The Best Backpacks for College Students of 2017

Making sure that you have the best backpack for college is an often overlooked and can make a huge difference to your experience at college (and your back) so below you will find the most detailed and exhaustive list of backpacks for college students so that you can find the right one for your. We have also now updated this list for 2017 with more backpacks to make finding the right one even easier!

Why does it matter which backpack I have for college?

At college, you will have a lot of things to carry around, whether it is those extremely heavy textbooks that you paid a small fortune for, or that shiny new laptop. Having a backpack that fits your requirements will make carrying everything that you need for your lectures much easier, will require less organisation and let’s not forget the most important thing, will help to prevent you injuring your back (those heavy college textbooks again…)

We have painstakingly researched the best backpacks on the market in 2017, to find the best backpacks to fit the requirements of the modern college student lifestyle to make sure that get the most bang for your buck.

What have we looked at?

Volume

When you are looking for the best backpack for college, you should always consider the volume of the bag that you need. The volume of the backpack is usually measured in litres, a small backpack would be around 10 litres, whereas a larger backpack would have a volume of 20-30 litres. There are backpacks that hold far more than this but these will generally be to big for college use.

Ergonomics / Comfort

If you are carrying your backpack around college all day, then it is very important that your backpack is comfortable, especially if you will be carrying around heavy textbooks and a laptop. Make sure that the backpack that you buy has adequate padding on the straps and the back.

Style

You may be a fashion conscious person, or you may not be, but it is still great to have a stylish backpack if it fits your requirements. Below you will find some stylish backpacks that still have all the functionality that you will need for college.

Functionality

Does it have enough pockets, would you be happy to put your shiny $1000 new mac in there? These are all important questions when looking for the best backpack for college. Most people these days will be taking laptops to college, so a laptop sleeve inside the backpack is important for college students

Build Quality

One of the most important things about backpacks is will it last? College life can be punishing on backpacks as students are often carrying around heavy textbooks and laptops.

Material

There are many good materials that you should look for in your college backpack. Leather is fantastic for it’s durability and style, canvas is eco-friendly and has a nice vintage look, but if you are looking for build quality then ripstop nylon is great.

Stylish Backpacks for College

The Herschel Supply Co Retreat

Herschel Supply Co backpacks are extremely popular at the moment in colleges all across the country and it is easy to see why. These backpacks are stylish, comfortable and compact.

Rather than using zips like most backpacks, The Herschel Supply Company decided to go with straps, which I think is a great idea considering how often zippers get stuck on bags! The flap on top of the bag that protects your valuables from the elements is fastened using a magnetic clip and conceals a large opening which makes it easier to pack and unpack your stuff.

On the inside of the bag there is a laptop sleeve, however it could do with more some more padding. The size of the bag is 19″X12″X6″ which should be enough room for most people.

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Stylish, unique design
  • Great build quality, should last

Cons

  • Laptop sleeve needs more padding
  • While roomy, if you like to carry a lot of stuff with you to college it may not be quite big enough

EcoCity Vintage Canvas Backpack

The EcoCity Vintage Canvas Backpack is fantastic for college students who want a bag that is eco-friendly, stylish, comfortable and affordable. The bag is available in five visually appealing colors; coffee, army green, khaki, grey and black. One of the best things about this bag is it’s eco-friendly credentials as the backpack is made of cotton canvas and leather, rather than the synthetic materials that most backpacks these days are made from.

The main compartment of the bag uses leather straps to close the flap on the top and has a draw string to make sure that it is tightly closed. While it not the largest backpack around (11″L x 16.5″H x 6.3″ W), it should be fine for most people. Though if you have a larger laptop you may have difficulty fitting it in.

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Lots of internal pockets
  • Eco-friendly
  • Stylish

Cons

  • Not enough space for some larger laptops

Kinmac Bohemian Pattern Laptop Backpack

The unique design on this backpack guarantees that you will stand out from the crowd on campus! Like many of the backpacks I have reviewed, this one also has a padded laptop sleeve that can hold up to a 15 inch laptop. It has ample space for your laptop and books and has the added benefit of what Kinmac call “massage cushion straps” which are textured straps to give you extra comfort when you are carrying heavy loads in the bag.

