Although briefcases were once the gold standard in the office or at work, backpacks are more practical (and acceptable than ever). They balance weight better than a crossbody bag, and can tow more than a tote. Unlike some simple purchases, though — like a basic T-shirt or a baseball cap — backpacks came in an array of shapes, sizes and colors with a million different pocket combinations and with (or without) plenty of other add-ons.
Why a Backpack?
With comfort and functionality as priorities, lots of people now use backpacks for their everyday commute — just throw it over your shoulders and you’re hands-free for a coffee, checking out or holding onto a hand rail while the bus or train creeps forward. They offer a safe and secure place for everything you need: a laptop, books or textbooks, work supplies and even a change of clothing for the gym. Ideally, they offer interior organizational solutions to divide these different items. (You don't want your sweaty gym shorts to soil your laptop, for example. Ew.)
Backpacks are also better at distributing weight. Balancing a heavy tote bag on one shoulder can do serious musculoskeletal damage. In fact, many chiropractors say it's the primary contributor to back, neck and shoulder pain: "Over time, the amount of strain that we put on our bodies due to oversized bags can cause some pretty serious pain and even long-term issues like muscle spasms or a pinched nerve," personal trainer Caleb Backe told Healthline. If you do it for decades on end, you might run into something more serious — like thoracic outlet syndrome, which causes weakness in the muscles in your arms and back.
How to Pick the Right One
While aesthetics (colors, textures, logos, etc) are a matter of personal preference, there are a number of features that some backpacks certainly have while others definitely do not. Do you remember Jansport? Their popular, perfect-for-grade-school backpack comes without many of the bells and whistles one by Bellroy or Patagonia would. If you expand your search, you'll find there are backpacks for nearly every need: hiking, commuting, carrying a laptop, walking to class, flying or even riding on a boat (in the case of waterproof packs).
As important as your use case is — translated: what it is you need it for — it's important to consider your cargo's total weight. If you're towing a ton of textbooks or lots of tech, you'll want something with a ventilated back and padded straps. If your contents are fragile, or even remotely delicate, you'll want to find a backpack with a reinforced bottom, so when you set it down on the floor it isn't your cargo making direct contact.
- The Best Backpacks for College Students
- The Best Tactical Backpacks
- The Best Hiking Backpacks
- The Best Travel Backpacks
- The Best Waterproof Backpacks
- The Best Leather Backpacks
- The Best Camera Backpacks
The Best Backpacks for Men
- Water repellent
- Mesh exterior pocket
- Body-shaped yoke
- Padded straps
- Two water bottle pockets
- Divider between tech and other contents
- Lined pocket for sunglasses or phone
- Water bottle pockets don't expand
- Front pockets are sort of small
The North Face makes plenty of technical packs for longer camping trips and extended hikes, but the Recon Backpack is its most basic — in a good way. You can wear this thing anywhere: to the gym with shoes and a water bottle stuffed inside; to work with your laptop slipped into the protective, standalone sleeve; to school textbooks billowing out of the top and a charger dangling in the front mesh pocket. What you do with it is your call, but know it can do it all. For a deeper look, read our dedicated review of the North Face Recon.
Fabric: Recycled nylon ripstop
- 1000D Heavy-weight nylon makes it durable and weather-resistant
- Comes in various colorways
- 2 side pockets for water bottles
- Zippers are covered by material so it can be hard to open and close as you have to push the material away to zip and unzip
You know what you’re getting with Filson: a durable and tough bag with ample space and no frills. There’s a compartment or pocket for literally everything but the kitchen sink. Laptop, books, papers, chords and tech, and even a jacket or sweater can be tossed in for chilly lecture halls. Going to the gym after class? Throw some sneakers in here too while you’re at it. While functionality reigns over style at Filson, the leather details add a stylish touch.
