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Get a Fresh Start This Fall With One of These Top-Rated Backpacks

There’s always a twinge of excitement when shopping for a new backpack for the school year. Considering students haul them around five days a week or more, it’s a chance to start fresh. For some, it can be a chance sport a new look, whereas others may geek out over pockets to organize gadgets and supplies. Whatever their jam, you’ll want a backpack that can handle getting thrown around and not fall apart by Christmas, and perhaps one with special features. Read on for our top recommendations, plus things to consider before you buy.

What to Consider

Buying a laptop is largely based on personal needs and preference, but there are a few general points worth thinking about before you whip out your credit card. Backpacks are typically made of polyester or ballistic nylon, and some are coated for water-resistance. In terms of features, you’ll likely want one with a dedicated laptop sleeve, particular for older students. Younger ones may not be allowed to use their own in the classroom, but could need it for after-school research projects or extra curricular activities. Weight can be another factor, and there are lightweight options and rolling backpacks for anyone regularly hauling a heavy load. Beyond that, it’s all about style and extras, like side mesh water bottle holders, organizational pockets, and nice-to-haves like charger ports.

How We Chose

All of our recommendations below have average ratings of four stars or more. We cover a range of styles—from sporty to waterproof to wheeled—plus offer options across price points, including budget, mid-priced, and premium bags. As mentioned above, there’s a laundry list of features to consider, and backpacks with the most notable and highlight them for every bag we cover.

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1

Our Budget Pick

Jansport Big Campus Backpack

JanSport
amazon.com

$43.48

Overall Dimensions: 17.5 x 13 x 10 inches
Capacity: 34 liters
Weight: 1.5 pounds
Main Material: Polyester
Laptop Sleeve: Yes

JanSport has been around for more than 50 years and is known for their well-made relatively inexpensive backpacks. This option has the urban explorer in mind—a versatile, rugged bag that’s comfortable to carry. It’s made of durable 600-denier polyester, and inside there’s a 15-inch padded laptop sleeve, rows of organizational pockets and a carabiner for your keys, plus a zippered mesh pocket on the top flap. The backpack also has adjustable padded shoulder straps and a sternum strap for extra support, an outer side pocket for your water bottle, and a large zippered pocket in front for quick-grab items like your cell phone. It’s available in several fun color combinations in addition to basic black.

2

A Step Up

Herschel Little America Laptop Backpack

Herschel
amazon.com

$109.99

Overall Dimensions: 19.2 x 11.2 x 7 inches
Capacity
: 25 liters
Weight
: 2 pounds
Main Material
: Polyester
Laptop Sleeve
: Yes

Herschel may not be a half-century old, but the brand has grown to become one of the most popular makers of high-quality, attractive bags on the market. This backpack combines classic mountaineering style with essential features to get you through a day of classes. The bag is made of 600-denier polyester and Herschel’s signature striped nylon lining, with a drawcord to cinch the top and magnetic buttons to close the top flap, plus padded shoulder straps and a mesh back for breathability. There’s an outer zip pocket and although there aren’t as many inside pockets as some other backpack, it does have a padded fleece-lined 15-inch laptop sleeve and cellphone pocket, along with a headphone port, which is a nice extra.

3

Our Premium Pick

TIMBUK2 Authority Laptop Backpack

Timbuk2
amazon.com

$124.00

Overall Dimensions: 18 x 11.4 x 10.2 inches
Capacity
: 28 liters
Weight
: 2.3 pounds
Main Material
: Polyester
Laptop Sleeve
: Yes

San Francisco-based Timbuk2, founded in 1989, is the go-to you’re looking for a sleek backpack with clever features. Made of 400-denier polyester, this one has a dedicated rear-access pocket for laptops up to 17 inches and several organizational slip pockets in the main compartment. Outside there’s a neoprene side pocket for a water bottle, padded shoulder straps with a removable sternum strap, plus a bottom compression strap and zippers that have reflective strips. There’s also well-padded shoulder straps and a mesh-lined back panel to keep you cool. The bag is available in nine attractive neutrals. 