This backpack has lots of pockets on the inside and out, including pockets on the sides of the bag for drinks bottles.

Pros

  • Unique design
  • Colorful
  • Comfortable to use when carrying heavy items.

Cons

  • Some complaints about straps breaking, though this is common with backpacks and could just be related to individual use.

Fjällräven Kånken Backpack

This is another popular backpack in colleges at the moment, and it’s many five star reviews show how great a backpack it is! With multiple colors and sizes to choose from, you can make sure that it looks how you want it to look and can hold everything that you will need to take with you to college, whether you just need a small backpack to carry around your macbook air or you need to carry around big heavy college textbooks.

his is a high quality, well-made backpack with a stylish, minimalistic & retro look. The straps are comfortable and well padded, so this is a great backpack to wear all day without having to deal with the the shoulder pains that often appear towards the end of the day with some backpacks.

The main compartment has a laptop sleeve to keep your laptop safe and there is also a small pocket on the front of the bag to keep smaller items that might get lost in the larger main compartment of the backpack.

Starting at $79, this bag isn’t cheap, but you really get your money’s worth as this backpack has a fantastic build quality.

Pros

  • Such an awesome name that I’m not sure how to pronounce it!
  • Popular
  • Lots of colors to choose from.
  • Available in multiple sizes from 13L to 20L

Cons

  • Quite Pricey
  • Can pick up dirt on the bottom when placed on the ground

Ibagbar Vintage Canvas Backpack

The Ibagbar is a great backpack for college students, with a very stylish and retro look that is available in black, brown and grey. Each of the colors also have very nice accent colors, which add to the retro look of the backpack.

This is a comfortable backpack for using around college, with the back of the backpack and shoulder straps both having lots of padding. The Ibagbar backpack is also spacious and easy to organize, with a total of 9 pockets including a padded laptop sleeve that can fit laptops that are up to 15 inches in size, a large main compartment and several smaller compartments for keeping your items organized.

Pros

  • Very stylish
  • Padded laptop sleeve that can fit larger laptops
  • Easy to organize
  • High quality materials – canvas & leather

Cons

  • Doesn’t hold it’s shape well when not being used

Herschel Supply Co Pop Quiz Backpack

The Herschel Pop Quiz Backpack is a great backpack specifically designed for people in college. It is a very stylish backpack that mixes elements of a modern & minimalistic style with retro elements. It is currently available in 28 different colors and patterns so you will almost certainly find one that fits your personal style.

One of the main things that I like about Herschel backpacks is their quality. This quality is also backed by a lifetime guarantee, which shows Herschel’s confidence in the quality of their products. The quality shows through in the durability of the backpack and it’s comfort.

The Herschel Pop quiz is a highly functional backpack with great features such as a padded & fleece lined laptop compartment that can fit laptops that are up to 15 inches in size, a media pocket with a headphone port for your phone or mp3 player and waterproof zippers (the zippers are where water usually gets through on most backpacks). It is a good size, and can comfortably fit a laptop and some books too, so it should be roomy enough for the majority of college students.

Pros

  • Very stylish
  • Lifetime guarantee
  • Laptop compartment that is padded and fleece lined
  • Waterproof zippers
  • Many different styles

Cons

  • Slightly expensive (but worth the money)
  • No water bottle pockets on the sides of the backpack

For the budget conscious

Amazon Basics Backpack


While not the most stylish backpack out there for the fashion conscious college student, this backpack offers great bang for your buck. It’s clear that when Amazon designed this backpack, they had college students in mind. This bag is roomy, with a padded space for laptops that are up to 17 inches in size, organizational compartments for your keys & cellphone and the bag also has mesh pockets on the side of the bag so that you can take your water bottle or your protein shaker bottle to the campus gym!

Internally the bag has dimensions of 12″ x 4.5″ x 17.5″ so you should be able to fit a few textbooks as well as your laptop.

Pros

  • Very budget friendly, only $29.99 at the time of writing.
  • Roomy, lots of space for those college textbooks!
  • Lots of pockets to organize your stuff in
  • Padded compartment for your laptop
  • Mesh pockets for carrying bottles

Cons

  • The padding around the laptop compartment is a bit thin, as is the back and shoulder padding.
  • While the laptop compartment can hold laptops that have up to a 17 inch screen, if you have a very bulky laptop you may not be able to fit it in.

