10 Best College Backpacks in 2023

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Updated January 24, 2023

To find the best college backpacks for college students of all stripes, you’ll need to determine the features that are right for you and your educational setup. We recommend that you favor college backpacks that are made with durable and long-lasting materials that offer some measure of water-resistance, just in case you get caught in the rain. Make sure to also consider how much room is available in the backpack you are thinking of buying, so you can be sure all of your daily essentials, such as textbooks and laptops, will fit inside. When buying a college backpack, always look for a durable build, a light form factor, and plenty of room for all of your most-used items. Shop for the best bags when you want to replace your old college bag.  

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After analyzing hundreds of reviews amongst a multitude of products with varying price points and features, we’ve determined that the Thule EnRoute is the best college backpack on the market today. Keep reading about this and our other top picks to learn more about the best bags available for purchase.

Top 10 Best College Backpacks

 #1  Thule EnRoute College Backpack


WHY WE LIKE IT: Incredible backpack design that suits nearly any consumer, with dedicated padded compartments for a laptop, a tablet, and various daily necessities, in addition to featuring a sternum strap and padded back panel for comfort.

  • Padded compartments for gadgets
  • Sternum strap and padded back panel for comfort
  • Hidden lash points for attaching external gear
  • Only available in 1 color
  • Laptop sleeve maxes out at 15.6”

The Thule EnRoute is the best college backpack for guys and the best backpack for college girls, thanks to a unisex design and a particularly robust feature set. We appreciated the multitude of padded compartments running throughout the interior, which are perfect for tablets, laptops, and other delicate items. We also liked the sternum strap and padded back panel, for comfort, and the fact that this backpack features a number of hidden lash points for attaching external gear.

Though this is an attractive college backpack that is sure to turn heads, it is only available in one color, which is red. Additionally, the dedicated laptop compartment offers a secure fit, but can only accommodate screens up to 15.6-inches wide. Compare this with the best laptop backpacks that can easily hold even a 17-inch laptop.

 #2  Patagonia Refugio College Backpack


WHY WE LIKE IT: Form meets function, with a gorgeous aesthetic and plenty of useful features, such as a durable recycled polyester exterior and compression straps to offer a secure fit during use.

  • Durable recycled polyester exterior
  • Treated with a water repellent finish
  • Hidden lash points for attaching external gear
  • Padded laptop pocket maxes out at 15”
  • Slightly expensive

This Patagonia backpack is a great option for students who find themselves occasionally caught in the rain while walking through campus, as the exterior of this model has been treated with a water repellent finish. We appreciated the durable recycled polyester exterior and the series of compression straps, which help to offer a secure fit during use. We also liked the many internal and external pockets running throughout, offering room enough for laptops, tablets, textbooks, and more. Those students who are also interested in shooting ranges should also check out our list of the best range bags.

Though the dedicated laptop compartment is padded and offers a secure fit, it can only comfortably accommodate screens up to 15-inches wide, which may be an issue for some. Also, this is a slightly expensive backpack compared to similar models. Check out the best backpacks for work that may have slightly cheaper models.

 #3  GoRuck GR1 College Backpack

GoRuck GR1 College Backpack


WHY WE LIKE IT: High-quality backpack with a particularly robust feature set that includes a water-resistant and rainproof design and extra-padded shoulder straps for superior comfort.

  • Water-resistant and rainproof design
  • Extra-padded shoulder straps for comfort
  • Bombproof laptop compartment
  • Extremely expensive
  • Only 2 colors available

The GoRuck GR1 is the best backpack for college students with laptops, as the dedicated laptop compartment is not only padded and waterproof but has been rated to be able to survive a nearby explosion, as this backpack was originally intended for use in war zones. We loved the water-resistant and rainproof design throughout the exterior and the ultra-padded shoulder straps, offering comfort and the ability to increase the weight of the load being carried without too much strain on your back.

This is an extremely expensive backpack, however, which is likely due to the high-grade components used during the manufacturing process. Additionally, there are only two colors available here, and they are both fairly muted. For comparison, check out the best bags that come in a wide variety of styles and colors to choose from.

 #4  Fjallraven Kanken Classic College Backpack


WHY WE LIKE IT: Extremely light form factor, weighing just 0.7lb, with an attractive retro aesthetic, top snap handles, and an exterior made from a proprietary material that is water-resistant and dirt-resistant.

  • Attractive retro aesthetic
  • Vinylon F exterior is water-resistant
  • Ergonomic shoulder straps and top snap handles
  • On the smaller side, max capacity 16L
  • Cannot fit laptops above 14”

This Fjallraven Kanken Classic College Backpack is a great choice for students who want to reduce their load as they go about their day, as this model weighs just 0.7 pounds. We appreciated the manufacturing components, including the proprietary and water-resistant Vinylon F. We also liked the attractive retro aesthetic, which is the same design the company has been using since 1978, and the multitude of carrying options available, thanks to ergonomic shoulder straps and top snap handles.

Though light, this backpack is on the smaller side, with a maximum capacity of around 16 liters. To that end, the dedicated laptop compartment can only accommodate screens up to 14-inches wide. In that case, you may also want to consider some of the best briefcases that can accommodate slightly wider screens.

