Backpacks are one of those special products that people of all ages will always have use for and can get excited about. Whether you’re preparing for your first day of Kindergarten, a rugged hiking trip or just a day out and about, there’s a backpack for everyone—and every personality type. For something so practical, backpacks are a great form of self-expression; scrolling through the Internet yields seemingly endless options in every style, color, and function. With the needs of commuters in mind, we rounded up our list of favorites in five different styles, so you can go to work, travel, and explore with confidence.
How This Works
Every month we research new product categories and bring our final picks into the office, where we haggle and decide which ones make the final list. Everything is based on quality, appearance and price.
Maxwell Ryan, our Founder & CEO, oversees the field, throws in his vote as well, and then demonstrates the favorites in a video so you can see them with your own eyes. Come back every Thursday for a new edition of The Guide right here and in social with Maxwell’s Instagram story!
In our office backpacks are worn by the super mobile and sporty majority—those who come to work from the gym, on bike or on from a fast hike with water bottle in tow. Backpacks, once only for backpackers or school kids, now come in a wide variety of styles and shapes, so you can not only find what’s comfortable, but what also expresses your inner YOU.
I personally love my Black Diamond Creek Transit 22, which is waterproof, slim and minimal, BUT when looking at the category for our readers, testing those below and listening to what everyone said in the office, I had to choose the Everlane Twill Snap because it’s got a lovely, approachable style that works from home to gym to office, isn’t geeky and IS professional enough for when you show up to your meeting in midtown.
Even if you have no interest in backpacks, you’ve definitely seen this brand. Herschel’s signature double strap detail and drawstring closure is an update to classic mountaineering bag styles, making their backpacks fit in easily in both rugged and urban environments. Herschel sells a wide variety of backpack styles, but the popular Retreat bag is our favorite, with a 15″ laptop sleeve, great shoulder support and over 15 different color options.
If you do a good deal of traveling, consider this super durable backpack from Patagonia. It fits a lot without being huge, and can easily double as an everyday commuter backpack, with room for a 15″ laptop, plus some. The materials are also worth mentioning—the Arbor is made of water-repellent fabric and is bluesign approved, meaning that it offers the highest level of consumer safety and minimizes environmental impact.
Designed with hustlers in mind, this backpack from Solgaard Design’s Lifepack Collection is for the person who’s constantly on the move. The Hustle can comfortably fit a 15″ laptop and comes with lots of pockets (including a secret Passport holder), plus an integrated USB charging port. It kind of feels like a Mary Poppins bag—you won’t believe how much can fit in there. Launched on Kickstarter, this backpack is full of surprising details, like the retractable lock for the front latch and the simple yet effective magnetic closure.
Marketed as the best anti-theft backpack you can buy, the Bobby was created by XD Design and got its start on Kickstarter, quickly taking off due to its smart and attractive design. This backpack is full of hidden zippers and pockets that will put any anxious traveler at ease (it’s even made of cut-proof material!). Aside from the safety features, the Bobby is just simply well-designed. It evenly distributes weight inside the bag to relieve pressure on your shoulders, and is water-repellent, anti-sweat and anti-permeable—and if that’s not enough, the Bobby comes with a matching rain cover, just in case.
From luggage company Tumi comes the Davis, a near perfect carry-on backpack that is worth the high price point. Sleek and sophisticated, the Davis has a 15″ laptop pocket, plus pockets for your iPad, cards and really anything else you need on hand. Another small but important feature is the add-a-bag sleeve, which lets you slide the backpack onto the extended handles of your carry-on suitcase without worrying that it’ll fall off. It really is the little things, people.
If luxury is what you’re after, look no further than the Venture 2 from LA-based design company This Is Ground. Made of soft and durable Italian leather, this backpack is created with tech in mind — there are pockets for a 15″ laptop, a tablet, a stylus and even a hidden pocket for your Tile or other tracker. One of the most useful features for frequent fliers is the TSA-approved built-in “tray” that allows you to keep your laptop in your bag through security. The only downside is the seriously high price, but the superior quality and durability ensure that you’ll be able to get use out of this pack for years to come.
FUN & CASUAL
If a light casual bag is all you need, check out this canvas drawstring option from Urban Outfitters. It has two deep front pockets for anything you want to have close at hand, and a leather handle for those times you’d rather carry your bag like a tote instead. And, if you’re worried about the white fabric getting dirty, there’s also a nice olive green option. This bag definitely isn’t made to carry everything, but it’s perfect for a lowkey day outside or easy traveling.
