When you’re a college student shuttling between classes, your entire life — laptop, textbooks, snacks — gets stuffed in your backpack. To discover the best versions, whether something more athletic or technical or fashion-y, we went straight to the source. Below, the 13 best backpacks according to actual college students. (We’ve also spoken to a chiropractor about the best backpacks for your posture and spine, too.)
A Sporty Backpack
“I rely on this backpack for carrying all my school supplies — there are lots of pockets and compartments for every little thing I need — although I do forfeit style for functionality when I carry it. You can also see that it’s really lightweight and sporty, so when I’m not in school I’ll use it for day hikes.” — Sophie Shaw, New York University
A Comfortable Backpack
“While not necessarily the most fashionable choice, my backpack has a lot of cushion in the shoulder straps — making it comfortable on my long commute to campus. I have an awful habit of overpacking for class, so this backpack totally enables me.” — Isabella Murray, University of Minnesota
Note: This Adidas backpack is nearly sold out, but the Create II version is available and very similar.
A Minimalist Backpack
“I actually just recently bought my A.P.C. backpack and I love it because it does no more than it needs to. I love its understated design. It’s like each piece was crafted with careful attention to detail. My exact model was the Stefan, which is now sold out everywhere, but the Alexandre backpack is very close.” — Alex Wittenberg, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Note: The Alexandre backpack is now sold out, but here is another A.P.C. options in a herringbone pattern.
A School/Gym Backpack
“I’ve used this backpack for the past three years — it’s ginormous. There’s a laptop sleeve and a pocket for pens and pencils, and I also use this bag for going to the gym or when I play basketball because there’s plenty of space for a pair of shoes and a change of clothes.” — Tim Stebbins, DePaul University
A Techie Backpack
“I like that this backpack provides stable protection for laptops/electronics, and its compact size. I use it around campus, for traveling, and to carry my camera and lenses when I am taking photos around the city. It’s also held up across the seasons in all kinds of inclement weather without any signs of serious wear.” — Ben Moore, Fordham University
A Grown-Up Backpack
“The Tumi is made of this ballistic nylon material that keeps my bag looking like brand new, even after two years of rough commutes to school. It’s a backpack I could definitely use long after school is over, even when I’m working. And of course, it matches all my outfits.” — Rachel Molina, New York University
An Affordable Backpack
“When you live in a college dorm, you have absolutely zero space to store accessories, so your backpack becomes your go-to. I needed to find a backpack that could lug around my massive MacBook Pro everywhere. I was skeptical of this bag at first because of its low price point, but after carrying it around campus for four months and across two different continents, I can safely say it is the cutest and sturdiest backpack I have ever owned. Best of all, it is covered in little pockets that are perfect for keeping track of everything from pencils to snacks.” — Taylor Rogers, New York University
A Durable Backpack
“So I’ve had the same backpack since I was a freshman in high school and am now a senior in college. Obviously a phenomenal backpack! It can hold about five textbooks at a time (I don’t mind skipping the gym sometimes), snacks when I get hungry, clothes to change into after work, and any other miscellaneous items I need to live the hectic life of a college student. Extremely durable.” — Keegan Madden, University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana
A Sleek Backpack
“My backpack is that perfect not-too-big-not-too-small size that has more than enough room for my laptop and notebooks, without making me seem like I’ve got a boulder strapped to my back. I also really enjoy that it’s made of a structured felt material, which — in addition to being surprisingly rainproof — helps give the bag its super sleek and clean silhouette. It never looks dingy or worn-out, no matter how much I abuse it!” — Paris Martineau, New York University
A Bright and Colorful Backpack
“I’ve had this Patagonia Ironwood backpack for about a year and a half now, and it still looks like new. I took it all over Europe when I studied abroad, and its bright color means it’s impossible to miss. It’s functional but streamlined, so I don’t feel like a fifth grader with a backpack the size of a tortoise shell.” — Grace Halio, New York University
A Fashion Backpack
“I recently bought this backpack, which I love because it’s so small and almost doubles as a handbag. It doesn’t carry that many things — I’m not lugging around everything I need, but I can definitely fit my planner and pens and water bottle in it.” — Samia Faour, DePaul University
A Leather(ish) Backpack
“There are so many black faux leather backpacks on the market, but this one is my favorite because it’s a statement bag that’s also functional — I can still fit my laptop and essentials (though not that many books). The gold zippers add a stylish touch.” — Nihal Al Qawasmi, Pace University
Note: This is currently sold out, but here is a similar option.
An Eco-Friendly Backpack
“My favorite book bag is my Timberland backpack, which I’ve had for four years. It’s water-resistant, which is a great bonus, and actually made from recycled material. I think the exact model I have is no longer being sold, but the Ipswich Whitewashed comes really close — it’s also made with the same thread that comes from recycled plastic bottles.” — Tequan Browning, DePaul University
Get the best of The Strategist delivered to your inbox.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.
Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.