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As far as personal bags go, backpacks are some of the most useful around. They’re surprisingly spacious, durable, and, since they're pretty easy to carry, they're an obvious addition to family vacations, morning commutes, day trips, and more.
“A truly great backpack will make your life easier while on the go,” Liana Delucca Johnson, co-founder and head of equipment at Agency Aspect, says. “A well-designed backpack should last you a very, very long time.” And, depending on your situation, Delucca Johnson says your backpack may even become your “go-to portable office.”
But when it comes time to invest in a brand new backpack, how can you ensure you’re getting something great? To help you get started, we’ve rounded up the best backpacks below.
Best Overall: The North Face Borealis Backpack
Size: 12 x 6.5 x 19.5 inches | Materials: Polyester, nylon | Compartments: 3 | Pockets: 2 zippered, 2 water bottle pockets | Capacity: 28 L
Side bungee cords allow for more compression
Designed for back and shoulder comfort and support
The North Face’s Borealis Backpack replaces the need to own multiple bags. This versatile backpack can take you from a hike to a vacation to your morning commute—and since it’s loaded with different compartments, you’ll always have an easy way to store your must-haves. This bag is crafted from a durable blend of nylon and polyester with a water-resistant finish, so you don't have to worry about getting caught in the rain.
It comes equipped with tons of compartments—including a laptop sleeve, a padded tablet sleeve, and a fleece-lined pocket for sunglasses and keys. It also boasts two water bottle holders, which can double as classic pockets any time you need extra space. With a lifetime warranty and design details for back and shoulder support, this is a backpack that you'll want to use for many years.
“If you get stuck in a sudden weather change, [your] pack doesn't have to be waterproof. A durable water repellent finish [should] keep all your electronics and documents dry ... until you can take shelter from the storm.” — Liana Delucca Johnson, co-founder and head of equipment at Agency Aspect
Best Budget: Matein Mlassic Travel Laptop Backpack
Size: 12 x 7.8 x 18 inches | Material: Polyester | Compartments: 2 | Pockets: 4 zippered, 2 water bottle pockets | Capacity: 27.5 L
Anti-theft pocket in the back
Available in two sizes
Built-in USB port for charging
Not as supportive as other options
Matein’s Mlassic Travel Laptop Backpack may be budget-friendly, but it’s loaded with useful features that make its affordable price point even sweeter. The backpack is crafted from a polyester material that promises to be both durable and water-resistant, and it has plenty of pockets and compartments to keep your must-haves organized. It boasts a laptop sleeve, a phone pocket, and even an interior hook for your keys. And even better: It comes complete with a built-in USB port you can use to charge your phone in a pinch.
Best for Pets: K9 Sport Sack Air 2 Forward Facing Dog Carrier Backpack
Size: 10 x 8 x 17 inches | Materials: Nylon, mesh | Compartments: 1 | Pockets: 1 zippered, 2 water bottle pockets | Capacity: 30 pounds
Built-in collar hook-up keeps dog secure
Multiple straps for security
Ventilated sides for breathability
Available in four sizes
Not made for larger dogs
Looking for a backpack that doubles as a dog carrier? K9 Sport Sack has you covered. The brand’s Air 2 Dog Carrier Backpack is designed to comfortably house dogs up to 30 pounds, and since it’s available in four different sizes, you can easily score an option that suits your pooch. The bag comes equipped with a buckle-lined strap you can use to secure your backpack—and your dog—to your body. And since the top of the backpack comes with a built-in collar hook-up, you can make sure your dog is safely fastened inside your bag before you start moving.
Best Diaper Bag: Dagne Dover Indi Diaper Backpack
Size: 10 x 6 x 11 inches | Materials: Neoprene, mesh | Compartments: 1 | Pockets: 8 interior + 3 exterior | Capacity: 10.7 L
Loaded with pockets
Easy to clean
Comes with stroller clips for easy attachment
Comes with changing mat and water-resistant zipper bag
Not for parents of newborns
There are tons of great diaper bags out there, but Dagne Dover’s Indi Diaper Backpack is a step above the rest. The bag is packed with pockets you can use to store snacks, toys, and other necessities, plus it has a built-in tablet sleeve so you can use it to store some essentials for yourself, as well. Other bonuses include clips to easily attach to a stroller, pouches for dirty clothes, and an insulated bottle holder. And since it’s crafted from sleek neoprene, it shouldn’t be too tough to wash, either.