Fabric: 1000D heavyweight nylon
- Super affordable
- Padded laptop sleeve inside
- Two exterior pockets
- Lackluster straps
It doesn't get much simpler than this. Tough Cordura fabric coupled with Jansport's iconic suede bottom give it a long-lasting appeal, physically and aesthetically. It comes with two outer pockets for quick-access items and a single roomy main compartment complete with a padded laptop sleeve big enough for a 15-inch laptop.
Fabric: 915 Denier Cordura, suede
This 16L zip-top pack strikes a chord between minimalist design and maximalist features. Though it comes in a variety of durable fabrics, this olive version is made with Bellroy's recycled nylon material. It features a slew of compartments, cleverly hidden throughout including a water-resistant top pocket for your phone and other small electronics. The main compartment is filled with several padded dividers as well as a separate mesh pocket.
Fabric: Recycled nylon
The 19L In & Out bag is cut from incredibly durable 100D Cordura mini rip fabric. It features plenty of easily accessible outer pockets including a hydration reservoir pocket which includes ports for a drinking tube. And, this daypack can even be stuffed down into its own mesh pocket.
Fabric: 100D Cordura Mini Rip fabric
You may know Fjällräven best for its tiny little pocket bags, but their bigger options are all the rage, too. This one, dubbed the Ulvö 30, is hiking-inspired but will work well in nearly any setting. (It'll pair well with that GORP gear you bought because it was trendy.) The exterior of this one is wateproof; there are two side pockets; and there's a top zipper pocket for easy access.
Sealand’s Upcycled Archie Backpack is a backpack with modern upgrades and a roomy overall design. The interior compartment can hold your laptop (inside the padded pocket designed for 15” laptops), as well as notebooks, books and other everyday sundries. There are also external pockets for your smaller items, like chargers, phones, keys and snacks.
Fabric: Upcycled polyester
Topo Designs is known for their simple and sturdy line of backpacks. While their affordable Standard Pack is one of their most basic silhouettes, it encapsulates everything you look for in a backpack — plus some. But, as the name implies, the Daypack Classic is a retro-tinged evolution of the former. The main compartment is roomy and features a padded base and back panel for extra protection. The external padded compartment fits most 15” laptops and opens on the side so you don’t have to open the main compartment to access it. There’s also a front zipper and side water bottle holder for extra storage.
Fabric: 1000D Cordura and Horween leather
Though it’s well-known for its waterproof outerwear, Rains also makes a range of water-repellent bags perfect for inclement weather. This minimalist bag has a padded laptop sleeve and external compression straps, and the material blend is inspired by the Danish brand’s classic raincoats.
Fabric: Polyurethane, polyester
If you're not someone who carries a ton of tech around (or other things that could break rather easily), this is a good option from Gramicci. It has a front-facing, outdoors-inspired rope pocket for bulky items (i.e. a helmet or bike lock), but a divided interior so you can separate things. Be warned, though: this is a smaller option.
Fabric: Recycled Dynatec Robic material
While the options are endless, we like State’s Kane Double Pocket Large backpack for everyday use. It features a 15” padded laptop compartment, side pockets for a 17 oz S’well water bottle, front pocket for pens, pencils, wallet and keys and a main compartment for books, notebooks, sneakers and everything else. Not to mention, it’s comfortable and stylish to wear.
Available in three colors, Everlane's The ReNew Transit Backpack is made from water-resistant recycled polyester. It's got a roll top, plenty of exterior pockets, and dividers within to keep things organized even while you're on the go. The straps are a little lackluster, but the bag, for what it costs, is plenty worth it.
Fabric: Recycled polyester
Patagonia’s Black Hole series of bags and duffels are known for their strength and durability. This 25L front-loading backpack uses recycled nylon ripstop and features comfortable padding at the straps and back.
Fabric: 70D recycled ripstop nylon
Eastpak is as iconic as Jansport, but the former's a bit more elevated, albeit refined. Case in point? Eastpak's Diren Powr Backpack. It's made from abrasion resistant nylon, has a few specialized pockets and padded mesh straps. Sleek, simple and super tough.