The North Face Borealis Backpack

This is the backpack that I am currently using! This backpack can hold up to 28 litres of your stuff, but still remains fairly compact, making it ideal for college. It also looks nice and is available in a huge variety of different colors, so you will almost certainly find one to fit your personality.

The North Face Borealis Backpack has a laptop sleeve that can fit laptops up to 15 inches in size, which should keep your laptop safe around college, two main compartments and one smaller compartment. There are also a lot of smaller pockets inside the main compartments that are useful for safely carrying around smaller items such as your phone. There is also an elastic bungee to expand the bag’s storage beyond the initial 28 litres, this can be useful for carrying something like a bike helmet or your jacket. You can also carry water bottles in the mesh pockets that are on the side of the backpack.

The padded shoulder straps on this backpack are very comfortable and also have some mesh lining for breathability. There is lots of padding on the back of the backpack which prevents back pain when carrying heavier loads. You will also find a chest strap and a waist strap to increase the stability of the bag when you are moving quickly.

Pros

  • Very roomy
  • Comfortable for all day use
  • Laptop sleeve
  • Lots of pockets

Cons

  • Might be a little big for some people

Jansport Superbreak Backpack

The Jansport Superbreak is a high quality & durable, yet low cost backpack that is ideal for college students. The backpack is made from tear-resistant and water-resistant material making this backpack ideal for students for students who are on the move a lot. This is a stylish backpack, and is available in a huge number of colours and patterns, from a simple navy blue to an elaborate peacock feather pattern. There are so many different colors and patterns available that it would have taken too long to count them all!

This is a very comfortable backpack to wear, with lots of padding on the shoulder straps and on the back too. However, one negative is that this backpack does not have a laptop compartment. If you like this backpack, but not having a laptop compartment is a  deal-breaker for you. You can buy a laptop sleeve that offers a similar level of protection to having a laptop compartment.

Pros

  • Lifetime guarantee
  • Tear & water resistant material
  • Lots of different styles
  • Comfortable

Cons

  • No laptop compartment
  • No side water bottle pockets

So How Can I Decide on the Right Backpack for Me?

I hope the reviews above of the best backpacks for college helped you to find the right college backpack for you, but if you still can’t decide, here are some useful questions to ask yourself which might help you to decide on the best college backpack for you:

What do I need to keep in my backpack?

This is probably the most important question. Do you need to carry a laptop? A backpack with a laptop sleeve is important. Lots of big, heavy college books? Then you need to make sure that you buy a backpack that is large enough to fit them in and in comfortable enough so that you do not hurt your back then carrying them. If you don’t need to carry a lot around with you at college then you can go with one of the smaller or more stylish backpacks.

For most college students, we especially recommend getting a backpack with lots of pockets for keeping smaller items organized. Often, many people will not consider the large number of items that they will need on a day to day basis such as:

  • Stationary (e.g pens, pencils and rulers)
  • Notes
  • Phone, iPad, mp3 player
  • Packed lunch
  • Drinks bottle
  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • Purse

All of the above items are important and keeping them organized can be a lot easier if you buy a backpack with lots of pockets.

If you are not sure, then ask a professor what you are likely going to need to take with you to class every day, or look at what other college students in your class are using. You can also click on the links to each of the backpacks above and view the Amazon reviews, where many people leave reviews explaining what they have been able to fit into each of the backpacks.

If you are still unsure about what you will need to keep in your backpack, you can get all of the things that you need for college, except the backpack. Once you have all the items, you will have an idea of exactly how much space you will need inside the backpack to carry around everything that you will need on a day to day basis.

What do I want to spend?

If you don’t have much to spend then the Amazon Basics Backpack is probably the best one to go for as it is good quality and very cheap, but if you have a larger budget then we would easily recommend the Herschel. Generally, more expensive backpacks will last you longer and have better functionality such as media & headphone ports, waterproofing, more comfortable straps, better protection for your possessions and in the case of Herschel backpacks, lifetime warranties. While spending less on a backpack can save you money in the short-term, if you can see yourself using the same backpack throughout college then it is worth buying one of the more expensive backpacks as this can save you money in the long-term, especially because cheaper backpacks are more likely to break.

