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The Best Backpacks for College and High School

Best Backpacks for College and High School
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updated: June 9, 2024

When you head off to college or high school, you’ll need a whole bunch of supplies, and just as importantly, somewhere to put them, so a new backpack should be at the top of your back-to-school shopping list. To help you search through the oversaturated market, we’ve gathered a list of A+ bags that earn top marks for design and durability—from laptop backpacks to old-school bookbags.

What to consider when buying a backpack for school or college

Is the backpack going to fit my laptop?

If you’re in school, even elementary school, you may have to fit a laptop or Chrome book into your backpack. You want to make sure yours has a secure, padded compartment so that you won't break anything if you drop or toss your backpack on the quad or in the classroom.

Is the backpack comfortable?

Never purchase a backpack that will cause pain while you carry it. Backpacks for college and school are often overloaded and can be extremely heavy. You want to make sure your backpack is comfortable, ergonomically sound and does not hurt your back, hips, and shoulders. A backpack should fall below your shoulders and under your hips for optimal fit, and should not weigh more than 10% of your body weight.

Will the backpack keep everything organized?

Most backpacks, especially those designed for college or school, have sections for different items, such as a laptop, a larger space for textbooks, a side pocket for a water bottle, and so forth. Make sure the backpack you want to buy has all of the compartments you need to stay organized during your school day.

Does the backpack match my style?

Since you’ll likely use your backpack daily, you should buy one that syncs with your overall style. Fashion shouldn’t replace a backpack’s form and function, but you should like how it looks.

Is the backpack durable?

Ideally, your college backpack will last for all four college years, plus be well-crafted enough to stand up to trips around campus and travel during breaks. Durable fabrics include ultra-tough nylon, canvas, and leather. Zippered pockets also play an important durability role, so double check your backpack comes with YKK-grade zippers.

Our top picks for the best backpacks for college and high school

Best backpack for college students (Women’s pick): North Face Women’s Borealis

North Face is synonymous with high-quality outdoor gear and clothing—and their famous fleece jackets have been an enduring trend for women on campus for seemingly decades. The Women’s Borealis Backpack is designed specifically for a women’s body including a specialized FlexVent™ suspension system, articulated shoulder straps, a rounded back panel, and a high level of comfort designed to protect your back and shoulders. The removable waist strap may not be necessary for everyone, but it’s nice to have the option.

We love the 12 color combinations on offer for this backpack, which, while large, is designed with specific protective compartments for your tech (laptops and tablets) and another to stash your study guides, textbooks, and binders. In true North Face fashion, it also comes with durable, external pockets for your water bottles, plus an external bungie compression system with clips galore.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 18.74 inches (height) x 11-inches (width) x 5.75 inches (depth)
  • Capacity: 27 liters
  • Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Materials: 600D recycled polyester with non-PFC DWR finish
  • Warranty: “Our products are fully warranted against defects in materials and workmanship with a lifetime guarantee. Exclusions apply.”
  • Price: $99

Pros:

  • Specially designed for all women’s bodies
  • Multiple compartments for easy organization
  • Water-resistant and passes the drop test
  • Padded sections for laptops and tablets

Cons:

  • Expensive
Best backpack for college students (Women’s pick)
North Face Women’s Borealis

North Face Women’s Borealis

Best backpacks for college students (Men’s pick): Thule EnRoute

It's not flashy or fancy, but Thule's EnRoute backpack is a fantastic choice due to having heaps of storage space and protective padded pockets for your laptop and tablet. There are multiple interior pockets to stash your stuff, and it’s large enough for packing extras like a sweatshirt, plus your study guides for a day on campus.

This roomy backpack features a breathable (and comfortable) mesh back cushion and sternum strap to protect your back from pain. Because it’s so durable and lightweight (a little over a pound and a half), it can double as a travel bag when you head home during the holidays.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 18.3 inches (height) x 11.8 inches (width) x 7.9 inches (depth)
  • Capacity: 21 liters
  • Weight: 1.59 pounds
  • Materials: Nylon
  • Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty
  • Price: $89.95

Pros:

  • Roomy interior
  • Padded pockets to protect your tech
  • Includes a mesh pocket for tech accessories

Cons:

  • Not water resistant
  • Only available in three colors
Best backpacks for college students (Men’s pick)
Thule - EnRoute 27L Escort 2 Backpack for 15.6" Laptop w/ 10.1" Padded Tablet Sleeve, Crushproof SafeZone, & Water Bottle Holder - Black

Thule - EnRoute 27L Escort 2 Backpack for 15.6" Laptop w/ 10.1" Padded Tablet Sleeve, Crushproof SafeZone, & Water Bottle Holder - Black

Best backpacks for elementary school: Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Backpack

The lightweight Mackenzie backpack is a great choice for younger kids thanks to its durability and wide range of colors (rainbows to neutrals), patterns (tie-dye, camouflage, stripes, and flowers), and themes like Frozen, Disney Princess, Star Wars, and Minecraft. We love the range of sizes based on your child’s height— mini, small, large, X-large, and rolling—and it’s good to know these bags are built to keep small bodies safe and comfortable with wide, adjustable straps and a soft body.

