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The best backpacks of 2022 for high school and college students

Updated ·11 min read
Who said backpacks have to be boring? (Photo: Amazon)
Head of the class, indeed. (Photo: Amazon)

Between classes, jobs, extracurricular activities and everything else, high school and college students in 2022 need backpacks that won't let them down. And they need to hold a ton of stuff — think laptops, textbooks, gym clothes, water bottles, uniforms, Doritos and so much more. But all that stuff can get heavy: According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, between 2017 and 2019, an average of 7,500 kids under 19 years old were treated in emergency rooms for backpack-related injuries each year.

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To find the right supportive backpacks, we talked to Dr. Neel Anand, a professor of orthopedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles, who says there are a few things you should look for when shopping for a backpack.

Shoulder straps

The should strap is a big factor for support, so Dr. Anand says you'll want to look for a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps, a padded back panel and sternum or waist straps for even weight distribution.

Compartments

Dr. Anand adds that bags with multiple compartments are better at distributing said weight and that those made with lightweight material are best since they don't add to the load. Ideally, the backpack shouldn't weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of the student's body weight.

Pay attention to pain

Keep your ears out, says Dr. Anand. "Pay close attention to...complaints of back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs so you can be sure to address these concerns with a doctor," he advises.

Trying to address practical considerations can make shopping for a backpack tricky since most high school students just want a cool, stylish backpack (and everything else for school, for that matter). Thankfully, there are plenty of styles that combine both function and fashion — they look good, and won't break any backs or the bank.

Here are our picks:

MATEIN

Matein Travel Laptop Backpack

$30$42Save $12
$30 at Amazon

This backpack is specially designed to hold a laptop up to 15.6 inches, has a USB port, an anti-theft pocket for peace of mind and the dimensions are 18 x 12 x 7.8 inches, so it can carry just about everything.

For serious students with a lot on their academic plate this year, the Matein Laptop Backpack is everything they need a school backpack to be. It can fit most laptops with pockets for all the corresponding cables and it comes with a USB port, so your phone and electronics will always be juiced. Bonus: there's an anti-pick pocket pouch to hold valuables on long days at the library. It also comes with 57,000 five-star reviews, so you know it's a high-quality backpack.

"I have three kids," reported a very excited shopper. "Each year for many years of their lives, I have been forced to buy them new backpacks required for school camp blah blah blah. I think we all know exactly how long those last. I shuck out money for the name brands, they last two years. And who cares because they’re ridiculously out of style by the second year and nobody wants them. So when my son asked me for his college to buy him this backpack in 2018 I did. It was $32 then. I paid it expecting to buy a new backpack the next year or close to it. So here we are after his graduation, and he asked me if I could wash his backpack after he took it on a vacation to Mexico. I was like… it’s alive? It STUNK but it was intact. My kid was not easy on this backpack. It was a school/travel/hiking/paddle boarding pack. It’s freaking brand new. The cable is dry and works. I am now buying two more for the other kids who will get these as their last backpacks I buy them."

JanSport

JanSport T501 Superbreak Backpack

$42
$42 at Amazon

This lightweight backpack has been carrying heavy loads for kids for decades. Instead of the typical nylon backpack, this one is made with polyester for durability and adjustable shoulder straps with a 15-inch drop.

Jansport has been creating versions of its classic backpack for over 50 years, so this icon absolutely needed to be included. The standard Superbreak features padded straps and two zippered pockets: One large main compartment, one small front pocket and a side pouch for a water bottle. It's lightweight, too: It only weighs 12 ounces when empty. Plus, you'll be in good company: It's Amazon's No. 1 bestselling kids' backpack.

"I've had this backpack since the beginning of the semester (it is now finals week) and I love it!" a shopper shared. "It has shown absolutely zero signs of wear, and has carried my load of books, notebooks, folders, lunches, and a laptop since the beginning. It is easy to wash if you ever spill anything on it and has been super convenient to have. I also love the lifetime warranty! I haven't had to use it yet but it definitely puts me at ease to know that if I ever did break the backpack, I could have it fixed or have a new one sent to me!"

