Back To School: 20 Best Backpacks For College

For most people, the decision to go to college and pursue higher education is a pretty big deal. And we don’t think that anyone would disagree with the thought that it’s one hell of a commitment. In order to make good on that commitment, the best thing you can do is prepare yourself fully. That means mapping out an educational path, readying your finances, and actually attending your classes regularly. It also means gathering the appropriate gear to get you through your school days.

And what’s perhaps the most basic piece of gear any college student needs? A backpack, of course. Not only is it a vessel in which to transport all of your textbooks, notepads, laptop or tablet, paper & pens, and everyday carry gear – but it’s also an organizational tool that can help you stay on the top of your game. And if you’re serious about school, you should take your backpack seriously, too. That means ditching the old single-pouch drawstring bag and picking up something with a bit more functionality – like anything on the this list, for example. The following are the best backpacks for college on the market right now.

JanSport Big Student Backpack

Though it bears the same patch as the brand’s classic two-pouch backpack, this version sports a number of features that give it a huge leg up. For starters, it has a full complement of pouches – 4 exterior and 5 interior. It also has greater storage space – measuring up at 34 liters. That’s more than enough room for most students’ books, supplies, laptop, and more. And it still comes with the signature mesh water bottle pouch on the side, in case you get thirsty.

Purchase: $43+

The North Face Vault Backpack

The North Face is far better known for their outdoor gear, but that doesn’t mean they excel in other areas. Take, for example, their Vault backpack. It’s crafted from a high quality durable polyester, has 28 liters of internal space, and even has a floating laptop sleeve that can fit up to a 15-inch computer. Best of all, if you walk to school or commute by bike, this backpack features reflective panels for added safety and a sternum strap to keep it snug and comfortable on the roads.

Purchase: $49+

Herschel Supply Co. Nelson Backpack

While it’s certainly one of the more stylish options on our list, Hershel’s Nelson pack is no less a solid and spacious option for a college backpack. It’s made from lightweight polyester, has a spacious main compartment – with a padded sleeve for up to a 15-inch laptop or tablet – and has a secondary external pocket for any extra gear you might want to carry around (like, perhaps, your everyday carry). And, like all of their bags, this one comes with Herschel’s signature striped internal lining.

Purchase: $50+

Patagonia Refugio Backpack

Not content to let the North Face be the only brand that extends beyond outdoor gear, Patagonia also has some stellar backpacks that work just as great on the trails as they do at school. Their Refugio is one such pack. It features a large main compartment for quick and easy access to your gear, but also has a secondary space inside with organizational slots – if that’s more your speed. In fact, it even has microfleece lined pockets for your sunglasses or delicate high-tech gear.

Purchase: $75+

Incase Icon Backpack

Don’t let the super sleek exterior of this bag fool you – it’s a fully featured and compartmentalized backpack with tons of internal organizational options. For instance, at the top of the bag near the suitcase-carry strap, there’s a small faux fur-lined quick access bag that can fit your favorite sunglasses, everyday carry gear, or tickets & your passport. It also has a large internal faux fur-lined laptop compartment. Furthermore, the whole exterior is crafted from sleek and durable 840D nylon and the back is heavily padded for comfort and ease of carry.

Purchase: $90+

Fjallraven Kanken Backpack

While you could certainly take this backpack from Fjallraven out on a hiking trip, it’s also perfectly suited for use on a college campus. And a part of that is because it comes equipped with a padded internal compartment that can fit up to a 17-inch laptop. It also features three separate organizational pouches – a large main compartment, one on the side, and a zippered front pocket – and features a Vinylon-F construction.

Purchase: $110

Aer Fit Pack

If you need a bag that will get you through your day at school, but you can’t make a trip home to pick up some workout gear before you hit the gym, then this is the bag for you. Its 19-liters of internal space is broken down into a large main compartment, a back compartment with interior pockets, a quick-access top pocket, and a separate ventilated shoe compartment. So you can easily carry all of your gear from home to school to the gym and everywhere in-between.

Purchase: $120

MIS Backpack

MIS stands for Make It Simple – and that’s exactly what they’ve done with this college-ready backpack. But don’t let that fact confuse you; though it’s simple, it’s certainly not unworthy of consideration. In fact, it’s constructed of some very tough materials (including water-resistant 1000D Cordura) in a California factory on machines that were used to create military-grade tactical equipment. And the backpack straps are fitted with PALS webbing, it has zippered mesh pocked in the main compartment, and a padded internal pouch that fits up to a 15″ laptop.

Purchase: $135

Mystery Ranch Kletterwerks Market Bag

With a history dating back to 1978, it’s pretty safe to say that Mystery Ranch knows how to build a solid back. And while they specialize in very tough outdoors-style packs (like for long-form camping, day hikes, and everything in-between), their expertise certainly carries over into more casual-style bags. Take, for example, their Market Bag. It’s made in the USA, features a simple flip-top closure, but is still crafted from a killer combination of 1000D Cordura and 1680 ballistic nylon. It also features a laptop sleeve that can fit up to a 15″ computer.

Purchase: $139

Topo Designs Daypack

Though it’s not overly complicated, this handsome bag from the folks at Topo Designs is as perfectly capable as it is good looking. Crafted from 1000D Cordura and featuring a coated pack cloth liner, it’ll stand up to daily use all while keeping your gear safe and secure inside. In fact, the spacious main compartment actually has a built-in organizer with pouches for your wallet, pocket notebook, EDC pen, 15″ laptop and more.