Best for College Students: Herschel Pop Quiz Backpack
Size: 11.75 x 6 x 17.5 inches | Materials: Fabric, fleece lining, faux leather base | Compartments: 1 + internal laptop sleeve | Pockets: 1 zippered pocket | Capacity: 22 L
Loaded with pockets and compartments
Equipped with a padded laptop sleeve
Available in various colors and patterns
Faux leather details may peel/degrade
College students need a backpack that’s lightweight, spacious, and durable, and Herschel’s Pop Quiz Backpack promises to be exactly that. The backpack is crafted from a hardy material that’s sure to hold up to a little wear and tear. And since the bag only weighs 15 ounces when empty, it shouldn’t weigh your favorite college student down too much. Also nice? The bag is lined with helpful pockets and compartments—including a fleece-lined pocket for sunglasses, an interior hook for keys, and a padded sleeve designed to keep laptops, tablets, and other devices secure.
Best for Hiking: Osprey Sirrus 24 Backpack
Size: 12 x 12 x 19 inches | Materials: Nylon, mesh | Compartments: 1 | Pockets: 5 zippered, 2 water bottle pockets | Capacity: 24 L
Internal hydration reservoir sleeve
Equipped with an integrated rain cover
Has hipbelt with pockets
Available in various colors
Not for longer hikes
Designed with day hikes in mind, Osprey’s Sirrus 24 Backpack is a perfect pick for your next outdoor adventure. This durable backpack is crafted from nylon, and it boasts an integrated rain cover that promises to keep your stuff from getting wet. And since it comes equipped with five exterior pockets, you should have plenty of room to store all your must-haves.
The backpack comes lined with a series of straps you can use to secure your backpack to your waist, chest, and shoulders. This may sound like overkill, but it’ll make it easier to keep your backpack on as you hike—meaning you’ll have one less thing to worry about as you explore the great outdoors.
“When buying your very first hiking backpack, the most important thing to remember is that at its most basic, a pack is designed to help you comfortably carry gear. All those other fancy features you might find on a pack are great, but if you can’t comfortably carry equipment with your new pack, it’s worthless for your adventures.” — Julien Heron and Gaby Pilson, mountain guides and outdoor educators at Outdoors Generations
Best for Laptops: TIMBUK2 Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe
Size: 11.4 x 5.9 x 18.1 inches | Materials: Nylon, mesh | Compartments: 2 | Pockets: 2 zippered, 1 water bottle pocket | Capacity: 28 L
Fits most 15- and 17-inch laptops and tablets
Equipped with a water-resistant “boot”
Padded laptop sleeve can be accessed inside or out
Water-resistant boot may peel/degrade
If all you really need to carry is a laptop, you don’t need a large bag with tons of special features. You need a compact bag that’ll keep your laptop safe—and that’s exactly what Timbuk2’s Authority Laptop Backpack is. This backpack is crafted from durable nylon, and it’s equipped with a water-resistant “boot” that will keep the base of your bag from getting wet if you encounter a puddle or spill.
On the interior of the bag, you’ll find a sleeve equipped to fit a 15- to 17-inch laptop. And because laptops aren’t the only thing this bag is capable of holding, you’ll also find a handful of pockets you can use to store other must-haves, like books, water bottles, pens, and more.
Best for Cameras: Tarion TB-02 Camera Backpack
Size: 11.8 x 6 x 17 inches | Materials: Nylon, mesh | Compartments: 2 | Pockets: 1 water bottle pocket | Capacity: 16.5 L
Can hold up to 8 pieces
Equipped with a laptop sleeve
Not as durable as some other options
May be better for casual photographers
Finding a camera bag capable of holding all your stuff doesn’t have to be hard or expensive—and Tarion’s Camera Backpack proves it. The lightweight bag comes with a set of dividers you can use to store and protect your equipment, and thanks to the bag’s spacious size, you can store up to one camera, six different lenses, and one flash trigger at a time. (You can also customize the dividers to suit your personal equipment breakdown.)
