The Best Backpacks for College and High School Students

These five backpacks are among the best we’ve found for high school and college students. As a result, it’s critical to find one that can hold all of the supplies you’ll need for a long day while also being comfortable, affordable, and fashionable. A backpack will accompany you to class, the gym, late-night library marathons, and early-morning coffee runs. We’ve tested dozens of backpacks in a variety of styles since our first round of testing in 2015.

Why you should trust us

Others came from different Wirecutter bag guides. We looked at a few of them specifically for the purpose of compiling this guide. We’ve compiled our findings into a list of the best options for high school and college students in this guide. And our staff has thoroughly vetted each of them. For the past six years, we’ve been reviewing backpacks at Wirecutter, researching hundreds of them online and testing dozens in person in a variety of styles and situations.

Who this is for

A good “school” backpack should last at least four years of school, as well as weekend getaways and trips home (so your parents can do your laundry). If you’re a high school or college student, you’ll need a bag to carry your school supplies on a daily basis, as well as anything you might need for the gym, rehearsal, or a late-night library session.

This price range considers student budgets while also acknowledging that students use their backpacks both inside and outside of the classroom. We looked for options that were under $140. The bags we looked at range in size and style from larger, more ergonomic bags to smaller bags that sacrifice some utility for aesthetics or ease of use. In our article, we go over some of these bags in greater detail. guide to laptop backpacks, which also includes more-expensive options.

Because most everything is online in college, you may only need a laptop and a paper notebook. So pick a backpack based on what you’ll need, and keep in mind that your bag and its contents will be exposed to the elements. Your backpack should also be appropriate for the type of schoolwork you’ll be doing. Some high schools still require students to carry six massive textbooks and their lunch from room to room throughout the day. You should never exceed 10% to 20% of your body weight..

Best small, stylish backpack: Rains Backpack Mini

The best small, stylish backpack for college and high school students, the Rains Backpack Mini, shown in black.
Photo: Michael Murtaugh

Our pick

A good-looking backpack for light loads

However, carrying extra-heavy loads is uncomfortable due to the thin straps. The Rains Backpack Mini is a stylish and slim backpack.

Buying Options

Who it’s for: This slim backpack is ideal for those who only need to bring a laptop, a slim textbook, and a light sweater, as well as those who want something small and stylish.

Why it’s great: The Rains Backpack Mini The bag’s sleek lines keep it from looking like “the school kid who’s in for the summer” when you report to your internship. During testing, it even received compliments from strangers, which is unheard of on New York’s streets. is stunning—it strikes a perfect balance of fashion, comfort, organization, and simplicity.

The Rains Backpack Mini is a cute, waterproof, and distinctive option if you’re traveling light.Photo: Michael Murtaugh

For easy access, a back zippered section securely holds a phone and a meal card. The bag’s clever organization and small size make it ideal for those who only need to carry the bare minimum. Although the Rains bag is small, its laptop pouch and inner zippered pocket will keep your essentials organized, with room for a few more small items if needed. Furthermore, because the bag is small and flat, it will not cause you to collide with other students in a crowded student union.

The bag’s carabiner closure and magnetic flap snaps make it difficult for someone to reach in and steal your laptop, in addition to the weather protection. We accidentally tested this feature by leaving a coffee shop during a brief thunderstorm, and the Rains bag kept everything inside completely dry. If you’re prone to misplacing umbrellas, the Rains bag’s waterproofing will come in handy.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Fortunately, the bag is small enough that overloading is unlikely. The Rains Backback Mini’s thin straps add to the bag’s sleek and professional appearance, but they aren’t as comfortable as thicker straps.

Long-term test notes:Despite the thinner straps, she says the faux leather backpack doesn’t feel any hotter to carry than her cloth backpack, and it’s just as comfortable to wear. Dorie Chevlen, a Wirecutter staff writer, has been using the Rains Backpack Mini as her primary backpack for the past two years, and it has performed admirably. Dorie discovered that the bag’s waterproofing helped her get through many rainstorms while in graduate school.

