10 Best Backpacks For College & High School Students

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  • Extremely lightweight design.
  • Large main pocket with a smaller utility pocket.
  • Two zippers with easy-to-grab tassels.
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  • Water-resistant polyester exterior.
  • Nylon internal lining.
  • Soft padded back.
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  • Perfect for carrying laptops.
  • Side pockets for carrying bottles.
  • Multiple components.

There is a reason backpacks are often seen as the quintessential accessory for students of any age – they are easy to carry, offer plenty of storage space, and have a lot of different pockets and hooks that you can use to separate different items for easier management. It’s much more convenient that just bringing a standard bag with you, and’s much harder to accidentally leave somewhere, especially once you adjust to it properly.

However, selecting the right backpack for the job can be tricky, especially if you’re taking your college years seriously and want to use the best equipment possible. Not all of them are designed in the same way. Below are ten of the best backpacks for college students we could find, as well as the reasons they might be the perfect tool for your life in higher education.

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View the Best Backpacks For College

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1. JanSport Superbreak Backpack

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This simple backpack boasts a very large main compartment that can hold almost all the supplies you might need in your daily college life, with smaller utility pockets to help you keep the essentials in an easy-to-reach location. The padded back panel stops whatever you’re carrying from digging into your back while you’re trying to walk around, and the thick straps make it far easier to carry around the backpack on either one or two shoulders. Thanks to its polymer-based design, it’s also much more lightweight than it first seems, making it much less tiring to wear.

Despite its simple appearance, this backpack is incredibly useful for carrying around important documents, notes, and tools, even if it’s raining.

Why We Like It
  • Extremely lightweight design.
  • Large main pocket with a smaller utility pocket.
  • Two zippers with easy-to-grab tassels.
  • Padded back.
  • Water-resistant exterior.
Material
Polyester
Capacity
25.4 Liters
Dimensions
16.7 x 13 x 8.5 Inches
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2. Herschel Supply Co. Little America Backpack

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The tall shape of this backpack gives it a slightly larger capacity than rounded designs, combining the carry space of a mountaineer's pack with modern lightweight materials. The polyester outer layer is water-resistant and surprisingly durable, and the rear of the pack uses a special padded layer to protect its contents from bumping into your back.  The standard two-pocket design makes it easy to separate large and small objects without having a dozen complex straps and zips to fiddle with, meaning that it’s great for people with a lot of important equipment to carry around.

This bag’s tall, square shape makes it perfect for holding large objects, as well as making it a much more efficient use of space than many other backpack designs.

Why We Like It
  • Water-resistant polyester exterior.
  • Nylon internal lining.
  • Soft padded back.
  • Simple two-pocket design.
  • Tall main pocket.
Material
Polyester
Capacity
25 Liters
Dimensions
19.5 x 11.25 x 7 Inches
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3. AmazonBasics Laptop Computer Backpack

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Although this backpack was originally designed to hold laptops, the multiple pockets and compartments make it an excellent option for anybody who needs to store a lot of objects on a day-to-day basis. The design also has mesh pockets on either side, allowing you to hold drinks and other objects that you might need to grab at a moment’s notice. Thanks to the extra padding around the computer sleeve, you can be sure that your laptop or another portable device will be safe and secure, even if the rest of the backpack is full.

Despite its reasonably conventional design, this backpack has plenty of side pockets and separate compartments, making it an incredibly useful tool for college students who need to keep everything with them at all times.

Why We Like It
  • Perfect for carrying laptops.
  • Side pockets for carrying bottles.
  • Multiple components.
  • Padded interior sleeve.
  • Soft, comfortable shoulder straps.
Material
Polyester and Mesh
Capacity
26.6 Liters
Dimensions
13.4 x 7 x 19.3 Inches

4. Vaschy Lightweight School Backpack

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This water-resistant pack is made with very lightweight polyester but still offers two separate compartments for easier management. The reinforced bottom prevents heavy weights from easily breaking through the bottom of the backpack, and the double-zipper system allows you to open and shut the bag in whichever way you find most convenient, rather than being forced to close it at a certain side.