4

Best Lightweight

Fjallraven, Kanken Laptop Backpack

Fjallraven
amazon.com

$119.95

Overall Dimensions: 15.7 x 11 x 6.3 inches
Capacity
: 18 liters
Weight
: 1 pound
Main Material
: Vinylon
Laptop Sleeve
: Yes

Fjallraven has been around since 1960 and fans love the Swedish brand’s bags for their eclectic style and cute red fox that’s front and center on the logo. This classic backpack—which weighs a mere pound— is made of vinylon, a durable synthetic material that’s used for all their bags. It  acts like a natural fabric to absorb and repel water and eliminates the need for a polyurethane or silicone coating. The backpack features a 15-inch padded laptop compartment, three pockets in the main compartment, and a two-way zipper with a rain flap. There’s also a snap to secure the top handles for easy carrying, padded shoulder strap, and a sizable zippered front pocket. The backpack comes in several neutrals and bright hues.

5

Best Sporty

The North Face Recon Laptop Backpack

The North Face
amazon.com

$98.95

Overall Dimensions: 19.25 x 13 x 7 inches
Capacity
: 30 liters
Weight
: 9.5 pounds
Main Material
: Ballistic nylon
Laptop Sleeve
: Yes

This sporty backpack from The North Face gets rave reviews from customers, with an average 4.8 stars from more than 3,000 buyers. It’s ultra-padded in all the right places—the breathable mesh back, shoulder straps, and supportive lumbar panel—making it exceptionally comfortable to carry. Other highlights among features include a dedicated 15-inch laptop compartment, two mesh water bottle pockets, and a fleece-lined pocket on the front, plus a sternum strap with a whistle for safety and a removable waist belt. The backpack is made of extra durable ballistic nylon and is available in more than 20 solids, colors, and prints for you to take your pick.

6

Best Waterproof

The Friendly Swede Waterproof Backpack

The Friendly Swede
amazon.com

$69.00

Overall Dimensions: 19 x 11.4 x 5 inches
Capacity
: 15 liters
Weight
: 1.5 pounds
Main Material
: Tarpaulin
Laptop Sleeve
: Yes

The Friendly Swede backpack would hold up during a torrential downpour on the trail, but it was designed with the urban troubadour in mind. The waterproof bag is made of 500-denier tarpaulin and has welded seams and roll-top that clasps shut to keep rain out. It’s also incredibly lightweight at 1.5 pounds, featuring three streamline outer pockets—one perfect for your cell phone—and plenty of space inside for a 13-inch laptop and whatever other books and gear you need to haul. 

7

For Art Students

Starsouce Art Portfolio Backpack

Starsouce
amazon.com

$36.99

Overall Dimensions: 26 x 19 inches
Capacity
: N/A
Weight
: 2.2 pounds
Main Material
: Canvas
Laptop Sleeve
: No

Art students need a backpack that checks several essential boxes so they can safely haul their work to and from school. This option is specifically designed with artists in mind, made of heavyweight canvas with a waterproof lining inside and a large main pocket for canvas boards or oversized sketchbooks. It also features a medium-sized pocket for smaller sketchbooks, palettes, a small pocket perfect for brushes and pencils, plus adjustable shoulder straps and another two at the bottom for carrying an easel or folding chair.

8

Best Wheeled

JanSport Driver 8 Rolling Backpack

JanSport
amazon.com

$149.95

Overall Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 10 inches
Capacity
: 36 liters
Weight
: 5 pounds
Main Materials
: Polyester and nylon
Laptop Sleeve:
Yes

If you have to trek more stuff on occasion than your back can handle, a rolling backpack is your best bet, and this option from JanSport is an excellent choice. It features a retractable handle that locks in two heights, tuck-away padded shoulder straps, and rugged inline skate wheels with treads for negotiating curbs and other uneven terrain. There’s also a side water bottle pocket and a zippered front pocket, plus a padded 15-inch laptop sleeve in the main compartment that leaves a good amount of space to spare. The bag is made of a combination of 600-denier polyester and 400-denier nylon, and comes in three colors.

9

Best With Charger Port

Oscaurt Laptop Backpack

Oscaurt
amazon.com

$37.99

Overall Dimensions: 17 x 11 x 5 inches
Capacity
: 25 liters
Weight
: 2.3 pounds
Main Material
: Polyester twill
Laptop Sleeve
: Yes

A bag with nice-to-have handy special features can put a positive spin on your day—and they don’t necessarily always have a hefty price tag. Case in point with this backpack, which has a port on the side to plug in and charge devices with whatever power bank you already use. Other highlights among features include space to secure a 15-inch laptop with an elastic band, an impressive collection of main compartments of different sizes, and two outdoor side pockets for a water bottle and umbrella. The backpack is made of a water-repellent polyester twill fabric.

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