Heading to your college classes soon?
With so many different brands, sizes, colors and prices to choose from, choosing a great backpack can get pretty overwhelming.
Lucky for you, we have gone ahead and combed through many of the bags available for sale to find some excellent, modern backpacks for college.
Here’s some of what I’ll be reviewing in this buyer’s guide (there’s more down at the bottom of the post, too!):
- Timbuk2 Authority Pack (Top Pick)
- Vaschy Casual Water Resistant Backpack
- Fjallraven Kanken Classic Laptop Backpack
- ULAK Lightweight Casual Backpack
- Yorepek Extra-Large Backpack
- Modoker Vintage Laptop Backpack
If you’ll be heading off to classes soon, or you are looking to replace your existing bag, here’s the best backpacks for college that we found.
Best College Backpack: the Timbuk2 Authority Backpack
Buy on Amazon
Have a lot of stuff you need to keep organized in your pack?
With numerous organizational pockets, a sleek modern look, and a super comfortable carry that will last all day, this is a great functional backpack choice for a high school student, college student, internships, and even your first job out of school.
It’s also one of the best backpacks for college students with laptops, since it will hold a laptop of almost any size (within reason).
- Measures: 10.2 x 5.9 x 18.1 inches
- Weighs 2.4 lbs when empty
- 28L total capacity
- Can store up to a 17″ MacBook or other laptop, in a special padded laptop compartment accessible from the rear (no need to open the main compartment)
- Opens at different angles (30, 90, and 180 degrees), to fit your needs
- Top handle for easy hand carry
- Lifetime warranty on all bags from Timbuk2
- Ventilated back panel and compression straps for ultimate comfort
- Available in several colors, including gray, black, and others
- “Fog” color backpack model is water resistant
- Front pocket for easy access to smaller items, with a well-organized pocket system
- Neoprene side pocket for water bottle
Front-to-back depth is narrow, so if you carry bulkier items with you, this may not be a good laptop backpack choice
All of the color options look great, but I prefer the Fog color featured in the photo above. Timbuk2’s lifetime warranty makes this pack a no-brainer.
Also, check out more info straight from Timbuk2 in the video below:
All-weather Style: Vaschy Casual Water-Resistant Backpack
Buy on Amazon
If you’re looking for a very classic and practical backpack, you will love this one from Vaschy, one of the top makers of school bags.
It is available in a variety of colors, including black and blue, and it is very reasonably priced backpack.
It can easily hold a laptop that is up to 14” in size and it has several compartments so you can organize your school supplies.
- Size: 18.9″ x 11.8 x 5.9”
- Material: lightweight polyester
- 21.6L capacity
- Adjustable shoulder straps with padding
- Laptop/tablet compartment (holds up to 15.6”)
- Multiple interior and exterior backpack pockets
- It has a compartment specially designed for a laptop or tablet
- It has a lot of compartments for organizing items
- The shoulder straps are padded and they can be adjusted
- It comes in a variety of color so you can choose the backpack color you prefer
- Heavy duty, yet casual design
It’s only water resistant, but isn’t waterproof, so the items inside the backpack may get wet in heavy rain
It seems to be one of the best backpacks for college students with laptops, who need a lot of room to store all of their stuff and keep it organized.
Plus, the price is right!
Euro-style cool: the Fjallraven Kanken Laptop Backpack
Buy on Amazon
Looking for one of the more trendy and stylish college backpacks, with a great, modern design?
This bag from Fjallraven Kanken is just that. From Scandinavia, this cool backpack brand is a great pick for college students.
This particular brand of backpack comes in a number of different colors to match your particular style, such as different shades of black, red, and all other colors of the rainbow. It has a lightweight construction and a very comfortable fit for all day use.
These bags are very roomy and spacious, as well, even with a laptop inside.
- A modern update to the classic, yet still trendy, design from the 1960s
- Dirt and water resistant material
- Padded, adjustable shoulder straps in “X” design and top snap handle
- Fits laptops up to around 15”
- Includes a foam sitting pad, for sitting on bleachers or wherever you need it
- Material: “Vinylon F” 100% Vinyl
- The backpack straps are padded, so they fit comfortably
- Also has an option top-carry snapable handle
- It has a great vintage design that is very “in” these days
- 20L of room for storing your laptop and school books
- Very versatile, so this pack can be used for hiking, travelling and other purposes outside of school
The side pocket may not be roomy enough for things like water bottles
With a great design and trendy brand name, this backpack from Fjallraven is definitely a winner.