Dimensions: 17 by 10.5 by 4 inchesWeight: 1.6 pounds

Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe is the best backpack for organizing your tech.

The best backpack for organizing your tech, the Timbuk2 Authority.
Photo: Sarah Kobos

Our pick

A durable, sturdy bag for your tech

The Timbuk2 Authority bag keeps everything you need for the school day safe and organized. The bag’s tough materials can withstand a lot of abuse and will last for a long time.

Who it’s for: The Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxeis a great bag for those who want to organize and protect their technology. And, while it won’t win any beauty contests, it’s still understated enough to blend in almost anywhere.

Why it’s great:It has a tough exterior that protects it from bumps and bruises as you carry it to and from school, and it comes with a lifetime defect warranty. Without bulging, becoming sloppy, or appearing aggressively “techie,” the Timbuk2 Authority holds and organizes an impressive amount of gear. Most importantly, even when it’s completely full, it’s extremely comfortable.

For two weeks, our tester carried a 13-inch MacBook Pro with charger, an iPad, and a laptop in the Timbuk2 Authority. planner, a notepad, a keyboard, a Nintendo Switch Lite (with charger), a number of cables, two power banks, and a Skooba Design Cable Stable DLX (full of other small appliances), keys, and a travel mug.. That’s a lot of technology for a single bag, we understand.

The Timbuk2 Authority has a back compartment that can hold a laptop up to 17 inches in size.Photo: Sarah Kobos

The Timbuk2 Authority’s snug and robust straps and air-mesh ventilated back panel made it comfortable to wear for hours at a time, even when it was packed to the brim. The pack’s fit was also secure, thanks to a detachable sternum strap that linked the two shoulder straps and held everything in place.

The main pocket, as well as the back compartment, can hold a notebook or up to a 17-inch laptop. A large zipper pouch, two open pockets, and two pen slots are located in the front organizational compartment. In the front exterior zipper pocket, there’s also a key ring. Smaller items we frequently carry, such as keys, an external battery pack, and an SD card, can be stored in the two separate exterior zipper pockets on the front. Because the Timbuk2 Authority has so many pockets and compartments, everything we brought fit neatly into designated areas, making it easy to find what we needed.

A person wearing the Timbuk2 Authority backpack while walking up the stairs of a brick building.
The Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack is subtle enough to blend in on any college or high school campus.Photo: Sarah Kobos

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Although we believe the Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe can comfortably hold a variety of tech gear, we found that other bags we tested, such as the Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack, could not. eBags Pro Slim Laptop Backpack, can store even more.

Long-term test notes: For the past two years, we’ve been using the TimBuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe. We’ve found it to be extremely durable and comfortable to wear during that time, and all of the pockets and organization features have proven to be extremely useful for commutes and long trips.

Dimensions: 18.9 inches by 11.8 inches by 5.1 inchesWeight: 2.6 pounds

Best polished gym bag: Lo & Sons The Hakuba

The best backpack for the gym, the Lo & Sons The Hakuba, shown with a water bottle stored in the side pocket.
Photo: Sarah Kobos

Our pick

A stylish bag for all of your school and workout necessities.

The Hakuba from Lo & Sons is easy to carry and stylish, with separate sections for shoes, a laptop, school supplies, and gym clothes.

Buying Options

Who it’s for: This bag is ideal for when you want to go to the gym after class.

Why it’s great: A well-kept gym bag should be large enough to hold extra clothes and shoes, well-organized to keep dirty items separate from school supplies, and attractive enough to carry into class.

The HakubaYou can pull out the insert to free up space if you need to carry something particularly large. The Hakuba bag has a dedicated shoe storage area underneath. All of this is accomplished by Lo & Sons: So even if you pack it haphazardly, it will look polished. There are pockets for notepads and books at the top of the main compartment, and a 15-inch laptop pocket allows you to keep your computer separate from your dirty gym clothes. This backpack maintains its shape even when carrying all of that.