 #5  The North Face Vault College Backpack


WHY WE LIKE IT: Designed primarily to enhance comfort during use, with compression-molded shoulder straps, a padded air-mesh back panel, a proprietary suspension system, and a unique shape that fits with the natural curvature of the spine.

  • Reflective surfaces running throughout
  • Secure Velcro fasteners and high-grade zippers
  • Water-resistant and can stand up to rain
  • Somewhat bulky

The North Face Vault College Backpack is the best option for those who prioritize comfort as they carry their textbooks to and from classes. This backpack is filled with comfort-enhancing features, such as a padded air-mesh back panel, a spine-friendly shape, a proprietary suspension system, and compression-molded shoulder straps. We appreciated the multiple reflective surfaces on this backpack, for safety during walking, and the fact that the exterior is fairly water-resistant and can easily stand up to a rainstorm.

We also liked the high number of reflective surfaces running throughout this backpack, which include a reflective bike-light loop, reflective water bottle tabs, and reflective shoulder straps, adding up to 360-degrees of reflectivity. This is a somewhat bulky backpack, however, which may not suit all consumers. The best sling bag is a more reliable option as a daily carry thanks to its lightweight polyester design.

 #6  JanSport Hatchet College Backpack


WHY WE LIKE IT: Features an incredibly durable build, thanks to being made from 600 denier polyester and sturdy bonded-leather, with a gorgeous unisex design and a pair of sturdy pockets on the sides intended for water bottles.

  • Pair of sturdy water bottle pockets
  • Gorgeous unisex aesthetics
  • Adjustable shoulder straps and top carry handle
  • Laptop compartment maxes out at 15”

The JanSport Hatchet College Backpack is an exceptionally durable model, thanks to being manufactured using high-grade 600D polyester and sturdy bonded-leather. We appreciated the numerous pockets and compartments running throughout, which include a pair of water bottle pockets on the side, and the multiple carrying options, via adjustable shoulder straps and a top carry handle. We also liked the gorgeous unisex aesthetic on offer here, which should suit nearly any student.

Though this backpack does feature a padded laptop compartment, this sleeve maxes out at offering room enough for laptops up to 15-inches wide, which may not suit those who own 17-inch laptops. The best commuter backpack may be a better option here with the added advantage of being water-resistant.

 #7  JanSport TDN7 College Backpack


WHY WE LIKE IT: Extremely big backpack with plenty of room for all of your daily necessities, such as textbooks and larger-than-average laptops, with ergonomic shoulder straps and availability in multiple colors and design options.

  • Available in over dozen colors
  • Front utility pocket with organizer
  • Comfortable ergonomic S-curve shoulder straps
  • Laptop sleeve not padded
  • Not as water-resistant as some

The JanSport TDN7 offers a generous maximum capacity, with more than enough room for multiple textbooks, laptops up to 17.3-inches of screen-width, tablets, and other odds-and-ends. There is also a front utility pocket with an integrated organizer, which is a great spot to stash smartphones and wallets, among other items. We appreciated the comfortable and ergonomically designed S-curve shoulder straps and the fact that this backpack is available in over twelve color options, suiting even the most finicky students.

Though this large backpack can easily handle even the heaviest and biggest of laptops, the dedicated laptop sleeve does not feature any additional padding, which may be an issue for some. Additionally, the exterior is fairly water-resistant, thanks to being made from polyester, but rainwater can still steep into the interior via the zippers. The best dry bag that is highly water-resistant may be just what you need for water-related activities.

 #8  Under Armour Storm Recruit College Backpack


WHY WE LIKE IT: Built for easy cleaning, as it can be placed in the washing machine, with padded shoulder straps for comfort and a pair of water bottle pockets on each side of the backpack.

  • Highly water-resistant finish
  • Adjustable and padded shoulder straps
  • 2 side water bottle pockets
  • Large company logo may not suit everyone
  • Can only hold laptops up to 15”

The Under Armour Storm Recruit College Backpack is extremely easy to clean, which should suit the lifestyles of most students, as it can simply be placed in the washing machine in between uses. It goes without saying that if this backpack can be machine washed, it also offers superior water-resistance during everyday use, thanks to a highly water-resistant finish. We appreciated the pair of side water bottle pockets and the exceptionally adjustable shoulder straps, which are padded for comfort.

Though we appreciated that the dedicated laptop compartment boasts a fair amount of padding, it can only accommodate computer screens up to 15-inches in width, so take that into consideration. Also, the design here may not suit all consumers, as each of these backpacks features a large Under Armour logo. For women who love fashionable iconic designs, the best designer handbags offer just that.

 #9  Herschel Nelson College Backpack


WHY WE LIKE IT: Iconic and gorgeous design by Herschel Supply Co, with a durable polyester exterior, a 15” shoulder drop and pebbled leather zipper pulls for easy opening and closing.

