The 13 backpacks our team swears by for long commutes and weekend trips

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Tortuga Outbreaker

  • Backpacks are perfect for anyone who commutes or carries a lot of gear when out and about.
  • Whether you’re looking for style or utility, there’s a backpack out there to meet your needs.
  • We asked our team for their favorites and incorporated picks from our other guides, too.

Backpacks became my go-to item when I started working in an office. Simply put, I found it to be the best way to carry all my daily essentials – laptop, book for the commute, and lunch when I remembered to pack it – without destroying my already tension-prone shoulders.

Although the word “backpack” still reminds me of middle school, modern-day styles are anything but childish. It’s possible to find a backpack that’s equal parts cool and functional, too.

A good everyday backpack should fit what you need, come with built-in organization, and shouldn’t strain your shoulders and back.

Here are the 13 best backpacks we love:

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Dagne Dover Dakota Neoprene Backpack

Dagne Dover Dakota Neoprene Backpack

A favorite backpack among members of the Insider Reviews team is the Dagne Dover Dakota Neoprene Backpack. It’s a wonderful carrier because of its eight color and three-size options. The backpack’s quick-dry neoprene material is water-resistant, hand-washable, and perfect for gym trips, work commutes, and day hikes alike. 

There’s an interior pocket to store your laptop and even a pouch to hold an extra pair of shoes. This work-life balance bag, as Dagne Dover describes it, is also insulated and evenly distributes weight to add comfort to its sophisticated design.

Dakota Neoprene Backpack (button)
Tortuga Outbreaker

Tortuga Outbreaker

The weather-resistant Tortuga Outbreaker was tested by Jen Gushue, guides editor, along with eight other top travel backpacks on the market, and it was a top-performer for its convenient storage options — enough to house four-to-five days of travel necessities. Aside from the zipper-bordered main compartment, there are two large mesh compartments on the opposite side, as well as impressive organization pouches throughout. 

The adjustable harness system features a wide hip belt that makes traveling customizable and comfortable. It’s a splurge for sure, but worth the price tag.

Outbreaker (button)
Timbuk2 Impulse Travel Backpack Duffel Bag

Timbuk2 Impulse Travel Backpack Duffel Bag

If you’re looking for a shoulder bag that can store as much as an airport carry-on, but want to spend a little less than the Tortuga pack, the Timbuk2 Impulse Travel Backpack Duffel Bag is a comparable all-in-one option. It will store anything you need in its sack-like structure and comes with small side pockets and a water-resistant pocket for shoes or laundry.

Even when fully packed, Jen Gushue noticed it felt lighter than some of the smaller-capacity bags they tested, and it also landed a spot as one of the top picks in the best travel backpacks guide.

Impulse Travel Backpack Duffel Bag (button)
The North Face Jester Backpack

The North Face Jester Backpack

For a backpack apt for carrying books, your laptop, and other study essentials, look no further than The North Face Jester Backpack. Buying Guides Fellow Victoria Giardina selected this as the top carrier for college in our best backpacks for students guide, notably for its large laptop compartment — the tried and true school staple.

Whether you’re commuting to class or en route to the library, the backpack’s durably-padded design features a large main compartment, two mesh water bottle pockets, and even a reflective bike light loop for evening campus walking.

Jester Backpack (button)
JanSport Big Student Backpack

JanSport Big Student Backpack

Similar to The North Face, the JanSport Big Student Backpack is clad with organized storage compartments to carry textbooks, a pencil pouch, and study materials. It also comes in different fun colors and patterns.

Style and Beauty Reviews Fellow Katie Decker-Jacoby swears by this backpack for its durability, size, and storage — the trio that made her repurchase it when she was a student. She loves the flexibility of the polyester material and its ability to endure all weight and wear. It’s also the top overall pick in our best backpacks for students guide.

