap media pocket, two water bottle pockets, and padded bottom panel.

    The zippers have large teeth that don’t easily catch but they will still get a little finicky after a few years of use. On the plus side, they zip almost all the way to the bottom of the pack, making it easy to access items that have fallen to the bottom.

    Its dimensions of 19 x 13 x 7.8 inches are fairly average, but the High Sierra Swerve offers an above-average level of comfort with their S-shaped shoulder straps and suspension system to manage larger loads. Additional load-supporting straps are absent, but not particularly missed, as the padded back panel makes carrying this pack very manageable.

    Coming home from late-night classes feels safe, as the reflective piping increases visibility when walking alongside roads, and the shoulder strap pocket for a phone or mp3 player is a great addition.

    The High Sierra Swerve is made with sturdy nylon material, making it partially waterproof and fully rip-resistant. The bottom of this bag is reinforced with additional material to keep this bag functioning for longer than your average college backpack. It is an all-around solid pick.

  9. 9. Fjällräven Kånken Laptop Backpack

    Pros:
    • Comes in a variety of different colors and sizes to fit any laptop size
    • Durable material cleans easily
    • Stores a lot without being bulky
    Cons:
    • Not all packs have reflective strips
    • Material feels overly stiff before it is washed
    • Total volume could be larger

    The Fjällräven Kånken 17″ Laptop Backpack has almost the same functional Swedish design as when it was first introduced in 1978 and that truly says something about its design. This timeless pack has now been modernized with a padded laptop sleeve and it comes in three different sizes for the perfect fit.

    This is the 17-inch (20L) version, though you can also find a 13-inch (13L) or 15-inch (18L) laptop version if you have simpler packing needs than average. The backpack comes in a variety of different colors as well, and some have reflective strips for added visibility (even though this would be a nice feature on all of their packs).

    They are all made from highly durable Vinylon F material, which is resistant to both water and abrasion. The material gets softer with age and more durable as you wash it since this tightens the material’s fibers. So be sure to wash it once before use if you don’t want a super stiff pack.

    Even if you don’t soften it up, the Kånken still has good padding on the back and shoulder straps. The pack is designed to sit high up on your back so it lacks any hip belt or sternum strap for support.

    The pack has a basic three-pocket configuration, and its boxy shape helps you really load the main pocket full. The other pockets aren’t nearly as big as the spacious main one, but they do help organize your smaller items without over-compartmentalizing.

    All in all, there are larger packs out there if you are just looking for sheer storage space, but the Fjällräven Kånken Laptop Backpack is a stylish and durable mid-size option that will serve as a long-lasting investment.

  10. 10. Lifeproof Squamish XL Backpack

    Pros:
    • Massive 32L storage volume
    • Comfortable molded back panel
    • Unique compartments for any need
    Cons:
    • Bag depth not adjustable
    • Main compartment doesn’t open wide enough
    • Backpack does not stand easily on its own

    Up until now, Lifeproof’s claim to fame has been their fully weatherproof phone cases. But now that phones do a great job of protecting themselves, Lifeproof has been called upon for a higher purpose: protecting everything you carry with you.

    Their new Squamish line of backpacks seeks to bring their same Lifeproof philosophy to the world of luggage, and the Squamish XL backpack is their biggest and baddest bag so far. The Squamish XL sports a solid 32L of storage volume, which is spread out across two large compartments and other small hiding spots on the bag.

    The largest main compartment houses a fleece-lined laptop sleeve that will fit most 15 inch laptops. The second-largest compartment has an organizer section for smaller items and a fleece-lined pocket for a smartphone.

    There are a number of other smaller storage spaces on this pack, the coolest of which is a thin side zip pocket with a second padded sleeve to house a tablet. You also have two side zip pockets for small items, two huge mesh water bottle pockets, and an expandable front cinch pocket that’s big enough to hold a bike helmet.

    The bottom zip pocket is one of the most important compartments on the pack, as it allows you to place padded items like a jacket underneath your more precious cargo. It also makes things that would normally sit at the bottom of the pack much easier to reach.

    Add a set of skateboard straps on the back and the last thing you will need out of this backpack is more storage. The only downside to the way these pockets are laid out is that the zippers don’t stop halfway down the pack, making it hard to dig things out from the bottom. Also, because the bottom compartment lacks rigidity, the bag will not stand up on its own unless you keep a puffy jacket in there at all times.

    These gripes aside, the bag is pretty much perfect. The laptop and tablet sleeves are all raised from the bottom of the bag, so there is no chance they’ll absorb any shock when you toss it around.

