The Best Backpacks for High School and College Students, Tested by Teens and Approved by Parents

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These backpacks are spacious, comfortable, and durable

<p>Verywell Family / Kristin Kempa</p>

Verywell Family / Kristin Kempa

One of the most important items on any back-to-school list is a backpack. Whether your student is gearing up for high school or heading off to college, a spacious, comfortable, and durable backpack that can carry all their essentials will help them succeed in the school year ahead.

When looking for a backpack for a high schooler or college student, parents should prioritize those with plenty of space for a laptop, textbooks, notebooks, and more. They should also have lots of compartments for smaller items, like a phone, wallet, and snacks, as well as a designated water bottle holder to help them stay hydrated.

The size of a backpack is also important because it determines the amount of weight placed on your student’s back. According to Scott Bautch, DC, president of the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) Council on Occupational Health, a kid’s backpack (when packed) should weigh no more than 10% of their body weight. A heavier backpack will cause them to bend forward to support the weight on the back, rather than the shoulders, he says. It can also affect a person's posture and cause fatigue, pain in the neck and shoulders, and increase their risk of musculoskeletal injury.

To select the best backpacks for high school and college, we consulted with a board-certified doctor of chiropractic and a board-certified doctor of physical therapy, as well as high school and college students and parents. We then researched the top backpacks on the market and had our editors and their older kids test 50 of them during their daily routine.

Our editors examined each backpack, paying close attention to features, functionality, and durability. The students wore the backpacks while walking and running between classes and analyzed how easy or difficult it was to place their laptop, books, and stuff inside. They also took note of the number of pockets and if there were enough compartments to hold their items.

To ensure we provide the most reliable information regarding the best backpacks for high school and college students, a physician on our Medical Review Board reviewed this article for medical accuracy and integrity regarding backpack weight recommendations and other safety concerns.

Best Overall: The North Face Vault Backpack

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  • Lots of padding on the straps and back

  • Easy-to-clean, waterproof finish

  • Stands on its own for easy loading


  • Not enough zippered pockets

One of our editors had her 16-year-old daughter test this backpack by wearing it to high school for the second half of the school year. Since she only visited her locker once a day, she needed a backpack that would fit all of her textbooks and school supplies—and the Vault definitely lived up to its name.

Although it looks slim from the outside, this backpack has three zippered pockets and one laptop sleeve, allowing her to carry everything she needs. Her only complaint is that she wished it had one more zippered pocket to house her valuables.

The Vault is designed to be comfortable yet sturdy. The zippers are easy to maneuver, and the shoulder straps are padded and comfy. Thomas Dinh, PT, DPT, Clinical Manager at Southland Physical Therapy, recommends it because its wide shoulder straps are good for pressure distribution.

We also like that it has a sternum strap and two water bottle pockets, which offer plenty of room for our teen’s Hydro Flask. As a bonus, this backpack stands on its own while loading and unloading and has a durable water-repellent finish, which makes it ideal for teens who spend a lot of time outdoors.

At $65, the Vault costs less than the median price of all the backpacks we tested. It is sleek, stylish, and seems like it will last at least several years. Best of all, its suspension system is endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), which means it was thoroughly reviewed, tested, and evaluated by a board of doctors of chiropractic and approved by the ACA Board of Governors.

Price at time of publication: $65

Key Specs: 
11 x 8.5 x 18 in | Weight: 1 lb 11 oz | Water Bottle Holders: 2 | Pockets: 3 | Storage Capacity: 27 liters, holds 15-inch laptop

Best for High School: Jansport Main Campus

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  • Multiple compartments

  • Dedicated front pouch for small items

  • Very durable


  • Only has one water bottle holder

JanSport’s Main Campus backpack comes in 24 colors and patterns and has plenty of storage, including a padded laptop sleeve and three separate compartments to house all kinds of school supplies. One of the teens who tested this backpack said that all the pockets were pretty useful and helped keep his laptop, folders, and electronic accessories organized.

