As a college student, there's a good chance you'll be stuck running to and from classes all day long. That's why a good backpack is essential — you need somewhere to stash your notebooks, pens, textbooks and laptop. Since your high school backpack is probably due for an upgrade, it's time to invest in something more durable this back-to-school season.
The Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab reviews all kinds of back to school essentials like laptop bags and backpacks (including backpacks for kids, travel backpacks and more) to find the styles that'll hold everything you need while keeping their shape use after use. When testing backpacks for kids, we evaluate abrasion resistance, strap strength and tear strength as well as the amount of padding on the straps and weight when empty. We also have standard packing loads for different age groups to ensure each bag will fit everything they need.
Based on our testing, we’ve seen what makes a good backpack which allows us to make these picks based on a combination of testing, expertise and vetted best sellers with great reviews, plus new styles that we're excited about. When shopping for the best college backpack, be sure to look for the following features before you buy:
- Laptop sleeves to keep your laptop protected on the go
- Organization systems such as zippered pouches or pen pockets
- Straps that are curved and padded for comfort and support
- Fabric made of high-denier polyester or nylon for durability
- Build that's tall and narrow — wide backpacks can cause back pain
Here are the best college backpacks to buy in 2021:
- Built-in USB port
- Lots of padding
- Fits up to 15-inch laptops
- Battery not included
This popular backpack boasts over 40,000 rave reviews, so it's clearly earned its place as Amazon's choice college backpack. It has plenty of padding, so you won't feel like its constantly digging into your skin. Best of all, there's a built-in USB port that makes it easy to charge your phone on the go — just add a portable battery! (Our tech experts love the Anker PowerCore charging bank.)
- 12 color and pattern options
- 15,000+ Amazon reviews
- Weighs just 0.7lb
- Won't keep its shape when empty
At just $23, this top rated backpack can actually be packed into its own pocket. The 40L interior can hold everything you'll need for a day of classes with separate internal pockets and side water bottle holders. Available in 12 shades, thousands of rave Amazon reviews agree that the nylon fabric is impressively durable and many appreciate the padded straps too. One reviewer even says this backpack is "durable, lightweight, highly visible and gorgeous."
- Tons of pockets and pouches
- 1,100+ 5 star Amazon reviews
- Insulated cooler pouch
- Only available in grey and blue
With over 2,300 5-star reviews, this AmazonBasics backpack is a popular Amazon pick. It has more pockets than many others on this list, including a sunglasses pocket and a dedicated laptop pouch that can accommodate a 15-inch laptop.
- Has a sternum strap and detachable waist belt
- Available in various colors
- Fits up to 15-inch laptops
- Has external bungee cords on all models
Our Textiles experts have been impressed with this North Face backpack for college students for over 10 years. It's super durable, meaning it held up to abrasion, water-resistance and drop tests in our Lab. Available in 32 colors and there's even a version of this backpack designed to better fit women's bodies, there's a look and fit for everyone!
- Padded 15-inch laptop sleeve
- Water resistant TPU and canvas fabric
- External webbing to hold carabiners or keys
- Less stylish than other picks
If your new university is known for inclement weather, a waterproof laptop backpack is a must. Avoid ruining your laptop on day one with the Timbuk2 laptop backpack that's designed to handle the outdoors with water-resistant TPU and canvas fabric. With a large roomy interior, reviewers love that the straps are adjustable, and there's a sternum strap, perfect to use when biking or traveling.
- Comes in fun colors
- Plenty of pockets
- Fits up to 15-inch laptops
- Easy to clean, but not machine-washable
This neoprene backpack is sporty yet stylish, making it perfect for anyone who needs to carry school supplies and gym clothes. We love Dagne Dover because the brand offers trendy purses, totes, and carry-on bags that are not just cute, but also functional. Available in a variety of sizes and colors, the Dakota backpack has tons of interior and exterior pockets to keep you organized – even a hidden one on top to stash your phone!
- Zippered side pockets
- Great for carrying textbooks and other heavy items
- Fits up to 17-inch laptops
- Straps could be frustrating
Granite Gear is originally a backpack brand for hiking and camping, but they make backpacks for college students too! What makes these backpacks different is the brand's unique technology: the shoulder harness, sternum strap, waist belt and back panel work together to help make heavy loads feel easier to carry.
- Tons of color and pattern options
- Easy access pockets with magnet fastened closures
- Over 6,000 rave Amazon reviews
- Not great in bad weather, according to some reviewers
This Herschel backpack is ideal for college students who want a more unique backpack design. It's the perfect mix of casual and professional, thanks to its simple colorblock design. The small exterior pocket in the front is perfect for easy-to-grab essentials like lip balms or pens. Available in nearly 50 colors and patterns including stripes and camo prints, you are sure to find a look that'll let your personality shine on campus.
- 15-inch internal laptop sleeve
- Side water bottle pocket
- Padded back panel
- Not waterproof
Similar to your favorite JanSport backpack from high school, this new model has a college makeover with a padded laptop sleeve. With over 5,000 Amazon reviews, this backpack is popular for having easy access front pockets and a durable leather bottom. To prevent shoulder pain, the back has a padded panel alongside the comfortable straps.