    The bag has comfortable padded shoulder straps with a rigid backplate that provides extra airflow when you’re on the go. It has a detachable sternum strap for when you need to carry a particularly heavy load.

    The rest of the pack is made from durable and water-repellent 305D Cordura material. Cordura is lighter than ballistic nylon, which helps reduce the load your shoulders are left to bare. All in all, this bag has a nice selection of useful pockets and ergonomic features, making it one of the best backpacks for college.

  11. 11. Under Armour Hustle 4.0 Backpack

    Pros:
    • Tough water-resistant material
    • Many compartments for organized storage
    • Two water bottle pockets
    Cons:
    • Bottom panel could be stronger
    • No sternum strap or added support
    • Total volume could be larger

    In addition to making durable water-resistant clothing, Under Armour also makes water-resistant backpacks. The Under Armour Hustle 4.0 is one of their most popular designs.

    This backpack gets its name from the multi-layered water-resistant material, which keeps your goods dry whether they are in one of the two spacious main pockets, or one of the two slip pockets for smaller items. It also has a gusseted laundry pocket at the bottom of the bag, so you can keep your athletic gear away from the same place you packed your lunch.

    This is a little smaller than the average backpack we reviewed but it is still large enough to bring along the necessities. The total volume of the pack is 26L, not counting the two side water bottle pockets or the extra storage potential of the side straps from which you can clip hats, keys, or sunglasses.

    The main pocket has a soft-lined laptop sleep that will fit most 15-inch laptops, including the MacBook Pro. This main pocket isn’t particularly deep, though, so it isn’t ideal for carrying oversized items like a towel or a bike helmet. Another downside to this otherwise durable pack is that it lacks a padded or otherwise reinforced bottom panel. You pretty much need an item in the laundry pocket to provide sufficient padding.

    The adjustable HeatGear shoulder straps are quite comfortable and don’t necessarily beckon the need for extra support, but those who need a sternum strap will need to look on further.

    You also have to be okay with some heavy UA branding, but aside from those issues, the Storm Hustle 4.0 is a winner, especially if you live in a rainy climate like I do.

  12. 12. JanSport Big Student Classics Backpack

    Pros:
    • High storage volume
    • Ergonomic S-shaped backpack straps
    • Front organizer pocket
    Cons:
    • No padded laptop sleeve
    • Zippers can be finicky
    • Bottom panel could be stronger

    The JanSport Big Student Classics backpack is called classic for a reason. It is a time-tested design that holds up to the rigors of all levels of education. In fact, there’s a chance you had the smaller version at some earlier point in your learning career.

    We recommend the Big Student bag because its 34L storage volume is better suited for the increased book load of college courses. Their more common JanSport Superbreak Pack, on the other hand, is just a little too small. With the Big Student, you get the nostalgic look of the Superbreak with the extra space you need for serious coursework.

    The JanSport Big Student Classics pack has two almost equally-sized main pockets, plus a smaller front pocket with an organizer for school supplies and portable devices. The design is simple, which makes it easy to keep track of everything you need. The one downside of this simple design is that there is no padded laptop sleeve. If you carry a laptop around, you will need a separate protective sleeve to keep it safe. This does create more space for large books though, which is likely going to make up the bulk of your load.

    This backpack has ergonomic S-shaped straps that contour to shape of your upper torso, which helps a lot for dispersing the pack’s weight. The pack has a single mesh water bottle holder, and the material comes in a variety of different colors. However, the bottom panel could use some extra reinforcement. If you’ve had a JanSport before, you also know that the zippers can sometimes get stuck in nearby material.

    These flaws are easy to forgive, though, as the bag is simple, cheap, and sturdy. Its 600D polyester material gives this bag a potential to last a lifetime if you take good care of it.

  13. 13. Everest Stylish Laptop Backpack

    Pros:
    • Two deep water bottle pockets
    • Internal organizer in front pocket
    • Large padded laptop sleeve with bright interior lining
    Cons:
    • Stiff zippers need to wear in
    • Total volume could be larger
    • No sternum strap or added support

    The Everest Stylish Laptop Backpack (aka the R5045LT) is a modest and professional backpack that offers solid storage at a great price. With a volume of 21.6L, this is far from the largest backpack of the lot. However, it is still large enough to hold the necessities. The interior lining of this pack is a bright blue, which makes it much easier to find small items lost at the bottom of your pack.