The wide variety of colors allows you to define your personal style while adding a quality accessory in your wardrobe. Definitely one of the most stylish and best college backpacks!
Protect your Stuff: Bobby, the Anti-theft Backpack
If you go to school in an area that has a reputation for pickpockets, or just want to keep your items extra secure in your backpack, the Bobby Anti-theft pack is for you.
Not only does it have a cool, minimalist look that makes it one of the more stylish college backpacks, it has no exposed zippers when you’re wearing it.
This means that no one can unzip your pack and make off with your things while you’re on public transportation or waiting around in a crowd.
As if hiding the zippers on both the main and the side pockets wasn’t enough, this awesome backpack also has amazingly resilient material. Multiple layers, including cut-proof PP Protection board and anti-shock foam, make it impossible for a thief to cut through (one way that thieves have to get into a normal bag).
It’s got a place to keep a portable charger, so you can charge your phone inside your backpack on the go, as well. All of this protection makes this backpack a great option for travelers, too.
- Measures: 7.9 x 13.4 x 17.3 inches
- Weighs 250 grams when empty
- 13L total backpack capacity
- Can store up to a 15.6” laptop, as well as a 10″ tablet
- Opens its various compartments at different angles (30, 90, and 180 degrees), to fit your needs and save time
- Shock-proof and weight-balancing design keeps your back safe from injury
- Obviously, great for keeping your stuff safe from thieves
- Available in black, blue, gray, and red colors
- Layers of cut-proof material make the backpack impenetrable
- Water repellant backpack material with illuminating safety strips for protection
Not a great choice if you need to go in and out of your bag a lot, especially on the run (get a messenger bag instead)
An amazing choice if you commute to school in a city, particularly if you live where there is a reputation for pickpockets. Super functional and convenient backpack, but might not be a great choice if you need to go in and out of your bag a lot. Also super useful as a general purpose day pack for travel.
Modern and Minimal: ULAK Lightweight Casual Backpack
Buy on Amazon
This next college backpack, from ULAK, has a very cool gray pack design and a lot of space for storing your laptop or tablet, and books for classes. I’d definitely say that it has the most “modern” and minimalist look of our top choices here. That puts the ULAK as one of the more stylish college backpacks on this list.
The quality of the materials that make up the bag and its compartments are also top notch. It will definitely remain sturdy throughout the long road to graduation and beyond, whether as a day pack or one for school or work.
- Measures: 16.9” X 12.6” X 5.9”
- Weighs 2.1 lbs. when empty
- 20L capacity
- Can store up to a 15” laptop
- Total of 6 pockets on the interior and exterior
- Dual carry handles
- The shoulder straps are padded and adjustable
- Because of its design, this backpack can be used for other purposes, such as a day pack
- It comes in different colors
- It is made from very durable materials
- The backpack has a lot of compartments
It is not made from waterproof materials so the items inside can possibly get wet
This backpack can truly extend its use and easily transition from being a school backpack; you can use it to go hiking, a weekend getaway and so much more. If you are looking for a laptop backpack that is versatile and has a very sleek design, make sure you consider this one.
Carry A LOT of Stuff: Yorepek Extra Large Backpack
Buy on Amazon
Personally, I like to travel light (especially when I was lugging stuff to and from school). However, many students just have a TON of stuff they need to carry with them – whether it’s a big laptop, tons of books, or even food for the day.
If you’re looking for nice backpacks for guys, this extra large backpack from Yorepek is an excellent choice for those with heavy carrying needs.
- 45L capacity to carry EVERYTHING you could ever need
- Can accommodate up to a 17inch laptop, for those with Gaming laptops and other big systems
- TSA-friendly backpack, so you can use it for trips, too
- Breathable back panel keeps you comfortable on your commute to and from school
- Heavily padded straps help you avoid shoulder pain while carrying all your stuff
- Super convenient included USB charging cable (power bank not included) lets you charge your phone on the go
- Perfect for outdoor/hiking use, holds water bottles and all kinds of stuff
- Tons of pockets, both inside and out, to keep you organized
There really don’t seem to be any (check out the almost unanimous positive reviews on Amazon), except if you were looking for something smaller
This is a great backpack for the type of student that needs a big laptop compartment and carries lots of stuff with them. It’s versatile enough that it can double as a travel or hiking backpack, while transitioning right back to college life afterwards.