These durable, hard-working backpacks are easy to clean and light enough for smaller children. Pottery Barn Kids also offers an adaptive version of the Mackenzie, making this backpack line extremely inclusive and suitable for all kids. With two side sleeves for water bottles and three exterior and two interior pockets, this backpack has just enough compartments to keep your kiddo organized all year.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: Various; depends on size
  • Capacity: Various; depends on size
  • Weight: Various; depends on the size
  • Materials: Made of rugged, water-resistant 600-denier recycled polyester; interior is lined with 150-denier recycled polyester
  • Warranty: “Eligible items can be exchanged for a refund of the merchandise value within 30 days of receiving an order.”
  • Price: Mini ($39), Small ($49.50), Large ($59.50), X-Large ($84.50), Rolling (and Adaptive ($64.50)

Pros:

  • A wide variety of sizes, colors, patterns, and styles
  • Offers an adaptive option
  • Comfortable wide straps

Cons:

  • Water bottle sleeves are specifically designed to hold Pottery Barn kid water bottles; others may fall out or be too big to fit.
  • Expensive
Best backpacks for elementary school
Multi Dinos Blue Mackenzie Small RPET Backpack

Multi Dinos Blue Mackenzie Small RPET Backpack

Best backpacks for college students with laptops: Cotopaxi Del Dia Tasra 16L Backpack

The lightweight Mackenzie backpack is a great choice for younger kids thanks to its durability and wide range of colors (rainbows to neutrals), patterns (tie-dye, camouflage, stripes, and flowers), and themes like Frozen, Disney Princess, Star Wars, and Minecraft. We love the range of sizes based on your child’s height— mini, small, large, X-large, and rolling—and it’s good to know these bags are built to keep small bodies safe and comfortable with wide, adjustable straps and a soft body.

These durable, hard-working backpacks are easy to clean and light enough for smaller children. Pottery Barn Kids also offers an adaptive version of the Mackenzie, making this backpack line extremely inclusive and suitable for all kids. With two side sleeves for water bottles and three exterior and two interior pockets, this backpack has just enough compartments to keep your kiddo organized all year.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: Various; depends on size
  • Capacity: Various; depends on size
  • Weight: Various; depends on the size
  • Materials: Made of rugged, water-resistant 600-denier recycled polyester; interior is lined with 150-denier recycled polyester
  • Warranty: “Eligible items can be exchanged for a refund of the merchandise value within 30 days of receiving an order.”
  • Price: Mini ($39), Small ($49.50), Large ($59.50), X-Large ($84.50), Rolling (and Adaptive ($64.50)

Pros:

  • A wide variety of sizes, colors, patterns, and styles
  • Offers an adaptive option
  • Comfortable wide straps

Cons:

  • Water bottle sleeves are specifically designed to hold Pottery Barn kid water bottles; others may fall out or be too big to fit.
  • Expensive
Best backpacks for college students with laptops
Cotopaxi Tasra 16L Backpack - Del Día

Cotopaxi Tasra 16L Backpack - Del Día

Best water-resistant backpack for college: North Face Router Backpack

If you go to a college in a state known for rain (or just want to be extra careful on campus), this highly water-resistant backpack will keep your belongings safe and dry. The Router is also comfortable to carry thanks to features like wide shoulder straps and rounded back cushioning.

Like most on our list, this backpack has multiple interior compartments and protective sleeves for your laptop and tablet. With a 40-liter capacity, it’s big enough to hold textbooks, binders, and other items, you can stuff a lot into this sack, and it’s sturdy enough to bring along on your off-campus adventures.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 21 inches (height) x 12.5 inches (width) x 9 inches (depth)
  • Capacity: 40 liters
  • Weight: 2 pounds and 15 ounces
  • Materials: Recycled nylon ripstop with non-PFC durable water-repellent finish
  • Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty
  • Price: $159

Pros:

  • Water-resistant; weather-resistant
  • The North Face products are endorsed by American Chiropractic Association
  • Durable
  • Fleece-lined interior pocket

Cons:

  • Not a lot of color choices
  • Expensive
Best water-resistant backpack for college
North Face Router Backpack

North Face Router Backpack

Best large backpack for college: Filson Dryden Backpack

Filson makes durable, rugged bags, and its Dryden backpack is no different. It’s a good-looking, generously sized classic Filson with plenty of pockets and compartments, including a zippered, rear padded laptop pocket.

