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The Best Backpacks For College Students

The Best College Backpacks 00 Hero
Photo: Aer Tech Pack 2
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Even when you take into account the negative sides of the collegiate system, the pursuit of higher education is a noble one that has the potential to send you down a promising career path. But embarking on that journey isn’t as simple as just showing up to class. You also need to make sure that you’re prepared, mentally and physically — the latter of which is our concern today.

Of all the things you should be bringing with you to class, a bag might actually be the most important, as they give you the ability to actually haul all your other gear — be that a stack of books, your laptop, school supplies, or all of the above. Of course, it would help if that bag is well-suited to the unique challenges of academia. It’s with this in mind that we’ve put together the following list of the best college backpacks for men. Pick one of these up and get to studying!

The Best College Backpacks

College-Specific Carry Solutions

The Main Areas To Consider When Buying A Backpack For College

While they admittedly don’t differ all that much from regular everyday carry packs, there are a handful of specific areas that one should take into account when shopping around for a backpack for college. Below, we’ll briefly touch on seven of the most pivotal factors to consider before pulling the trigger on your purchase. 

Size: Whether of the outdoor, EDC, or travel variety, backpacks can massively vary in terms of sizing. Typically measured in liters, the amount of storage space offered will directly determine how much you’ll be able to carry. And while it’s easy to think that bigger is better, the reality is that anything north of 15 liters should be sufficient for college use.

Materials: The single biggest factor that determines a backpack’s durability and overall quality is undoubtedly the material(s) used to craft its shell. Most of the packs on our list boast constructions comprised of high-denier — often ballistic-grade — nylons and poly blends, though it’s also common to see bags made from more traditional materials like waxed canvas, or more modern proprietary constructions like Dyneema or CORDURA. It’s also not uncommon to see a shell’s primary construction supplemented with reinforced sections — such as for the bottom of the pack. We’d also recommend reviewing secondary materials such as a bag’s liner. 

Hardware: Another factor that separates the more premium packs on the market from their cheaper counterparts is the former’s use of more high-end hardware. This includes everything from buckles and attachment points to the backpack’s zipper tracks. 

Laptop & Device Storage: Laptops and tablets have increasingly become vital devices for college students. As such, you’ll almost certainly want to opt for a pack that features a dedicated laptop sleeve or compartment. In addition to often being padded or suspended to better fortify devices, some laptop sleeves are also supplemented by secondary compartments for housing a tablet or second notebook. 

Organizational Amenities: A major advantage of college-specific backpacks is that they tend to feature organizational amenities designed specifically for accommodating the day-to-day items and gear carried by students. This includes slips and holders for pens and notebooks, as well as sleeves for textbooks and special pockets for housing small pieces of tech. Quite a few college backpacks also sport slips and loops for accommodating cords and charging cables. 

Weather-Resistance: Primarily owed to a backpack’s shell material and zippers, a bag’s ability to stand up to the weather can be of monumental importance — especially if you’re going to school win a region that receives ample snow or rain. Getting a weatherproof pack does typically come at a premium, though we’d argue that it’s worth paying this amount as it practically guarantees that your laptop and textbooks will remain dry even in a heavy downpour. 

Style: Modern college backpacks come in an enormous variety of different shapes, sizes, and styles. No matter your personal taste, there’s almost certainly a backpack on the market that will resonate with you. This includes everything from modern vintage reissues to sleek and ultra-minimalistic contemporary designs.  What’s more, quite a few of our favorite college packs are also offered in multiple color options — with some even being produced in multiple shell constructions as well. 

The Best College Backpacks For Students

Now that you’re privy to what to look for when shopping, let’s dive into our picks for the best college backpacks for students that money can currently buy.

