The Best 5 Backpacks for College and High School Students of 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter

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The Lululemon Everyday Backpack 2.0 23L, which previously appeared in the “Other good” section of this guide, has been discontinued. Travel Bags For Women

The Best 5 Backpacks for College and High School Students of 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter

A great school backpack is a constant companion, carrying all the essentials for a long day of classes, clubs, sports, internships, and more. But it’s not just for toting gear—it’s a wardrobe staple and an opportunity for students to express their personal style. So it’s important to find one that’s versatile, good-looking, comfy, and durable enough to stand up to plenty of wear.

Since our first round of testing in 2015, we’ve tried dozens of backpacks in a variety of styles. The five we recommend are the best we’ve found for high school and college students: an ergonomically pleasing pack, a nostalgic bag with timeless appeal, a versatile yet polished workhorse, a roomy and classic school backpack, and a well-organized pack with streetwear cred.

With its padded mesh straps and back panels, this sporty-looking pack makes carrying heavy loads lighter and comfier. It also has the easiest-to-use water-bottle pockets of any bag we’ve tested, as well as a removable laptop sleeve—but it could use more interior organization.

If you have lots of stuff to haul around—big textbooks, a large water bottle, or bulky gym gear—the Patagonia Refugio Daypack 26L is a friend in need. The bag’s ergonomic and comfort features keep heavy loads feeling light. Plus, it has a sleek, sporty design and is available in lots of appealing colorways that feel at home on any college or high school campus.

It’s the comfiest, most ergonomic backpack we tested. Of all the bags we wore, the Refugio was the best at distributing weight. Its adjustable, contoured shoulder straps and generously padded back panels are composed of a breathable recycled polyester mesh, making even a fully loaded pack feel light and cool. And a removable sternum strap helps to stabilize the bag on your body, taking pressure off your spine.

It’s packed with thoughtful features. There’s a roomy pocket on the face of the pack that opens via a vertically oriented zipper, allowing easy top-to-bottom access to smaller items, while the large main compartment is ideal for bulkier stuff like clothing and shoes. A separate padded laptop compartment keeps your computer and textbooks contained snugly against your back; tucked inside, you’ll find a removable padded 15-inch laptop sleeve with a zippered mesh pocket for storing chargers and school supplies.

We especially love that the Refugio has two side water bottle pockets, which are constructed of a stretchy mesh material that makes it easy to slide large bottles in and out, even when you’re wearing the pack. Compression straps, located on the sides of the pack above the water bottle pockets, can be used to keep taller bottles extra secure. After a year of use, one Wirecutter staffer who has this pack confirms that the pockets have retained their shape and stretchiness.

It’s tough and water-repellant. The Refugio’s outer body, constructed from abrasion-resistant recycled polyester, repels water and keeps your gear dry thanks to a PFAS-free DWR (durable water repellent) finish. All of its components—from the buckles to the sliders to the zippers—are of high quality and function just as they should.

Warranty: The Refugio is backed by what Patagonia calls its Ironclad Guarantee, which promises to repair, replace, or refund any item you’re not happy with, at any point. For normal wear and tear, the company will fix damage and charge you based on the extent of the repair.

This compact, durable backpack is big on nostalgia and aesthetic appeal. But while its straps are lightly padded—a significant upgrade from the original Kånken—it still isn’t ideal for carrying extra-heavy loads.

The Fjällräven Kånken Laptop is a vintage-influenced pack, beloved by many a hip kid. It’s the knapsack that you (or your parents!) might have carried in elementary school, only more sensible and grown-up with the welcome addition of lightly padded straps and a protective laptop compartment.

It has an iconic look, with clever updates. The original Kånken pack was designed for Swedish schoolchildren back in 1977 and continues to draw a devoted following among kids and adults alike. The updated Kånken Laptop retains the youthful, stylish charm of its predecessor—available in the familiar Fjällräven array of colors, from muted grays to splashier shades of orange, blue, and mustard—while adding useful features such as a padded laptop compartment and cushioning on the straps. (The first iteration has just plain webbing.)

It’s ideal for midsize loads. I carried the Kånken Laptop—loaded up with a laptop, a change of clothes, a toiletry bag, a notebook, a water bottle, chargers, and other odds and ends—for a full 12-hour day on my feet, and it was so comfortable that I nearly forgot I was wearing it. But the lightly padded straps aren’t meant for shouldering heavier gear (think multiple large textbooks).