Water and weather resistant, the Dryden is roomy but never bulky, and it can perform double duty in the classroom or on your travels, since the bag meets the carry-on size requirements for most major airlines. Note: this backpack is expensive, but because of its durability and classic style, it should survive well beyond your college years.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 18-inch(height) x 12.75 inches (width) and 7-inches (depth)
  • Capacity: 25.5-liter
  • Weight: 2 pounds
  • Materials: 1000-denier Cordura® nylon to be durable and weather-resistant; finished with leather and nylon webbing
  • Warranty: “Our [lifetime] guarantee covers every item for the product's lifetime, failure of workmanship and craftsmanship, failure of material and production defects.”
  • Price: $265

Pros:

  • Water-resistant and highly durable
  • Meets carry-on size requirements for major airline carriers

Cons:

  • Expensive
Best large backpack for college
Filson Dryden Backpack

Filson Dryden Backpack

Best backpack for high school: LL Bean Deluxe Book Pack

This ultra-durable, weather-proof backpack will keep your kid’s gear safe, sound and dry whether they’re playing sports or attending school. A best-seller beloved by kids and adults, it’s nearly indestructible—L.L. Bean rigorously product tested this backpack to ensure that whatever beating your bag takes, it will continue to perform.

The backpack has two dual main compartments, a front zipped pocket, and an internal divider to keep your laptop separate from your books. We love the heavy-duty zippers and the reinforced bottom, since kids are notorious for cramming too many things into their bag and then dropping it on the ground.

L.L. Bean’s backpacks come with a waist belt, padded back panel, and lumbar support, plus padded, adjustable, and ergonomically curved straps to ensure growing bodies stay safe from backpack-related pain or injury. And these backpacks last forever, so while you may want to invest in a new bag for college, this classic can continue to be used.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 17 inches (height) x 13 inches (width) x 9.5 inches (depth).
  • Capacity: 32 liters
  • Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Materials: Made of weatherproof, 420-denier nylon
  • Warranty: Lifetime
  • Price: $54.95

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Abrasion and water-resistant
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Does not have a specific laptop sleeve
  • Only three compartments
Best backpack for high school
L.L.Bean Deluxe Backpack, 32L Thyme, Nylon

L.L.Bean Deluxe Backpack, 32L Thyme, Nylon

Best lightweight college backpack: The Brevitē Backpack

This backpack has over 5,000 five-star reviews from students, travelers, and commuters alike. Why? Because the lightweight (1.7 pounds) bag is stuffed with features,containing multiple pockets and compartments, and can fit a 16-inch Macbook into the protective laptop sleeve, as well as a reading tablet.

The main compartment can fit necessities like binders and a textbook or two, plus it boasts a J-shaped side zipper designed to help you reach those pens and pencils that drift to the bottom of your bag. Hidden internal compartments keep your valuables safe and secure, and besides being water-resistant, if your backpack gets dirty from all that sitting on classroom floors, you can throw this slim, yet sturdy bag in the washing machine and it’ll be good as new.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 16.25 inches (height) x 11 inches (width) x 5.5 inches (depth)
  • Capacity: 18 Liters
  • Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Materials: 600 denier polyester
  • Warranty: Lifetime
  • Price: $129

Pros:

  • Extremely roomy but lightweight
  • J-shaped side zipper for easy access
  • Hidden internal pockets for valuables
  • Available in 11 colors

Cons:

  • Expensive
Best lightweight college backpack
The Brevitē Backpack

The Brevitē Backpack

Best budget backpack: JanSport Cool Student Large Backpack

Chances are, your parents also carried this brand on campus back in the day. JanSport has been a go-to for students since 1967, so these folks know how to design an attractive, comfortable backpack that will help you stay organized. This version is large enough for all your school supplies and then some.

Despite its size, it’s comfortable to carry thanks to its ergonomic, S-curve shoulder straps and padded back. The interior is simple and sturdy, with a protective laptop sleep, plus two main compartments for all your gear. The Cool Student is a classic choice if you’re looking for an affordable college backpack.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 17 inches (height) x 12 (width) x 8 inches (depth)
  • Capacity: 34 liters
  • Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Materials: 100% recycled 600 denier polyester main body/Synthetic leather base and trim
  • Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty
  • Price: $60

Pros:

  • Roomy; fits a 15-inch laptop
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Not water resistant
  • Color range (four solids, two patterns)
Best budget backpack
JanSport Cool Student Large Backpack

JanSport Cool Student Large Backpack

Best durable backpack: Osprey Flare 27 Backpack

Osprey proves that college students can have a well-made, durable backpack that doesn’t sacrifice style. The Flare is not the largest in our list, but it will hold a 16-inch laptop in its padded compartment, plus it has a separate tablet sleeve and plenty of room for a couple of textbooks and notebooks in its sizable 27 liters of organized storage space.