VASCHY

Vaschy Lightweight Backpack

$28$32Save $4
$28 at Amazon

This simple backpack is made with polyester and has one main compartment for books and an exterior pocket for smaller items like pens.

For a basic backpack, this one is a stellar deal. It has padded shoulder straps and it's built to distribute weight evenly. It's also incredibly popular with more than 6,000 five-star reviews.

"I don't really like backpacks," confessed one savvy shopper. "In high school, and forward, I used a small backpack or a messenger bag and either opted to carry or leave books in the car. I know Herschel is big and popular, but I didn't want an expensive bag. This black Vaschy backpack is a perfect size- it doesn't sag down with more items and fits my laptop, notebooks, and misc. There is a pocket in the back for the laptop, a section in the front for small items, and two water slots on both sides. I'm expecting it to last me quite a while."- will keep this updated."

Carhartt

Carhartt Hybrid Convertible Backpack Tote Bag

$43$67Save $24
$43 at Amazon

Carhartt is known for durable products and this one is designed to stand up to anything a high school student throws at it. It can be worn on the back or converted to an everyday carry-all tote bag.

Carhartt products are built to withstand an incredible amount of abuse. This beauty, made of polyester treated with a powerful water repellant, isn't just durable, it's versatile: You can use it as a backpack, a tote or a purse. The padded laptop sleeve protects your precious cargo, while two zippered pockets and three exterior pouches offer easy access to pens, pencils, ID cards, wallets and more. It also makes a great travel backpack.

"Bought this for my daughter and now I want one!" writes a happy parent. "LOVE this bag. Roomier than we thought. Durable as well. Simple but very handy."

Under Armour

Under Armour Hustle Backpack

$50$55Save $5
$50 at Amazon

Water resistant with and abrasion-resistant bottom, this backpack is designed to withstand a lot of wear and tear.

Whether you're hiking in a storm or you're weathering a day of high school classes, this pack is built to last. It's water resistant to protect your laptop and other electronics from rain and the occasional spilled coffee. It also comes with padded shoulder straps and an abrasion-resistant bottom so you can set it down just about anywhere. More than 8,000 five-star fans are impressed with its performance.

"I bought this for my daughter a year and a half ago," wrote a doting parent. "She LOVES her backpack. She is normally extremely rough on book bags but this one lasted her all this time and still looks brand new. There are pockets everywhere for organization. There were no frays in the seams or imperfections when we received this item. It is able to hold up to being stuffed to the rim very often and still has no broken seams or extreme wear that is to be expected from a bookbag that is used by a high school student. The material is of great quality and washes well when it gets dirty. I do hang it to dry or use a dryer tray but I can't believe how well this bag has held up. Any previous bag we have bought we would have had to replace 2-3 times by now but this one is still holding strong and no need to replace any time soon."

THE NORTH FACE

The North Face Jester Laptop Backpack

$81$89Save $8
$81 at Amazon

Known for its hiking backpacks, this everyday laptop-friendly backpack from North Face is durable enough for both the classroom and the side of a mountain.

North Face isn’t just for adventurous types: It's great for kids who have to carry a ton of textbooks or athletic gear. It has two zippered compartments for tablets and laptops, a mesh pocket on each side for a water bottle and the front lacing can hold jackets, hats or a sweater. Its FlexVent suspension system, padded mesh back panel and sternum strap balances weight well enough to earn it an endorsement from the American Chiropractic Association.

UGRACE

Ugrace Vintage Laptop Backpack

$30$42Save $12
$30 at Amazon

Unlike the other backpacks, this one is crafted with water resistant oxford fabric and comes with six compartments, including two front zip pockets.

For a knapsack that's with a little more style and character, the Ugrace Laptop Backpack is a favorite with more than 5,000 five-star reviews. It's made with a durable oxford fabric for the exterior, a polyester lining and it features a two-buckle closure on the main compartment for a touch of class.

"This is one of my favorite backpacks I have ever owned," shared a happy student. "It’s straps are very durable, which is what most back packs I’ve had before didn’t have. It’s taking all the weight I put in it every day for my classes. I’m hoping it’s lasts me through next year. But overall I definitely recommend this back pack to any high school or college student."