This, along with the ergonomic and comfortable shoulder straps, gives you far more control over how much you can adjust the pack to suit your needs, rather than having to work around pre-set design choices.

This bag is clean, efficient and much more durable than it first appears, making it one of the best backpacks for college students who need to keep their possessions safe at all times.

Why We Like It
  • Lightweight design.
  • Reinforced and padded straps.
  • Uses back panel padding.
  • Reinforced bottom section.
  • Water-resistant.
Material
Polyester
Capacity
19.35 Liters
Dimensions
16.9 x 11.8 x 5.9 Inches

5. The North Face Unisex Jester Backpack

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These hiking-style backpacks take an existing design and builds on it, adding more features that promote better comfort and durability. The padded back panel and straps make it far more comfortable to wear no matter how full or empty it is, and the built-in supports help the entire pack hold together from the inside, ensuring that wear and tear won’t cause as much permanent damage.

Not only that, but it is perfectly sized to hold laptops, binders, books and other gear that you might need in an average day at college, with zips keeping it all safely hidden from prying eyes.

This is another backpack that mixes simplicity and durability, creating something that’s easy to use and reliable enough to endure all kinds of day-to-day damage at college.

Why We Like It
  • Designed for extra internal durability.
  • Comfortable and padded.
  • Sized for holding college supplies.
  • Separate front compartment.
  • Padded layer to protect contents from bumps and bashes.
Material
Polyester and Synthetic
Capacity
28 Liters
Dimensions
13.2 x 7.5 x 19.8 Inches

6. Fjallraven Kanken Classic Backpack

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This compact backpack is perfect for carrying around college supplies without weighing yourself down, using adjustable straps and a multi-pocketed design that’s incredibly convenient and easy to use. Alongside the two-way zipper system and the built-in carrying handles, the pack also has rain flaps and a boxy design that help keep its contents safe from rain and physical damage, as well as reducing the chance of heavier objects making the material sag and collapse. Thanks to the fairly small overall size of the pack compared to other backpacks, it’s also really easy to store, especially during car journies or on public transport.

This backpack is smaller than most others, but it trades in some size for better durability and greater storage efficiency, making it an excellent choice for minimalists and space-conscious college students.

Why We Like It
  • Resistant to water and dirt.
  • Simple, efficient design.
  • Two-way zipper.
  • Accessible side pockets.
  • Durable and well-supported.
Material
Synthetic (Vinylon F)
Capacity
16 Liters
Dimensions
14.9 x 10.6 x 5.1 Inches

7. High Sierra Wheeled Laptop Backpack

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This wheeled laptop bag mixes elements of a suitcase into a conventional backpack, creating a heavy-duty monster of a bag that can hold a vast range of equipment and tools at once.  The massive storage capacity and built-in separators give you a wide variety of options and ways to store things, while the extendable handle lets you turn your backpack into a rolling case almost instantly. The entire outer layer is made with anti-abrasion polyester that provides extra protection, while the inside uses more padding than usual to keep you comfortable while wearing it.

If you need something heavy-duty that can get you and your possessions through all kinds of bad weather and difficult terrain, this may be one of the best backpacks for college life, especially if you’re also using it for holidays and trips away.

Why We Like It
  • Incredibly large storage capacity.
  • Plenty of different compartments and spaces to store items.
  • Can be near-instantly converted into a suitcase.
  • Wheeled bottom that allows it to stand up on its own.
  • Durable, water-resistant exterior to protect contents.
Material
Polyester
Capacity
38.5 Liters
Dimensions
31.3 x 15.2 x 6.1 Inches

8. Osprey Packs Daylite Plus Daypack

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The long body of this daypack can hold a surprising amount of equipment and items without getting too bulky to wear properly, thanks to its large main section and separate side pocket.  The interior sleeve in its main pocket can be used to hold laptops and tablets in a secure position, keeping them safe from harm, while the mesh back panel keeps your back and the bag safely divided with a layer of soft materials. There’s also a pocket on the front panel that can be used to store objects or act as an extra shell to stop the rain, allowing you to fill it with water-resistant materials to keep the other pockets safe and dry.