Although the middle pocket on this backpack is pretty slim, we found it useful for storing paper and other small items. A second water bottle holder would be a great addition, especially for kids who play after-school sports and require extra fluids. However, kids should get plenty of use out of the side buckles, which are designed to help compress and contain large loads.

This backpack is also pretty comfortable, and we found that it doesn't feel heavy or weigh kids down. The weight is distributed evenly so as not to strain their back, and its padded straps feel comfortable on their shoulders. Although two hands are needed to adjust the straps and open the zippers, we like that the bottom panel is strong enough to maintain the bag's structure and wide enough to house several textbooks.

After lots of use, this backpack’s color still hasn’t faded, even after being dragged through the dirt. It’s made from 100% recycled polyester, which feels very durable and kept our kids' school supplies dry when it was drizzling outside. We especially like that this backpack comes with a lifetime warranty that covers the repair or replacement of manufacturing defects. After owning several other JanSport backpacks, we're pretty confident that this one will work for your student throughout their entire high school or college journey.

Price at time of publication: $55

Key Specs: 
17 x 12.5 x 7 in | Weight: 1 lb 5.5 oz | Water Bottle Holders: 1 | Pockets: 3 | Storage Capacity: 32 liters, holds 16 x 12.5-inch laptop sleeve

Best for College: Nordace Aerial Infinity Backpack

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  • Six external pockets, including a secret zippered one

  • Equipped with a 3-in-1 USB charging port

  • Keeps valuables safe with Radio Frequency ID card-blocking pockets


  • Internal pockets can get snagged on binders

With college being the first time many kids are away from home, parents will be relieved to know that the Nordace Aerial Infinity Backpack can help protect their kids' identity. Specifically, this backpack contains card-blocking pockets that prevent Radio Frequency ID (RFID) from obtaining credit card information. There's also a secret zippered pocket where students can hide their valuables.

When it comes to design, this backpack has the ultimate features. It has a stylish silhouette and an ergonomic back plate made from ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, which is known for being soft and resilient. During testing, our students never felt weighed down while wearing it, and its padded straps were thick, comfortable, and easy to adjust. They could also open the backpack with one hand, and its zippers were sturdy and would never get stuck on the fabric. However, they had to be careful when placing binders inside, as the small internal pockets often got snagged.

With six external and many internal pockets, it feels like this backpack has room for anything and everything. This will be especially helpful when your kid spends hours on campus before returning to their dorm room. It even has a 3-in-1 USB charging port to keep their electronics up and running all day.

Although this backpack has a higher price tag, we think the quality and features are worth the extra expense, especially since they can help keep your kid safe while they're away at school.

Price at time of publication: $130

Key Specs: 
18.5 x 11.25 x 6.5 in | Weight: 2.2 lb | Water Bottle Holders: 1 | Pockets: 6 | Storage Capacity: 20 liters, holds 15-inch laptop

Related: The Best College Dorm Bedding Picks for a Comfortable and Stylish Room

Best Back Support: The North Face Borealis Backpack

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  • Roomy, comfortable, and lightweight

  • Lots of compartments to store school supplies, keys, or phone

  • Still looks new after a year of use


  • Not for kids younger than 12 years of age

To test the North Face Borealis backpack, we had an editor's teenage son use it for the entire school year. He loves that it has plenty of room for his notebooks, three textbooks, an iPad, and a change of clothes, and it never feels heavy or overstuffed. It comes equipped with a water bottle holder and has lots of little compartments—including a fleece one for electronics—that help him stay organized throughout the day.

This backpack provides the right amount of support. The thick, comfortable straps make it easier to carry his items and help it stay in place when he runs to the bus each day. Although it took him some time to get used to the chest strap, we could tell it made the backpack even more comfortable to wear since it helped disperse the weight. We really like that it's certified by the American Chiropractic Association, though this backpack shouldn't be used by kids younger than 12 years old.

Another great aspect of this backpack is its durability. It's made from recycled polyester and has a water-repellent finish. After using it for the entire school year, there aren't any frays and it legitimately still looks new. To top it off, our student got lots of compliments while wearing it, which we know means everything to kids at this age.