The Hakuba is a refined gym bag that can be used in any situation, and its removable center insert provides extra space when needed.Photo: Sarah Kobos

The two expanding, zip-up side pockets can also hold a 32-ounce water bottle or an umbrella. A pass-through sleeve allows the Hakuba bag to be attached to most suitcase handles. Two easily accessible zippered pockets on the top of the bag are ideal for items you need to get to quickly, such as your wallet, keys, lip balm, and headphones.

Lo & Sons offers a one-year warranty However, even after that time period has passed, the company requests that customers contact them if they have any issues. Product defects and damages are covered on the Hakuba pack.

The straps didn’t dig in uncomfortably, and the bag distributed weight evenly. Our tester ran 312 miles while wearing the bag, which was probably an ill-advised test influenced by the pandemic, and they never felt like they were carrying too much.

A person wearing the Hakuba backpack while walking up the stairs of a brick building.
The Hakuba was a large bag that spanned our tester’s back, but its size was critical for carrying everything our tester needed to get from class to the gym.Photo: Sarah Kobos

Flaws but not dealbreakers: We like its long, trapezoidal shape, but it might not be right for you. Furthermore, this bag is quite costly, and it is also quite heavy, weighing in at around 3 pounds. Although the Hakuba is large, it is necessary for a backpack to be large enough to carry all of your belongings when transitioning from school to the gym.

Dimensions: 21.5 by 13 by 7.8 inchesWeight: 2.8 lbs (includes insert), 2.4 lbs (without insert)

The Snap Backpack of Today Everlane is the most fashionable school backpack.

The best stylish school backpack, The Modern Snap Backpack from Everlane, shown with a water bottle in the side pocket.
Photo: Sarah Kobos

Our pick

A simple backpack with style

A 19-liter backpack with stylish materials, a minimalist design, and practical features that is equally at home in the classroom and in the city.

Buying Options

Who it’s for: This bag is ideal if you’re looking for a simple bag that can easily transition from campus walks to a summer internship in an office.

Why it’s great: Although Everlane’s The Modern Snap Backpack Simply put, it’s a stylish, functional, and affordable unisex backpack. Although it isn’t the most opulent, durable, or impeccably constructed bag available, it is very, very good on all of those counts, making it a great value for the money.

Instead of the heavily padded technical straps that often mar the otherwise-classic design of bags in this category, the shoulder straps are seamless, low-profile extensions of the twill exterior. The cotton-twill exterior of this backpack comes in a variety of muted colors that look great in the classroom, at a coffee shop, or at a music festival. The straps, on the other hand, are extremely comfortable.

The inside of the Everlane Modern Snap Backpack.Photo: Sarah Kobos

There’s one exterior zippered pocket big enough for a paperback and two small side pockets for water bottles. We stuffed it with a pair of extra-wide size-11 sneakers, a bulky cotton hoodie, a pair of nylon board shorts, a sunglasses case, a thick hardcover book, a phone, a 15-inch MacBook, chargers for both, and a 16-ounce bottle of water. The main compartment of the Modern Snap Backpack is a squared-off cylinder with only one internal divider for your laptop.

A person wearing the Modern Snap backpack while walking up the stairs of a brick building.
The Everlane was practical and stylish enough to take me from the classroom to the city.Photo: Sarah Kobos

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Its cotton construction is unsuitable for rainy days because it absorbs water quickly and stains easily. The Modern Snap has very little organization, so it’s not the best choice for people who want a dedicated spot for everything they carry.

If the bag isn’t available when you want to buy it, chances are it will be available later, but it’s never clear when. This pack comes in and out of stock on a regular basis, with minor design changes.

Everlane has come under fire because of the way the company is said to treat its employees, which has been interpreted as contradicting the company’s external claims of a commitment to ethics.

Long-term test notes: Tim Barribeau, a Wirecutter editor, has had the Everlane Modern Snap Backpack for more than five years and says it’s still in great shape, even though the material has scuffed and lightened around the edges.