With an 18-liter capacity, this is the smallest backpack we recommend. But thanks to its deep, boxy shape and clamshell opening, it somehow manages to feel bigger on the inside (could this be the Tardis of backpacks?).

It provides easy access to your essentials. The Kånken Laptop’s main compartment is roomy and deep, with one slip pocket for stowing a notebook or textbook. A zipper runs around three sides of the backpack, allowing the pack to open like a suitcase—a feature that one tester appreciated when using the Kånken Laptop as an overnight travel bag.

The laptop compartment fits computers up to 15 inches and has a separate zipper, so you don’t have to dig through the main compartment to grab your laptop. (The Kånken Laptop also comes in versions made for 13- and 17-inch laptops, so you can choose the size that best suits your needs.) A zippered pouch on the front is the perfect spot for smaller items you need to access quickly, such as a wallet, keys, or a phone charger.

Its double top handles come in handy for carrying and hanging the pack. This is the only bag we tested with this extra-versatile feature. One Wirecutter staffer who owns the Kånken Laptop told us that being able to comfortably switch between wearing the bag on her back and carrying it by its top handles makes navigating buses and other crowded spaces much easier. Plus, the handles help the bag stay securely put on the hook of a bathroom stall.

Its material is strong and water resistant and ages uniquely. The Kånken Laptop is constructed from Vinylon F, a durable synthetic fabric that’s water resistant without the use of any chemical coating. I was caught in a downpour with this backpack and am happy to report that its contents remained dry.

One long-term tester says that after five years of regular use, the Kånken Laptop is still sturdy, without any ripping at the seams. Although its material can feel a bit stiff straight out of the box, it softens up after a few months of wear and develops a unique weathered patina over time.

Warranty: The Kånken Laptop is covered by a limited lifetime warranty that offers repair or replacement for products purchased from authorized sellers. The warranty does not cover normal wear and tear.

A sleek design and utilitarian features (such as a luggage pass-through and magnetic top closure) make this sophisticated bag feel pricier than it is. But unlike our other picks, it isn’t backed by a warranty.

Everlane’s The ReNew Transit Backpack is a versatile, feature-packed bag that delivers on both form and function. It’s ideal if you’re looking for an understated pack that easily transitions from campus to the office to the airport and beyond. And its polished appearance belies its sub-$100 price.

It has a clean, wear-anywhere aesthetic. The Transit’s sleek, contemporary aesthetic makes it appropriate for nearly any setting; it functions just as seamlessly as a mature professional bag as a student backpack. The recycled-polyester exterior comes in a pleasing array of muted hues, and you can choose between a labeled or logo-less version (we tested the label-free style).

It’s light and adjustable. Featuring an ultra-lightweight build and padded, subtly contoured straps, this 27-liter pack was comfortable for carrying medium-size loads in our tests. We found it easy to adjust the straps to get the perfect fit.

It has smart internal organization and extra features that make life easier. A spacious front zip pocket affords quick access to on-the-go essentials, so you don’t need to take the bag off every time you flash your ID or swipe a transit card. The bag’s fold-over top has another roomy zip pocket, and is secured with a convenient magnetic closure—a favorite feature among all of our testers, and a plus if you have reduced manual dexterity.

The Transit’s main compartment has two slip pockets for notebooks or folders and an interior water-bottle pocket, while a second, exterior water-bottle pocket on the opposite side offers added versatility. A zipper along the side of the bag opens to a separate, lightly padded laptop pocket that can accommodate computers up to 15 inches.

Notably, this is our only school backpack pick that’s equipped with a luggage pass-through strap, which allows you to attach the bag to the handle of a rolling suitcase when you’re on the go; it’s a handy feature.

It feels sturdy and well-made. Though its materials aren’t quite as hard-wearing as those of our picks from Patagonia and Fjällräven (and it’s not backed by a warranty), we still think the Transit will hold up nicely over time. The bag’s water-resistant exterior is made from a sturdy recycled polyester, and the all-metal hardware feels durable. One tester, who’s been using the Transit regularly for a year and counting, reports that her bag isn’t showing a single sign of wear.

Simplicity is what makes this bag cool—and it comes in a plethora of colors and patterns, whether you’re looking to stand out or blend in. You won’t find any fancy laptop protection or organizational features inside this pack, though.