Fjällräven Kånken Backpack

Fjallraven Kanken Backpack
Photo: Amazon
Pros
  • Ultra-popular bag in production since 1978
  • Super versatile minimalist design
  • Updated model features a dedicated laptop compartment
Cons
  • Not the most rugged shell
  • Somewhat lacking in terms of organizational features

Best Budget Pick: Fjallraven is having a bit of a moment right now, thanks largely to the brand’s Kånken backpack lineup — which can be seen on the backs of students, explorers, and EDC enthusiasts around the world. And while any version of the Kånken is certainly going to serve you well, we prefer this one for collegiate usage. Not only does it offer 20L of internal storage and a roomy 17″ dedicated laptop pocket, but it is also crafted from a material called Vinylon F that’s dirt-resistant, water-resistant, and super easy to clean.

Exterior: Vinylon F
Capacity: 20L
Laptop Pouch: 17″

Jansport Recycled SuperBreak Backpack

JanSport Recycled SuperBreak Backpack
Photo: Amazon
Pros
  • Modern reissue of iconic backpack from 1967
  • The original book bag
  • Updated model made using recycled materials
  • Proven, tried-and-true minimalist design
Cons
  • Doesn’t feature a dedicated laptop compartment
  • Shell lacks water & abrasion-resistance

 Best Modern Reissue Pick: A JanSport is about as classic as school bags get, but this particular version of the SuperBreak is special. That’s because it is a good deal more environmentally friendly than its counterparts, thanks to an exterior that’s made from 100% recycled materials. If you’re looking for an iconic, classic, minimalist option — and you don’t mind that there isn’t a dedicated laptop pocket — you definitely can’t go wrong with this budget-friendly find.

Exterior: Recycled Polyester
Capacity: 25L
Laptop Pouch: N/A

Lexdray San Diego Pack

Lexdray San Diego Pack
Photo: Lexdray
Pros
  • Features a compact yet highly-functional design
  • Benefits from a proprietary snap pocket system
  • Made using ballistic-grade/mil-spec fabric & hardware
  • Sports a retro-inspired design
Cons
  • Small size greatly limits storage space

Best Ultra-Rugged Pick: Named after the sunny Southern California city just a couple of hours south of Los Angeles, Lexdray’s San Diego Pack is a lot like classic JanSports but elevated in its overall design and material construction. At just 12L, it’s the smallest backpack on our list, but that might just be to its benefit — especially because it still comes with a fleece-lined pocket that’s large enough for most modern tablets. If you want to pare down your care to the bare bones, this is a superb offering.

Exterior: 1,680D Ballistic Nylon
Capacity: 12L
Laptop Pouch: N/A

Incase ICON Lite Backpack

Incase ICON Lite Backpack
Photo: Amazon
Pros
  • Designed to protect laptops & devices
  • Can fit MacBook Pro models up to 16″
  • Offers great value
Cons
  • Could benefit from more quick-access external pockets

Best Upgrade Pick: The Incase ICON is one of the best all-around backpacks on the market, especially for those that like to travel — thanks in part to its rigid structure and compartmental organizational scheme. However, for school usage, it can be a bit cumbersome. That’s why we like the ICON Lite you see here, which has many of the same features in a pared-down 20L capacity. Of course, it still has a generous 16″ padded laptop pocket, a weatherproof exterior, and plenty of pockets and pouches inside and out.

Exterior: 840D Nylon
Capacity: 20L
Laptop Pouch: 16″

Topo Designs Rover Pack Tech

Topo Designs Rover Pack
Photo: Topo Designs
Pros
  • Made entirely from recycled materials
  • Has a vintage-inspired design
  • Loaded with organizational features
Cons
  • Could benefit from metal hardware

Best Vintage-Inspired Pick: Topo Designs offers a truly impressive range of gear and apparel, much of which is centered around outdoor exploration. However, some of their offerings are remarkably well-suited to urban living, as well. Case in point: the Topo Designs Rover Pack Tech you see here. Designed specifically as a technical option for city living, this bag is marked by a recycled nylon exterior (making it both lightweight and weatherproof), a 15″ laptop compartment, and a deceptively expansive 24.3L capacity.