Definitely recommended if you need a larger bag. You can pick up this backpack on Amazon here.
Vintage Cool: Modoker Vintage Laptop Backpack
Buy on Amazon
This slick looking vintage bookbag from Modoker is an excellent budget option for those who want to make a statement with a stylish college backpack.
If you don’t need to carry a huge amount of stuff with you each day, this backpack is a perfect choice.
Carrying textbooks is for suckers.
And due to the Modoker backpack’s focus on the padded compartment, this makes it another one of the best backpacks for college students with laptops – particularly when most of the reading and note-taking is done on the computer.
- Can carry a laptop up to 15.6 inches in the padded compartment
- Lightweight, with anti-tear, scratch resistant nylon exterior
- Padded, adjustable shoulder straps keep things comfortable
- Has a built-in charging cable that can charge your devices (power bank not included)
- Side pockets for water bottle, zippered pockets to keep your important stuff safe
- The gray color is attractive, and helps to hide dust and ink marks
- Touch exterior material
- Cool vintage design is very attractive
- Enough space to fit 2 textbooks, a laptop, and your other stuff
- Charging cable isn’t close enough to a pocket, making it difficult to charge while moving around
- Not waterproof
Buyers love this vintage backpack, as you can see from its glowing reviews on Amazon. Coupled with its great low price, this is a backpack choice that you won’t regret.
Want more? Here’s my Honorable Mentions
These are backpacks I love for college students, but didn’t quite make the top. However, they’re all great bags, each for different reasons.
Check them out:
Slim and Stylish: SEEHONOR Slim Laptop Backpack
Buy on Amazon
Looking for cool, minimal day pack look and don’t need to carry a lot with you?
SEEHONOR has what you’re looking for with one of our favorite and most stylish college backpacks.
This one has the same kind of anti-theft features that the Bobby has, meaning that would-be thieves can’t get into the various compartments while you’re wearing it. It’s got good functionality (including a spot for your portable power bank so you can charge on the go) and an attractive minimal and modern style.
Size-wise, the main compartment is a bit small. So if you’ve got a big laptop or a lot to hold, I’d go with the Bobby or another bag from the list.
Indoor and Outdoor: 5.11 Rush12 Tactical Pack
Buy on Amazon
This one’s a little unusual for a school pack, but if you need a functional multi-tasker that can double as an outdoor pack or Bug-Out Bag, this is a great choice.
The 5.11 has a ton of interior organization, so that you can keep your more extensive everyday carry in there, along with what you need for school. It’s got a protective sleeve where you can keep your laptop, as well as your books.
It’s still got room for your tactical and outdoor gear, as well.
For Photographers: Peak Design Everyday Backpack
Buy on Amazon
If you’re in photography school, or you’re an amateur or professional photographer, this is a great bag for you.
It’s got a unique organization tailor made for camera equipment, a clean, understated aesthetic, and superb build quality. It’s got a modular compartment system that is super convenient when you’re on the go.
For those with a more creative need, this is the bag for you.
For students on the go: SWISSGEAR 5888 backpack
Buy on Amazon
Do you travel a lot between school and home? Why not grab a single backpack that can handle your days studying and your weekends flying home to see family?
The SWISSGEAR 5888 backpack serves both purposes equally well, with a ton of features that make it super functional as a school and travel pack.
It features a padded laptop section that’s TSA-approved, so you can pop open your bag and run it through the x-ray machine. From Swissgear’s site: “Your laptop can stay in your backpack, you’ll just have to unzip your TSA friendly laptop bag that will visibly show your laptop while it goes through the x-ray screening process.”
Super simple and easy. (Unless you get an uncooperative TSA agent, of course)
Other great features include:
- Lots of small internal pockets inside and outside the main compartment for storing and organizing your pens and other school gear
- Carryable on your back or from the super strong handle on top
- Breathable and padded back and straps so you won’t be drenched in sweat when you arrive at school
- Mesh side pockets for carrying water bottles and other stuff
Overall, an excellent backpack that makes things easy for the student on the go! Check out more about this great pack over on Amazon now.