    The main pocket has plenty of room for textbooks and a padded laptop sleeve will keep laptops up to 17 inches safe. Its middle pocket is slim yet very deep and serves multiple purposes. Its front compartment has a handy internal organizer. My favorite part about this backpack is easily its two large water bottle pockets, though. They are quite spacious water bottle pockets, and they can actually fit my favorite oversized 1L Nalgene water bottle.

    The fully padded back panel and mesh shoulder straps make this backpack comfortable to wear. It doesn’t have any extra support besides that, but this backpack isn’t the kind that you would want to stuff with a back-breaking load anyway.

    The zippers are stiff when you first use them, but they do wear in over time. For an inexpensive, sleek, and effective backpack, the Everest Stylish Laptop Backpack is a great choice.

  14. 14. OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack

    Pros:
    • Waterproof backpack cover
    • Massive storage volume
    • Adjustable chest and waist strap
    Cons:
    • Zippers can snag easily
    • Straps could be more padded
    • Limited padding

    The OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack is an inexpensive hiking bag that is lightweight and versatile enough to be used for camping out in the wild or on the top floor of the library.

    This pack has a massive 50L volume. It has a waterproof cover to give it merit as a serious camping companion. It even has a laptop sleeve for a 15-inch laptop.

    It has an adjustable waist and chest strap to offset heavy backpacking supplies, but also a pocket with a tech and school supply organizer. Some of its best features help in both situations, like the incredibly thick back cushions, or the two water bottle pockets.

    The backpack has a spacious main pocket, a secondary pocket, plus a slip pocket on the outside of the pack. Its lightweight and durable material is also a nice touch.

    The back cushioning is nice, but the shoulder straps could stand to be a little more padded. Still, they work. For such a low price, this bag offers more than you could ask for. It delivers storage, utility, and durability in a package that none other does.

  15. 15. eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack

    Pros:
    • Slim, professional design
    • Secondary document pocket and hardshell pouch
    • Well-padded laptop and tablet sleeves
    Cons:
    • Bag material is heavy
    • Total volume could be larger
    • High price tag

    Want to escape the neon colors and superfluous doodads of camping packs? The eBag Professional Slim Backpack is a piece of luggage that offers a more refined style.

    The eBag backpack is made from a fairly heavy material, making it a little heftier than it needs to be, but also giving it a nice rigidity. The backpack straps feel comfortable, and the bag has a sternum strap for added support.

    When it is preferred, you can tuck one backpack strap away and use this bag more like a briefcase. The main pocket makes up the bulk of this bag’s 21.6L volume and has a brightly colored lining to help you find objects at the very bottom.

    It houses both a laptop sleeve and a tablet sleeve. Each one is well padded and very spacious. The bag also has a “2D” secondary pocket with room for documents and a Napoleon pocket with an organizer.

    Beneath this main compartment is a removable hard shell pouch for carrying sunglasses or other delicate goods. The slim bag even has a zip-out water bottle holder that is there when you need it.

    The eBag slim backpack is a versatile dress code pack that checks all the boxes for a great bag without packing any bungee cords, exterior mesh pockets, carabiner clips, or other outdoorsman bling.

    If you don’t mind the higher price tag, this school bag can transition into your office space companion for years to come.

  16. 16. Bluboon Vintage Canvas Backpack

    Pros:
    • Large opening makes it easy to pack and unpack
    • Compact and durable
    • Easy to access organizer pouch
    Cons:
    • No proper water bottle holder
    • Total volume could be larger
    • No sternum strap or added support

    The Bluboon Vintage Canvas Backpack has a somewhat unique layout, which centers around a top-loading main compartment that has a drawstring and flap. Though this bag looks more like a storybook rucksack you would take on a train ride across Europe to visit your Nana, it is actually a handy and viable college backpack.

    The bag has a decent 19L volume, which is enough to store several textbooks, plus a laptop into its padded sleeve. Unfortunately, the laptop sleeve only holds up to 13-inch laptops, so it is better suited for a tablet or Chromebook. So far, we have reviewed backpacks with twice the storage space as this one, but it will still do if you have a relatively small class load.

    In terms of other compartments, this bag also has a small front pocket and a convenient hanging pouch in the main pocket to organize smaller items. This pack has two side pockets, but they certainly aren’t for water bottles, as a proper-sized water bottle wouldn’t easily fit into either one.

    Its large, plush shoulder straps are very comfortable, despite not having any added support for larger loads. The zippers are quite tough, and hold up well against heavy use.

    Ultimately, this bag’s biggest shortcoming is its size, but if you don’t need to carry many books from day to day, then it is a solid pick.

