Whether you’re a student, a commuter, or an adventurer, having a great backpack is an efficient way to arrive at your destination with everything you need. A backpack makes it easy to transport laptops, gym clothes, or work-specific items like cameras and tools, all while remaining hands-free and comfortable.
There are plenty of options available, and the research involved in finding the best backpack can seem more like work than shopping. Instead of spending all of your time comparing capacities, functions, and styles, this guide will help by pointing out some of the best backpacks available.
- BEST OVERALL: Carhartt Legacy Standard Work Backpack
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: JanSport Cool Student 15-inch Laptop Backpack
- BEST FOR WORK: Kenneth Cole Reaction Colombian Leather Backpack
- BEST FOR STUDENTS: Herschel Little America Laptop Backpack
- BEST FOR THE GYM: Under Armour Adult Hustle 4.0 Backpack
- BEST FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS: Endurax Extra Large Camera DSLR/SLR Backpack
- BEST CONVERTIBLE: Carhartt Legacy Women’s Hybrid Convertible Backpack
- BEST CARRY-ON: Matein Travel Laptop Backpack
- BEST HIGH-CAPACITY: High Sierra XBT-TSA Laptop Backpack
- BEST ULTRALIGHT: 4Monster Hiking Daypack
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Backpack
Before you start shopping for the best backpack, you should be familiar with the most important considerations. Below are some of the key factors to keep in mind when choosing the best backpack for your lifestyle. Some of these points might be more crucial than others, depending on your needs.
One of the best things about backpacks is that they come in so many shapes, sizes, and purpose-specific styles, making it easy to find something to work for your specific needs and personal style. Choosing the best backpack for your activities and needs will take some evaluation, so make sure to compare the best backpacks on this list to understand how they stack up against each other.
If you’re a commuter, you might prefer a subdued, monochrome backpack that can transport your laptop and a lunch. If you’re a student, you might prefer a lightweight backpack that you can carry from class to class, with tech-focused features like wire ports and device pockets. Frequent travelers might require a smaller backpack with plenty of organization for use as a carry-on.
There are some basic materials to choose from while shopping for the best backpack. Materials like nylon, canvas, leather, and polyester are common.
Polyester and nylon are weather-resistant, easy to clean, and lightweight. As well, there are backpacks made from ripstop nylon, which is very strong and resistant to tearing.
Canvas and leather are both extremely tough but can be a little heavier and more difficult to clean. They have a classic appearance, though, which might appeal to someone with a more mature personal style. Canvas can be a bit more rugged, while leather can look more polished and dressy.
Size and Weight
Choosing a backpack that’s too small or too large could be a waste of your time and money. If you can’t fit all of your gear in a backpack, you may have to upgrade right away. If your pack is too big, you run the risk of losing smaller items in the bottom of the pockets, and the additional weight will eventually wear on you. Instead, choose a backpack that fits everything you need with just a bit of extra space for everyday contingencies.
Consider the weight as well. A lightweight backpack can weigh less than half a pound, but it might not hold everything you need or be quite as durable as a large leather backpack. The drawback of a leather backpack is that between the hide, the oils, and the hardware, your backpack could weigh 6 or 7 pounds before you even load it up.
When it comes to comfort, backpacks have plenty of neat and interesting ways to surprise you. Features like mesh-backs allow airflow for hot days, while thick padded shoulder straps can distribute the pack’s weight over the sturdiest part of your body.
There are a few things to look out for when looking for a great, comfortable backpack. You might want wide straps that help spread the pressure out over your shoulders. You might also prefer a bag with a chest or a waist strap to help secure the load in place and spread the weight out comfortably.
As mentioned above, a great backpack needs to have top-notch shoulder straps. Look for wide straps with some comfort-focused padding. Drawstring bags might be great for a book or two, or for heading to the gym, but wearing them for any substantial amount of time will cause discomfort and leave marks on your shoulders.
Be sure to find a bag with easily-adjusted straps as well. Depending on the weight, you might prefer to wear your pack higher at times than you would normally. The ability to adjust your pack quickly without taking it off will certainly improve your comfort.
Top-mounted straps are also important. If you have a locker or a coat rack to hang your bag on, a sturdy top-mounted strap is the way to do it. Also, lifting your back from the floor to your lap while in class or a meeting is a lot easier with a short strap centered at the top of the bag.
The first thing you might notice while shopping for a backpack is the number of compartments that modern backpacks have. They can be great for staying organized, or they can be completely unnecessary and confusing.
If you have a lot of smaller items or tools that you need to keep organized, you should certainly look for a bag with plenty of compartments. This will allow you to organize pens, devices, business cards, small tools, camera lenses, chargers, and other small items.
If your needs are less specific, you might prefer a backpack with fewer compartments. Traveling to the gym might only require a sneaker pocket and a spot for your clothes, making the extra pockets on a more complicated bag useless.