While this backpack can serve you well on its own, it’s also very easy to modify, either with your own additions or with more Daylite-related gear.

Why We Like It
  • Multi-pocket design.
  • Interior sleeve to protect devices.
  • Foam-based back padding.
  • Large main compartment.
  • Easy to adjust and modify.
Material
Polyester
Capacity
20 Liters
Dimensions
9 x 10 x 18 Inches

9. MATEIN College Laptop Backpack

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This travel backpack has plenty of storage space, using a single main pocket and a variety of smaller compartments to hold items of different sizes. The ventilated back panels mean that you won’t get sweaty in hot weather, and the outside layer of the pack is made with durable polymer fabrics that offer excellent water resistance. This, combined with the built-in USB charging port and hidden pocket for extremely valuable items, makes it perfect for people who need to travel a lot, either for college or just for some of their hobbies.

Even if you don’t go on major trips that often, this bag still boasts an excellent carrying capacity and a range of useful features that you might find useful in your college life.

Why We Like It
  • Perfect for traveling.
  • USB port with cable for easy device charging.
  • Water-resistant outer layer.
  • Sturdy design.
  • Ventilated and breathable padding.
Material
Polyester
Capacity
29 Liters
Dimensions
18 x 12 x 7.8 Inches

10. Under Armour Hustle 3.0 Backpack

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The polyester body of this backpack hides multiple different compartments, each of which is great for carrying and hiding different types and sizes of objects. The water-resistant UA Storm technology used in its design helps to stop water from leaking through during rainstorms, and the built-in laptop sleeve gives you an extra way to protect your devices from damage when you’re on the move. Not only that, but the anti-abrasion bottom panel, water-resistant front pocket, and comfortable HeatGear shoulder straps offer far more comfort and reliability when compared to a standard backpack.

This bag is comfortable, strong and durable, allowing it to withstand all kinds of punishment while still being very protective and equally nice to wear.

Why We Like It
  • Durable.
  • Resistant to water and abrasion.
  • Uses a built-in device sleeve.
  • Fully machine washable.
  • Comfortable one-size-fits-all straps.
Material
Polyester
Capacity
30 Liters
Dimensions
9.3 x 18.9 x 13.6 Inches

College Backpack Buyer’s Guide

Buying a backpack for college is much like buying one for any other type of school education, but it’s still easy to forget certain features that you might want. For example, unlike your earlier years at school, you might need to carry around a laptop, tablet or another device that’s much larger than a phone, or you might end up with items that need to be carefully organized for different types of class. Your priorities might not end up being exactly what you expect.

Reliability

Of course, the most important part of any backpack is its overall reliability – how long it’ll last, whether it will protect the contents properly, and how it will react to different kinds of wear and tear. Even if you’re very careful not to bash your backpack against anything, it will still start to wear out eventually, since it’ll have to put up with the stress of carrying your college supplies and equipment around – unfortunately, when it runs out, it can end up breaking in ways that endanger whatever’s inside.

For example, if a pack has weak straps, it doesn’t always matter how strong the rest of the backpack’s body is since it’ll still suddenly fall to the floor and probably damage whatever’s inside. Similarly, if it’s made out of weaker materials that can’t put up with water damage well, it could end up getting soaked without you realizing it, ruining any paper notes or documents you’re keeping inside.

This is sometimes a manufacturer-wide issue, so always check for the reputability of whoever’s making your chosen backpack before you buy it – if they’re known for bad quality products that break quickly and easily, it might be best to look somewhere else unless you really need a certain feature that only they offer. If the bag you get is still too unreliable, you can sometimes fix it yourself: one common solution to rain leaking in is to line the inside with a plastic bag, letting you keep everything relatively dry while still having the same amount of storage space.

