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The 6 best backpacks: Top options for students

What is the best backpack? ZDNet chose Herschel's Little America backpack. We researched and compared pricing, reviews, and features such as capacity and warranties to determine the top backpacks for school, as well as some other honorable mentions.
allison-murray
Written by Allison Murray, Staff Writer on
Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

Backpacks are an essential item for a wide variety of activities. Whether you need a backpack for back to school, the trail, travel, or a beach trip, you want to make sure it's a reliable vessel to hold your belongings.

These days, backpacks are packed (pun intended) with features like laptop sleeves, reflective trims, hidden pockets, and even USB charging ports. We've rounded up the best backpacks available on the market today to keep your valuables protected wherever you take them.

Man wearing a backpack facing opposite direction
Herschel

Features: 25L | 18 color options | Magnetic fastened straps

The Herschel Little America backpack is a top pick since it has an iconic and timeless design that's comfortable to wear thanks to its contoured padded back straps. It comes in standard (17L) or mid-volume (25L) sizes which can hold up to a 13-inch laptop or a 15-inch laptop, respectively. Its drawstring closure allows it to expand to create extra storage space while its front straps with magnetic fastenings secure what's inside.

Herschel has a limited lifetime warranty on its products, which means all material or manufacturing defects are covered.

Pros:

  • Plenty of colors and designs to choose from
  • Limited lifetime warranty
  • Comfortable padded straps

Cons:

  • Lacking internal pockets 
Man wearing a red backpack with shelves of books in the background
VASCHY

Features: 21 color options | 20L capacity | Water-resistant fabric

For less than $30, this is a decent backpack for basic needs. There are four pockets total: two water bottle side pockets, a front zippered pocket, and an internal zipped mesh pocket. You can choose from more than 20 color options to match your style. This backpack also comes with a one-year warranty.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight and water-resistant

Cons:

  • Quality is not as great or as durable as more costly options
Close up image of a kid wearing a colorful purple backpack on their back
Lands' End

Features: 13 color options | 33L capacity | Reflective trim on front and back

If you're looking for a backpack specifically for your little ones, this Lands' End Kids ClassMate backpack is the perfect option. It has PE Foam padding in the back and an adjustable chest strap to take any weight from heavy books off of a little body. Your child can also pick from various color/design options and personalize their backpack with their initials or an embroidered design. The backpack is also completely compatible with a matching lunchbox.

Pros:

  • Can personalize with initials or embroidered designs
  • Reflective trim helps keep kids visible

Cons:

  • Company no longer has a lifetime warranty
  • Fabric could be thicker 
Close up image of a person wearing a backpack with a water bottle in its pocket
L.L. Bean

Features: 6 color options | 30L capacity | Reflective trim

College students are lugging around textbooks and laptops across campus, so this backpack from L.L. Bean is a great pick. It is made of rugged 300-denier ripstop polyester and 420-denier ripstop nylon body with an extra-durable 1000-denier nylon bottom. A padded laptop sleeve holds up to a 15-inch laptop, and the stretch water bottle pockets can hold up to 32-oz bottles.

It's important to note that L.L. Bean has a limited warranty policy which guarantees a full refund if you return your product within one year, as well as consideration for any defective products due to materials or craftsmanship after that one year.

Pros:

  • Accommodates most laptops up to 15 inches
  • Built-in organizer panel
  • Decent warranty policy

Cons:

  • Computer sleeve could use more padding 
The back of a person wearing a blue backpack with a mountain landscape in the background
Venture Pal

Features: 11 color options | 40L capacity | Foldable design

You'll want a lightweight bag with lots of pockets while hiking on the trail, and this backpack from Venture Pal is just that. It has a multi-compartment design that includes one main zipped compartment (with one separator and one small, zippered pocket), one zipped front pocket, and two side pockets. In addition, it's lightweight, water-resistant nylon fabric and can easily be folded up.

Regarding Venture Pal's warranty, all products carry a three-month warranty from the date of purchase which covers material issues, shipping-related damages or issues, and defective products.

Pros:

  • Includes a separate waterproof wet pocket
  • Super lightweight
  • Plenty of pockets and compartments

Cons:

  • Customers say the advertised 40L capacity is more 25L
  • Straps could use more padding 
Person wearing a gray backpack in an airport
Matein

Features: 10 color options | Luggage strap | Hidden back pocket

The best backpack for travel is the Matein Travel Laptop backpack since it's packed with travel-friendly features. For example, a luggage strap allows you to slip the backpack over your carry-on's handle easily, and an anti-theft back pocket sits up against your body, so your valuables are protected while traveling. A bonus feature is an external USB charging port for easy charging on the go.

Matein has a lifetime warranty for all its products; however, it doesn't cover damages resulting from normal wear and tear.

Pros:

  • Luggage strap to slip over luggage
  • Anti-theft back pocket to deter pickpocketing
  • Fits a laptop up to 15.6 inches in a separate laptop pocket

Cons:

  • Must purchase a separate portable charger to use the external charging port feature
  • Bottom of bag could be thicker

What is the best backpack?

We chose the Herschel Little America Backpack as the best backpack since it has a stylish design that's comfortable for all-day wear. It also has a limited lifetime warranty. 

Backpack

Price

Capacity

Herschel Little America

$110

25L

VASCHY Casual Daypack

$26

20L

Lands' End ClassMate Large Backpack

$50

33L

L.L. Bean Comfort Carry Laptop Pack

$79

30L

Venture Pal Lightweight Packable Backpack

$30

About 25L

Matein Travel Laptop Backpack

$30

About 35L

Which backpack is right for you?

While any of these backpacks are great options, it ultimately comes down to what size backpack you want, what you will use your backpack for, how many pockets or compartments you need, and what price you're willing to spend.

Choose this backpack...

If you want...

Herschel Little America

The best overall option.

VASCHY Casual Daypack

A budget-friendly backpack for any activity. 

Lands' End ClassMate Large Backpack

A backpack perfect for kids to take to school.

L.L. Bean Comfort Carry Laptop Pack

A backpack for college students and their laptops. 

Venture Pal Lightweight Packable Backpack

A day-hiking backpack with lots of compartments. 

Matein Travel Laptop Backpack

A travel-friendly backpack that fits over your carry-on.

How did we choose these backpacks?

We chose these backpacks after extensive research into the product category. We compared factors like pricing, reviews (both good and bad), different features that make backpack stand out, and the capacity of each bag.

What makes a backpack comfortable?

Features like a padded back and straps make a backpack more comfortable to wear. Also, mesh fabric is more breathable. The less you put in your backpack, the lighter it will be, and the easier and more comfortable it will be to wear. 

What should you look for in a backpack?

Here are a few key features to keep in mind while shopping for a backpack: 

  • Padded straps
  • Water-resistant material 
  • Front and side pockets 
  • Padded and thick bottom 
  • Chest strap 
  • Mesh fabric 

Are there alternative backpacks worth considering?

Here are a few other options to look into:

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