What Is the Best Backpack for College Students? 

 October 1, 2023

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 they have to bring so many things to and from school. This is why backpacks have become the accessory of choice for college students, but with all the great models 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 essentials at school. When selecting a backpack, it should be comfortable, durable, secure, have ample organizational features, the proper fit, and the right size. 

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'll be carrying every day in college is one of the most important considerations for this phase of your life.

It's important to carefully select a backpack for college. Unlike in high school, college students tend to cover longer distances while carrying a heavier load in their backpacks. Since your backpack is where you will be keeping your costly textbooks, notes, and other school essentials, it's critical that you're also comfortable while using it.

Below is a list of factors you should consider when looking around for the best backpack for college students:


Size is one of the most important considerations when buying a college backpack. It must be able to fit everything you need, and also fit you correctly.

There are two ways you can evaluate backpack size: dimensions and volume. Dimensions refer to the backpack's length, width, and depth. Meanwhile, volume tells you how much the backpack can carry. Use the pack's dimensions to gauge if it's a good fit, and use the volume to check if it has adequate room for your valuables.

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


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

  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. 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 bones, which will tell you how wide your backpack should be.
  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 need for your course. Some college degrees require additional supplies on top of textbooks, such as laboratory equipment, art materials, or other extras. These need to be taken into consideration when shopping around for a college backpack.


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 fewer books because most of the work is done online. They can benefit from using a laptop backpack that is 25 to 30 liters large.

For students who are taking up courses that require extra supplies such as art materials or bulky laboratory equipment on top of textbooks for class, a more spacious backpack is needed. Consider using bigger backpacks that are 30 to 40 liters in size, which is plenty of storage for all your stuff. 

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. Those who live on campus can use a smaller backpack, especially if they have time to drop off heavy textbooks at the dorm after class. 


Comfort is another important feature to carefully consider when shopping around for a backpack that’s best for college. Even if you are shopping for a backpack online, you can check how comfortable a backpack is by the presence of certain components below:

Shoulder Straps

The best backpack for college should have wide padded shoulder straps. They should also be easily adjustable, with the use of buckles usually found at the end of the straps. The buckles are effective in balancing the load of your backpack, by shortening or lengthening the straps whenever needed. 

For example, college students may need to bring more school supplies on certain days, resulting in a heavier pack. You would then tighten the straps to efficiently balance the load. On days you need to bring less, you can wear the straps more loosely.

Avoid backpacks that use unadjustable, narrow shoulder straps, especially if they lack padding. These will only burrow into the skin, leaving marks and potentially causing neck or shoulder pain. 

Padded Back

Backpacks designed with padded back systems can be extremely beneficial in helping your pack feel lighter. Many backpack models these days already feature breathable back panels in their design, or include ventilated mesh or any other similar feature. These do a wonderful job at reducing heat and sweat from accumulating.

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

Students who have to carry a heavy load in their backpacks because of textbooks and supplies should consider a pack 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.


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 is recommended for college students who have to carry backpacks at the heavier end of the weight spectrum. For students who will be commuting or exposed to weather frequently, water-resistant or waterproof 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.


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 pocketsSome anti-theft backpacks are equipped with hidden zippered or slip pockets where you can securely keep your most important belongings such as your wallet and mobile phone.


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


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.

Recommendations For The Best Backpacks For College

There are many excellent backpacks for college students to suit personal styles and needs. Below, you'll find a list of popular college backpacks in different designs and categories. Check these products out, read our reviews, and be sure to click on the links to find out more. 

Best Overall 

Herschel Classic Backpack: Superior sturdiness, a timeless yet practical design, and comfortable to wear: you can expect all of these in one compact backpack. Meet the Herschel Classic Backpack, one of the brand’s best-selling models.

This unisex backpack is perfect for college students who prioritize simplicity and functionality. That said, the Herschel Classic is considered a classic for a reason. Its style is more understated and elegant, without being over the top.

You’d be surprised how much wear you can get out of this backpack. It’s made with 100% recycled 600D fabrics and post-consumer water bottles that have been processed into ultra-tough materials. The volume is 20L, making it a compact choice for everyday wear while still providing enough space for daily essentials and commuting.

The dimensions of the backpack are 16.5 x 12 x 6 inches. However, if you love everything about this bag but wish for a larger size, Herschel also has an XL Classic Backpack.

Inside the Classic, a laptop sleeve keeps computers up to 14” securely in place. Smaller school supplies can easily be stored in the front organizer pocket. A quick zip with the Prusik cord pulls allows you easy access to your most important belongings.

During our research, we found that the adjustable padded shoulder straps were indeed comfortable. That said, the back panel lacked padding and ventilation, which would have come in handy for warmer climates. It’s a great all-around bag, but it does tend to get dirty quickly.