The Flare has plenty of places in its roomy interior to stash all your things via mesh bags, zippered components, and small pockets. Most importantly, Osprey designs its high-quality bags to be long-lasting and comfortable. The Flare has a cooling, foam-cushion back panel and padded straps, and being both lightweight and mid-sized, it is easy to maneuver in a crowded classroom and carry across the quad.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 18.9 inches (height) x 12.99 inches (width) x 9.45 inches (depth)
  • Capacity: 27 liters
  • Weight: 1.704 pounds
  • Materials: Polyester
  • Warranty: “Should you find any defect in how your pack has been built, we will repair or replace it without any charge within its reasonable lifetime.”
  • Price: $85

Pros:

  • Durable and good looking
  • Under $100

Cons:

  • Not water-resistant
Best durable backpack
Osprey Flare 27 Backpack

Osprey Flare 27 Backpack

Most stylish backpack: CALPAK Kaya Laptop Backpack

The Kaya backpack is understated yet highly stylish. If you want an option that looks more polished and professional than collegiate, this may be the one for you—it would make a great backpack for work, in fact. Made from vegan leather, it does a good job of imitating the real deal. In addition, it comes in 21 stunning colors, like dragon fruit (hot pink), emerald green, and deep sea, along with a fine set of neutrals, from blush to beige.

With the cross-stitch details and attractive double zippers, it’s functional with a beautiful form. Kaya has a 15-inch padded laptop sleeve with enough room for additional papers or folders. Its main compartments are large enough to hold notebooks, tablets, and books, and the smaller interior can hold cords, phones, and wallets.

Note: If you need to cart around a ton of textbooks, we recommend looking elsewhere on our list because it doesn’t have a generous amount of space for textbooks and comes in at a whopping three pounds. But if you seek a sleek, fashionable, mid-sized bag to carry your laptop and a few essentials, Kaya will transition easily from school to a work environment.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: Main compartment: 15.5 inches (height) x 11.5 inches (width) x 4.5 inches (depth)
  • Capacity: Not listed
  • Weight: 3 pounds
  • Materials: Vegan leather and polyester
  • Warranty: Extended warranty
  • Price: $138

Pros:

  • The most color options of any on our list, except for the elementary school option
  • Vegan leather
  • Luggage trolley sleeve

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • May not be big enough for some students
Most stylish backpack
CALPAK Kaya 15 inch Laptop Backpack in Cranberry

CALPAK Kaya 15 inch Laptop Backpack in Cranberry

How to choose the best backpack for you

Besides style and price, there are some important factors to consider when purchasing a backpack for college or high school:

Size

A backpack shouldn’t be too big or too small. Make sure it falls below your hips and doesn’t rise above your shoulders.

Compartments and organization features

If you’re going off to college, you will want to make sure your backpack has a padded, protective sleeve for your laptops and tablet. Backpacks with multiple compartments will better distribute the weight of things and help you stay organized than a one- or two-pocket carryall. Make sure there are interior pockets with zips and soft lining to keep valuables, like your wallet, and breakables, like your sunglasses, safe.

Fit and comfort factor

Don’t buy a backpack without adjustable straps or sufficient padding to ensure you don’t injure your shoulders or back. Additional padding in the back, plus a hip or chest belt, can help improve your balance and reduce excess pressure on your body when you carry your backpack.

Durability

Backpacks are not cheap, so find one you love that will last no matter how many times you drop them in the classroom. A durable bag should be made of quality fabric that won’t easily rip or fall apart en route to campus. Check to make sure the bag is well-constructed with weather and water-resistant materials. To extend its life (and looks), make sure you clean it regularly (check out our guide on how to wash a backpack).

How we selected the best backpacks for college and high school students

As former students (and now the parents of students ourselves), many of these bags have been used or recommended by friends, colleagues, and/or their kids. The author personally owns three of the items on this list.

To select our top picks, we first looked at customer reviews and ratings to understand which backpacks were durable, comfortable, and well-organized with functional compartments that would be appropriate for college or high school.

We considered factors such as price, material, size, and style to ensure that our top picks would meet the needs of a wide range of students. We're confident that our selection will help you find the best backpack for college or high school and beyond.

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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