Big Student Backpack (button)
Dakine Split Adventure 38L Backpack

Dakine Split Adventure 38L Backpack

For an easy-to-carry backpack for weekend trips, the Dakine Split Adventure 38L Backpack is especially fit for those who don’t want to roll luggage with them on a flight. Home and Kitchen Reporter Owen Burke said he hasn’t found another bag broken down so simply and thoughtfully, from its convenient laptop sleeve and two outer compartments to its suitcase-like inner straps and interior storage pockets.

Out of these features, Burke is most impressed by the laptop sleeve. It doesn’t run all the way to the bottom of the bag but instead sits an inch or so up, so that when you place (or drop) your backpack, you’re not running the risk of damaging your laptop — a flaw he has found in some other designs.

Split Adventure 38L Backpack (button)
Yeti Panga 28 Backpack

Yeti Panga 28 Backpack

The Yeti Panga 28 Backpack is also one of Owen Burke‘s favorites, particularly for its ability to withstand any weather conditions. As a part-time captain, he noticed other “waterproof” backpacks not living up to their claim.

This carrier comes with a heavy-duty airtight zipper and is crafted with high-intensity tear-proof nylon and TPU. Burke’s Yeti even managed to find its way into the smoldering cinders of a bonfire and still came out shining. For easy access, he finds the addition of the velcro-attachable, waterproof Sidekick convenient.

Panga 28 Backpack (button)
Fjallraven Raven 28L Pack

Fjallraven Raven 28L Pack

Deals Reporter Sarah Saril was initially drawn to the Fjallraven Raven 28L Pack because it comes in nine colors and was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be an excellent carrier for travel and daily use. It compactly collapses yet has enough capacity to store her 13-inch MacBook, Nintendo Switch, chargers, a change of clothes, and travel necessities. 

Aside from its versatility, the Fjällräven has a ton of internal sorting pockets. It’s made from durable G-1000 HeavyDuty Eco in recycled polyester and organic cotton, making the back panel and shoulder straps especially comfortable.

Raven 28L Pack (button)
Haerfest Large Nylon Travel Backpack

Haerfest Large Nylon Travel Backpack

The Haerfest Large Travel Backpack‘s durable nylon materials, adjustable shoulder straps, and excess pockets aren’t the only features Style and Beauty Editor Ashley Phillips adores. The ability to store two laptops is a sleek and rare feature that makes it a standout.

Though Phillips says the large size is slightly overpowering for her five-foot-two frame, she finds it perfect for travel because of the front hidden slip pocket that easily stores boarding passes and other documents. Its generous size and reliable functionality make it a great option that also conveniently fits on top of checked luggage.

Large Nylon Travel Backpack (button)
Mountaintop 40L Hiking Backpack

Mountaintop 40L Hiking Backpack

The long-form, buckled Mountaintop 40L Hiking Backpack is a multi-use carrier that’s exclusive to hiking. Though Personal Finance Reporter Liz Knueven has taken it on trails before, she finds it best for traveling and said she was never questioned by airline companies if it will fit in a bin or under the seat.

The polyester pack has many built-in compartments that are easy to store small items. Kneuven said it has held up, it’s affordable at less than $50, and comes in a variety of colors.

40L Hiking Backpack (button)
The Daily Edited Pebbled Leather Backpack

A  model wearing the The Daily Edited Pebbled Leather Backpack on their back

Nylon backpacks may be durable, but they’re not always the most aesthetically pleasing option to pair with formal workwear. When style and beauty editor Ashley Phillips needed something more spacious than a tote bag but that wouldn’t look out of place with a nice dress or silk blouse, she turned to this leather option from The Daily Edited

The pebbled leather hides scratches more easily and the simple silhouette works as an alternative to a briefcase. The one drawback is that there’s no dedicated computer sleeve, but she found that there’s enough room to store a 13-inch laptop. You can also adjust the padded shoulder straps and add a monogram to make the bag feel more customized to you.

Pebbled Leather Backpack (button)
Dagne Dover Indi Diaper Backpack

The Dagne Dover Indi Diaper Backpack in dark moss hanging from a stroller

Dagne Dover’s Dakota backpack may be more well known, but the brand’s Indi diaper backpack is also worth checking out. Former style and beauty fellow Jacqueline Saguin swears by this bag for travel, even though she doesn’t have any kids. 

