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What Is the Best Backpack for College Students? 

 October 18, 2021

By  Diane Wuthrich

College students live very busy lives. With all the classes, study sessions, sports, and extra-curricular activities, it’s no surprise why backpacks are so popular among them. But with all the backpacks out there, how do you choose the best one for college?

College students are recommended to use a backpack that is spacious enough for all their school gear. It should be comfortable to wear, durable, secure, have ample organizational features, fit well, and have the right size. Ideally, it would also match the wearer’s personal style.

There are many things to think about when considering the features of a backpack for college students. Read on below to learn more.

What Backpack Is Best for College?

The bag you choose to carry every day while in college is a one of the most important considerations for this phase of your life.

It shouldn’t be an afterthought, or the same bag you used while in high school. During your college years, you will be covering longer distances while carrying a significantly heavier load, which is why it’s crucial to choose the right college backpack.

Here’s what you should be looking at:

Capacity

Size is one of the most important considerations when buying a college backpack.

There are two ways to go about evaluating backpack size: dimensions and volume. Dimensions refer to its length, width, and depth; all of these factors will tell you how the backpack will sit based on your body type. Meanwhile, volume tells you how much the backpack can carry; backpack manufacturers already usually provide this information readily in either liter or cubic inches.

If a college student uses a backpack that is too large or too small for their size and needs, it can cause many problems. These include back and shoulder pain, increased risk for toppling over, and discomfort. That’s why it’s extremely important to ensure you’re using a backpack of the proper size.

Dimensions

The first factor in determining a backpack the right size for you is your torso length. Here’s how to find it, with the help of a tape measure and a friend:

  1. 1
    Stand straight with your head tilted forward. Look for the bony bump behind your neck where your neck meets your shoulders. This bump is called the C7 vertebra, the starting point for measuring torso length.
  2. 2
    Identify the iliac crest, which is the area right on top of your hip bones where the rib cage starts. Take note of the distance between the left and right hip bone, which will tell you how wide your backpack should be.
  3. 3
    Ask your friend to measure the distance from the C7 to the imaginary horizontal line between your thumbs, right above your hip bone. This will give you your torso length.

Last but not least, consider the extra supplies that you will be needing for your course. Some specialties require additional supplies on top of textbooks, such as laboratory equipment, art material, or other extras. These need to be taken into consideration when shopping around for a college backpack.

Volume

Depending on your scholastic needs, the best volume for a college student’s backpack will vary. For example, students who are studying courses related to computer science and information technology may need significantly less textbooks because most of the work is done online. They would be able to benefit from using a laptop backpack with 25-30 liters in capacity.

Then there are students who may be taking up courses that require extra supplies such as art materials or bulky laboratory equipment on top of textbooks. They would then need larger backpacks that are 30-40 liters.

In addition, think about the distance you will be traveling each day. Students who live off-campus may have to consider a larger backpack that can hold all the essentials for the day, while those who live on-campus can go with a smaller backpack since it’s easy to drop heavy textbooks or pick up other belongings between classes.

Comfort 

Comfort is another important feature to carefully consider when shopping around for a backpack that’s best for college, and how comfortable a bag is or not can usually be determined by several features:

Shoulder Straps

The best backpack for college should have padded wide shoulder straps. Thin shoulder straps have the tendency to burrow into the skin, leaving marks and resulting in shoulder or neck pain because of its inefficiency in distributing weight properly. Aside from being wide and padded, the straps should also be adjustable and it isn’t recommended to buy a backpack without adjustable straps.

Adjustable straps also provided added benefit when certain days of the week require you to bring more to college. For example, on Wednesdays and Fridays, you may need to pack extra clothing or sports gear for physical education classes. On these days, you can adjust the straps to fit closer to the body in order to comfortably carry more weight.

Padded Back

Backpacks designed with padded back systems can be extremely beneficial in helping your pack feel lighter. In many cases, backpacks with padded back systems also have vents for breathability. These features do a terrific job in reducing the heat from your body especially if you live in warmer climates and have to carry the backpack for an hour or more, such as during your commute.

Waist or Sternum Straps

If you have to carry a significantly heavier load in college, such as bringing more textbooks or supplies, then it’s good to consider a backpack with waist and/or sternum straps. They are excellent for distributing weight evenly, helping you stay balanced as you walk, and ensuring your belongings are securely in place.

Durability

When choosing a backpack best for college, durability is yet another important factor. It may be tempting to buy an inexpensive backpack because it looks cool, but if it breaks down in the hallway between classes, it won’t help. That’s why a durable college backpack is essential for carrying all your school gear and supplies, while giving you peace of mind that it won’t break down.

The best college backpacks are those that are built to last. To check for durability, inspect the stitching, handles, straps, and material:

  • Stitching throughout the bags and shoulder straps should not come undone easily or have any loose threads;
  • The handles should feel secure even when the backpack is packed to its full capacity;
  • The straps should be padded, ideally with high-density foam. It can be tested by squeezing the straps, then checking if it springs back to shape quickly. Additionally, the straps should also be lined with soft material that feels good on the skin.
  • The material should be both lightweight and durable. Great examples include nylon or Dyneema. Meanwhile, ballistic nylon or Cordura are recommended for college students who have to have to carry backpacks on the heavier end of the weight spectrum. For students who will be commuting or exposed to weather frequently, water resistant or water proof material would be helpful.

While optional, it would be ideal for a good college backpack to have rubber or thick, heavy fabric on the bottom. This helps with extra protection whenever you set it down on the ground.

Security

For students who will be commuting to university daily, or those who would like an added level of security, look for backpacks with anti-theft features. Some examples include:

  • Slash-proof fabric: A special material that prevents robbers from slashing your backpack open to steal something
  • Combination lock zippers: Since the user will be the only one aware of the combination to access the lock, there’s more peace of mind. As an alternative, you can also add a combination lock of your own and attach it to your backpack zippers.
  • Secret pockets: Some anti-theft backpacks are equipped with hidden zippers where you can securely keep your most important belongings such as your wallet and mobile phone.

Organization

A good college backpack is always one that has ample compartments for the user’s specific needs. For example, if you will be bringing a laptop or tablet to classes daily, a padded laptop/tablet sleeve is beneficial for keeping it safe. Other compartments that would be useful depending on your needs include side pockets for water bottles, interior or exterior pouches, and smaller front exterior or interior pocket for smaller items such as pens, wallet, and calculator.

Style

Last but not least, a college backpack should be stylish enough for the wearer. Style is relative, but it’s good to know that there are many elegant backpacks that are perfect for college: both functional and aesthetically pleasing. One can opt for neutral colors such as black or gray, or go with other solid colors such as blues, reds, greens, or yellows.

However, keep in mind that when it comes to backpack colors, white isn’t recommended because it would get dirty far too quickly for the lifestyle of a college student. When selecting a style, bear in mind that it should be tough, long-lasting, and won’t get dirty too quickly.

Best Backpack Brands for College

There are many excellent backpacks for college students to fit personal styles and needs. Here are some wonderful models to check out on Amazon:

-   The North Face Jester School Laptop Backpack
-   Herschel Little America Laptop Backpack
-   Modoker Vintage Laptop Backpack 

Best Affordable Backpack for College

A great backpack for college doesn’t have to be one that breaks the bank. There are many affordable models there that are perfectly suited for use during university. Here are some examples from Amazon that all cost under $50:

-   Matein Travel Laptop Backpack
-   Venture Pal 40L Lightweight Packable Travel Hiking Backpack
-   JanSport Big Student Backpack

About the author

Diane is our head writer and researcher for our backpack informational content. Her everyday carry is a Herschel.

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