These are minor design flaws, but in our book, the Herschel Classic Backpack is still a top pick for college students. The price points don’t hurt, either!

Best Budget Backpack 

JanSport Cool Student Backpack: JanSport has been in the business of producing sturdy and iconic backpacks since 1967. Given the quality of materials they use, the timeless silhouette, and the versatile uses of each pack, it’s easy to see why JanSport bags are ubiquitous on campuses all over the country.

The JanSport Cool Student Backpack has everything a college student needs in a reliable, trustworthy pack. It’s constructed with tough 600D polyester fabric, which also happens to be recycled. The bottom and zipper pulls are made from synthetic leather, but it ages as beautifully as the real thing.

The volume is 34L, which is just right for the average college student. It’s also larger than most other JanSport models. The dimensions are 17 x 12 x 8 inches, and it can fit a laptop measuring 15.7 x 12 inches.

When we tested the Cool Student Backpack, we realized that while other backpacks in the market boast having several pockets, this model simplifies organization. It only has two main compartments plus one front pocket, which already has a complete organizational panel and key clip. Students who carry a lot of small accessories may benefit from using their own pouches for added segregation, but otherwise, the tremendous amount of space really does come in handy for a number of situations.

The well-made water pocket design features flexible materials, allowing you to fit water bottles of different sizes. It’s a nice touch that there is a dedicated laptop pocket which is sealed off from the rest of the main compartment by a zipper.

Additionally, the JanSport Cool Student Backpack is really comfortable to wear. The ergonomic S-curve shoulder straps reduce significant burden from your shoulders, while the back panel comes with thorough padding for extra comfort. Overall, this is a great buy and a very affordable choice for college students.

However, take note that the synthetic leather trimmings are not as durable as the rest of the backpack. Students are advised to treat the backpack with caution to prevent the bottom from peeling.

Best Backpack For Women

Vera Bradley XL Campus Backpack:  Vera Bradley’s line of feminine backpacks is also among the most comfortable and high-performance out there. Women absolutely love the XL Campus Backpack for college and university use, though they also make excellent travel backpacks. 

This is a pricey backpack, but we know that Vera Bradley uses only top-notch materials. It will last you many years even after you’ve graduated! The fabric used is a polished 2” performance twill, which is as durable as it is good-looking.

Women of all ages rely on Vera Bradley’s backpacks. They have all the right pockets and compartments since women tend to carry more belongings than men. This backpack has two side slip pockets plus a U-shaped front zippered pocket, a hidden zippered pocket, a hidden back pocket, and a front zip compartment.

With all these organizational options, there is definitely a pocket for your belongings, no matter how small. When we tested the Vera Bradley XL Campus Backpack, we were pleased to see how strategic each of these pockets is. Even if you bring tons of accessories and supplies to school, this backpack has the right storage option for it.

Meanwhile, the main compartment has two mesh slip pockets, while the spacious slip pocket can fit a tablet. It can fit up to three large college textbooks plus notebooks, snacks, a change of clothes, and other supplies. If you are carrying a laptop to school, no need to worry since it already has a padded laptop compartment too.

The Vera Bradley XL Campus Backpack measures 12 x 16.5 x 8.5 while the shoulder straps are 32 inches long and adjustable. The handle drop is 2.75 inches.

The performance twill used is water-repellent and easy to clean. Just wipe it down with a damp cloth dipped in water and mild detergent. Allow it to air-dry, and it’s done.

We also took note of how comfortable the shoulder straps are. The adjustable chest strap was an awesome touch; college kids will appreciate how the sternum strap effectively helps balance substantial loads.

That said, it would have been much more comfortable if the straps were improved with more padding. A key clip would have been nice too.

Overall, the Vera Bradley XL Campus Backpack is still a superb choice for women in college. It’s available in plain colors as well as cute patterns and prints. This college backpack is a bit pricey, but it’s among the most durable on the market as long as you take proper care of it.

The North Face Women’s Borealis Backpack: The North Face is an outdoor backpack brand that is known for its tough, long-lasting, and high-performance products. For women with active college lives who require a backpack that’s more versatile and sporty, the Women’s Borealis is highly recommended.

Depending on the print you choose, the Borealis backpacks are made from different fabrics ranging from 210D nylon ripstop, 300D Heathered polyester, and 600D recycled polyester. All of them have a durable water-resistant finish for added protection in case you need to commute or travel in unpredictable weather.

The Borealis has been a best-seller for several years, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a reason not to love it. The iconic yet compact shape allows you to take this backpack anywhere. Upon opening the front zip pocket, you’ll find several slip pockets that are perfect for organizing devices and accessories, including cables, chargers, headphones, your mobile phone, and a tablet.