Price at time of publication: $99

Key Specs: 
11 x 5.75 x 18.75 in | Weight: 2 lb | Water Bottle Holders: 2 | Pockets: 4 | Storage Capacity: 27 liters, holds 15-inch laptop

Related: The 10 Best Desk Chairs for Kids

Best Budget: JanSport Cool Student Backpack

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  • Amazing storage capacity

  • Straps are easy for kids to adjust on their own

  • Synthetic leather accents add style and durability


  • Not water resistant

The JanSport Cool Student backpack has a ton of great features. It has amazing storage capacity and can easily fit a laptop, lunch bag, and folders inside its main compartment. It has plenty of pockets to store your supplies, which helps prevent smaller items from getting lost at the bottom of the bag.

We also like the design of this backpack. It's made from 100% recycled materials and has synthetic leather accents, which make it durable and stylish. It also has ergonomic s-curve shoulder straps, which one student in particular really liked and found easy to adjust on his own. The adjustable straps also help make this backpack ideal for students who have to walk—or run—long distances between classes because it doesn't flop around when they walk.

Although the outer material feels a bit thin and isn't water resistant, this backpack is quite durable. It has strong, reinforced stitching and withstands the force of teenagers cramming their books and all their stuff into it. And while it may not have all the bells and whistles that other backpacks do, the Cool Student is functional, spacious, and reasonably priced.

Price at time of publication: $55

Key Specs: 
17 x 12 x 8 in | Weight: 1 lb 5 oz | Water Bottle Holders: 1 | Pockets: 5 | Storage Capacity: 34 liters, holds 15-inch laptop

Related: The 20 Best Backpacks for Kids of 2023, Tested and Reviewed

Best for Laptop: L.L.Bean Comfort Carry Laptop Backpack

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  • Chest and waist straps help stabilize heavy loads

  • Comfortable

  • Made from durable nylon


  • Not water resistant

While some backpacks can feel crammed with a laptop inside, the L.L.Bean Comfort Carry Laptop Backpack has plenty of room to spare. In addition to a dedicated sleeve that can house a 15-inch laptop, it has three large pockets where students can place binders, books, and supplies for after-school activities.

Our editor who tested this backpack with her teenager said it has the perfect amount of pockets and getting things in and out is a breeze. It also cut down on the time (and frustration) of trying to fit everything in her bag each day, which every parent knows is half the battle of getting to school on time.

In terms of comfort, this backpack has the ergonomic support of a hiking pack, including breathable mesh straps and an extra-padded back. We like that the sternum and waist straps are adjustable and help stabilize heavy loads. One student described it as "very comfy," which is especially important for her mile-long walk to school.

If your student is an outdoor enthusiast, they'll love the design of this backpack. Although it's not water resistant, it did keep our items dry while we walked in the rain. We especially like that the zippers were easy to use and never got caught on the fabric. It's also really durable because it's made from 1000 denier nylon, which is known for being resistant to wear and is often used to make items like raincoats and luggage. Given how well constructed it is, we'd feel confident with our older kids carrying an expensive laptop in this bag.

Price at time of publication: $89

Key Specs: 
18.75 x 11.75 x 10 in | Weight: 1.85 lb | Water Bottle Holders: 2 | Pockets: 3 | Storage Capacity: 30 liters, holds 15-inch laptop

Related: The 12 Best Laptops for Kids

Best for Tech: Dagne Dover Small Dakota Neoprene Backpack

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  • Neoprene provides padding and insulation for electronics

  • Soft to the touch and comfortable to wear

  • Made with recycled plastic bottles


  • Stains easily

  • High price tag

In addition to having dedicated spots to store your electronics, the Dagne Dakota Backpack will also protect them, thanks to its neoprene fabric. Neoprene is a type of rubber known for its ability to insulate against hot and cold and protect against the elements—which is why it's used to make wetsuits. Neoprene is flexible, durable, and strong, making it an ideal fabric to protect your teen's technology.