The bag is overflowing with organizational pockets that keep everything in its place, so you don’t have to go digging for toiletries or your ID as you pass through airport security. You’d never know the Indi is a diaper bag because of its clean design, and as another travel hack, Saguin uses the fold-up changing mat as a portable work-from-home station. Currently, only the small size is available, but it’s typically offered in medium and large sizes too.

Indi Diaper Backpack (button)
Fjallraven Kanken Backpack

A model posing with two of the Fjallraven Kånken Water Resistant Backpacks in orange and yellow

The Kanken backpack is another Fjallraven favorite, and it’s also the brand’s signature style. It’s offered in more than 50 colors and multiple sizes to best fit your storage and laptop needs. Along with its cool Scandinavian design, what makes this backpack special is a built-in sitting pad you can pull out at a moment’s notice. Senior story producer Emily Hein counts this bag as her go-to and says that “The included sitting pad is especially useful in the summer — a saving grace at parks and beaches.”

Hein also says there’s a good reason you’ll spot these so often on the streets of New York City. “It’s spacious enough to fit all my necessities for the day (including my 13″ laptop, albeit tightly), but not bulky or noticeably heavy.”

Kånken Backpack (button)
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The 5 best backpacks for students in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • A good school backpack serves as an all-in-one carrier for essentials, including a tablet and books.
  • Backpacks come in many styles, sizes, and materials and should be durable enough to last for years.
  • The best backpack for students of all ages is the long-lasting JanSport Big Student Backpack.

As a high school teacher, I’ve seen backpacks in all states of disrepair, so I know how important it is to find a bag that is durable enough to be used day in and day out.

For kids and teenagers, it’s much more about how the backpack looks than how functional it is, so the tough job as a parent is to find one that is durable and big enough for all your child’s school supplies and lunch box, but that also looks cool. In elementary school, I was jealous of my best friend who had her initials monogrammed on her backpack, and in high school, I was dying for a messenger bag. Functionality clearly wasn’t on the top of my priority list as a child.

If you find the right backpack, it can last your child quite a few years, but finding the right one is key. We’ve made the process a little bit easier for you with a few tips and some of our favorite backpacks.

To help you find the best backpacks for your kids, I combined my experience as a teacher and student with expert and buyer reviews. From backpacks for preschoolers to college kids, these bags will help your child start the school year on the right foot. Below, find tips for selecting a quality backpack in our “what to look” for explainer.

Here are the best backpacks for students in 2021

The best overall

jansport big backpack

The JanSport Big Student Backpack has many pockets, comes in an array of colors, and is durable for every student.

Pros: Spacious, durable, two main pockets, multiple side and front pockets, comes in many colors and prints

Cons: May be too big for very young kids, not machine washable

This backpack comes in fun colors and designs like galaxy or floral prints, as well as solid black, so whether your child wants to stand out with a fun print or just wants a plain backpack, this one will do the trick.

It includes a water bottle pocket on the side, two different main pockets, and three front pockets to hold smaller items. The ergonomic padded shoulder straps will help kids stay comfortable even while carrying their books, binders, and notebooks to and from class. It also includes a padded back and padded laptop compartment.

This backpack is great for younger kids and older adults alike, which is one of the reasons it’s our top overall pick. JanSport does not recommend machine washing their backpacks, but they do explain exactly how to clean them to maintain the shape and finish of the bag. It also offers a lifetime warranty on its backpacks, so you can send yours in for repairs. And if JanSport can’t repair your broken backpack, it will replace it, ensuring you get true value out of your purchase.

The best for preschool

L.L.Bean Junior Original Book Pack

L.L.Bean’s Junior Original Book Pack is just the perfect size for young kids for easy wear to prevent back injury.