Troubadour backpacks play nicely in professional settings. Along with its sleek design, the Explorer Apex Backpack is as functional (and protective) as most briefcases. It’s lightweight, has a padded interior to fit a 16-inch laptop, multiple pockets for optimal organization and two built-in bottle holders. This backpack also features a trolley sleeve to slide over your suitcase handle.
Fabric: 1680D Cordura ballistic nylon
DSPTCH’s slim and technical take on the bookbag builds upon classic book bags using a modern sensibility. It features padded compartments for your laptop and tablets, mesh interior pockets, easily accessible yet secure magnetic outer pockets and it’s all made in the USA.
Fabric: 500D Cordura nylon with DWR coating
Part backpack, part duffel bag, Aer’s hybrid bag excels in either mode thanks to its front-loading easy-access compartment and side handles. Not only can it fit laptops up to 15.6 inches, it can stash a pair of size 13 sneakers. Plus, it's water resistant.
Fabric: Waterproof synthetic
Although there are dedicated gym bags aplenty out there, most people stuff their gear into the same bag they carry to work — and deal with the lingering smell when it becomes unbearable. Lululemon's Cruiser Large Backpack fits the bill for both tasks: towing stuff to work or school and to the gym. It has a ton of tiny pockets you can dedicate to specific things (so you never lose them) and a spacious interior for even a yoga mat.
Fabric: Nylon and polyester
Moment makes storing your gear simple. The brand is dedicated to techies and creatives, and caters its products to the crowd carrying a camera, laptop, phone, tablet and all the necessary cords and adapters. Plus, the MTW Backpack is waterproof, so nothing inside will get ruined if you get caught in the rain.
Fabric: 600D Recycled Nylon CPH
Made in San Francisco, this simple flip pack secure your goods without the need of a drawstring closure. The bag is cut from 18-ounce cotton twill, features a military-grade “G” hook closure, includes an internal laptop sleeve and has a double-layered bottom for durability.
Fabric: 18-ounce cotton twill
July’s Carry All Backpack Series 2 is an upgrade from Series 1 as its updated design features an external water bottle holder. The backpack is designed with comfort in mind, including its quilted back padding and padded straps with pull tabs for easy adjustments. Inside, you’ll find dividers and zipped pockets for documents, smaller books and other small items, as well as a discreet 16” laptop padded sleeve compartment. Along with the front pocket, there’s a side pocket for bottles or umbrellas with a zipper to keep things compact.
Timbuk2's roll-top Tuck Laptop Backpack emphasizes your most prized possession: your fancy little laptop. It stays upright in a dedicated, water-resistant sleeve, and away from everything else you put inside — which can be quite a lot considering the room you've got in here.
Fabric: 100 percent recycled nylon and polyester
Epperson’s colorful mountain climbing pack is made in the USA using a tough and lightweight Cordura nylon. It comes with a bevy of durable features like military-grade webbing, sealed seams and bar tack reinforcements. And, you can still haul your laptop inside, whether you're hiking or just hanging out.
Fabric: DWR-coated 1000D Cordura nylon
Made in Denver, Colorado, Winter Session’s Waxed Canvas Backpack is as burly as they come, utilizing a seriously heavy 20 ounce cotton canvas that’s been waxed to make it water-resistant. It features enough room for a day’s load and comes with vegetable-tanned leather and brass hardware, ensuring that it ages well.
Fabric: 20-ounce waxed canvas, vegetable-tanned leather
Made in Tennessee, Loyal Stricklin’s Ryder Ruck takes after vintage ruck sacks and features heavy duty water-resistant waxed twill combined with full-grain Chromexcel leather from the famed Horween tannery. It comes with roll-top entry, two outer pockets and a spacious main compartment.
Capacity: 21L (rolled), 29L (unrolled)
Fabric: Waxed cotton twill, Horween Chromexcel leather