4 rules for wearing your backpack the right way
Rule #1: Most important – Fit, fit, fit
How your backpack fits can make all the difference.
Before we even start discussing the looks, functionality, compartment size, and the style aspect of things, you’ve got to make sure you’re not doing actual harm to yourself while wearing your pack.
This is particularly important when you’re carrying a lot of textbooks, a heavy laptop, and other gear on you. If you don’t have your straps tightened properly and sized correctly your back and shoulders could be in trouble.
Here’s what to do:
Learn to adjust your backpack straps properly, so that the weight of the bag is kept close to the body. If it’s hanging off of you, this could cause an imbalance and lead to back and shoulder problems. Sometimes this starts with measuring your torso to be sure you’re fitted properly.
Make sure the maximum weight of your everyday carry backpack doesn’t exceed around 10% of your total bodyweight. This number is based on a study done on the effects of different bags and weights on the body. If you keep your bag’s weight low enough, you shouldn’t see any adverse effects.
Regularly carrying heavy weight in your backpack could result in chronic pain issues and other health problems – not worth it!
So: Keep your bag light, and use your locker more often between classes. Your body will appreciate the exercise!
Rule #2: Keep logos and pictures to a minimum (or not at all)
When I was in college, I was a total mess, fashion-wise.
Cartoon t-shirts, patches and other junk on my bag. Definitely not a style icon. So my second rule for wearing a backpack, and your wardrobe in general, is to avoid all that stuff.
Logos, photos, cartoons, and all of those things should be kept to a minimum. For instance, a small company logo on your backpack is fine. But once the logo starts approaching “allover print Dragonball-Z button up” kind of looks, you’re too far gone.
A minimalist style is the best way to go, as you won’t be subject to the ups and downs of trends.
Rule #3: When in doubt, go for neutral colors
You’ve got the perfect wardrobe, your style is on point, and you’re ready to accessorize with a backpack.
Not sure what color to get? It’s easy – just go neutral. Then your bag will basically match anything. Your wardrobe itself should be mostly made of neutral colors, so the backpack will fit right in.
What colors count as neutral?
Browns, navy blue, olive/army green, and grey are my picks. Black is a bit harsh, so stay away from it, especially for a backpack.
Rule #4: Stick with classics over trends
Classics never die, right?
Sort of related to the logo rule above, I believe that going with trendy clothing and accessories is generally a mistake – time tested items are what you should go with. At most, you should limit your trendy clothing to just a small portion of your overall wardrobe.
For something that you wear daily like a backpack, definitely stick with a classic look. You don’t want that backpack going out of style mid-year and need to buy a new one.
Instead, the best college backpacks are ones with a classic look that will last throughout your entire college career and still look great.
What should you avoid?
Weird shapes, odd colors, giant garish logos, etc. Luckily, I believe that all of the bags I’ve highlighted in this article fit the bill. I’ve done my best to make it easy for you – you can’t go wrong with any of them!
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers. Here are the most-asked college backpack questions and my thoughts on each:
Should I go with a backpack or a messenger bag for college?
I’d say that this depends on two main factors: the amount of stuff you carry and the environment you’ll be finding yourself in. If you are the type that has a light load to take to class (laptop/tablet, papers, phone), then I think a messenger bag is more appropriate. I’m also a bigger fan of that form factor for overall mature style, but the compartment is never going to be as big as a backpack’s. The colors are usually more subdued black and brown colors.
If you’re going to be lugging around textbooks and a laptop, though, a backpack is where it’s at. As far as environment goes, if you are interning or working at a business that’s at least business casual, a nice messenger bag is probably more appropriate.
Heck, even if you’re in a business degree program, you may want to go with the classier and more professional-looking messenger bag.
Just at school or working retail? You can stick with a backpack. It’ll be more comfortable and functional for general college use cases.
Are backpacks for kids?
The truth? Kind of.
I’ve never really seen an adult that I think looks mature wearing a backpack, unless it’s for hiking or traveling. I traveled around the world all the time as a digital nomad for years with just a backpack, and I admittedly looked ridiculous.
