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.
Best Overall BackpackThe North Face Recon Backpack Read More
Best Upgrade BackpackFilson Dryden Backpack Read More
Best Affordable BackpackJansport Right Pack Backpack Read More
Patagonia Black Hole Pack 25L Read More
Everlane The ReNew Transit Backpack Read More
Why You Should Carry 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 handrail 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 Backpack
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 Filson or The North Face would. If you expand your search, you'll find there are backpacks for nearly every need: hiking, carrying a laptop, 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.
How We Tested
Our testers took the backpacks they were assigned on trips, to work, on bike rides and beyond, ensuring they did what we asked of them — and, on occasion, then some. We observed how easy they were to open and close, access and unload, as well as carry and whether they were comfortable (or a burden). The backpacks below made this list because they excelled when it mattered most: while on.