Purchase: $149

DSPTCH Bookpack

DSPTCH specializes in some truly well-built and functional carry pieces that range everywhere from the tactical rucksack to the casual gym bag. So it’s no surprise that they’ve tackled a school bag and pretty much nailed it. This spin on the classic book bag features a padded laptop sleeve, a convenient quick-access pocket, and individual internal item pockets for better organization. It’s also fitted with mil-spec webbing, Duraflex plastic hardware, and is made here in the United States.

Purchase: $165

Aer Duffel Pack 2

Measuring up at a whopping 24 liters of internal space, the Duffel Pack from Aer is certainly one of the larger bags on this list, but with that size comes a nigh-unmatched organizational system. This bag has a spacious main compartment, dual flank quick-access pockets with several pouches in each, and a ventilated separate shoe compartment at the base. And that’s really just the beginning. It also has an internal padded pouch large enough for a 15″ MacBook Pro, its exterior is crafted from 1680D ballistic nylon, and its internal lining is moisture resistant polyester. In addition to being a college-appropriate bag, this is one of the best gym bags of all time.

Purchase: $170

Bradley Mountain Day Pack

Out of San Diego, California, Bradley Mountain’s Day Pack proves that, sometimes, simple is better. And it’s not just the flip-top main compartment and single external zippered pocket format that makes this bag so great. It’s also the incredible attention to detail and the superb construction materials out of which it is made. What materials, you ask? Well, it has a heavy waxed canvas exterior, premium oiled leather straps, and solid copper and brass hardware. This isn’t just a good school bag; it’s an example of the brand’s ability to create heirloom quality goods.

Purchase: $199

The North Face Access Pack

The North Face’s second appearance on this list shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with the brand. It should be even less of a surprise to anyone familiar with their Access Pack. Even the brand themselves call this one their “most innovative backpack.” In fact, this bag’s technology includes three pending patents. They include a spring-open main compartment, a custom made quick-release latch, and built-in internal ejector tabs for easy-access to internal pocketed gear. And this one has an external laptop pocket with water-resistant zippers and a lightweight internal aluminum frame.

Purchase: $235

Mission Workshop The Sanction Pack

Carefully traversing that line between style and function, this pack from Mission Workshop looks exactly as good as it functions. It has a 1000d VX Cordura outer layer laminated to a PET membrane (giving it a measure of weatherproofing), 4 internal weatherproof pockets, and a zippered pocket that fits most 15″ laptops or tablets. It also comes with an optional waist belt in case you like to ride your bike to and from college.

Purchase: $285

Defy Bags Bucktown Backpack

If you’re not already familiar, Deft Bags is a manufacturer out of Chicago who makes some of the toughest gear out of some of the coolest materials we’ve ever seen. This bag is one such piece of gear. The exterior of the Bucktown – which is named for Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood – is made from Martexin original waxed canvas. That mean’s it is practically waterproof. And the internal lining is made from 1000D Cordura nylon – so it can take nearly as much of a beating as the outside. And it’s all finished off with 2″ seatbelt straps, water-resistant YKK zippers, and padded shoulder straps with metal hardware.

Purchase: $289

GoRuck GR1 Backpack

Proudly hand-built in the USA, this is GoRuck’s original piece of gear. And although it was tested and proven by Special Forces soldiers operating in Baghdad and New York City, it’s also perfectly suited to a civilian lifestyle. If you like tactical backpacks with MOLLE compatibility, reinforced stress points, and with a bombproof laptop sleeve, then the GoRuck GR1 is definitely the bag for you. Hell, even if you just like a spacious bag with a solid internal organizational system, this bag is more than enough. Just as an added bonus, this bag can also house your hydration pack if you want to take it on a hike.

Purchase: $289

Able Archer Rucksack

If you like to haul around a lot of precious high-tech gear – like your DSLR camera – this might be the best college bag for you. Able Archer’s spin on the classic drawstring ruck is crafted from mil-spec water resistant canvas, features a nylon interior lining, has 22 total liters of internal space, and has a 15″ laptop pocket with a waterproof zipper. On top of that, it offers dual side-entry fast access storage panels with internal pockets, stash pockets for camera accessories, and MOLLE compatible webbing.

Purchase: $350

Lexdray Copenhagen Pack

Lexdray makes some very interesting and comprehensive bags of varying sizes and shapes for everything from electronic musicians to long-term jet-setters. Although this is one of their simpler bags, it is no less well-built and functional. It balances military-grade hardware with weather-resistant fabric; a simple and sleek exterior with a full complement of internal pouches; and can fit up to a 15″ laptop within an internal padded pouch. It also comes with a removable waterproof cover to protect you in just about any weather.

Purchase: $395

Filson Journeyman Backpack

Occupying the upper echelon of superb multifunctional gear is, of course, Filson. Their handsomely simple Journeyman backpack is made from a combination of water repellant twill, oil finished tin cloth, and a poly/cotton lining. It also comes with solid brass zipper closures with gusseted sides, a number of internal organizational pockets (including a 16″ laptop sleeve), and has both comfortable padded straps and a padded back. If nothing but the absolute highest quality will do for you, then this is it.

Purchase: $395

Desktop Essentials

Once you’ve picked out the perfect college backpack, it’s time to spruce up your workspace. Here are some desktop essentials to get you started.

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