An unfussy, functional bag with retro-inspired styling, the Herschel Classic Backpack XL has earned a dedicated fan base among cool kids of all ages. Plus, it’s spacious enough to take you all the way from a 7 a.m. sports practice to a midnight study session.

It has traditional school bag styling—in a good way. Charmingly simple? Yes. But the Herschel Classic has enough special signature details to keep it from being dull. The basic silhouette gets a dose of personality from its red and white striped lining, corded zipper pulls, and instantly recognizable front pocket branding. It also comes in more than two dozen colors and patterns, from basic blacks and grays to floral prints and camos.

It’s extra-roomy. With a 30-liter capacity, this pack is the most spacious of any of our picks. Inside the large main compartment you’ll find an elasticized laptop sleeve that can accommodate computers up to 15 inches; you could also use it to store notebooks or a textbook. The Classic’s front zip pocket is ideal for carrying smaller items like earbuds, pens, and a wallet, and it includes a clip for securing your keys.

Unlike smaller versions of the Herschel Classic, the XL size is equipped with two side water-bottle pockets that can each comfortably fit a 24-ounce Takeya water bottle.

The straps work well. The Classic’s straps are flexible, nicely padded, and easy to adjust. And one particularly thoughtful feature helps tame whatever webbing remains dangling after you’ve adjusted them: elastic loops for tucking in any excess.

The fabric is sturdy. The Classic’s durable body is made from recycled post-consumer water bottles. And though we wouldn’t want to get caught in torrential rain with our laptop inside, it’s inherently somewhat water resistant.

For $30 more, you can purchase the Classic Backpack XL in a weather-resistant fabric, but we didn’t test that version.

Warranty: The bag is backed by Herschel’s limited lifetime warranty, which covers any bag purchased from an authorized retailer against material and manufacturing defects. It does not cover loss, damage, or general wear and tear.

As sensible as it is stylish, this durable polyester pack has plenty of cool storage options. But if you carry a big water bottle, this bag’s single, small-ish side pocket might not be practical.

If you’re looking for a cool, casual backpack from a brand with recognizable street-style chops, the Eastpak Padded Double is the answer. It’s a more practical and functional—yet still fab—twist on the brand’s best-known backpack, the Padded Pak’r. The Padded Double retains the same general vibe and swagger as the original, except it has been elongated by about three inches, which confers some advantages: a pair of handy front pockets, a generous 28-liter capacity, and what we consider to be an even more attractive, well-proportioned silhouette.

It offers great organizational extras. The Padded Double has a large main compartment, with an elasticized slip pocket that fits most 13-inch laptops (it can also be used to keep a textbook or notebooks secured close to your back). Two large front zip pockets offer added versatility for wrangling smaller items that you need to access quickly.

A discreet third pocket at the top of the bag unzips to reveal one of our favorite design elements, a phone (or sunglasses) pouch with a delightful, minky-soft lining. A hidden stash pocket on the back panel is great for securely storing important items such as passports and credit cards, especially if you plan to use the bag when traveling.

The bag has only one smallish water bottle pocket, on the left side—so it’s harder to balance out the pack’s weight on the right, and it’s not ideal if you carry a wide bottle.

Its straps are a pleasure to wear. We were impressed with the Padded Double’s gently contoured, cushioned shoulder straps. Unlike the stiff, scratchy straps on other models we tested from Eastpak and JanSport, the Padded Double’s soft, subtly curved straps were well-constructed and comfy.

It feels substantial, but not overly stiff. The Padded Double’s polyester fabric is sturdier than the thin nylon exterior of Eastpak’s Padded Pak’r and Padded Zippl’r models, and less stiff than the material of our Herschel pick. Polyester is also inherently water resistant, offering some protection for your gear in inclement weather, even without a water-repellent surface coating.

All the details on this pack feel high quality. The zippers are outfitted with long pulls that make opening and closing the various pockets and compartments a breeze, and the bottom of the bag is padded and reinforced.

Warranty: The Padded Double is backed by Eastpak’s 30-year warranty, which covers damage to zip pulls, sliders, seams, and some fabrics. Discoloration and damage to the buckles, zipper tape, and inside coatings are covered during the first two years of the warranty period. The warranty does not extend to holes, cuts, tears, or self-repairs.