Another great aspect of this backpack is its design. When testing the medium version, we found that it was a great fit not only for our high schoolers but also for our editor's 10-year-old daughter. We also like that it's equipped with a 13-inch sleeve to keep laptops locked away between classes. To top it off, this backpack's lining, shoe bag, and dust bag are made from recycled polyester derived from plastic bottles.

In terms of comfort, we found that this backpack is well padded and our testers' shoulders never hurt while using it. We also like that the straps are easy to adjust and the fabric feels soft to the touch. However, we found that it stained easily and wasn't waterproof, which made us feel cautious about wearing this backpack in the rain.

At nearly $200, the Dagne Dakota is the most expensive backpack on our list. However, the fact that it will insulate and protect your student's laptop due to its durable neoprene exterior makes it well worth the cost.

Price at time of publication: $195

Key Specs: 
11.5 x 5 x 17 in | Weight: 2 lb | Water Bottle Holders: 2 | Pockets: 4 | Storage Capacity: 16 liters, holds 13-inch laptop

Best Waterproof: lululemon City Adventurer Backpack

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  • Water-resistant exterior

  • Straps stay in place regardless of activity level

  • Stylish, lightweight, and comfortable


  • Not enough compartments

  • Water bottle holder is small

While walking to class in the rain, our editor’s college freshman reported that her books and papers stayed perfectly dry inside the lululemon City Adventurer Pack. Its 100% nylon body is water repellent, which means it is unlikely that water will penetrate the material. Instead, water will bead up on the outside, similar to how water would with oil. This also helped the backpack repel dirt, even when we stuffed it underneath a seat in an airplane.

True to all lululemon products, this backpack is made for movement. Our editor’s daughter found it “surprisingly comfortable” to wear while sprinting across the airport and said the straps stayed in place no matter how active she was. We also like the adjustable padded straps and how stylish and lightweight this backpack is, even when carrying heavy loads.

When it came to storage, our college freshman was disappointed that this backpack couldn’t hold more than what she needed for class. While there’s space for a 16-inch laptop, it lacks extra pockets to hold a wallet, keys, or snacks. Instead, everything must go in the main compartment, which is a recipe for disorganization. Another major flaw with this backpack is that the water bottle pocket is too small and can't even hold a small reusable bottle.

For a backpack that costs $128, we hoped that it would have more storage space and pockets to keep things organized. However, we still recommend this backpack and think it’s a comfortable, stylish option for students who don't need to carry a lot of stuff and those who may encounter rain or snow.

Price at time of publication: $128

Key Specs: 
11.4 x 7.1 x 16.1 in | Weight: 1.61 lb | Water Bottle Holders: 2 | Pockets: 4 | Storage Capacity: 20 liters, holds 16-inch laptop

Best Organization: Swissgear 3760 ScanSmart Laptop Backpack

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  • Large capacity with multiple organization pockets

  • 10-year extended warranty

  • Lay-flat electronics compartment makes airport travel a breeze


  • Large size and heavier than most backpacks

If organization is not your teen’s forte, we recommend the Swissgear 3760 ScanSmart Laptop Backpack. It has four main pockets and is large enough to hold a laptop, tablet, textbooks, and binders. It has lots of little pockets and slots to house various items and even has a designated “crush-resistant” spot for sunglasses.

Aside from being organized, this backpack is really durable. It’s made from abrasion-resistant polyester and comes with a 10-year extended warranty. After several months of testing, it also showed no signs of fading or wear and tear.

We like that this backpack has padded ergonomic straps made from a breathable material, which we found very comfortable to wear during testing. Our editor’s teen son, who’s 5 feet 11 inches tall, said the straps were easy to adjust and he had no trouble running with this backpack on. However, at nearly 3 pounds, it is on the heavier side and may not be ideal for everyone.

Although we didn’t test this feature, it’s worth mentioning that this backpack has a lay-flat electronics compartment that allows you to go through airport security without removing your laptop. Combined with the collection of pockets and compartments, we think this feature makes the Swissgear 3760 a great backpack for travel, too.