  17. 17. High Sierra Freewheel Wheeled Backpack

    Pros:
    • Smooth rolling wheels and telescoping handle
    • Rigid reinforced design protects contents
    • Deep and spacious main compartment
    Cons:
    • Heavier and bulkier than non-rolling backpacks
    • Zippers can be finicky
    • Only one water bottle pocket

    Though they are often written off as being for kids, rolling backpacks can be handy when you are suffering from an injury or just excessive laziness. The High Sierra Freewheel is a stylish and spacious backpack that can be worn on your back or rolled at your side. It has smooth-rolling wheels and a beefy telescoping handle that folds away and zips out of sight with ease.

    The Freewheel has bumpers stitched into its corners, plus a reinforced bottom for rough handling. The bag material is nice, and the tuck-away shoulder straps are well padded to offset the extra discomfort you will experience from the frame for the wheels.

    The storage volume is quite good, but High Sierra doesn’t offer any figures for cross-comparison. It can certainly be loaded full enough to justify using the rolling feature, as large backpack loads can put unnecessary stress on your spinal column.

    It has about as much space as their highly-rated Swerve bag, minus the extra space needed for the wheels and telescoping handle. Its main compartment has a laptop sleeve for laptops up to 15 inches in screen size and plenty of space for books and binders. Its two front compartments are smaller half-zip pockets for more important trinkets. One has an organizer for smaller objects. This pack has one water bottle pocket on the right side.

    One of the things that I like best about this bag is that it doesn’t look like a typical rolling backpack. If you didn’t see the wheels underneath, it would look totally normal with its duralite material and average size. A nice bonus is that it has reflective accents for nighttime visibility.

    If you want to browse more roller backpack options, then you can browse our picks for the best rolling backpacks here.

  18. 18. Speedo Large Teamster Backpack

    Pros:
    • Large opening makes it easy to pack and unpack
    • Tough and water resistant exterior
    • Included stadium seat allows you to sit comfortably anywhere
    Cons:
    • Could use larger secondary pockets
    • No sternum strap or added support
    • So-so zippers

    You might know them for their aerodynamic swimwear, but Speedo actually makes everything a college athlete might need, including this heavy-duty gym backpack.

    The Speedo Large Teamster Backpack has a tough exterior shell with a water-resistant bottom that makes it perfect for rainy weather or the locker room. It’s not as aerodynamic as their swimwear, but Speedo’s backpack is still a huge win for the collegiate athlete. This water-resistant bottom padding is even removable and can double as a stadium seat cushion when needed.

    True to its title, this pack has a 35L volume, with a great arrangement of pockets to match. The biggest one is its handy top-load main compartment. This main pocket has a laptop sleeve that could easily handle most 17-inch laptops, plus a removable “dirt bag” for dirty or wet gym clothes to keep them separate from your electronics.

    The other pockets are much smaller, and only offer room for small trinkets The backpack has two tall water bottle pockets for storing bottles, which is always a huge plus for me. The backpack straps are adequately cushioned, as is the back of the pack. But there are no additional support features for those who need them.

    Just because it is built for swimmers doesn’t mean the Speedo Large Teamster Backpack won’t be perfect for someone who only gets wet when it rains. It is still a well-priced and good-looking pack that is thoroughly waterproofed. You will get plenty of use out of that, even if you never take it to the pool.

  19. 19. Element Men’s Jaywalker Backpack

    Pros:
    • Skateboard straps and reflective print
    • Lightweight and durable
    • Optional sternum strap reduces load stress
    Cons:
    • Storage capacity could be larger
    • Low quality carry handle
    • Could use more pockets

    Element’s Jaywalker backpack is designed for traversing both ‘hoods and woods. It is made from a rugged polyester that stands up against heavy use, and its skateboard straps and reflective print make it great for a skate commute to and from class.

    Even if you don’t skate to class, the straps can be useful for fastening down larger items that can’t fit in a backpack. Its dimensions are 19.6 x 11.4 x 7.4 inches, making for a total volume of 19L. The large zip-fastened main compartment makes up most of this.

    The bag also has side pockets, plus a laptop sleep for laptops up to 15 inches, which provides fairly decent padding for it. It also has a drop sleeve for sunglasses, ensuring they won’t get scratched up against your school supplies.

    Some might want more than just one main pocket to organize their supplies. However, this backpack is more geared towards being a mid-size travel companion to carry along the necessities.

    Its padded straps and horizontal sternum clip help reduce stress on your shoulders. Don’t count on being able to carry this bag around by its top handle for long, as it is stiff and far less comfortable than the straps. This is a bag you’re going to get used to wearing often.