How important is style to me?

For some people, style will be the most important thing that they look at when looking for a backpack for college, whereas other people won’t worry about style at all. Most people fall somewhere in between. Generally, if you want a stylish backpack, you will end up paying more for it, though it can be worth it in the long run as they stylish backpacks are often well built and can last longer. You can also check out our post specifically about the most stylish backpacks for college. If you are not too worried about how stylish the backpack is, you can often get a backpack with more functionality such as extra pockets or more padding or a similar price to a stylish backpack with less functionality. For the best mix between style & functionality, we would recommend one of the Herschel backpacks that we reviewed above as they look very nice and are built to very high quality.

College Backpacks FAQ

How should a backpack fit me?

When you are at college, you will often find yourself carrying a lot of items around, some of these can be heavy such as laptops and books. If you are going to be carrying heavy items, then making sure that your backpack fits correctly is very important. The most important thing when trying on a backpack is how comfortable it feels, you should ask yourself questions like:

Do the straps dig in to my shoulders?

This is mostly a problem with cheaper backpacks that don’t have adequate padding on the straps. If you don’t carry a lot around college, you may not notice the straps digging in. However, it is easy to notice when you are carrying around heavier items like a laptop or heavy text books. Whether you are going to be buying a backpack for college online or in a retail store, you should test the backpack with what you would consider a standard load that you will be carrying around all day. If when doing this the straps dig into your shoulders, you should try a different backpack with more padding.

Does the backpack fit snugly to my back or does it hang off?

This will generally depend on your height and weight as specific backpacks will have been designed to fit an average person. If you are shorter or taller than average, then the backpack may require some adjustments. It is important that the backpack fits snugly against your back as it it hangs off, it can cause back injuries.

If I put items in the backpack, will they dig in to my back?

This can especially cause problems if you carry a lot of bulky items with you, I find that the main culprits are text-books. This is why it is especially important that you buy a backpack that has enough room for all of the items that you will be using on a day to day basis. If you are finding that items are digging into your back, it is usually a sign of an overloaded or poorly packed backpack.

Does the backpack fit snugly when I am on the move?

If the backpack does not fit snugly while on the move, it normally just means that you need to adjust the straps so that the backpack is held tighter against your back. However, if you are carrying around a lot of heavy items, this sometimes is not enough. If this is the case with you, we recommend buying a backpack that has a hip or sternum straps (preferably both) as this will provide additional stability.

If the backpack is uncomfortable at first, try making some adjustments to the straps. We have written more details below on how you can adjust your backpack properly.

How do I adjust my backpack?

Adjusting your backpack is very important and the amount of adjustment necessary can depend on what you are carrying around college at the time. Some backpacks have huge numbers of straps and other things that can be adjusted, however most backpacks that are suitable for college are likely to only have a maximum of three types of straps:

Shoulder Straps

When you adjust the shoulder straps, put what you think would be an average load that you will carry around college into the bag. For example, you could place your laptop and a few books into the bag. Once you have done this, put on the backpack and pull down on the shoulder straps to tighten them. They should wrap around your shoulders closely, but your shoulders should not be holding all of the weight, as this can be bad for your back and shoulders.

Hip & Sternum Straps

These allow some of the weight to be transferred to your lower body so that it is not all being held on your shoulders. They also reduce the movement of your backpack. Adjust these so that when you walk fast or lightly jog, there should not be much movement in your backpack. The backpack should still be held snugly against your back when you move.

How should I pack my backpack with the things I need for college?

How your backpack should be packed depends on the type of backpack, the size of the backpack, how many compartments there are in the backpack, and what you will be carrying. As a general rule of thumb, heavier & flatter items should be packed flat against your back as this will prevent other items from digging into your backpack. Try to keep items such as wet clothes and raincoats away from your electronics and books by keeping them in a separate compartment. If you do not have a separate compartment for them, wrapping them in a plastic bag is the best way to keep them separate.

If the backpack that you decide to buy has side pockets, make sure that you put any drinks bottles in these as it will protect the items inside your backpack in case the bottles leak.

