The 12 best backpacks for college students that can handle hauling laptops, books, and more

Lifestyle collage of best backpacks for college students, including brands like Carhartt, Jansport, and  The North Face
Andrea Bossi; Alyssa Powell/Insider

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If you're a college student, then you already know what a big difference a backpack can make. A good one can keep you from developing back problems, and it can also help you feel more stylish and organized as you head to class.

Going to college today usually means you're carrying a laptop, tablet, or potentially both while lugging around books, notebooks, snacks, hand sanitizer, and an assortment of other things. Your bag should be able to fit everything you need in a neat manner while being able to match your personal style every day.

As a current college student, I did my own research, asked friends on campus, consulted fellow product journalists, and tested out options firsthand to find the 11 best backpacks for college. 

Here are the best backpacks for college students in 2022:

Jansport Main Campus FX

Jansport Main Campus FX in beige on the floor
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Out of everything on this list, Jansport's Main Campus FX is my favorite for college. It's perfect for a student who's carrying a 15-inch laptop with a nice load of books and random accessories like headphones, a water bottle, beauty products, and assorted highlighters. The padded straps make carrying its weight a bit breezier. Its dedicated laptop pocket is nicely padded, and there are two other full-size compartments, making room for anything and everything. It also has a keychain in the front pocket to keep your dorm or apartment keys handy. Jansport's Right Pack is also a helpful but downgraded option that's probably best for the techie who has gone paperless.

Main Campus FX is the ultimate backpack for students when they're in school and even after they graduate. Not only is it built perfectly for carrying books and laptops, but it's also versatile, making it easy to use for everything from classes to road trips to the gym.

Carhartt Medium Pack + 3 Can Insulated Cooler

Carhartt Medium Pack + 3 Can Insulated Cooler
Amir Ismael/Insider

The Carhartt Medium Pack bundled with the three-can insulated cooler might be the ultimate backpack for college students. The backpack is made from Cordura, an incredibly durable ripstop material that's also been treated to be water repellent. The outside of the bag features a mesh pocket for a water bottle, a Hook-n-Haul system for adding extra items like the insulated cooler, and air-mesh shoulder padding. The inside of the bag has plenty of practical storage compartments. From the 15-inch laptop sleeve to the fleece-lined eyewear compartment, you'll  be able to keep all of your belongings organized and easily accessible. 

My favorite feature is the attached cooler. It can fit up to three 12-ounce cans, but it's also the perfect spot to keep snacks or a lunch for days when you have a packed schedule of classes. And when you're not on campus, it's perfect for hiking, trips to the beach, or anywhere else you'd want to enjoy a cold drink while on the go. It's also easily removable if you prefer to carry the backpack without it. — Amir Ismael, senior reporter

Dagne Dover The Dakota (Large)

Dagne Dover The Dakota (Large) in blue on the floor
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If you like a minimalistic design with ample space and clever compartments, this neoprene bag will be your saving grace. It's water-resistant, shock-absorbent, and has sleek straps. Inside, there are pockets galore, and no space is wasted! The laptop compartment fits a 16-inch laptop which is bigger than the average college device. The main compartment holds up to 20 liters and has a mesh tablet pocket, five medium-sized pockets, and a convenient detachable pouch. Two exterior pockets can carry your water bottle and a stash of snacks. 

I can confidently say this backpack fits everything I would ever need: my laptop, tablet, textbooks, water bottle, notebook, snacks, and a spare pair of shoes. On the outside, it looks chic and simple, but inside, it gives you all the power to be your most organized self. It even has a nearly-invisible slip pocket by the handle where you can keep small items like a snack or headphones. 

One of my favorite features is the luggage handle sleeve that allows you to slide the backpack onto any suitcase you're wheeling around.

Herschel Little America Backpack

Herschel Little America in navy blue on the floor
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$64.99 from Nordstrom
Originally $110.00Save 41%

The Herschel Little America backpack is a classic carryall with a deceiving name. With its spacious 25 liters and nicely padded laptop compartment, the pack is made to help you carry everything you need for school while sporting a timeless style. The main compartment is like a huge pit where you can fit a lot of things: books, snacks, tech, and more. It also has two small side pockets on the inside. Little America is easily expandable and easily collapsible. The single outer pocket is perfect for storing quick things you may need throughout your day.

The backside is thoroughly padded for comfortable carrying. Though, personally, I think this backpack works best on taller people since it's 19.25 inches long. On an average height woman like me, the bag is a bit overwhelming on my short-ish back.

Carhartt Legacy Classic Work Pack

Carhartt Legacy Classic Work Pack in orange on the floor
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This backpack gets the job done with no frills or upgrades. It's compact, water repellent, and engineered to hold a medium-size load. Its sole main compartment includes a 15-inch laptop pocket and tablet slot. The main pocket is made to carry essentials, while two front pockets make it easy to store smaller things. All around, the backpack is durable, and its reinforced bottom is an extension of that durability. If you're the type of student who doesn't care about a water bottle side pocket, this is especially the backpack for you.