Price at time of publication: $84

Key Specs: 
18.5 x 12.5 x 8.75 in | Weight: 2.6 lb | Water Bottle Holders: 1 | Pockets: 4 | Storage Capacity: 26 liters, holds 16-inch laptop and 10-inch tablet

Related: The 79 Best Gifts for Teens of 2023

Best for Travel: lululemon Everyday Backpack 2.0 23L

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  • Built-in luggage sleeve

  • Comfortable to wear, even when running

  • Water resistant and made with 100% recycled polyester


  • Straps felt stiff and were difficult to adjust

If your teen is bound for an out-of-town college, the lululemon Everyday Backpack 2.0 is a must-have for their commute. Our editor’s daughter loved how many places there were to store her essentials, including a water bottle and a 16-inch laptop, and said that it would be an “amazing” travel bag. We also like that it has a built-in luggage sleeve to keep it securely attached to a suitcase, which would be especially useful when traveling back home for the holidays.

In terms of durability, this backpack is made from a water-repellant, 100% recycled polyester fabric. We think it is well made and its high-end craftsmanship is worth the cost. The one feature we're not sure about is a security flap that covers the zipper on the front pocket. While it looks sleek and we were able to unzip it with one hand, we found that sometimes it sticks on the fabric.

Even after overstuffing this bag, our editor’s daughter found it comfortable to wear. She especially liked the lightly padded straps; however, they felt quite stiff at first and were difficult to adjust. Even so, she reported that she could comfortably run while wearing it, which will be especially helpful if your teen is late to class or attempting to catch a flight.

Price at time of publication: $98

Key Specs: 
11.4 x 5.9 x 16.5 in | Weight: 1.4 lb | Water Bottle Holders: 2 | Pockets: 2 | Storage Capacity: 23 liters, holds 16-inch laptop

Best Trendy: Fjallraven Kanken 15-inch Laptop Backpack

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  • In “perfect shape” after years of use

  • Available in three sizes and 10 stylish colors

  • Durable and easy to clean


  • Shoulder straps don’t have much padding

  • Lacks inner compartments to keep items organized

Our editor’s daughter has owned a Fjallraven Kånken backpack for four years and used it throughout high school. Although it’s become her secondary backpack now that she’s in college, she still uses it often because she loves the aesthetic, compact size, and five accessible pockets.

Looks can be deceiving when it comes to the Kånken backpack. While small, we found it had enough room for school essentials, including a laptop, lunchbox, books, and notebooks. We are drawn to its stylish, boxy design and love that it is available in three sizes and 10 colors, ranging from terracotta brown to foliage green. Plus, it’s durable, easy to clean (just use warm water and a soft brush), and still appears to be in great shape after years of use.

Although the straps on this backpack could use more padding, they stayed firmly in place while our editor’s high schooler hiked and ran. Even so, she reported that the straps didn’t cause her discomfort or impact her ability to carry everything she needed. However, it has no inner compartments to house smaller items, which isn’t ideal if your kid needs help staying organized.

Overall, we think this backpack is worth every penny. It’s stylish, easy to clean, and has enough room for the essentials. Best of all, our editor reported that it has no rips or tears after years of use and remains in “perfect shape.”

Price at time of publication: $115

Key Specs: 
15.7 x 6.3 x 11 in | Weight: 1.01 lb | Water Bottle Holders: 2 | Pockets: 5 | Storage Capacity: 18 liters, holds 15-inch laptop

Best Basic: Herschel Settlement Backpack

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  • Simple, modern design with two main pockets

  • Comfortable to wear, doesn’t bounce when running

  • Fits all the essentials plus a lunchbox and change of clothes


  • Versions made before June 2023 may not have a water bottle holder

If your high schooler or college-bound kiddo prefers a simple backpack with a sleek, modern design, we recommend the Herschel Supply Settlement Backpack. It's available in 12 different colors and is equipped with two pockets and a laptop sleeve. Although it doesn't have all the bells and whistles that others do, it has enough room for everything they needed for school plus a few extras, like PE clothes and a lunchbox.