Osprey

Osprey Farpoint 40 Backpack

$156
$156 at Amazon

This heavy-duty pack is made for carrying more than just a few books, making it perfect for that senior with a heavy class load.

If you travel a lot — or spend all day on the go — Osprey’s Farpoint is designed for you. Capable of holding up to 40 pounds of gear, it opens in a duffel bag U shape to provide easy access to the bag’s contents. Constructed from 210 Denier ripstop nylon, it has a dedicated, lockable tablet and a 15" laptop pocket as well as a scratch-proof pocket for sunglasses or other knickknacks.

This guy can fly — it meets restrictions for most airlines. And the sternum strap and hip belt distribute weight evenly. If you’d rather carry it like a duffel, just zip up the back panel.

Fjallraven

Fjallraven Kanken Laptop Backpack

$108$120Save $12
$108 at Amazon

This sturdy Swedish backpack is popular among fashion enthusiasts, but it's roomier than it looks, making it a stylish option for a regular school day.

The 18L Fjallraven Kanken was developed in 1977 for Swedish school children who were developing back problems from carrying other backpacks. Square and simple, the Kanken is available in 11 colors. Constructed from dirt-resistant, water-resistant and easy-to-clean material, it's designed to last years. This updated version features a 15" laptop pocket, a zippered main compartment and small zippered accessories bag — and padded shoulder straps for extra comfort.

"We bought these bags for our kids for our recent trip to Paris," shared a shopper. "We have LOVED the bags and have used them so far for our trip to Paris and for overnight stuff. They hold a LOT more than it looks like it would. Love that the bag zips all the way down both sides so you can load the entire bag instead of having to dig in the whole bag like you would a regular backpack."

Volher

Volher Laptop Backpack

$32$50Save $18
$32 at Amazon

This water resistant pack has extra padding in the back panel for maximum comfort and features a USB port for on-the-go charging.

This backpack has impressive number of reviews — 17,000 five-star ratings and counting. Amazon shoppers love this pack for its durability and versatility.

"Took this bag to Florida and on 3 road trips as well as I used it for a whole school year and intend on using it next year as well," reported a five-star fan. "Spilled coffee on it one day with my laptop inside, completely dry and cleaned up with some water and soap! I’ve been incredibly happy with the durability and size of this bag."

SwissGear

SwissGear 1900 Scansmart TSA 17-Inch Laptop Backpack

$90
$90 at Amazon

This backpack can accommodate a 17-inch laptop and is specifically designed to get through airport security quickly by allowing laptop-in-case scanning.

Like a Swiss Army Knife, this backpack is multipurpose. It has a 31L volume and has a special laptop sleeve in addition to the five exterior pockets and padded straps. 17,000 five-star fans can't say enough good things about it.

"I bought this backpack for my daughter going to college and she loves it," wrote a generous parent. "She said her back doesn’t hurt even when she puts a laptop and books in it. The fabric is strong the stitching is sturdy and strong."

Lululemon

Lululemon City Adventurer Backpack (Black)

$176
$176 at Amazon

Big enough to hold a 15-inch laptop and designed to hold sweaty clothes, this backpack is made for a student athlete.

Lululemon’s 17L City Adventurer is making a lot of waves lately and it’s easy to see why — the sleekly designed satchel is simple, elegant and soft enough to stuff a whole lot of gear inside.

Designed for exercise buffs (or kids with after-school sports), it has a built-in zippered pocket for damp gear as well so it's the best backpack for wet weather or wet clothes. And the water-repellent nylon fabric is easy to clean. The exterior pocket can hold laptops up to 15” and the straps are padded.

"Love it! We already had one and loved it so much we got another one," a shopper noted. "Great pockets for computer, clothes, shoes... great bag!!"

If you have Amazon Prime, you’ll get free shipping, of course. Not yet a member? No problem. You can sign up for your free 30-day trial here. (And by the way, those without Prime still get free shipping on orders of $25 or more.)

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.

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$430 at Amazon

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Originally published