Plus, if you're a Carhartt fan, it comes in the classic brown colorway that the Michigan-made workwear brand is recognized for. If you want something a bit more intense in terms of size and pockets, try the Legacy Standard Work Pack.

Vera Bradley Campus Backpack

Vera Bradley Campus Backpack in army green
Andrea Bossi/Insider

For the college student with a maturing style and an appreciation for a spacious bag, this may be a great stylistic and functional choice. It has a gently padded 15-inch laptop compartment along with two side pockets for a water bottle. It has a sizable 25-liter main compartment containing two mesh slip pockets and outer pockets to store smaller items. It zips smoothly, has comfortable straps ergonomically designed for women and a luggage handle on the back.

To me, one of the best parts is the utility combined with the minimalistic look. The small brand tag is monochromatic and located on the side, so it blends in with the rest of the backpack. Once you open its pockets, you get a pop of paisley pattern and personality.

The North Face Borealis Backpack

The North Face Borealis Backpack in green with orange straps on floor
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The North Face is known for making durable and high-quality gear and the Borealis Backpack, one of the brand's most classic styles, is no different. The 28-liter size can fit just about everything you need for class and then some. It has the standard features: a nicely padded laptop pocket, a spacious main compartment, side pockets for water bottles, a small fleece-lined outer pocket, and a bigger outer pocket with pockets and places for pens. It's built with a chest and hip belt, making it useful for hikes too.

There's also a small but thoughtful feature to appreciate: U-pull zippers that make unzipping any of its pockets 10 times easier. The Borealis Backpack may not have a bunch of hidden compartments in the niftiest spaces, but it does what it needs to with quality materials made to last a long while. And for the same price, the Women's Borealis is specifically designed to fit a woman's body.

Patagonia Refugio Backpack 28L

Patagonia Refugio Backpack 28L in black against wall
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Patagonia is never shy about where it stands on environmental issues, so it only makes sense that this wonderfully structured backpack is crafted with recycled nylon. Beyond the sustainability factor, it's a great candidate for a college bag because of its high-quality feel, protectively padded laptop and tablet sleeve, and side pockets. It also has a small outer pocket that's in the perfect spot for quickly grabbing something like a sweater or snacks.

Lululemon Everyday Backpack 2.0

Lululemon Everyday Backpack 2.0 in black on floor
Andrea Bossi/Insider

Lululemon's lightweight Everyday Backpack does exactly what a college backpack needs to without too many frills. The bag has a 23-liter capacity and a padded laptop pocket that fits a 16-inch device. It's made with a water repellent fabric, two side pockets for water bottles, inner mesh pockets, and a small outer pocket. It has a luggage sleeve and the minimalistic logo doesn't scream "I love Lululemon." While not made of the thickest material, the popular fitness brand's Everyday Backpack is designed with exactly what a college student needs. The sleek shape and neutral colorways also mean it can go with lots of different looks.

Fjällräven Kånken Laptop 15”

Fjällräven Kånken Laptop 15” in black against wall
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I see this backpack all the time on my college campus, and here's why: The compact rectangular design can be expanded, making it especially versatile. The sleek look makes this a functional piece as well as a nice addition to almost any outfit. It has three pockets: a laptop pocket, main compartment, and outer pouch. The laptop pocket is well padded and the zipper is tucked away in the back. The straps are nice and soft, though oriented differently than the typical backpack, and it has two side pouches that can be used to store a water bottle and possibly even an umbrella.

Eddie Bauer Adventurer 30L Pack

Eddie Bauer Adventurer® 30L Pack
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$74.25 from Eddie Bauer
Originally $99.00Save 25%

The name doesn't lie. Eddie Bauer's Adventurer is the perfect, well-equipped bag to accompany any adventures you embark on during college and beyond. Other backpacks on this list may bask in their glory of geniously placed pockets and features, but when it comes down to size, not much beats this pack's 30-liter capacity.

Interestingly, the 17-inch laptop compartment is accessible via a side pocket and not the standard zip-around top. The spacious main compartment has a handy tablet/tech pocket. The second main compartment can fit a notebook or three and has a fleece-lined pocket for storing things like pens, note cards, and chargers. The front exterior features a small zippered pocket and a sleek open pocket. This water-repellent bag is built to battle with you all through college and after.

LL Bean Comfort Carry Pack

LL Bean Comfort Carry Pack
Andrea Bossi/Insider

This backpack is all about functionality, protecting your laptop, and basic storage. It has a spacious 30-liter capacity but not an extravagance of pockets. There's a main compartment with a laptop pocket as well as a second compartment with an organizer for pencils. Made with a chest belt, hip belt, and padded straps, this bag is meant to last a while, going between school and other activities. The bungee cords on the front are also a perfect place to hold one last thing, like a light jacket or shirt.

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