To prevent the backpack from digging into your shoulders, its straps are padded with EVA foam, which feels a lot like a gym or yoga mat. Our editor's daughter reported that it was easy to run while wearing this backpack and that it didn't bounce on her back when doing so. In fact, she thought it was so comfortable to wear that she has continued to wear it in place of her old one.

Although she loved this backpack, her one complaint was that it didn't have a water bottle holder. However, in June 2023, Herschel released a new version of this backpack, which is equipped with a water bottle holder and laptop holder. To ensure your backpack has the latest features, we recommend purchasing yours directly from the Herschel website.

Despite its basic design, this backpack is incredibly durable. Plus, it's environmentally friendly since its thick exterior is made from 100% recycled post-consumer water bottles. Best of all, this backpack will last a long time—one of our editors has owned one for years and says that it still looks brand new.

Price at time of publication: $65

Key Specs: 
17.75 x 12.25 x 5.75 in | Weight: 2.6 lb | Water Bottle Holders: 1 | Pockets: 2 | Storage Capacity: 23 liters, holds 16-inch laptop

Best Large: Columbia Zigzag 30L Backpack

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  • Can hold as much as an 8-gallon trash can

  • Durable and water resistant

  • Available in 12 different colors and patterns


  • Not ideal to wear in hot weather

According to the high school senior who tested this backpack, the Columbia ZigZag has an "insane" amount of space and is good for days when you need to carry a lot of stuff to school. It has two main compartments, a small front pocket, a fleece-lined laptop sleeve, and two water bottle pockets. All in all, this backpack can hold up to 30 liters, which is as much as an 8-gallon trash can.

At first glance, this backpack appeared to be made of thin material, but in reality, it's anything but flimsy. It's made entirely from polyester and is coated in polyurethane, making it durable and extremely water-resistant. We even filled it to its capacity while camping and traveling in an airplane and were pleasantly surprised to see how tough it was and how much it could hold.

Weighing just slightly more than a pound, the ZigZag is comfortable to carry and doesn't weigh you down. We like that it has thick, padded shoulder straps; however, they aren't very breathable and may cause you to sweat. If we could change anything about this backpack, it would be to add some ventilation to make it comfortable to wear in warm climates.

Price at time of publication: $55-$65

Key Specs: 
18.1 x 11.8 x 10.6 in | Weight: 1 lb 3 oz | Water Bottle Holders: 2 | Pockets: 4 | Storage Capacity: 30 liters, holds 15-inch laptop

Related: The 16 Best Kids’ Lunch Boxes for Fun and Nutritious Meals on the Go

Best Extra Large: Herschel Little America Backpack

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  • Large storage offers plenty of clearance for items

  • Stylish and well made; designed to last for years

  • Made from 100% recycled post-consumer water bottles


  • Lacks individual storage areas

Despite its name, the Herschel Little America Backpack is actually quite large. At 19.25 inches, it’s the tallest of all the backpacks we tested and has three areas to pack your stuff: a main compartment with a laptop sleeve, a pocket on the lid, and a front pocket. While all of this space gave us plenty of clearance between our items and the bag, it also felt a bit deep to one student who would have preferred to see more individual storage areas. Even so, she felt like the backpack was well made and could hold a lot of weight.

The Little America Backpack is comfortable to wear. Its straps are adjustable and are lined with ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, which is similar in feel to a gym or yoga mat. We also really like that it’s eco friendly, since it’s made from 100% recycled post-consumer water bottles. This backpack’s style is especially unique because its main compartment doesn’t close with a zipper. Instead, it has a drawstring opening covered with magnet-fastened straps and metal buckles.

Overall, we like the amount of space this backpack has, although we wish the front pocket were bigger to hold more items. At $130, it’s one of the more expensive bags we tested, but that’s to be expected from a popular brand known for making quality, long-lasting products.