Exterior: Recycled 1,000D Nylon
Capacity: 24.3L
Laptop Pouch: 15″

The North Face Kaban 2.0 Backpack

The North Face Kaban 2 Backpack
Photo: The North Face
Pros
  • Sports a sleek & modern exterior design
  • Offers solid weather resistance
  • Engineered specifically for commuting to school or work
  • Loaded with stellar organizational amenities
Cons
  • Shell material collects dust & dirt easily

Best Streamlined/Minimalist Pick: A streamlined second-generation 27-liter pack that offers just enough room to accommodate a student’s daily essentials for class, The North Face Kaban 2.0 Backpack is a decidedly modern design that features a recycled 300-denier recycled polyester shell that’s been TPU-laminated and DWR-coated before being reinforced with an ultra-rugged 1,680-denier ballistic nylon bottom. Solid weather resistance, a 15” laptop sleeve, dual water bottle sleeves, and a plethora of internal slips and pockets for stashing books, notebooks, and pens, collectively make the Kaban 2.0 a stellar choice for any student. 

Exterior: Recycled 300D Polyester
Capacity: 27L
Laptop Pouch: 15″

Mission Workshop The Fraction Backpack

Mission Workshop The Fraction Backpack
Photo: Mission Workshop
Pros
  • Features mil-spec materials & construction
  • Made in America
  • Boasts an internal frame sheet
  • Has 4 internal weatherproof pockets
Cons
  • Uses underwhelming hardware considering its $230 price

Best Rucksack: Mission Workshop’s Sanction Rucksack is one of the brand’s bestselling backpacks, but it can be a little cumbersome for pared-down day-to-day usage — the kind that suits college-going students. So, they made a version that’s even more compact and minimalist and called it The Fraction. This pack still has the same signature styling, a rugged nylon exterior, and an internal laptop pocket. But it is also a good deal smaller, with a 14L total capacity. Oh yeah, and it’s still made here in the USA.

Exterior: 1,000D Nylon
Capacity: 14L
Laptop Pouch: 13″

Bellroy Transit Workpack 

Bellroy Transit Workpack
Photo: Amazon
Pros
  • Engineered for students & workers
  • Sustainably made using eco-friendly materials
  • Doubles as a stellar travel backpack
Cons
  • Could benefit from a more rugged shell material
  • Shoulder straps could use more padding

Best Eco-Friendly Pick: Always utilizing sustainable manufacturing , Bellroy makes some of the best everyday carry gear, period. So it should come as no surprise that, when we were hunting for the best college backpacks, this Aussie brand made the cut. And that will make even more sense when you see just how great the Transit Workpack is with its recycled weatherproof exterior, serviceable 20L capacity, externally accessible 16″ laptop pocket, full clamshell opening, ventilated back padding system, etc. This is less a backpack and more an office you can carry around with you.

Exterior: Recycled Water-Resistant Fabric
Capacity: 20L
Laptop Pouch: 16″

Aer Tech Pack 2

Aer Tech Pack 2
Photo: Aer
Pros
  • Features a sleek minimalist appearance
  • Fully weatherproof construction
  • Crafted around ultra-rugged 1,680D shell
  • Has pockets designed for housing tech &. accessories
Cons
  • Heavy-duty construction results in a heavy bag at nearly 4lbs

Best Tech Backpack Pick: A second-generation version of an already stellar commuter bag, the Aer Tech Pack 2 was engineered from the ground up to meet the needs of modern students and workers, with a wealth of organizational features including a soft-lined tech pocket and a suspended quick-access laptop compartment. Boasting a structured design, a carbonate polyurethane-coated 840-denier face, and a 1,680-denier CORDURA shell, Duraflex hardware, and YKK AquaGuard zippers, the Tech Pack 2 acts as a bulletproof vessel from transporting all of one’s daily essentials. A myriad of reinforced grab handles, a luggage handle pass-through, and an exterior water bottle pocket collectively afford the pack pretty remarkable levels of versatility, with the Tech Pack V2 lending itself to everything from travel to EDC use. 

