The Ultimate Guide to Backpacks for College Students

When picking out a good backpack for college, focus on sturdiness, versatility, and — of course — style.
College Student With Backpack

If you're an incoming college student, your back-to-school shopping list probably includes textbooks, dorm room essentials, and maybe a laptop. But don't forget to add one more important item: a new backpack. You're going to need a reliable bag to carry all those new books, after all!

There are three important factors to consider when shopping for book bags for college: sturdiness, versatility, and — of course — style. You're going to want a backpack that will last your entire college career, and maybe even beyond! With these three factors in mind, we've put together the ultimate guide to buying a backpack for college.

Look for Reliable Brands

When you're investing in an item you'll likely use for four years, it's always good to go with reliable brands. And three names in the backpack world have consistently held up: JanSport, Herschel, and Patagonia.

You've probably seen the iconic JanSport label on people's bags since elementary school, but that doesn't detract from how reliable these backpacks can be for people of all ages. For example, there's the JanSport Right Pack. With a signature suede leather bottom, this bag may be ideal for anyone looking for something classic, durable, and at $60, affordable. The Right Pack comes in 18 different colors, and it also features two front storage pockets with an organizer, a large main compartment, and padded shoulder straps.

If you want a sturdy backpack from a reliable brand, consider JanSport, Herschel, and Patagonia bags.

If you're a millennial or Gen Zer, you've probably seen this next name a lot lately: Herschel. Based in Canada, Herschel Supply Co. has been bringing backpacks to students and professionals alike since 2009. Though it does offer bags with a more traditional cut (e.g., the Heritage, Settlement, and Classic bags), Herschel is perhaps most known for its Little America drawstring backpack.

This bag features a padded 15" laptop sleeve, magnetic strap closures to cover the drawstring opening, and an internal media pocket with a headphone port, as well as specially designed shoulder straps and air mesh padding on the back. If you're looking for reliability and style, this may be the bag for you.

Now what if the environment plays a big part in your bag choice? Then you may delight in Patagonia's practice of using recycled polyester for its products. Founded in the 1970s, this outdoor clothing company sells bright, colorful bags that call back to the company's sporty beginnings, while also focusing on the environment and offering affordable options.

The Patagonia Ironwood Backpack 20L, for one, could be a great choice for students who want to leave a smaller carbon footprint, sport a classic look, and carry textbooks with ease. This bag features a 15" laptop sleeve, large main compartment, water-repellent finish, and Patagonia's Human Curve shoulder straps.

Check Out Bags With Special Features

We've gone over some of the classic backpack brands, but you may still be looking for a bag that delivers on the versatility front. While it goes without saying that your bag should comfortably hold your notebooks, textbooks, and computer, some offerings may meet your other back-to-school needs.

SEE ALSO: How to Get the Best Deal on a Laptop for College Students

For example, the Osprey Arcane Large Top Zip Pack could be an excellent choice for students who want something sleek and decked out. The main compartment of the bag boasts a 15" laptop sleeve, a documents sleeve, and a monomesh zip pocket, while the shoulder straps — home to their own small compartments — feature an aluminum security hook that you can remove and secure around a table leg or chair to prevent theft. Plus, the bag comes with Osprey's trademark NeoSpacer covered ridge foam back panel for comfort.

If you're a student athlete, or just someone who hits the gym after class every day, you may want to check out Aer's Fit Pack 2. It could work for anyone who needs to transition from school to the weight room quickly. The Fit Pack 2 features a front-load main compartment, separate ventilated shoe compartment, top pocket for personal items, 15.6" laptop pocket, and multiple internal pockets. Did we mention that it has ergonomic shoulder straps, too?

And now, for the mother of all backpacks with special features: The North Face's Access Pack. At $235, this bag no doubt costs a pretty penny. The company does call it their "most innovative backpack," though, with three patents pending on it. Included among the features are a new design that lets you spring open the main compartment of the bag with a custom-made quick release latch. The inside of the bag, meanwhile, features fleece-lined media pockets developed with built-in ejector tabs, and there's an external laptop pocket with a handle for easy removal.

Try a New Style

The start of college is a great time for young people to experiment with new styles. If trendiness and style is your game, you may want to add these three bags to your wish list.

While most students will likely want a bag that can hold a laptop and books, some may be more comfortable with something small and chic. One of the brands we mentioned above, Herschel Supply Co., has two bags that fit this bill: the Reid backpack and the City backpack. The Reid is equipped with Herschel's signature drawstring closure hidden under a rounded top flap that snaps closed, and it also features an interior zippered pocket. At around 17" in height, the bag is smaller than most of our other picks, but it could be perfect for the student who wants to keep things light.

Looking for a bag that's stylish and on-trend? Then you may like Herschel's Reid backpack, M.R.K.T.'s Carter backpack, or a large tote from the Gap.

The City is even smaller than the Reid at 14". However, its vintage look, reminiscent of a classic scouting bag, could make it a great option for students who want to express their style in a new way.

Now let's say you love both versatility and style. Then you may want to look at the Carter backpack from Mad Rabbit Kicking Tiger, or M.R.K.T. This brightly colored, form-fitting bag features a trendy front flap that snaps closed, a waterproof exterior, and a removable 15" laptop sleeve. Cute and sleek, it may be a good option for college students who want to stand out in a crowd.

Traditional 2-strap backpacks not your thing? Consider trying this Large Tote from the Gap on for size. A tote bag can be perfect for trendy students, and an oversized bag like this can hold everything from your laptop and notebooks to the miscellaneous items you'll end up picking up during your time at school.

Readers, what backpacks have served you well during your college careers? Let us know in the comments below!

Sarah Heikkinen
DealNews Contributing Writer

Sarah Heikkinen is an upstate New York-based freelance journalist and marketing and social media specialist. She has freelanced for several publications, including Teen Vogue, the Ithaca Times, and The Scofield. She graduated with her Master's in Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in 2017.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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I love jansports
Just buy a Jansport. The other brands are irrelevant.