Price at time of publication: $130

Key Specs: 
19.25 x 11.25 x 7 in | Weight: 1 lb 3 oz | Water Bottle Holders: 2 | Pockets: 3 | Storage Capacity: 25 liters, holds 16-inch laptop 

Related: The Best Ready-Made Care Packages for College Kids

How We Rated the Best Backpacks for High School and College

  • 4.8 to 5 stars: These are the best backpacks for high school and college students we tested. We recommend them without reservation.

  • 4.5 to 4.7 stars: These backpacks for high school and college students are excellent—they might have minor flaws, but we still recommend them.

  • 4.0 to 4.5 stars: We think these are great backpacks for high school and college, but others are better.

  • 3.5 to 3.9 stars: These backpacks for high school and college students are just average.

  • 3.4 and below: We don't recommend backpacks for high school and college with this rating; you won't find any on our list.

We Also Tested

  • Herschel Classic Backpack | XL: This backpack seemed to have an endless amount of space to hold everything we needed. However, the straps didn’t stay in place when we adjusted them and slid back down by the end of each day.

How We Tested the Best Backpacks for High School and College

Our process began by speaking with Jacqueline Tatelman, who specializes in backpack design and has spent years working in the fashion industry. We also spoke with two medical professionals to learn more about the recommended weight limit for kids’ backpacks and how carrying a heavy one can contribute to neck and back pain: Scott Bautch, DC, a chiropractor and president of the American Chiropractic Association Council on Occupational Health; and Thomas Dinh, PT, DPT, Clinical Manager at Southland Physical Therapy, who is a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedics and a certified strength and conditioning specialist.

We then researched and tested 50 different backpacks varying in price, design, durability, comfort, and capacity. We started by examining each backpack in detail, including its functionality, features, and fabric. We then had high school and college students try on the backpacks and run while wearing them to see how well they stayed on. We also asked them to fill the backpacks with their school supplies, laptop, and other daily essentials to see how well they suited their individual needs. After using the backpacks for at least one month, we then attempted to spot-clean them and took note of how difficult it was to remove stains.

Our editors and their high school and college-age kids continue to use these backpacks in their daily routines. We will update this article constantly as they provide additional feedback on the quality and durability of these backpacks.

What to Look for in a Backpack for High School and College Students


To ensure we recommended backpacks for all budgets, we tested 50 different products that ranged from $22-$196, with a median price of $109. After our testing was complete, we chose the JanSport Cool Student Backpack ($55) as our best budget pick, while our most expensive recommendation was our best for tech pick, the Dagne Dover Dakota Medium Backpack.

While price is a significant factor in choosing a backpack for a high school or college student, it shouldn't be the only deciding factor. Dr. Bautch encourages parents and caregivers to select ergonomically designed backpacks that have wide, padded straps that can be adjusted to fit the student's body. If the straps can't be adjusted, the backpack may hang too low, causing them to lean forward while walking.

According to Dr. Dinh, higher is better when positioning a backpack. "A backpack should sit approximately 2 inches below your shoulders," he says. "Wear both shoulder straps to equally distribute the weight of the backpack through the shoulders, and if it has chest straps, use those as well."

Size and Capacity

The size and capacity of a backpack ultimately determine how much your child can carry. Having enough space for their notebooks, textbooks, laptops, and personal items is essential to help kids get through the day and stay organized. The Swissgear 3760 ScanSmart Laptop Backpack is our pick for best organization because it has four main compartments and lots of little pockets, including a “crush-resistant” one for sunglasses.

Although size and capacity are important, Dr. Bautch warns that bigger is not always better when it comes to a backpack. “The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry and the heavier the backpack will be,” Dr. Bautch says.

According to Dr. Dinh, a backpack should weigh no more than 10% of the student's body weight, or no more than 20% for rolling trolley backpacks. “Backpacks that weigh more than this will begin to alter the child’s gait and posture and increase their risk for injury.”

What’s more, repeatedly carrying a heavy backpack for long durations may contribute to a variety of musculoskeletal issues. “A [heavy backpack] may contribute to degenerative changes to ligaments, muscles, and the spine over time,” adds Dr. Dinh.