Exterior: 840D & 1,680D Cordura Ballistic Nylon
Capacity: 17L
Laptop Pouch: 16″

Tom Bihn Brain Bag

Tom Bihn Brain Bag
Photo: Tom Bihn
Pros
  • Can fit 2 or more laptops or tablets
  • Offered in a huge range of pattern & color options
  • Made using premium materials & hardware
Cons
  • Can be larger than needed at 36L

Best Large-Capacity Pick: When it comes to customizable bags, Tom Bihn is a tough name to beat. That goes for college backpacks, too, if the Brain Bag you see here is any indication. In fact, along with the customization options, this is the only bag on our list that was actually made to hold more than one laptop computer. Sure, not everyone will need that, but there are 19 other options that don’t have that feature, helping this one stand out. All seven color options are also made from ballistic nylon, the pack holds up to 36L of gear, and there are many more features than that.

Exterior: 525D Ballistic Nylon
Capacity: 36L
Laptop Pouch: 17.3″

Filson Dryden Backpack 

Filson Dryden Backpack
Photo: Filson
Pros
  • Vintage design made with modern materials
  • Uses premium hardware & Bridle leather accents
  • Features a padded laptop pocket
Cons
  • Limited internal organizers

Best Heritage Pick: Built around a rugged 1,000-denier CORDURA nylon shell with a double-layered bottom, the Filson Dryden Backpack sees an old-school design brought to life utilizing modern, top-shelf materials. Despite its unmistakably vintage appearance, the Dryden boasts a padded laptop pocket and multiple internal organizers, slips, and pockets. Offered in three color options — as well as in a Camo variant — the Dryden has also been outfitted with brass-finished heavy-duty coil zippers and a bevy of bridle leather accents and details including the pack’s grab handle. And, like practically every product from Filson, the Dryden backpack was engineered to offer a lifetime of use

Exterior: 1,000D CORDURA
Capacity: 25.5L
Laptop Pouch: 15”

Peak Design Everyday Backpack

Peak Design Everyday Backpack
Photo: Peak Design
Pros
  • Has a modular internal setup
  • Unbeatable bag for photographers
  • Sustainably made
  • Also great for travel & EDC use
  • Absolutely loaded with features
Cons
  • Could benefit from a more rugged shell material

Best Camera Bag Pick: Not everyone wants a nylon bag that can be crushed, folded, and smushed. Some, especially those with valuable tech, might prefer something with a little more structure. And you’ll find exactly that in the Peak Design Everyday Backpack. And while its rigidity is certainly a highlight, it’s also still relatively lightweight, it has a 20L capacity (marked by a clever modular internal storage system) and 15″ laptop pocket, and it’s made from a recycled nylon with a DWR coating for better weatherproofing.

Exterior: 400D DWR Kodra
Capacity: 20L (or 30L)
Laptop Pouch: 15″

GORUCK GR1

GORUCK GR1
Photo: GORUCK
Pros
  • Design derived from special forces packs
  • Bulletproof materials & build quality
  • Made in America
Cons
  • Limited internal organizers
  • Expensive price

Best Military-Inspired Pick: Taking inspiration from the packs used by special forces operators, the legendary GORUCK GR1 is an impressive, over-built take on a modern backpack. Made in America and backed by a lifetime warranty, the bag is cut from 1,000-denier CORDURA nylon and features YKK zippers with custom pulls, ultra-padded shoulder straps, three internal and external rows of MOLLE webbing, a removable frame sheet, and a “bombproof” laptop compartment. The application of mil-spec construction coupled with its clamshell design and suite of organizational features have made the GR1 one of the most revered backpacks on the market. 

Exterior: 1,000D CORDURA
Capacity: 21L (or 26L)
Laptop Pouch: 15″ (or 16”)

The Best Backpacks For Work

Photo: Aer Tech Pack 2

Haven’t found the bag you were looking for on this list? Well, then be sure to head over to our guide to the best backpacks for work for an additional handpicked selection of carry solutions that are brimming with modern organizational amenities.