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Whether you’re in the throes of outfitting a soon-to-be college freshman, getting a young adult ready for the work force, or propping yourself for all manner of lugging, having a short list of the most stylish and practical backpacks will help your cause.
Fact: Evenly distributing your load on your back is better for your body (and all bodies) than a heavy bag on one shoulder, which can result in achy knees, shoulders, hips, and more. So going with a backpack is just plain smart and healthy. But the field is vast. That’s why we pored over the options to bring you the best backpack for every situation. Here are our picks.
Best stylish backpacks
When it comes to status logos, Herschel is top-of-the-heap among earthy young urban professionals. Tailored styling plus leather detailing means instant polish and integrity. In heavy canvas, this classic is also durable. It’s the perfect meeting of style and substance, in a handsome neutral palette that works across genders and personalities. An all-around winner.
Mini-quilting is a winky form of preppy that makes us smile. In look-at-me fuchsia, this backpack has plenty of character. We can practically see Elle Woods tromping across the campus with this bright bag leaving a neon trail behind her. As functional as it is charming, this Vera Bradley pack has natural padding to protect its contents, and smart elasticized side pockets, versatile enough to keep a phone safe or to hold a water bottle.
Shop it: Vera Bradley Iconic Campus Backpack, $124 (Was $138), amazon.com
This Ozark backpack gives you Herschel-esque styling for much less. A rather brilliant roll-top closure allows more room when you need it, but keeps things compact when you don’t. This is a real find if you or your kid needs to transport a larger laptop. It holds a 15-inch model with ease. And there’s no question about it’s good looks. We love the unusual color combo and the reinforced base. And we’re not the only ones.
“Ordered this for my daughter who has a thing for cool backpacks and gave it to her and she loves it!” one reviewer wrote. “It has quality materials through out, tons of pockets, a very versatile setup. It's canvas and not typical backpack material, seems pretty heavy duty as well. She will use it in Colorado soon! Thanks Walmart!”
Shop it: Ozark Trail Roll Top Backpack, $23 (Was $30), walmart.com
From the way-back machine comes a classic in the vein of Danskin and Timex—as in, a classic that just becomes more beloved. Jansport is the brand that’s been around forever and is still winning blue ribbons. Maybe that’s because it has always been making well-thought-out, high-quality, durable products that do the job and then some. Always at the top of “best backpacks” list, this classic, available in a rainbow of options—is tough, well-priced, and easy on the eyes. Zippers work well, the fit is a dream, and the padded straps are comfy. Smart, simple, long-lasting, and dependable. A no-brainer.
Best water-resistant backpacks
L.L. Bean’s first ever school pack is still around today— and for good reason. This sweet, lightweight (only one pound!) bag has few bells and whistles but is “pocketed” like a dream. There are discreet compartments for everything a student needs to carry, so pens never disappear. And visually it offers a pleasing retro vibe that hipster college kids appreciate. The waterproof exterior has reflective elements to make the wearer more visible at night—great for your off-campus kid biking home at night.
Shop it: L.L.Bean Original Book Pack, $37, llbean.com
The strength and durability of Carhartt pants, jackets, and overalls—in backpack form. Just looking at this bag makes you feel like everything is going to be all right. Pockets unzip on three sides, opening to flaps for easy stress-free loading. The back panel is padded and the inside of the traps are lined with mesh, providing comfort for your arms and back. Got a long way to go? No problem. This pack is built to fit like part of your body.
“Awesome product (as it should be because it's Carhartt),” wrote a reviewer. “I spend a lot of time riding four wheelers and always carry around first aid kits and tow straps. My old bag was getting worn and torn apart. And I knew the company to go to. This this is bada**. Once I'm done riding and it's covered in my I pressure wash it and throw it in the dryer and it's as good as gold.”
Best laptop backpacks
This backpack looks like it’s dressed for work. Clad in a crisp, sophisticated fabric with neat hits of black where it counts, it’s almost as refined as a briefcase. Inside, a cushy compartment keeps your laptop nestled, and a lockable zipper shows you mean business. The best part, though, is the external USB charging port—which makes this backpack an ideal “personal item” on a flight.
Bike-messenger tested and hipster-approved, Timbuk2 bags need no introduction. Lightweight and ergonomic, they become one with their human, making them a great choice for travel and an easy pick for those who pedal to work. This model has hand grips on both long and short sides, so you can carry it briefcase-style for your elevator ride, and look professional as you stroll into the office.
The High Sierra laptop backpack is generously proportioned and outfitted with multiple compartments. It’s for the techy who needs her tablet, laptop, and gaming system with her at all times. And, no surprise, there’s a media pocket with a USB port, so you can access any device one-handed while on the go. Of course, it’s not only for the tech-minded. It’s multi-pocket exterior and extra-spacious interior can accommodate anyone with a large load to lug.
“I love this backpack,” wrote one happy buyer. “It has so many pockets. Very durable and very sturdy. I take it to class with me and it holds my gym clothes, protein shakes, and all my supplements. I have a very large laptop and it holds that baby like its not even there. 17.9 inch HP. This backpack is better than any Nike or Jansport I've ever owned. Yes it holds a lot of stuff so if you overload it, it will be heavy as hell. Common sense right. Its not designed for a person with poor upper body strength. Hope this helps your decision.”
Best sporty backpacks
Without screaming “POCKETS!” this minimalist Nike model takes care of everything you need. Hidden zippers give it a sleek look. But don’t let that fool you. It’s extra roomy inside, with compartments that are clever and capacious. The contoured straps fit like a dream. As for durability—that logo does mean something.
A comfortable classic, with cushy straps and a mesh padded back, this straightforward option has a dual laptop-tablet sleeve, and all the basics, including stretchy bottle holders. We love the double zipper design. Great for keeping your used workout clothes away from those important papers. Especially fun for those attending Columbia University (har har).
If we were inventing our own backpack, it would have magical abilities, like the power to keep your water cold. Guess what—we found a backpack that actually does this. The large, powerful Adidas Strength can hold your 17-inch laptop and anything else you need to take
Best travel backpacks
Hikers will love this compact Osprey daypack. Lightweight and sleek, it has an interior sleeve that holds an Osprey water bottle with a long flexible straw (so you can sip hands-free as needed) and another compartment just right for a rain shell. The foam back panel keeps you comfortable no matter how long your trek. Not to be shallow, but the color combos are gorgeous.
With a wide waist belt and a load-stabilizing sternum strap, this Sawtooth pack takes the pressure off shoulders. That can make the difference between enjoying a hike and being tormented by an inner chant of are-we-there-yet. Strong-weave and weather-repellant, this bag shines on all ergonomic fronts, with a foam shoulder harness and a foam back panel. Looks-wise, it’s rugged without being macho. A pack you can depend on.
The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.
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