  • Gorgeous striped fabric liner
  • Pebbled leather zipper pulls for easy opening
  • Durable polyester exterior
  • Only fits laptops up to 15”
  • Weighs nearly 2lb

The Herschel Nelson College Backpack is an extremely attractive model that should suit most students, which is aided by the gorgeous faux-denim exterior and the striped fabric liner along the interior. We loved the pebbled leather zipper pulls, for easy opening and closing, and the incredibly durable polyester exterior, which happens to offer a fair bit of water-resistance.

Though this backpack by Herschel Supply Co does feature a dedicated and padded laptop compartment, this compartment can only accommodate screens up to 15-inches, which may not suit those with larger laptops. Additionally, this backpack is slightly heavy, coming in at nearly two pounds, though it does have nice zippered pockets. For both men and women who need models that offer more mobility, the best crossbody bags do just that.

 #10  Eastpak Authentic EK620 College Backpack


WHY WE LIKE IT: Budget-friendly backpack with a serious feature set that includes a zippered front pocket for smaller items such as passports and padded back and shoulder straps for a comfortable carry.

  • Simple and iconic design
  • Padded back and straps for comfort
  • Zippered front pocket for smaller items
  • No padding for laptops
  • Not particularly water-resistant

The Eastpak Authentic EK620 College Backpack comes in at a budget-conscious price while offering features in line with more expensive competitors, such as a simple and iconic design that would look great on any campus. This may be the best college backpack for your back, thanks to a padded back panel and ultra-padded shoulder straps. We also appreciated the zippered front pocket, which is a great place to store smartphones, wallets, and passports.

This backpack is not particularly water-resistant, so we’d advise caution to avoid rainstorms and large bodies of water. Also, there is no internal padding that is particularly intended to protect laptops. This is particularly important in the best kids’ backpacks that have a secure inner pocket, which is perfect for laptops, tablets, and other necessary gadgets. Lastly, if you are looking for the best beach bag for your next vacation, check out our guide on the best beach bag.

How We Decided

To help narrow down to the above list, we took great care to thoroughly research a wide array of popular backpack models, ensuring that they would be the perfect fit for college students. To that end, we liked backpacks with plenty of room for anything a typical student would need throughout their day. This includes room for large laptops, textbooks, school supplies, smartphones, and more.

We also liked college backpacks that were durably built from well-regarded materials, such as nylon and polyester. We are awarded bonus points if the backpacks offer some form of water-resistance or weather-resistance, in case you find yourself caught in the rain. The same goes for models that offer tear-resistance and slash-resistance, which can help avoid damage due to accidents and act as theft deterrence.

As for aesthetics, we admired college backpacks that were gorgeous to look at and those that featured availability in multiple colors and design options, to suit nearly any consumer. Finally, we liked backpacks that boasted additional features such as adjustable straps, allowing for a variety of carrying methods, and integrated USB charging ports.

Best College Backpacks Buyer’s Guide

The Most Important Features to Consider

  1. Maximum Capacity and Laptops
    Take a moment to think about how many textbooks and school supplies you carry throughout an average day of attending classes. Make sure the backpack you are thinking of purchasing can easily accommodate everything you need to fit. You’ll also want to ensure that the interior offers some form of padding, to help keep tablets and laptops safe. On the topic of laptops, read the fine print and make sure the dedicated laptop compartment can easily fit the computer you use at school.
  2. Durability and Water-resistance
    Modern college backpacks are exceptionally durable, thanks to a build that can easily resist dirt and tears. These backpacks are usually made from high-grade polyester, with some offering bonded-leather trim. The durability on offer here often has an added benefit, as many backpacks offer a fair amount of water-resistance, while others are nearly waterproof, thanks to the exteriors receiving treatment to make them repel water.
  3. Additional Features
    Many college backpacks offer a robust array of additional features, in addition to durability and a large fill capacity. These additional features include Velcro zippered pockets, hidden pockets running throughout for the storage of valuables, and padding running throughout. This padding can also extend to the shoulder straps and to the back panel, both of which allow for an extremely comfortable carry.

College Backpacks FAQs

What are the best backpacks for college students?

The best backpacks for college students are often incredibly durable, to avoid accidental damage, while still offering enough room to hold laptops, tablets, textbooks, and other daily school essentials.

What size backpack is best for college?

This depends on how much you tend to carry as you go through your day. This can also depend on just how big your laptop is. Many college backpacks feature dedicated padded laptop sleeves that are padded for safety, but these compartments may not always be able to accommodate larger laptops.

What are the best quality backpacks?

The best quality laptop backpacks are those made from high-grade materials, such as polyester and bonded leather. They are also typically incredibly attractive, suiting a wide variety of consumers, and boast plenty of room for laptop computers, tablets, and other day-to-day necessities. High-quality bags feature zip pockets, easy access padded laptop sleeves that can fit 15-inch laptops, USB ports, side pockets that can double as a gym bag, and additional zippered compartments.

How do I choose a school backpack?

In order to choose the right school laptop backpack for your scholastic needs, check out the durability rating, ensuring it is made to withstand rainstorms and accidental damage. You will also want to ensure that it can easily fit everything you tend to carry as you head to and from classes.
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