Likewise, if you just need a bag for notebooks, a laptop, and some pens, having fewer compartments means less material, which is helpful when searching for a lightweight backpack. This can make a huge difference if you’re walking back and forth across a campus all day.
Some of the best backpacks have extra features that you might find interesting or attractive. Many of these accents add a bit of convenience or flexibility. There are bags with wire ports for headphones and chargers, allowing you to stay entertained or charged while you’re on the run. Others may have water bottle pockets for keeping a drink on hand.
By far, the most popular feature you’ll find is a laptop pocket. Many bags, regardless of their design or purpose, have one of these pockets in their main compartment. Laptop pockets have thick padded layers that keep your laptop safe while you’re traveling or commuting.
One of the hallmarks of a great backpack is its versatility. A bag that can serve as your textbook shuttle during the week and then as a weekender bag for a quick trip will certainly be worth your money.
The trick to versatility is balancing all of the considerations above to find the backpack that will work best for you. Sure, a bright multi-colored nylon backpack will work well on the trail, but it might not provide the professional appearance you’d like it to have in the boardroom. For this situation, you might consider a nylon pack with a subtle aesthetic.
Consider everything you need from a bag and then try to find one that meets as many of those desired traits as possible.
Our Top Picks
If you have an idea of what you need from a bag, you’re ready to start shopping. Whether you’re looking for the best everyday carry (EDC) backpack or you need a job-specific bag, you’ll find something to work for your lifestyle in this section. This list of the best backpacks has something to meet almost any need, so be sure to compare each bag as you shop.
If you’re looking for a great all-around backpack with plenty of features, the Carhartt Legacy Standard Work Backpack might check your boxes. This sturdy backpack features Carhartt’s heavy-duty polyester with Rain Defender water repellant. It also has a Duravax abrasion-resistant base for durability.
The Legacy Standard Work Backpack has plenty of storage. It measures 12 inches wide, 18 inches tall, and 11 inches deep but weighs less than 1.5 pounds. It has two zippered external pockets with slots for pens, a phone, keys, and devices. It also has two water bottle pockets and a padded laptop compartment capable of holding a 15-inch laptop or tablet safely in place.
The Carhartt has two easily-adjusted padded straps with nylon loops for key or water bottle carabiners and clips. The heavy-duty top-mounted strap provides a strong hanging point for lockers and coat racks.
For a truly classic backpack, check out the JanSport Cool Student 15-inch backpack. This backpack has much of the same styling that JanSport is famous for, with a few modern updates. It measures 17.5 inches tall, 13 inches wide, and 10 inches deep, providing lots of usable storage area while weighing only 1.5 pounds.
The Cool Student provides plenty of storage. It has a padded laptop pocket for a 15-inch laptop or a tablet in the main compartment and an additional full-size pocket for books or other items. It has three external zippered pockets for storing small items and devices and a water bottle pocket on the side.
Carrying all of those stored items is a breeze, with padded shoulder straps and a top-mounted handle. You’ll have a choice of several colors and patterns as well.
Finding a great backpack that doesn’t embarrass you at the office can be a challenge. The Kenneth Cole Reaction Colombian Leather Backpack might be just the ticket. This Colombian leather backpack has a professional styling that won’t stand out at a business meeting but provides plenty of storage for your important items.
The Reaction Colombian Leather Backpack measures 18 inches tall, 11.5 inches wide, and 7 inches deep. Since it’s full-grain leather, it does weigh more than most other backpacks at 2.9 pounds. It has padded shoulder straps and a trolley tunnel for sliding onto your luggage, as well as a laptop pocket for a 15.6-inch laptop and a separate pocket for a tablet.
This backpack has some other unique features as well. The outer organizer pocket is Radio Frequency Identification-blocking (RFID) to protect your information. It also has a beverage pocket that zips in and out for convenience.
When looking for a great, versatile backpack for traveling across campus, check out the Herschel Little America Laptop Backpack. This 100 percent polyester backpack is tough and durable with an old-school rucksack style. It measures 19.25 inches tall, 11.25 inches wide, and 7 inches deep, offering 25 liters of storage space.
Don’t let the old-school styling fool you—the Little America has plenty of modern features. You’ll be able to store a 15-inch laptop in the padded and fleece-lined laptop pocket. You’ll enjoy the device pocket with a media port for routing your headphones through, as well. It also has a front pocket with a hidden zipper and a key clip. The metal buckle closures are actually magnets, providing a classic look with easy access. As with all Herschel bags, it comes in several colors and patterns.
Seeking a backpack to carry your essentials back and forth to the gym? The Under Armour Adult Hustle 4.0 Backpack is worth looking into. This backpack is a mix of polyester and elastane materials, providing strength and durability without holding on to smelly odors and moisture. It measures 19 inches tall, 13 inches wide, and 9.5 inches thick, providing storage for clothes, sneakers, water bottles, and other gym necessities.