Pros: Perfect size for young kids, reflective material for safety, machine washable

Cons: Only features one additional pocket and a water bottle compartment aside from the main zipper

The Junior Original Book Pack combines durability, affordability, and the cuteness factor for the perfect backpack for your young scholar. It’s available in a variety of prints or solid colors if you want to keep it simple. You don’t have to worry about these beautiful prints being ruined by messes and spills because this backpack is machine washable when inside a mesh laundry bag. 

This is a small backpack designed for kids ages 4 and up, so the shoulder straps and back panel are padded and comfortable. Your little little one won’t be overpowered by a massive backpack.

Although it’s small enough for little backs, it’s still big enough to fit standard-sized folders and notebooks — something that can’t be said for all preschool-size backpacks. It also has waterproof and reflective materials to help keep kids and their belongings safe at the bus stop. 

There’s also something so adorable about a little kid wearing a backpack, and this is the perfect choice whether your child is actually starting school or just wants a backpack to be like their big sibling. 

The best for middle school

jansport superbreak backpack

The JanSport Superbreak backpack holds just the right amount of supplies for elementary and middle schoolers, coming in diverse colors.

Pros: Tons of colors and patterns, good size, sturdy material

Cons: No laptop compartment, not machine washable

The JanSport Superbreak Backpack is sturdy, just the right size for elementary and middle school kids, and comes in tons of colors and patterns, so your child is guaranteed to find something your they like.

The backpack has a roomy main compartment that’s perfect for notebooks, folders, and lunch boxes, while the small front pocket is handy for pencils and other small items. It’s a lightweight bag, but it’s sturdy enough to handle anything your kid can throw at it — which they will.

While a great basic, this backpack does have its flaws. There’s no laptop compartment, and it only includes 2/3 padding on the back panel.

Since younger kids may not be carrying as many items to and from school, the Superbreak is a good option for this crowd. If your child is approaching their later middle school years though, it would be a good idea to take a look at our high school backpack pick instead. Like other JanSport bags, this one is not machine washable.

The best for high school

northface recon backpack

The iconic North Face Recon Backpack is comfortable, long-lasting, and comes with a lifetime warranty.

Pros: Highly durable, ergonomically designed for comfort, many pockets and other organizing features, lifetime warranty

Cons: Not machine washable

Today’s high school students are notoriously busy. When I was a teacher, some of my students got to school at 6 a.m. for sports practice, then went to class, volunteer activities, or even part-time jobs, and didn’t get home until after dark. They need a backpack that can keep up with them, and the legendary The North Race Recon comes highly recommended.

High school students also need backpacks that are extremely durable to support textbooks while also protecting expensive devices. This durable pack features a 15-inch laptop sleeve in the back, tablet sleeve in the front, cord container, mesh stash pocket for sports equipment like helmets, two mesh water bottle pockets, and a padded back with extra support along the spine. We love that this backpack comes with a hip and chest clip. Occupational therapist Karen Jacobs explained that this can help take weight off the shoulders, particularly for older kids.

The North Face Recon Backpack is available in several different colors and comes in men’s and women’s designs. The women’s bag is a little bit smaller than the men’s, and features custom injection-molded shoulder straps with flexible attachment points that are contoured for a smaller frame. The backpacks are covered by the North Face’s lifetime warranty, so returns are simple and always free.

The backpack also features reflective surfaces on the exterior and is made of breathable material. The North Face does not recommend machine washing their backpacks, so you’ll need to spot clean this one.

The best for college

the north face jester backpack

The North Face Jester Backpack features a heavy-duty padded laptop compartment aside from it holding other essential supplies.

Pros: Perfect for carrying laptops around campus, large main compartment, two mesh water bottle pockets, secure-zip pockets, reflective bike light loop for evening campus walking

Cons: Not machine washable

College students typically have a mountain of textbooks on their desks, so having a backpack to carry some of the pile, as well as a laptop, notebook, and other supplies make The North Face Jester Backpack the gold standard for strolls on campus.

In addition to its large main compartment, this sleek backpack has a durable, padded laptop compartment that can fit up to 15-inch laptops. Aside from ensuring this college essential is safely stored within the backpack, the Jester has two external mesh pockets to store your water bottle, as well as a front compartment to store pencils, a pack of tissues, and other on-the-go items.