Quality Materials and Construction

Backpacks made from quality materials tend to be more durable and last longer, making them well worth the investment. Our best overall pick, The North Face Vault Backpack, has a water-repellent finish designed to withstand the elements of the great outdoors. You can tell by just looking at this backpack that it's well constructed and durable. It's also endorsed by the ACA and is reasonably priced at $65.

We also really like our best for high school pick, the JanSport Main Campus, which costs $55. After lots of use, its color never faded (even after being dragged through the dirt) and it kept our school supplies dry while it was drizzling outside. Best of all, it comes with a lifetime warranty that covers the repair or replacement of manufacturing defects.

When it comes to materials, the Dagne Dover Dakota Medium Backpack is unique in that it's made from neoprene, a type of rubber used to make wetsuits and other insulated products. Neoprene is soft to the touch and known for its ability to protect its contents with padding, which makes the Dagne Dover Dakota ideal for transporting laptops and other tech items.

If you're looking for a sustainable backpack, we recommend the lululemon Everyday Backpack 2.0 or the The North Face Borealis Backpack. Both are made from 100% recycled polyester and have a durable, water-resistant finish.

One backpack, in particular, has withstood the test of time: the Fjallraven Kånken 15-Inch Laptop Backpack. According to one of our editors, it's still in "perfect shape" after years of use with almost no signs of wear and tear. It's made from a synthetic material called Vinylon F, which is durable, resilient, and easy to maintain.

Compartments and Pockets

The amount of strategically placed compartments and pockets makes the difference between a good backpack and a great backpack. “A backpack with individualized compartments helps in positioning the contents most effectively,” says Dr. Bautch. “[Parents] should always make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on their child’s back.”

Compartments and pockets also help kids stay organized. According to our editors, the L.L.Bean Comfort Carry Laptop Backpack had the “perfect amount of pockets” and it was easy to get things out of them. It also made getting to school on time easier because they didn’t have to haphazardly stuff everything into the backpack each day.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much should a college backpack cost?

College backpacks can vary in price, which is determined by the features, material, construction, and size. After researching and testing 50 different backpacks, we found that the median price was $109 is a good benchmark to assess the price of backpacks. However, it’s entirely possible to find a quality backpack for less. If you’re looking to spend less than $100, we recommend the JanSport Cool Student Backpack.

What kind of backpack do you need for high school?

While there is no one-size-fits-all backpack for high school, choosing one with a good amount of storage, a laptop sleeve, and water bottle holder is a great start.

Our favorite backpack for high school is the JanSport Main Campus because it comes in 24 colors and patterns, so kids can choose one that represents their personality. It has plenty of storage, including a padded laptop sleeve and three separate compartments to house all of their school supplies. During our test, we found that all of the pockets in the JanSport Main Campus were useful and helped keep a laptop, folders, and electronic accessories organized.

Do high schoolers need big backpacks?

While a big backpack may enable high schoolers to carry more, it can also place unnecessary strain on their back. It’s important that parents make sure a backpack weighs no more than 10% of their student's body weight (or 20% for rolling backpacks) and that the backpack sits 2 inches below their shoulders and hangs no more than 4 inches below their hips, suggests Dr. Bautch.

Which backpack brands are the best?

Nowadays, there are a multitude of backpack brands on the market. To ensure we recommended the best backpacks, we tested 50 different products from a variety of brands, prioritizing those that are known for durability, capacity, design, and value. You can be confident that any backpack on our list is a good choice, as they were all rigorously researched, tested, and analyzed.

Why Trust Verywell Family

Laura Lu, MS is an experienced health writer who has a Master of Science degree in Health Communication. Her work has appeared in publications like The New York Times, Media Psychology, Brit+Co, and, to name a few. Growing up, she always carried a JanSport backpack to school and loved how colorful, durable, and spacious they were. As a mom, she took the road less traveled and opted for a backpack instead of a diaper bag, and is ecstatic to see that mini backpacks from the ‘90s are back on trend.