There are literally hundreds of backpacks available on affordable art site Society6, and each one is designed by an independent artist whose works can also be purchased as home decor, bags and tech accessories. So, if you really love a certain design, you can put it on pretty much anything. We love how these backpacks are unique and bursting with personality, while still being high quality (both in terms of construction and art design). Each backpack can also fit a 15″ laptop. This Pocketful of Sunshine pack by Picomodi is a favorite, but you could easily spend hours scrolling through all the different options.
Inspired by climbing culture but with a seriously fun twist, this bag from Acne Studios is currently on sale. It also comes in a green color, but we love this lilac version because it’s different enough to attract attention while still neutral enough to wear with anything. It’s small, but the two zippered front pockets are pretty roomy, creating extra space for those items you want close at hand.
CHIC & STYLISH
This minimalist, structured backpack comes from Ukrainian Etsy shop MiroS Accessory. It’s completely made out of leather and comes in eight colors, plus is hand sewn to ensure high quality. It’s narrow, making it perfect for laptops or notebooks, but not so much heavy travel. It also comes in two different sizes: the small has a height of 12″ while the large is 15″. If you don’t love the style, this shop has a variety of other bags to choose from—in fact, Etsy is a treasure trove of cute backpacks and totes.
You might recognize Longchamp’s Le Pliage totes, but did you know about their backpacks? The cult favorite was inspired by origami and comes with the model’s signature snap-fastening button flap and range of muted color options. It’s super lightweight, can fold up when not in use and is a perfect smaller size for everyday usage—reason enough why this line has been so popular through the years.
Another smaller, everyday pick, the Vignelli Backpack from eco-conscious brand Matt & Nat is made of vegan leather with a 100% recycled nylon lining. One problem I run into with backpacks is the lack of easy access to cell phone pockets, but this one has a zippered pocket in the back that’s perfect for just that. With a structured bottom and surprisingly spacious interior, this pack is up for anything, whether it’s a day spent exploring or a night out on the town.
Good old reliable Jansport, oh how we love you. Everyone’s first backpack isn’t just for middle schoolers anymore, people of all ages can find one to love. This update to the classic SuperBreak pack comes in a couple of different fun patterns and colors, while still staying true to the spirit of the original. Trusted, practical and budget-friendly, this backpack doesn’t have any fancy features, but you’ll have it forever (fun fact: I used the same Jansport from 6th grade through college, with a short break in high school when I was too cool for backpacks).
Whether you like it or not, Scandinavian design is everywhere for a reason. Well-constructed, minimalist and functional, the Kånken pack from Swedish company Fjällräven is just another example of Nordic superiority. First created in 1978 to address back problems showing up in Sweden’s youth, the Kånken quickly spread throughout the country and beyond, becoming a cultural icon that you’ve surely seen on city streets today. There are a couple different sizes and styles, but we love the original for its timeless appeal.
Similar to the Jansport look but more personal, the Caulfield can be customized to suit your specific needs. You can choose from 16 colors and materials, including leather and cotton canvas, for the body, base and pocket—the options kind of feel endless here. This pack is great if you’re looking for a frills-free travel and commuting bag that looks like the backpacks you grew up with but is uniquely your own.
The Lorimer Backpack has the classic silhouette, but stands out by being the backpack that does the most good. Brooklyn-based STATE was created to address challenges facing local populations, and for each bag sold another one is hand-delivered (full of supplies!) to a child in need. STATE also offers a good deal of programming to raise awareness on social issues, and to inspire local youth. Aside from all the good the company does, they also just have really great backpacks.
- Be prepared. No one likes to think that a disaster at home could happen, but it’s better to take control and be prepared than to panic when the moment happens. Natural disasters, house fires and gas leaks are a few examples of situations that necessitate quick home evacuations, so having an emergency backpack on hand is a smart idea no matter where you live.
- Pack the things you need. Bottled water, snacks, a first aid kit and spare keys are just a few of the things that should definitely be on hand should an emergency arise and you need to get out fast.
- Don’t forget the irreplaceable things! Family photos and heirlooms with sentimental value are just as important as the necessities. A good idea is to digitize photos and videos and put them on a flash drive, leaving more room for other items in your pack.
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