The Hustle 4.0 has some features specifically for gym-going that you might appreciate, including padded adjustable shoulder straps, side water bottle pockets, and two main compartments with hidden inner pockets, as well as a separate shoe and dirty laundry pocket. It also features inner water-resistant pockets for devices and chargers, as well as a soft-lined laptop pocket that can accommodate a 15-inch laptop.
Keeping all of your important camera gear safe and organized while on the go just got easier with the Endurax Extra Large Camera DSLR/SLR Backpack. It measures 23 inches tall, 13 inches wide, and 9 inches deep, and weighs 6.5 pounds. It features thick padded straps and two main compartments, the lower of which doubles as a waist pouch.
This bag features storage for all of your essential gear, including your camera with an attached lens and 10 additional lenses. It can also accommodate a large tripod on one side and a smaller tripod on the other. If the weather gets rough, you can throw the included rain fly on to keep all your expensive gear safe and dry. You can also store your 15.6-inch laptop inside the padded pocket for editing on the go.
Be sure to check out the Carhartt Legacy Women’s Hybrid Convertible Backpack as a great choice for a quality convertible backpack. This bag offers three carry options: a backpack, a shoulder tote, or a crossbody bag. Carhartt uses 100 percent polyester in its construction, adding its Rain Defender water repellent to protect its contents. It measures 17 inches tall, 14 inches wide, and 3.5 inches deep.
The Legacy Women’s Hybrid Convertible backpack offers plenty of pockets and compartments as well. It has a large zippered main compartment with a padded laptop sleeve and two additional pockets. It also has two exterior slash pockets and a zippered pocket for your phone and other items. It comes in three color choices; black, brown, and wine.
The Matein Travel Laptop Backpack is worth checking out when searching for a backpack to take on your jet-setting adventures. It measures 18 inches tall, 12 inches wide, and 7.8 inches deep, and offers lots of storage space and travel-centric features.
There’s a lot to like about the Matein Travel Laptop Backpack. Not only can it handle carrying your 15.6-inch laptop safely, but it also offers an extra port for charging it or your other devices. Simply attach your power bank to the bag and then your device’s charging wire to the external USB port. It has a luggage strap for riding atop your wheeled luggage, as well as side elastic side pockets for a beverage. The outer pocket helps organize your smaller items, devices, and flight paperwork.
For a backpack that makes easy work of carrying heavy loads, the High Sierra XBT-TSA Laptop Backpack is worth a look. This backpack offers a ton of storage, measuring 19.5 inches tall, 13 inches wide, and 8 inches deep, providing up to 2,500 cubic inches of storage. It has a ton of pockets, including a laptop pocket for devices up to 17.5 inches, a personal organizer pocket with several compartments, and mesh side pockets for storing a beverage.
You don’t have to worry about overloading the High Sierra XBT-TSA either. The padded straps will distribute the load across your shoulders while the sternum strap steadies the weight. If heading to the airport, the TSA will appreciate that this bag unzips and folds flat, fitting easily through scanners without emptying your contents all over the conveyor.
The 4Monster Hiking Daypack might be worth checking out when seeking a lightweight backpack that you can tuck away into a small package. The 4Monster weighs only 4 ounces, making it incredibly lightweight. The 4Monster uses tear- and water-resistant nylon for its construction. It measures 18.5 inches tall, 11.5 inches wide, and 7 inches deep, with a carrying capacity of up to 22 pounds.
The 4Monster has comfortable adjustable shoulder straps to help you carry the load. It has a large main compartment, a smaller front zipper pocket for organizing items and devices, and two mesh pockets for holding your beverages. It includes a small tote bag in which the packed-down 4Monster stores.
FAQs About Your New Backpack
Now that you’ve got a good idea of what to look out for and which bags will work the best for your lifestyle, you might have some further questions about the best backpacks. This section aims to help, as it’s a collection of the most frequently asked questions and answers. If you still have some questions, you can call your bag’s manufacturer and speak to a customer service representative.
Q. Why do backpacks have chest straps?
Chest straps help steady the load on your back. If a heavy backpack sways from one side to the other, it can throw off your balance or cause a neck injury. The chest strap ensures everything stays put.
Q. How do you properly wear a backpack?
A backpack should be worn high on your shoulders while the shoulder straps remain comfortable. Wearing the load too far down your back will add stress to your lower back and lead to pain and discomfort.
Q. What is the best office backpack?
The best office backpack needs to carry all of your essential items, while also looking good in the boardroom. Check out the Kenneth Cole Reaction Colombian Leather Backpack.
Q. How do you wash a backpack?
You can spot clean nylon, polyester, and canvas. You can also throw it in the wash, but you should avoid the dryer. Leather requires special cleaners and conditioners.