Dimensions: 18 by 12 by 5.5 inchesWeight: 1.9 pounds

Best nostalgic backpack: Fjällräven Kånken Laptop Backpack

Our pick for best nostalgic backpack, the Fjällräven Kånken Laptop Backpack, shown in bright yellow.
Photo: Sarah Kobos

Our pick

Schoolyard style

This 18-liter backpack is small, durable, and practical, with almost no padding. It’s the grown-up version of the knapsack you used to carry to elementary school.

Who it’s for: This one is for cool kids who want a vintage-inspired backpack with a patina that will develop over time.

Why it’s great: The original Kånkenwas created in 1977 for Swedish schoolchildren and has a cult following among adults. The most recent version Fjällräven Kånken Laptop Backpack retains its youthful charm and versatility while adding useful features such as a separate padded laptop compartment and extra padding on the straps for carrying heavy loads comfortably.

The Fjällräven Knken has a separate padded laptop compartment for convenient and secure storage.Photo: Sarah Kobos

The bag is not ideal for people who like to have a specific spot for each gadget and accessory because none of the pockets have internal organization features. The laptop compartment has a separate zipper and fits computers up to 15 inches, so you don’t have to dig through the main compartment to get your laptop. The main pocket is spacious, and the front zippered pouch is ideal for items that need to be accessed quickly, such as phone chargers. Fjällräven also offers the Knken in eight different colors if you want more variety and flair. The non-elasticized twin bottle pockets (one on each side of the bag) are a little tight—a 27-fluid-ounce Klean Kanteen fits, but not a 1-liter Klean Kanteen.

A person wearing a yellow Fjällräven Kånken backpack while walking up the stairs of a brick building.
You can carry it by its top handles if you get tired of carrying it on your back. The Fjällräven Knken doesn’t provide much in the way of ergonomic support. Photo: Sarah Kobos

Flaws but not dealbreakers: On hot days, the plain, skinny shoulder straps can dig, and there’s no back-panel ventilation, so you’ll work up a sweat (unless you carry it by the top handles). The ergonomics of the Knken Laptop Backpack are average at best.

Long-term test notes: For light to medium loads, the Knken is a great, simple bag. Despite the fact that they regularly tote a laptop and notebooks, one tester has owned a Knken for five years and reports that the bag is still sturdy, with no ripping at the seams.

Dimensions: 16.5 by 11 by 7 inchesWeight: 1 pound

Other good backpacks

If you’re looking for a simple, long-lasting bag with classic American style, the is the bag for you. JanSport Right Pack Backpack has a suede-leather bottom and is made of tough Cordura nylon. lifetime unconditional warrantyThe bags from JanSport are built to last. The straps on this bag aren’t as breathable as those on other bags we like. However, you may not need to use the warranty: to provide evidence for it The Right Pack Backpack has a huge 31-liter capacity that will swallow whatever you throw in it, though it will bulge if you overpack it. It also lacks an external laptop pocket and a water bottle pocket.

If you’re looking for a large backpack that’s as tough as the materials it’s made of, the Herschel Heritage BackpackMedea Giordano, a former Wirecutter staffer, recommends it. The Herschel can withstand being loaded with large textbooks and shoved into lockers thanks to its sturdy outer body (made of a water-resistant polyester blend), synthetic leather bottom, and nylon interior. This practical backpack can be worn with a variety of outfits and easily transition from school to work thanks to its clean lines and simple form.

If you’re looking for a cheap backpack that can also serve as a gym bag and are willing to compromise on organization and style, the AmazonBasics Sports Backpack Unfortunately, the AmazonBasics bag was not particularly spacious; a pair of shoes took up the majority of the bag’s internal storage space. has a sleeve for devices and notebooks up to 15 inches wide, as well as a separate zippered area for gym shoes up front.

About your guide

Justin Krajeski

Justin Krajeski

He previously worked at Wirecutter, where he wrote about technology. Justin Krajeski is a Wirecutter staff writer who covers everyday carry. Every day, he transports items. He’s an expert in the field of carrying.