How should I keep the items in my backpack secure?

The key to keeping your items secure is making them hard to find. Some backpacks have hidden pockets within the padding where your back is. These are ideal for expensive and easy to steal items such as phones and wallets as the thief would not be able to get into those pockets without you knowing about it. If your backpack does not have one of these pockets, then make use of the internal pockets for storing expensive items as these are harder for a would-be thief to get into. If the contents of you backpack are especially valuable, you can use a small padlock to lock the two parts of the zipper together, this will prevent your backpack from being opened, stopping all but the most determined thieves.

How do I keep items in my backpack dry when it is raining?

Most of the backpacks for college on this list are water-resistant, however, this does not mean that they are completely water proof. Water resistant backpacks will generally hold up very well in light to medium rain, but in a rain storm they can get soaked through. Larger items and clothing can be wrapped in a plastic bag to keep them dry, for smaller items you should make use of the internal pockets as they will provide more protection than leaving the items loose in your backpack. If you find yourself using the backpack in rain a lot, you may find it useful to purchase a rain cover for your backpack as this will provide additional protection from the rain.

Do I need a laptop compartment when buying a backpack for college?

While a laptop compartment is not completely necessary,  it is still highly recommended especially if you have an expensive laptop. A laptop compartment separates your laptop from the rest of your backpack will offer additional protection from the elements, damp items in the backpack and scratches from things like zips on clothing that you put in the backpack. If the backpack that you want to buy does not have a separate laptop compartment, you can always buy a laptop sleeve instead which will offer a similar level of protection.

How can I avoid injury when using a backpack around college?

Using a backpack safely is extremely important for the health of your back. Back injuries can take a long time to develop, so while you may think that your backpack is not currently causing you any issues, you may be developing injuries that will start to cause you problems in later life. The three most important things that you need to be aware of when using a backpack to avoid injury are; fit, weight, and loading.

Fit – By making sure that your backpack fits correctly, by making sure that the straps are adjusted, you remove many of the risks of using a backpack. See the above section for how to adjust your backpack’s straps correctly.

Weight – One of the main causes of injury when using a backpack is over-loading it. Try to only carry around what you need for the day, and leave everything else at home.

Loading – Improper loading of a backpack can also cause injuries as it can lead to items digging into your back. If your backpack is not balanced correctly, for example, if one side of the backpack is heavier than the other, this can put extra strain on your shoulders and back.

For a more in depth guide on avoiding injuries when using backpacks, the American Chiropractic Association has a great guide on backpack safety.

Where should I buy a backpack for college?

Where you should buy a backpack for college generally depends on your individual needs. Most people will find that buying a backpack from Amazon will work best for them as Amazon has detailed product descriptions and reviews for most of the products on the site. However, if comfort is your primary concern you may wish to visit a retail store such as Walmart or Target as buy visiting a retail store, you will be able to try on the backpack before buying it. If price is your primary concern, you can look at price comparison sites to find the best price for a specific backpack.

Despite not being able to try on a backpack before buying, we still recommend buying online as it is harder to find reviews of products if you buy in-store. Amazon is especially good if you choose to buy online as they offer free returns for many backpacks, making it easy to return a backpack if it does not fit your needs. All of the links to the backpacks above will link to the Amazon page for that backpack.

How can I keep my backpack organized?

The easiest way to keep your backpack organized is to buy a laptop with lots of separate compartments for items. These can include:

  • Laptop compartment
  • Side pockets for water bottles (also useful for smaller wet umbrellas)
  • Media pockets – These are for keeping your phone or mp3 player and usually have a hole to put your headphone cable through
  • Security pockets – These pockets are hidden or hard to access and are great for keeping valuables such as your wallet or phone
  • Pen pockets – These are small pockets designed specifically for pens and pencils

If you have bought or want to buy a backpack that you feel does not have enough pockets for your needs, you can buy a backpack organizer. These fit into your backpack and provide additional pockets to keep your stuff organized. Some of them are designed with electronics in mind, and have pockets for things like phone chargers and cables. Others are more suited to organizing paperwork and notes. If you have a look, you can be sure to find one that will fit your needs.

 

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