Shuffling between classes and study sessions, busy college students rely on their backpacks to tote everything they’ll need for the day around with them. While high schoolers love their basic JanSports, Sube Zia, manager of Ambassador Luggage in Manhattan, says undergrads look for more durable, professional bags that can go from the classroom to an internship. Fortunately, as Cassandra Sethi, fashion stylist and founder of Next Level Wardrobe, points out, “Backpacks are still trending among many age groups,” so there are lots of attractive, grown-up options on the market. We asked Zia and Sethi to recommend their favorites for new, and returning, college kids.
Best laptop backpacks
This lightweight pack, from Victorinox (of Swiss Army knife fame), has a padded laptop compartment to securely fit a computer up to 16” in size, and also has padded shoulder straps for keeping students comfortable as the backpack weight climbs up. Compared to other backpacks at a similar price point, Zia says, “You can see the fabric is superior in the VX Sport.” He likes it for college students because it’s one of the more affordable options from the quality-focused brand’s lineup, and has dedicated pockets for staples like pens, tablets, and water bottles.
Since Incase makes some of the most highly recommended laptop cases out there, it’s not surprising that their backpacks are geared toward keeping technology safe on the go. This pack’s 360-degree padded laptop sleeve can hold a 17” Macbook and, according to Sethi, “It even has an iPhone pocket that is fleece-lined to keep your phone safe.”
Best fashion backpacks
While pricier than most options for students, Zia says he sells Knomo bags to “plenty of college kids who want to make an impression.” The London-based brand is known for its travel bags and backpacks that manage to be both stylish and functional. This style, with saffiano leather trim and gold accents, features a shockproof laptop compartment and ergonomic, padded straps.
Zia calls the bags from Briggs & Riley’s Kinzie Street line “subtly good looking” and appealing to those who prefer a style that’s more business casual than utilitarian. He says it’s ideal for college students because it’s “ultra-lightweight, laptop-oriented, and comes in different colors.” With useful pockets for stashing headphones or pens, and a water-resistant coating, it’s an investment pick that could easily last for all four years of college — and look professional enough for a first job.
Best sporty backpacks
If your day includes a workout at the campus gym — and then carrying around smelly exercise clothes — Zia recommends Kipling’s “expandable and washable” backpacks that can stash an extra outfit and easily be thrown into the washing machine to eliminate odors. This lightweight bag can even fit a laptop up to 15” in size, and has several interior compartments for staying organized.
With a background in rugged, outdoorsy styles, Topo Designs’ bags are a good match for students who might also take their daily backpack on a hike or camping trip. “This backpack is made out of a ballistic weave,” says Sethi, “which is highly durable and can stand all the daily wear and tear.” The 15” laptop sleeve and zippered outer pouches provide plenty of storage space, and active students can use the easy-access side pockets for water bottles or other gear.
Best durable backpacks
Even college students who are rough on their bags will have a hard time wrecking the Deploy bag. The waxed canvas outer layer is highly water-resistant and the seams are reinforced with bartacked stitching in areas that see a lot of wear and tear. There’s also a lifetime warranty if anything does tear or break. For students traveling abroad, Sethi likes that the whole bag folds into the front pocket for easy storage.
Zia’s recommendation for a long-lasting pack is made from sturdy yet lightweight nylon that can easily be wiped clean to remove stains.
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.