We’ve been reviewing backpacks at Wirecutter since 2015, scrutinizing hundreds of them online and evaluating scores in person across a range of styles and situations. We also consulted with Sarah Lloyd, a physical therapist and director of clinical education at Spear Physical Therapy, for expert advice on how to choose a comfortable backpack and wear it ergonomically.

To choose the best backpacks for high school and college students, we focused on the following criteria:

Bags that measured up to our initial criteria underwent real-world testing. After loading them up with laptops, water bottles, running shoes, textbooks, groceries, gym clothes, and toiletries, we wore the backpacks in a Seussian variety of situations (on a train! on a bike! in the rain! on a hike!), assessing each model for its comfort and ease of use.

We also asked a panel of testers, representing a diverse range of heights and body sizes, to examine the finalists, and they looked more closely at each bag’s fit, style, and organizational features, as well as its materials and construction.

If you can spend a bit more on a backpack that’ll last long past school: The Timbuk2 Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe is pricier than our other picks, at around $160—but it will last a long time, and it’s backed by Timbuk2’s lifetime warranty. The bag’s clean, utilitarian vibe can easily transition to life after college, its durable polyester exterior and waterproof reinforced bottom are extra tough, and its dedicated 17-inch laptop compartment is well-padded. It’s also seriously organized: Equipped with numerous pockets and a well-designed internal organizer, the Timbuk2 Authority Laptop is especially handy for wrangling supplies, cords, chargers, and other tech. It’s comfortable, too—like our Patagonia Refugio Daypack 26L pick, it has cool-wearing padded shoulder straps and back panels, as well as a removable sternum strap for added stability.

If you’d like a pack that fits all your gym gear: The San Francisco–based brand Aer makes excellent gym-ready backpacks that we recommend in our guide to laptop backpacks. We especially like the 19-liter Aer Fit Pack 3 and the 21-liter Aer Duffel Pack 3 for their combination of comfort, quality materials, and cool, vaguely futuristic design. At around $150 and $180, respectively, these Aer packs are more expensive than other bags we recommend for college and high school students, but if you can swing it, these backpacks are built to last and backed by Aer’s lifetime warranty. Both bags feature an ultra-durable Cordura ballistic-nylon exterior, YKK zippers, Duraflex plastic hardware, and an interior liner treated with an antimicrobial coating to ward off icky bacterial growth from sweaty gear. Other features include a ventilated shoe compartment, a luggage pass-through, padded mesh shoulder straps and a padded back panel, and a sternum strap.

The bargain-priced Amazon Basics Laptop Backpack has good reviews, but we found it alarmingly ugly, and it was out of stock at the time of our testing.

The straps on the Eastpak Padded Zippl’r, JanSport Main Campus, and JanSport SuperBreak Plus were awkwardly stiff, and their material felt thin and scratchy in comparison with that of our picks.

The Hakuba from Lo & Sons is an extra large gym-ready bag, but it doesn’t have a padded mesh back panel, so it feels hot to wear. The 35-liter capacity also makes it easy to overload, and it doesn’t have a sternum strap. Plus, it’s much more expensive than our picks.

The small, stylish Rains Backpack Mini isn’t functional enough to recommend as a school bag—it’s better suited as a fashion backpack or purse alternative. The unpadded straps are difficult to adjust, and it doesn’t fit much or offer internal organization.

The Topo Rover Pack has a cute campground aesthetic, and it’s well-made and comfortable. But its tall and narrow shape restricts the amount of stuff you can pack, and we found the double-buckle closure annoying.

This article was edited by Ingela Ratledge Amundson and Jennifer Hunter.

Sarah Lloyd, PT, DPT, SCS, director of clinical education at Spear Physical Therapy, phone interview, July 14, 2022

Zoe Vanderweide is a staff writer reporting on style and accessories at Wirecutter. She has been wearing things for over three decades, and she has spent years covering streetwear, luxury, art, and design. Off the clock, you can find her painting the town rainbow with her (devastatingly stylish) daughter.

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The Best 5 Backpacks for College and High School Students of 2024 | Reviews by Wirecutter

Laptop Backpack For Women Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. Our journalists combine independent research with (occasionally) over-the-top testing so you can make quick and confident buying decisions. Whether it’s finding great products or discovering helpful advice, we’ll help you get it right (the first time).