Campus-Ready Backpacks for Storing *All* the Books
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Shopping for a backpack for college is like shopping for a new best friend (Just a very functional best friend whose sole purpose is to help you keep your life together.) Because of those specific needs, you can’t just grab any old bag — this thing is going to be with you 24/7 and therefore needs to have the strength to hold one too many heavy, overpriced textbooks and keep your prized possessions safe — AKA your laptop and loyalty card to the local late-night cafe.
Since you need to be able to count on this backpack to get you through incredibly long days on campus, study sessions, trips to the gym and anywhere else life takes you, you need to make sure you have a handful of trustworthy options that are in line with your needs. But before you start shopping, keep these areas in mind:
- Is It Comfortable? Just because a backpack looks great doesn’t mean it’s going to feel great. You don’t want to end up with a bag that digs into your shoulders and strains your back as you’re toting around your gear. Pick a bag that’s not only the right size, but features padded shoulder straps or an ergonomic design. This will take some trial and error.
- Does It Suit Your Personality? It’s easy to grab the first bag you see, but since your backpack is the ultimate sidekick, you might as well get something that feels more like an extension of yourself. Whether you’re going for a sporty look or something minimalist and classic, pay close attention to all the details — from colors and material to size and shape — to get something that suits your personal style.
- Will It Survive Different Weather Conditions? If you live in an area where rain or unpredictable winter storms are the norm, you’ll want to invest in a backpack that’s not going to get damaged the first time the weather acts up. Zone in on the materials and durability of the backpack to ensure it will hold up.
- Will It Be Able to Hold Everything You Need? If you’re a bio major who has a hefty load of books, lab gear and a laptop to carry around on, you’re going to want to purchase something that can handle the heft. It can be tempting to grab a random backpack and figure out if it will actually work for you later, but don’t waste your time: Figure out if it’s big enough — and durable enough — to make it through the school year and beyond.
- Does It Have Good Features? Let’s be honest — the best thing about backpacks is their features. While some minimalist backpacks have a zipper opening and nothing inside, others are filled with different compartments for everything you need throughout the day. If you’re someone who likes staying organized, look for something that has lots of pockets, a laptop sleeve, a tablet sleeve, and a mesh drink holder on the side for your water bottle or coffee. Because #hydration.
Best Minimalist College Backpack
If your campus is in the middle of a big city, you’re going to need something that looks a little less Urbana-Champaign and a little more Chicago. Enter this option from Troubadour, which has a slimmer profile, easy access zippering and is wrapped in waterproof fabric with fewer seams for more of that necessary weather protection.
Best College Backpack Made From Recycled Materials
Truce Designs Drop Liner
This one-man, Portland-based operation is churning out some impressive bags made mostly from recycled sails and other waterborne materials that would otherwise end up at the landfill. With that, the bags are incredibly durable and based on what comes in that day, each bag may look slightly different. It’s a statement piece to show you mean business on campus.
Best Travel College Backpack
Eagle Creek Explore Transit Bag 23L
It is a shame that storied travel brand Eagle Creek is shutting down at the end of the year. This is a brand literally rooted in exploration, and now is your chance to snap up some of the best-performing gear on the market before it’s confined to secondhand internet stables. These are bags with tons of storage and functionality that will easily withstand the rigors of daily campus life.
Best Classic College Backpack
Jansport Big Campus Backpack
You know it, you love it – there’s a reason why this classic design is still around. It simply works. The venerable Jansport bag is like that old pair of sneakers you love: you can toss it around, put it through the ringer and it’ll still be there, ready to perform with no fuss.
Best Leather Strap College Backpack
Herschel Supply Co. Little America Laptop Backpack
At 25 liters, this bag is built more for a full day on campus when you won’t have time to run back home to drop things off. The double straps add a nice touch of style, securing everything that the drawstring enclosure won’t. Inside, multiple pockets and a padded laptop sleeve keep everything neat and organized.
Best College Biking Backpack
Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Bravo 3.0
Biking around campus towns is one of life’s simplest pleasures and, of course, you need the right bag to take with you for the ride. This newer option from Chrome comes in an all-black finish with plenty of storage solutions for all of your gear – velo and non-velo. It has a removable waterproof liner for drier days and looks pretty slick off-bike as well.
Most Durable College Backpack
Granite Gear Two Harbors
If you just need a basic backpack to haul everything, opt for something from Granite Gear’s durable lineup. These are more casual bags inspired by their hard-working outdoor carriers, so you get all of that performance with less of the “outdoor” vibe. These are well-balanced bags built to support heavy loads.
Most Colorful College Backpack
Cotopaxi Tasra 16L Backpack
Surely for those who want to stand out, Cotopaxi’s basic 15-liter bag still packs quite a punch (and with plenty of social good to boot). The Tasra is super light at under 2 lbs., has tuckaway straps and plenty of front-facing pockets for smaller items. The full-zip butterfly opening is unique among bags in its class, too.
Best Packable College Backpack
Dakine 22L Packable Backpack
Dakine’s new backpack collection includes this versatile option centered around one large pocket with a side water bottle holder. If you tend to simply throw everything for class into one spot and go, you’ll be served well by this simple bag that folds into a nifty triangular shape when not needed. Sub-$60, it also happens to be a great value.
Best Outdoor-Inspired Bag
Osprey Heritage Simplex 20
Outdoor brands far and wide are diving into their archives and resurrecting old styles that we’re not completely sure why they ever went out of style to begin with. Case in point – Osprey’s brand new Heritage Series, which includes the Simplex seen here. It’s 22 liters of pure GORP-y goodness that will double as a legit hiking daypack for extracurriculars.
Your backpack shouldn’t weigh you down (physically or mentally) as you prepare to return to campus. Any of our picks will suit you well for another year in academia en route to that hard-earned degree.
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