The 20 Best Backpacks for Every Activity and Need

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Ring in the new school year with these practical, easy-to-wear backpacks. They're perfect for any occasion—and are easy on your back.

Forget what you think you know about backpacks. The hands-free hero bag has evolved over the decades to go beyond basic knapsacks for schlepping around school supplies and camping gear. The newest versions are equally functional and fashionable, and they suit just about any event. “The right backpack is the ultimate carrying companion,” notes Aaron Luo, CEO of handbag company Caraa. “It holds all of your personal belongings. It’s organized so you can find what you’re looking for with ease. It should be lightweight yet polished. You shouldn’t have to break your back—figuratively or literally—to get from point A to point B throughout your day.”

In addition to style and specific needs (like if you need a laptop backpack), comfort is a huge consideration. The best backpacks have lumbar support, padded straps and even features like wire frames or metal stays for heavier loads. But remember: Just because a backpack can carry a ton, doesn’t mean it should, especially when it’s a kid doing the carrying. To prevent injury and backaches, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your child’s backpack weigh no more than 10-15% of their body weight.

How we chose the best backpacks

With so many backpack models to choose from, the first step is to figure out what you’ll be using it for, whether you’re commuting, heading to school or literally backpacking. “Having the right backpack for your activity will help ensure that you’re equipped with all the features and functionality for optimal comfort,” says Kevin Lau, a retail sales specialist at REI. You’ll also want to make sure it goes with the majority of your wardrobe for maximum versatility.

That’s exactly what we took into consideration when compiling this list—but then we took things a step further. We sorted through expert recommendations, user reviews and online ratings to find the backpacks that earn top scores for style and substance. Perhaps our best bit of advice, though? Don’t wait to buy them: Many are massively discounted right now for the best Labor Day and back-to-school sales, and they’re going fast. Once you’ve found your favorite, simply kick back and enjoy these back-to-school memes after a shopping job well done.

Best backpacks for everyday use

Lo & Sons The Rowledge Backpack

Front Backpack Rowledge Nylon Black Gold Grey Backpack Lo And Sonsvia merchant

Say hello to your new favorite everyday backpack. The Rowledge backpack from Lo & Sons is hard to beat thanks to a spacious interior with organized compartments dedicated for tech, paper products, pens and daily essentials. The gold hardware adds elegance while the all black style complements any outfit, casual or business professional.

Associate Shopping Editor, Madi Koetting, uses The Rowledge as her everyday backpack, carry-on bag and even weekender on some occasions, proving just how versatile this sack is. “I especially love the extra laptop compartment when going through airport security because my tech is easy to access in a hurry. And it looks equally stylish with business wear as it does leggings.”

Highlights:

  • Spacious interior with organized compartments
  • Back panel pass through sleeve slides onto suitcase handles
  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Available in two sizes
  • Multiple color options

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Herschel Classic Backpack

Classic Backpack 24 L Pink Ecomm Via Herschelvia merchant

Herschel is so confident in the quality of their bags, they offer a lifetime warranty—which, believe it or not, covers everyday wear and tear. The clean and simple silhouette of the Herschel Classic backpack, which comes in 10 colors, complements any personal style. The sturdy polyester and nylon fabric makes it suitable for any adventure or activity. Contoured shoulder straps and an air mesh back padding provide a comfortable fit—plus, that type of ventilation, says Lau, is particularly important if you’re looking for a biking backpack.

“This backpack is the perfect size for work. It holds my purse, lunch bag, travel mug and a hard cover book with a nice, well balanced fit,” writes one happy reviewer. “The outer pocket holds my work and home keys, and two pairs of glasses (at capacity). For a smaller backpack, it holds a lot.”

Highlights:

  • Lifetime warranty
  • Four sizes
  • More than 10 color options
  • Lightweight
  • Durable

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Fossil Camilla Convertible Large Leather Backpack

Fossil Camilla Convertible Large Leather Backpack Ecomm Via Macysvia merchant

A good backpack should keep up with you, Luo notes, which is why he loves convertible styles. “It’s common to be on the move from morning until night,” he says, “and your backpack should be able to easily adjust with you from the office to a workout to a dinner date.” This practical and stylish leather backpack does just that. It boasts adjustable straps so you can wear this as a backpack, shoulder bag or crossbody; a spacious interior with two slip pockets; and a zipper closure to keep all your goods contained.

And it elevates your style, no matter where you are. One happy customer notes, “It’s so practical, large enough to carry many essentials for a weekend out, but also the right size to go shopping. The leather is lovely and you would look put together in this Camilla leather bag if even if you wear it as a backpack.”