And it even comes with safety features for evening walks on campus. Its reflective bike light loop, water bottle tabs, and shoulder webbing are designed for 360-degree reflectivity for nighttime visibility.

The Jester is made of breathable material, but the backpack is not machine washable. The bag also includes a sternum strap to shift some weight off the shoulders.

What we’re looking forward to

For an update to this guide, all backpacks will be put through a series of durability tests. In addition to our current recommendations, we are also testing the following backpacks:

What to look for in a backpack

What to look for in a backpack
  • Safety: While monogrammed backpacks are fun and unique, we strongly advise against putting your child’s initials or name on their backpack, a sentiment that Dr. Jacobs and teacher Whitney Rancourt shared. It provides a perfect avenue for child predators to appear friendly and familiar by knowing your child’s name. Jacobs also recommended backpacks that have reflective material to keep kids safe at the bus stop or while walking to and from school. 
  • Size: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a backpack shouldn’t “weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student’s total body weight.” The size of the backpack should correspond accordingly. Additionally, Jacobs recommends looking at your child’s back as if it is a rectangle and making sure the backpack fits nicely within that rectangle. For this reason, she also recommends buying a backpack your child can try on, whether that means buying in store or from a retailer that offers free returns.
  • Comfort and support: Look for a backpack with a padded back and wide padded shoulder straps. The AAP advises against narrow straps that tend to dig into shoulders, as they can restrict circulation and cause pain. Jacobs also advises buying a backpack made with breathable material and recommends that older kids make use of a chest or shoulder strap, which can help take weight off the shoulders. 
  • Features and organization: Besides the main compartment, a good backpack should have multiple interior and exterior pockets for organizing items. Popular features include water bottle holders, laptop pockets, charger pockets, key chains, and pencil pockets. With many students carrying devices in their backpacks, a water bottle pocket is very important to prevent water spilling on the device. Additionally, “organization systems (compartments that fit folders, pens, erasers, and every school supply in between) are important, especially for children that might have executive functioning issues,” learning specialist Jessica Prohias Gardiner explained.
  • Appearance: We all know that kids want backpacks that look cool, but it’s important to strike a balance between cool and practical. “Avoid backpacks with detailing like sequins or glitter that won’t hold up well to regular machine washing. The most eye-catching backpacks in the first week of school usually look the worst by the end of the year,” Rancourt said, adding that backpacks should be washable, as students tend to place them in less-than-clean places.

How to pack a backpack

Jacobs provided some excellent tips to help students pack a backpack that isn’t too heavy and that feels comfortable:

  • Put the heaviest item closest to the back.
  • Check backpacks daily to make sure your child isn’t lugging around unnecessary items.
  • Pack backpacks the night before.
  • Use compartments to help stabilize items.
  • Pack backpacks on a table or raised surface. This makes it easier to pack and easier to slip on your child’s back.
  • If your child complains about their backpack being too heavy, investigate why and see what can be taken out. Most schools can provide digital textbooks and/or an extra copy of books to keep at home.

Jacobs also emphasized the importance of connecting with your school’s occupational therapy practitioner if your child encounters an issue with backpacks.

Our sources

  • Karen Jacobs, EdD, OTR/L, CPE, FAOTA, is a clinical professor of occupational therapy and the program director of the distance education post-professional occupational therapy programs at Boston University. In addition to being an occupational therapist, Jacobs is also a certified professional ergonomist (CPE). Jacobs founded National School Backpack Safety Awareness Day a decade ago to raise awareness of the harm heavy loads worn incorrectly can cause children and even adults.
  • Jessica Prohias Gardiner is a learning specialist at LREI (Little Red Elisabeth Irwin) High School in New York City.
  • Whitney Rancourt teaches third- and fourth-grade reading and writing at a Title 1 school in Texas. She’s also the owner of Mama Manages, a blog dedicated to helping parents and teachers raise confident and happy kids. 

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