- Comes in various statement patterns
- Card window for student ID
- Fits up to 15-inch laptops
- Made of cotton, which can get heavy when wet
Vera Bradley's college backpack comes in over 35 of fun patterns from paisley prints to geometric designs. This style is perfect for college students because it has a mesh laptop pouch, a hidden back pocket for valuables and three pen holders. It's made from 100% cotton for a soft feel and cute tufted look, but it's not waterproof.
- Minimalistic design
- Also has top handles for carrying
- Fits up to 15-inch laptops
- Main compartment has no pockets
Swedish brand Fjallraven's simple backpack style called Kanken has been around since 1978, and this version makes the classic even better with an added laptop pocket. (The original style is a tad smaller and doesn't have a designated tech area.) When your back needs a break, you can carry this backpack by the handles on top, which also snap together.
- Separate zippered compartment for workout clothes
- Padded laptop pocket
- Water repellent fabric
With a separate zippered compartment for smelly clothes, this backpack from Lululemon is perfect for gym trips after class. There's also a padded pocket for a 15-inch laptop, a 17L interior to hold other classwork and an easy access side phone pocket. The interior is an organizational dream with labeled compartments too. It's available in eight shades from bright pinks to camo.
- Water repellent nylon materials
- Tons of zippered pockets and water bottle holder
- No pen or pencil pockets
Designed specifically to withstand the elements, this backpack from Patagonia is made with nylon with a durable water repellent finish to keep your belongings safe from rain, snow and sleet. There's a padded laptop sleeve and tablet pocket for easy access to your electronics during class. The breathable mesh on the padded shoulder straps help prevent overheating even with heavy loads.
- Padded laptop sleeve up to 15" devices
- Structured padded back panel
- Huge 30L capacity
- Spot clean only
With a huge 30L capacity, this backpack from L.L. Bean can hold your classwork as well as your gym clothes, water bottle, and laptop. Made with polyester and nylon, this backpack is designed to hold heavier loads with padded shoulder straps and back panel for extra comfort. We love the thoughtfully designed interior with a place for everything you'll need. Plus, it's available in eight shades!
- Durable nylon materials
- Easy access front pockets
- Laptop and tablet pouches
- Only available in black
The Textiles Lab has put Thlue luggage to the test and found this nylon fabric to be durable against tears and abrasion. There are specific pockets for a laptop and tablet, plus many front zippered pockets for easy access items. With a 25L capacity, reviewers rave that this backpack can hold a ton, perfect for weekends away too.
- 100% recycled polyester materials
- Internal and external water bottle pockets
- Ideal for travel too
- Not all reviewers liked the synthetic fabric feel
This stylish backpack from Everlane is made with 100% recycled polyester that also has a water repellent finish. There's a zippered laptop compartment that can hold a 15-inch device. With tons of organizational pockets, there's an internal and external water bottle compartment, front zippered pockets and internal pouches. Plus, it even has a back strap to fit on top of a carry-on suitcase for easy traveling.
- 17,000+ reviews on Amazon
- Front carabiner
- Four small front pockets
- Doesn't stand up on its own, according to some reviewers
This classic all-black unisex backpack has two large front pockets to keep all your belongings organized, while the front pocket has pouches for your phone, pens, and even a hook to hold your keys. We love the side water bottle pocket too. With over 17,000 reviews on Amazon, reviewers appreciate the brand's attention to detail with convenient design features like a front carabiner and sunglasses loop.
- Stylish quilted exterior
- Removable pouch
- Fits most 15-inch laptops
Popular for its tote bags, MZ Wallace also offers this stylish quilted backpack, ideal for college students. Designed with clear organization, there's a front zippered pocket and a large interior with pouches for pens and accessories. There's a removable pouch to hold must have items that easily clasps inside the bag to stay secure. We love that it's also available in a ton of fun shades and patterns too.
- Fit up to 15.6-inch laptops
- 17 unique shades and patterns
- Water resistant canvas and nylon materials
- Laptop sleeve isn't padded
If you want a backpack that'll help you stand out on campus, look no farther than this totally unique pick from Himawari. Available in 17 colors and patterns including stripes and neon yellow, this backpack is made from water resistant canvas and nylon materials. There's a USB charging port (battery not included) for easy charging on the go. With thousands of rave Amazon reviews, reviewers are impressed by just how much this top-loading backpack can fit.
- Stylish quilted details
- Available in four trendy shades
- Separate padded zippered laptop pocket
- Smaller than other picks
If you're looking for a feminine backpack that still holds everything you'll need, the Kenneth Cole Reaction backpack is ideal. It has two front zippered pockets for smaller items and a roomy interior. The back zippered sleeve is padded for laptops up to 15 inches. We love that there are organized interior pockets for your phone, pens and even a tablet. Made from polyester fabric, Amazon reviewers were impressed how durable this backpack was through everyday use and travel.