Highlights:

  • Convertible style
  • Leather
  • Roomy interior with a zip top

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Best backpacks for school

Hanna Andersson Classic Backpack

Classic Backpack Ecomm Via Hannaandersson.comvia merchant

The brand may be best known for their adorable family Christmas pajamas, but Hanna Andersson makes some pretty cute backpacks, too. They are perfectly kid-sized and are roomy, with a front pocket and dual water bottle holders, yet not so big they’ll dwarf your elementary schooler. With ergonomic, easy-to-adjust straps and a padded back, the backpacks are a win when it comes to comfort, too. And like all things Hanna, they’re sturdy and built to last. This backpack is available in four classic prints and there’s a matching lunch bag (sold separately) for each.

Highlights:

  • Affordable
  • Classic styling
  • Durable

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State Kane Kids Backpack

Kane Kids Novelty Fuzzy Backpack Ecomm Via Statebags.com 001via merchant

Even the most discerning kid is sure to find a State Kane backpack to match their personal style. With 42 choices ranging from metallic to fuzzy fabrics to rainbow sequins, you’ll wish they came in your size. And, guess what? They do! Most styles are available in four sizes ranging from a mini (perfect for a preschooler) to a large (ideal for a college kid or a frequent commuter). Each has thoughtful touches, like an electronic sleeve, large interior pocket with compartments for pens and such, deep water bottle pockets designed to accommodate up to a 13-inch bottle and reflective stitching on the straps for safety. Plus, the lining is made of fabric from recycled water bottles. State supports various children’s charities, donating backpacks and supplies, so you can feel good about your purchase.

Highlights:

  • Super stylish
  • Large interior pocket with compartments
  • Eco-friendly
  • Available in a range of sizes

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PBTeen EttaVee Gear-Up Brushstrokes Backpack

Etta Vee Backpack Via Pottery Barnvia merchant

Kids’ backpacks can get heavy—fast. But there’s a smart solution to counter this problem. “Look for a very padded vented back, padded straps and a sternum strap for support,” advises Renee Silverman, president of Irv’s Luggage. “Water bottle side pockets are also essential [to help distribute weight].” This stylish number does the trick. Available in this funky paint print, it has four roomy exterior compartments, a front zipper pocket with a cell phone holder, two D-rings in the front and back and a cinch mesh pocket on each side. Tough fabric, adjustable shoulder straps and a padded back panel ensure a comfortable fit, and kids will love that they can choose from 24 different fonts and colors to personalize it with their name or initials.

Even better? You’ll feel extra good about this purchase because it’s eco-friendly: The rugged, water-resistant recycled polyester is made from more than 14 plastic bottles. In fact, the brand has kept 66 million plastic bottles out of landfills to date, thanks to their recycled designs. If you love this idea, take a look at these other products made from recycled plastics.

Highlights:

  • Easy to clean
  • Eco-friendly
  • Customization available

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JanSport SuperBreak One Backpack

Jansport Superbreak One Backpack Ecomm Via Amazonvia merchant

Since 1967, JanSport continues to churn out some of the best backpacks for a reason: The durable construction is meant to last. Their bags come with a lifetime guarantee, so if one breaks, they’ll replace or fix it, no questions asked. The classic design of this quintessential school backpack boasts spacious storage in the main compartment, a front utility pocket with a built-in organizer and a side water bottle pocket. And it comes in 15 colors and patterns.

Wondering if it delivers? It’s a top-selling backpack on Amazon with over 24,000 five-star ratings. Verified Amazon reviewer, Jasmin, notes, “Young children always want the thin backpacks with whatever cartoon character is the favorite of the month. [Then] it’s my turn to pick a backpack that will last the rest of the year and then some. I will always choose JanSport. I have a few backpacks over a decade old. This will work fine for all the folders, tablets, headphones and a water bottle.”

Highlights:

  • Lightweight
  • Water-repellent fabric
  • 15 colors and prints
  • Padded back panel and shoulder straps
  • Lifetime guarantee

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Bluboon School Backpack

Bluboon Backpack Via Amazonvia merchant

Tie-dye continues to reign supreme when it comes to trends that kids (and adults) love. This beautiful tie-dye backpack comes with both a lunch tote and carrying case for extra essentials. Not feeling the groovy print? Choose from eight other patterns like marble, galaxy and shimmering metallic. The soft canvas construction has double-sewn technology, so it won’t rip or tear when loaded with books and other heavy school gear. An interior cushioned compartment keeps laptops and other tech safe. Plus, padded and adjustable straps help ease the pressure on shoulders. As an added bonus, get a matching insulated lunch container that keeps food fresh during long school days.

Highlights:

  • Three items for the price of one
  • Lightweight
  • Breathable mesh back

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Vera Bradley Recycled Cotton Backpack

Vera Bradleys Womens Recycled Campus Backpack Ecomm Via Walmartvia merchant

This blooming Vera Bradley backpack will help you (or your kiddo) kick off fall in style. It comes in five beautiful quilted patterns and features multiple storage compartments perfect for keeping personal essentials and tech safe and organized. And with a stamp of approval from the American Chiropractic Association, comfort and safety are guaranteed.