Special Features

It’s human nature to go for the shiniest thing in a line-up, and sometimes special features can be the tipping point between one bag beating another. However, you won’t always actually need these features, so make sure you choose one that’s actually relevant to your lifestyle and situation. A built-in charger will be useful to almost anybody, but not people who already carry a charger anyway, or don’t regularly use devices that need to be charged up during the day.

On the other hand, some features are almost universally helpful – water-resistant materials, protective layers, and extra padding can make a good bag even better, and having them is almost always better than not having them, even if the price is slightly higher.

Remember that the definition of “special” can change from brand to brand. Something that one brand marks as a special addition might be something that another offers as standard, which can result in prices being raised or lowered for different reasons, even if two bags are functionally the same. Two brands might even offer the exact same features as each other, especially if they’re popular extras or they work alongside one another well.

The Style

While it’s not that important on a functional and technical level, the visual style of your backpack can make a big difference, especially during college. While there are the obvious points about people preferring designer brands or going for popular styles, it can also make it much easier (or more difficult) to identify your bag if it gets lost, stolen or mixed up with somebody else’s.

Some styles are also larger and less efficient than others – bags with a curved bottom are essentially less efficient than an identical bag with a flat bottom, and while this won’t make a difference to most people, it can still end up being a problem if you have to cram a lot of files and items into it at once.

Certain styles will also make compromises that can affect how useful a backpack actually is. For example, there might be a logo over an area where there could be a zip or extra pocket, or it might use materials that leave room for water to get in. Some styles might even completely change the internal design of the pack just to make it look a certain way, even if it’s far less stable than a regular backpack. Finding a balance between “good” and “stylish” is difficult, but it’s always worth the effort.

Capacity

The capacity of a backpack is one of the main factors that will lead to people deciding whether or not to get it. Being able to carry more things is basically always an upgrade, regardless of whether it’s achieved with a single large pocket or multiple smaller ones. However, an increase in capacity also leads to an increase in size, and there’s a certain limit where the size becomes too unreasonable to manage properly.

Take hiker’s backpacks, for example – many of them are simply too large to work properly in a college environment, especially if they only have one zip and have to be laid out flat before they can be properly opened. However, some smaller designs can still work really well, since they are not overly sized and can pass as a regular backpack with very little extra effort.

No matter what else you’re looking for in a new backpack, you should always make sure it has the capacity to hold everything you’ll need. Many students won’t have any other storage option but their pockets (and even then, many pieces of women’s clothing don’t even have real pockets), so having a few extra books or files to carry can end up being a problem.

If you think you are just barely hitting the capacity of your bag already, you should probably upgrade to a bigger one. You never know when you might have to carry something that can’t fit in there anymore – a textbook, some notes, a charger for your phone or even something as minor as some food you bought earlier in the day.

The Purpose

While it might sound strange, many backpacks are designed for a specific purpose, rather than just holding objects in general. Laptop backpacks are almost always geared towards protecting a single tablet or laptop, so they might suffer in terms of their support for other, heavier objects. On the other hand, a hiking-style pack will be designed to be full of items that you might need and could flop over if there’s a lot of empty space left, making it harder to manage properly.

Unless you’re absolutely sure that you’ll need a specialized backpack for a certain activity in the future, you should try to find something that suits your needs in the present. The wrong type of backpack can end up being more of a hindrance than a help, especially during hectic days at college.

Expert Tip

Anti-theft features can be a useful tool for people who are worried about getting robbed, especially if you’ve got devices or items that are extremely important for your college life and current class.

Did you know?

Be careful if you’re trying to modify your backpacks yourself. For example, cutting through an interior wall to make a single, larger pocket can cause irreversible damage to the frame of the entire pack, making it look scruffy.