Whatever you gain in functionality, you lose in looks and professionalism. And I would argue that, once school is over and there’s no need for tons of books, you’re not gaining much functionality. Then again, you came to this post because you’re a college student. A backpack is fine, as long as it’s not covered in silly logos.
As you transition into adulthood, though, it’s time to rethink the backpack and move on to a briefcase or messenger bag. You’ll be taken more seriously at your first post grad job, for starters!
Is a briefcase appropriate for college?
I’m torn on this.
When I was in college, nothing screamed “nerd” more than someone who wore a suit or carried a briefcase.
I’ve matured a lot since then, but I’m sure many of your fellow students feel the same way.
Honestly, a briefcase or a suit is overkill for college. But if you’ve got a good reason for it, or just want to look classier and more professional, don’t mind the haters. You do you. But stick with black or brown leather, to keep it looking good.
Do they make college backpacks with wheels? Should you get one?
They sure do!
When I was in law school, a good amount of students used rolling carry on bags. This is because we had to have a lot of books and study materials on hand, and those books are heavy.
A rolling backpack serves the same purpose, except it can convert between the two form factors at will – rolling bag and backpack.
Should you get one?
Maybe, if you’re in a situation where you need to have a lot of stuff on you for longer periods of time, and you’d be putting severe strain on your back lugging it around. We’re talking over 20% of your body weight. That’s the point where you can actually develop some chronic pain and injuries from carrying even a well-fitted backpack.
They’re a bit nerdy, I’ll admit. But it’s worth it to save your body from being in a lifetime of pain! Take it from a guy with chronic lower back pain, kids – save your back and make things easy on yourself.
A quality rolling backpack is also great for travel, since you can transition your carry on between rolling through the airport and hiking it on your back from taxi to hotel.
Looking for a good wheeled backpack? Check out this one from High Sierra on Amazon.
Are backpacks waterproof?
Depends on the material and the overall construction. When a backpack is described as “waterproof,” this means that it can be submerged in water without leaking.
On the other hand, “water resistant” can’t be submerged and doesn’t really have a consistent meaning. Sometimes it can hold up to serious wet weather, and other times it’s just “resistant” in the loosest sense of the word.
Always check for whether or not a backpack or messenger bag is waterproof or water resistant before you buy. If you live in an area with a lot of rain, you definitely want to go with something water resistant to keep your books and laptop dry.
But look at the reviews to gauge the level of water resistance, as you can’t always trust the language in an manufacturer’s advertisement. If rain isn’t an issue, then waterproofing or resistance probably isn’t either.
For more info, check out this great post by Tortuga Backpacks that goes deep into the difference between waterproof and water resistant backpacks.
How much should my backpack weigh?
You generally want to keep your backpack’s total weight under 10% if your body weight, just to be safe.
How should I wear my backpack to school? One strap or two?
In my day, if you wore two straps, you were a dork. But times have changed.
It seems to be much more socially acceptable to be dual strapped. It helps you balance the weight of your backpack and distributes it equally across your back. It also helps keep the with closer to your body, instead of swinging arrive like with one strap it a messenger bag.
This can greatly help you about neck, shoulder and back pain. I highly recommend going with two straps.
Fun fact: when I was in 6th grade, my mom bought me a school backpack that had one of those waist straps for hikers. As soon as the other kids on the bus caught wind of that, it was all over. The bullying was relentless.
I’d like to think it made me a stronger person. But seriously, don’t be a bully.
With so many choices out there, it’s hard to decide on the best college backpack for men and women that fit your personal style. However, the bags in this post are all strong, stylish choices that you can’t go wrong with.
Due to its stylish and trendy nature, along with the pure functionality of it, I love the Fjallraven Kanken backpack. The choice of colors helps you to personalize it to go with your wardrobe, and it should be a perfect addition to any college student’s kit.
In fact, I’ve been traveling all over the world the last few years, and have seen these things pop up all over the place. They’re the very definition of “in” these days. Don’t get left behind! However, my top choice is always going to be the Timbuk2 Authority Pack. It’s just got everything and is a perfect all-around college backpack.
Got a suggestion? Leave it in the comments! In the meantime, check out this great video about staying stylish with your backpack:
updated July 2018