One happy Walmart purchaser writes, “I brought this bag for my daughter who is a dance major in school and gymnast in the afternoon. She was having to carry two or three bags on a daily basis. She now can fit her school stuff, dance attire and gymnastics stuff all in this one bag! It’s also comfortable for her to carry.”

Highlights:

  • Made with recycled cotton
  • Endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association
  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Available in five patterns

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Eastsport Unisex Sport Voltage Backpack

Eastsport Unisex Sport Voltage Backpack Purple Camo Ecomm Via Walmartvia merchant

This Eastsport Unisex pack is a fan-favorite—and it’s clear why. Designed to carry school and sports gear, it features multiple zipper compartments, adjustable shoulder straps (padded, of course), water-resistant bottom and a padded laptop sleeve. And it’s just $20! If camo isn’t your (or your kiddo’s) thing, four other colors and patterns are available.

Highlights:

  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Multiple zipper compartments
  • Five color and patterns available

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Best backpacks for college

McKlein Hagen Leather Laptop Backpack

Hagen Backpack Via Macysvia merchant

If you’re looking to elevate your style, this is the best backpack to give you a sophisticated and professional look in college and beyond. Its top-grain leather will only enhance over time. Like a briefcase but better, this hands-free backpack is packed with features to keep you organized for class and accommodate any business needs. An easy-access clip allows you to open the bag quickly and keep the flap secure. Inside there’s a tech-device pocket, a small-item space (perfect to store a phone, business cards, keys and pens) and a padded laptop sleeve. If you’re deciding whether to buy a backpack vs. messenger bag, we’ve got the scoop on which one is safest.

Highlights:

  • Sophisticated silhouette
  • High-quality density foam padding on the inside
  • Luxe leather
  • Easy-access clip

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Lovevook Laptop Backpack with USB Charging Port

Lovevook Quilted Laptop Backpack Bag Ecomm Via Amazonvia merchant

College students need a pack that fits more than just books and a laptop, which is why they’ll love love this convenient pack. It features an easy access USB charging port, padded laptop compartment, anti-theft back pocket and breathable straps. It comes in four sizes and multiple color options to satisfy every student’s style.

Just take it from the 3,000+ Amazon shoppers who give this pack a five-star rating. “Everyday I find new pockets!,” writes Ally, a verified Amazon reviewer. “Just when I think, ‘I can’t fit that in my backpack.’ Boom, I sure can! It’s super comfortable on my back and shoulders. Whether I’m carrying it on both shoulders or just one, it’s still super comfortable. The charge port on the outside of the backpack is cool for when you travel for vacation or for work. The only complaint I have is that I want it in every color now.”

Highlights:

  • USB charging port
  • Anti-theft back pocket
  • Four sizes available
  • Multiple color options

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Bellroy Transit Workpack

Transit Workpack Ecomm Via Bellroyvia merchant

Streamlined for work, travel and school, the Bellroy Transit Workpack features a large internal stretch pocket, external side pockets for easy access, separate laptop section for tech and a breathable back panel for optimal, all-day comfort. It comes in four colors and three sizes, and the weather-resistant fabric keeps items safe if students get caught in the rain on the way to class.

Highlights:

  • Water-resistant fabric
  • Eco-friendly
  • Breathable back panel
  • Three year warranty

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Best backpacks for commuting

Matein Travel Laptop Backpack

Matein Backpack Via Amazonvia merchant

This best-selling backpack has more than 57,000 five-star ratings on Amazon. Here’s why: The storage is exceptional. A front organizer section has spots for stashing keys, a wallet and phone. The main compartment is roomy and perfect for daily essentials, and there’s a separate padded space for laptops and other small tech devices. The professional on the go will also enjoy the external USB charging port and built-in charging cable inside. And did we mention you get all of this in a stylish package for under $40?

Verified Amazon reviewer Rose C. writes: “If I could give this backpack 10 stars, I would. It completely exceeded my expectations. Since I’m only 5’2”, most backpacks ride low and make my shoulders slouch forward when they’re heavy, but this backpack sits perfectly on my spine and I don’t slouch. There is so much padding on the straps, back and inside for the laptop that I feel comfortable and my laptop is properly supported.” For those days when you’d prefer a purse to a backpack—or bring along one that fits into your backpack—check out these classic handbags.