  20. 20. Outlander Packable Handy Lightweight Travel Backpack

    Pros:
    • Lightweight and fully packable for travel
    • Lifetime Warranty
    • High storage volume
    Cons:
    • Zippers can be finicky
    • No laptop sleeve
    • No sternum strap or added support

    Outlander’s Packable Travel Backpack can have limited applications in a school environment but is honestly too cool to pass up mentioning. The special thing about this backpack is that it is made from a lightweight nylon material that allows it to be rolled up into its own pocket for easy storage.

    Given its lightweight build and 30L volume, you might end up using this pack every day, but between semesters or when you’re traveling home for breaks, it can be handy to have a backpack that stows away easily. Because of its ability to shrink down significantly, it does not have any special padding for laptops, though it could still store one easily in its main pocket.

    It does have deep water bottle pockets, plus two front zipper pockets for smaller items. Shoulder padding is still sufficient, but will obviously lack any supplemental support because of its lightweight nature. Nonetheless, a light and easy to use bag is just what some people need.

  21. 21. Kaka Backpack for 17-Inch Laptops

    Pros:
    • Large and smooth zippers
    • Two water bottle pockets plus hanging clips
    • High storage volume
    Cons:
    • Pockets are too deep
    • Not water-resistant
    • Shoulder straps could use more padding

    Despite its unfortunate name, the Kaka Laptop Backpack is a no-nonsense budget bag that offers many high-quality features at a value price. This backpack has a fantastic 35L capacity, and the necessary dimensions to hold most 17-inch laptops in its padded laptop compartments.

    The main compartment zips all the way down, so you can easily stuff the bag full. The Kaka backpack also has two smaller half-zip compartments, one of which has an organizer for smaller items. There is a water bottle pocket on each side too, which I always appreciate.

    You can pack this bag quite full thanks to the sternum strap and decent shoulder straps, both of which help distribute weight across your back and shoulders. The pack’s tough terylene material holds up against heavy use too.

    Keep in mind that this material is not very rigid, so the backpack folds up easily when empty. This can be used to your advantage, thanks to some straps that adjust the depth of the main compartment to a smaller load. But while on the topic of storage space, it can be hard to retrieve small things from the main two pockets, as they are almost too deep.

    Thankfully, the wide tooth zipper is very smooth, making it less of a hassle when you do have to zip your pack down to retrieve something.

How To Pack a College Backpack

In order to show up to college on day one prepared for anything, then you have to know how to organize your bag for a whole semester of classes.

Some college-level science courses might require you have around 800 pages worth of textbook material handy, and while nothing about that is acceptable, there are ways to manage.

Store your heaviest stuff closest to your back so that less pressure is applied to your shoulders. You should always remove excess course materials from your bag when you don't need it. Otherwise, you're putting unnecessary stress on yourself and your backpack.

If you expect to pack heavy loads every day, then you should choose a bag with a sternum strap and/or hip belt. They help to evenly distribute the weight of their contents across your shoulders, chest, and hips.

It might seem nerdy to wear the sternum strap of a bag but it really helps in the long run. Plus, those who don't wear their backpacks properly end up suffering.

Italian researchers who investigated the predisposing factors of back pain in a study at the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that 60 percent of young students suffered from backpack-related pain. 

One of the biggest factors they cited was students wearing backpacks improperly over one shoulder. By packing your bag as light as possible and wearing it correctly with the shoulder straps tightened, you will leave yourself better off in the long run.

How Do You Choose the Best College Backpack?

Beyond health concerns, there are many other factors that determine which backpack is right for you. The best backpacks for college have a high storage capacity, good compartmentalization, and of course, a style you won't mind rocking every day.

Unfortunately, few packs can provide you with all of these without falling short in one category. For example, the pack with the highest carrying capacity is also likely to be the bulkiest.

To find the pack that's best for you, you have to prioritize features that suit your specific needs. That's why we included both massive travel packs and lightweight daypacks plus several options in between.

Once you get a feel for exactly how much stuff you have to carry around, then you can worry about things like style, compartmentalization, and durability. If you expect your course load to change, you can always opt for a larger bag that cinches down to carry a smaller load.

We'll leave the actual decision-making to you, but if you take anything away from this cargo crash course, let it be this: your health rides on having a reliable backpack. Put your body first and you will be better off in the long run.

See Also

9 Best Smart Backpacks: Which One Is Right for You?

7 Best Speaker Backpacks: Your Buyer’s Guide

10 Cute Backpacks for College: The Ultimate List

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