The main compartment has lots of space for binders, books, notebooks, and so much more. Additionally, the stretchy side pockets are spacious, so you can fit water bottles up to 32 ounces in size securely.

The North Face Women’s Borealis Backpack features side bungee cords, which let you easily compress the backpack when you aren’t using it to its full capacity. The bottom can also be compressed, as well. Use the front bungee system to maximize the space in your pack, and attach a sweater, gym towel, or shoes.

When we tested the Women’s Borealis, we found several thoughtful details that are useful for college students. Specifically, the organization and segregation are clearly well thought out. We also discovered that the FlexVent suspension system, which was designed specifically for women in this model, allowed it to fit the body like a glove.

So much so, that when the backpack is fitted properly, it almost feels like you aren’t carrying anything. The rounded back panel and soft chemise fabric used in the suspension system are a dream to wear.  The fleece-lined pockets are also fantastic for protecting sensitive belongings from scratches, such as your sunglasses or mobile phone.

Best Laptop Backpack

Fjallraven Kanken 15” Laptop Backpack: Fjallraven’s backpacks are a cult favorite, not just among students but for people with all kinds of lifestyles. What’s not to love? Their bags are cute, stylish, and extremely functional.

While they do have an impressive range of backpacks, the Kanken 15” Laptop Backpack is the perfect essential for college kids. Laptops are stored safely in place in the padded laptop compartment, which we noticed offers superior protection for gadgets because of adequate padding throughout. Many backpacks in the market only place padding on one side.

The main compartment is roomy, and there’s more than enough space for school supplies. Its dimensions are 15.7 x 11 x 6.3 inches, so it’s certainly wide enough. College students will have no issues packing a binder, art supplies, notebooks, and a few books plus other essentials.

A total of 5 pockets can be found both inside and outside the bag. These include side pockets, a zippered interior compartment, a zippered exterior compartment, and an additional pocket inside. A seat pad is also provided.

Upon testing the Fjallraven Kanken 15” Laptop Backpack, we were impressed by many aspects. For one, it’s extremely easy to clean: all you need is a soft brush dipped in warm water to gently scrub off dirt. Two, this backpack makes it virtually effortless to load and unload thanks to the wide opening as well as the strategic compartments. Third, it’s lightweight, weighing less than a pound, and comfortable to wear.

However, it was a bit of a nuisance to have to remember that you needed to button and unbutton the top strap at all times. It’s also on the pricier end of the spectrum, but Fjallraven is well-known for its quality craftsmanship and materials. Their packs are tried and tested to last a very long time.

Carhartt Rain Defender 28L Cinch-Top Convertible Tote Backpack:  College kids who commute frequently or spend lots of time hiking during the weekends need a durable water-repellent backpack to protect their electronics. Look no further than the Carhartt Rain Defender 28L Cinch-Top Convertible Tote Backpack.

It's one of the best laptop backpacks out there, performing superbly in both the aesthetic and function departments. It’s available in a camel and black colorway, as well as a simple yet understated all-black design. The convertible tote can be switched out to a backpack in seconds, making it one of the most versatile and utilitarian choices on our list.

This college backpack is constructed with 700D nylon, a heavy-duty fabric that has been coated with the brand’s Rain Defender technology. It’s effective at keeping water and moisture at bay by forcing water and light rain to bead up, and then roll right off. Say goodbye to ever worrying about getting your laptop and other gadgets wet; the Rain Defender technology is designed to stay dry for long periods of time.

With 28L of storage, it’s more than enough to carry everything you need for class. Its style won’t limit you to the classroom, either: you’ll want to take this pack with you to extracurricular activities, and even on weekend trips. The dimensions of 12 x 18 x 7.5 inches make it a fantastic travel backpack as well.

When we took the Carhartt 28L Rain Defender out on a spin, we liked that it was designed with a terrific structure, which not many other backpacks have. This function is important in a laptop bag since you want to make sure that it stands up properly even when it isn’t full, to protect your electronics. Inside, the padded laptop sleeve can fit computers up to 15 inches.

Aside from that, this is also an excellent backpack for anyone who needs to bring heavy textbooks or laboratory supplies; the thick and adjustable shoulder straps lend comfort even when carrying a substantial weight. The top opening is extra-wide, allowing you to load large items with ease. Simply cinch it with one hand to close it and you’re done.

We also found that there were other useful details in this backpack. These include the 2 MOLLE strap rows located on each side of the pack, from where you can attach accessories and pouches. The shoulder straps can be stowed away when used as a tote pack too.


A reliable, functional backpack is an essential accessory for college students. The features outlined in this guide can help you narrow down the best college backpack for your needs and lifestyle.

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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