Highlights:

  • Budget-friendly
  • Water-resistant
  • Hidden anti-theft pocket
  • Built-in USB charging port

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Samsonite Mobile Solution Convertible Backpack

Samsonite Backpack Via Macysvia merchant

Samsonite, known for its superior luggage line, designed a backpack that’s the perfect combination of form and function. Using or removing the adjustable strap, the bag can be carried in five unique ways: as a backpack, crossbody, over-the-shoulder bag, handheld bag or as an oversized clutch. The multipurpose aspect makes this one of the best backpacks for commuting, allowing you to seamlessly adapt the carrier for any occasion. Made with a sleek and sturdy nylon fabric with vinyl trim, it’s both office appropriate and chic enough to sport every day. As an added benefit, there’s a retractable “SmartSleeve” located in the exterior back zippered pocket, which fits over luggage handles for easy mobility when traveling.

Highlights:

  • Water-resistant coating
  • Convertible
  • Interior padded tech sleeve
  • Fits over luggage handles

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Day Owl The Backpack

Midnight Navy The Backpack Ecomm Via Dayowlvia merchant

Minimalist yet functional, this sleek backpack from Day Owl features a spacious interior and padded laptop pocket for carrying both work and personal essentials. It also contains a front and top pocket for tinier gear and a slip-proof bottle pocket on the side. The brand boasts sustainability all around, from the materials used to craft each backpack and what happens to it when it’s time for an upgrade. When you want to refresh your bag, send it back to Day Owl and they’ll breathe new life into it.

Highlights:

  • Made from recycled materials
  • Padded laptop pocket
  • Slim profile yet spacious interior
  • Multiple color options

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Best backpacks for travel

Caraa Studio Bag

Backpack Via Caraasportvia merchant

Caraa is loved for their chic convertible bags, and this multi-purpose pick will be your new favorite travel companion. Available in three sizes and multiple colors, it transitions from a satchel to a backpack to crossbody simply by changing straps. Luxury waterproof nylon and Italian leather accents are made to last, and a secure turn-lock main compartment, padded zippered back pocket and external easy-to-grab side pocket make packing a piece of cake. Thoughtful details like a clear window jewelry pocket, breathing vents in the main compartment, a waterproof and antimicrobial lining and moisture-wicking mesh back make this bag worth the splurge. It also comes with a waterproof wet clothes bag and waterproof shoe pouch.

Highlights:

  • Moisture-wicking backpack straps
  • Anti-slip rubberized crossbody strap
  • Fits a 15-inch laptop
  • Available in three sizes

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J World New York Sunrise Rolling Backpack

J World Sunrise Rolling Backpack Ecomm Via Walmartvia merchant

Ideal for small kiddos, this rolling backpack is easy to tote around and won’t tire them out as easily. It also doubles as a school backpack or weekender for kids or anyone who prefers a pack they don’t have to wear on their back. As for the specifics, a spacious interior and front pocket organizer keep school and vacation essentials contained while one small zippered pocket holds tinier gear, too.

Highlights:

  • Fits under airplane seats or overhead compartment
  • Air mesh cushioned padded shoulder straps
  • Comes in 19 colors and prints

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Victorinox VX Sport EVO 2-in-1 Backpack/Duffel

Vx Backpack Via Swissarmyvia merchant

A trusty duffel bag gets an upgrade with this convertible carryall that we’re calling the best backpack for navigating any journey, near or far. Hidden straps convert the duffel to a backpack and allow for hands-free cruising, whether you’re racing for a flight or meandering on an outdoor expedition. Crafted from extra-tough polyester, it holds up on any adventure. Plus, clever multipurpose pockets offer versatile storage solutions, including compartments for electronics and a separate space for shoes. For the tech-inclined, check out these smart bags you can take on airplanes.

Highlights:

  • Convertible
  • Durable
  • Available in three colors
  • Adjustable padded straps

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Pacsafe MetroSafe LS350 ECONYL Daypack

Pacsafe Backpack Ecomm Via Reivia merchant

Silverman strongly recommends anti-theft backpacks for safer travels. She says, “cut-resistant fabrics and straps, as well as interlocking zippers” help protect your belongings. This Pacsafe pick has all the bells and whistles to keep you secure on your next jet-setting jaunt. Cut-resistant anchor straps keeps belongings secure while preventing grab-and-run theft. Zippers are lockable, and best of all, a RFID-blocking pocket keeps valuables like a passport, keys and credit cards in good hands.

Highlights:

  • Numerous safety features, including an RFID-blocking pocket
  • Made with ECONYL fiber, making it eco-friendly
  • Fits a laptop or tablet in padded sleeve

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Rachel LeWinter
Rachel is a New York City-based writer, editor, and style expert. She served as the Fashion Director at a national magazine, and has spent more than 15 years styling celebrity cover shoots, writing editorials, and finding the best products you never knew you needed. At RD.com, she covers fashion, beauty, gift guides, and various other lifestyle topics.
Madi Koetting
As Associate Shopping Editor, Madi is an expert at helping Reader's Digest readers find everyday household products to level up their life. She covers everything from Instagram-famous products to the internet’s best deals and discounts. When she’s not deep in a story, you can find her honing her at-home mixology skills and scouring TikTok for the next trendy product.