This backpack doesn’t just function as a camera bag, though. By removing the dividers you can treat it like a regular backpack, and it even comes equipped with a back pocket you can use to store your laptop.
Best for Travel: Travelon Anti-Theft Classic Backpack
Size: 12 x 6 x 16 inches | Material: Polyester | Compartments: 1 + internal laptop sleeve | Pockets: 2 zippered pockets + water bottle holder | Capacity: 11 L
Equipped with RFID-blocking pockets
Exterior zip-up pockets lock when shut
Smaller than other options
Not as breathable as other options
When traveling, you don’t just want a backpack that’s convenient. You want a backpack that’s lightweight, compact, and capable of keeping your stuff protected, and Travelon’s Anti-Theft Classic Backpack promises to offer that triple threat. The backpack is crafted from a durable, slash-resistant material and has tons of pockets that promise to keep your stuff safe.
On the inside of the backpack you’ll find several RFID-blocking slots designed to hold your cards and passport. And on the outside, you’ll find several larger compartments, all of which zip up and lock. Though compact, the bag promises to hold a fair amount of stuff. And since it weighs a mere 14.2 ounces when empty, you won’t have to worry about it weighing you down on your trips.
Overall, our favorite backpack is The North Face’s Borealis backpack (view at Amazon) since it can be used for day-to-day activities, hiking, vacations, and more. We love that it has plenty of pockets and compartments, and it's got a water-resistant finish, so you know it's durable and will survive in any weather conditions. Looking for something more budget-friendly? Try Matein's Travel Laptop Backpack (view at Amazon). It's durable, has plenty of storage, and even has a USB port for charging.
What to Look for in a Backpack
A great backpack should last you for years and years, so look for high-quality materials and durable hardware whenever possible. Delucca Johnson recommends keeping an eye out for fabrics that have been finished with DWR (durable water repellent) coatings, as well as YKK zippers, which she says are some of the most heavy-duty around.
A backpack isn’t worth much if you hate carrying it around, so look for something that’s padded, breathable, and supportive. “Try to bend the back of the pack,” Delucca Johnson says. “Does it have any support?” If not, your back may have to do extra work to keep your backpack in position. And be sure to pay attention to fit, too. Does the backpack fit comfortably on your back, and do the straps sit comfortably on your shoulders?
Your backpack should make it easy to stay organized, but that doesn’t mean more pockets are necessarily better. “Make sure the pockets fit for what you intend to use them for,” Delucca Johnson says. “When shopping for a backpack, try out your everyday items in the pockets and see if they fit.” Some people prefer more organization options than others, so look for a backpack that meets your needs and wants.
How do you pack a backpack?
There’s no right or wrong way to pack a backpack, so focus on creating a system that works for you. If your backpack comes with a padded laptop sleeve, start by storing your laptop there. Then, work your way through the other pockets. Large main compartments can be great for textbooks, notebooks, and other big items, while smaller pockets can be great for littler must-haves, like keys and pens. And if your backpack has side mesh panels, you can always use those to store water bottles and umbrellas.
How do you clean a backpack?
Bad news: You should avoid throwing your backpack in the washing machine. “You should never throw your backpack in the washing machine or dryer, due to damaging the hardware, zippers, and coatings,” Delucca Johnson says. The good news, though, is that you can usually just wipe down your backpack to remove dirt and dust. And if you’re dealing with spills and stains, simply spot-treat them with a little soap and water.
How do you fix a backpack zipper?
If your zipper is stuck or broken, start by figuring out what the problem is. Did your zipper get stuck on some of your backpack’s fabric? If so, simply unzip the bag until the zipper comes unattached. Are some of the teeth on your zipper bent? If so, use pliers to straighten them out. Is one of the teeth on your zipper missing? If so, use pliers to move your zipper stop up so that the zipper will stop where the missing tooth is. (Depending on where the missing tooth is, you may have to remove other teeth to make room for the zipper stop.)
Why Trust The Spruce?
As a seasoned lifestyle writer, Lindsey Lanquist understands what a difference a great product recommendation can make. That’s why she makes sure to recommend products that are sleek, reliable, and well-reviewed by those who’ve tried them. To write this article, she consulted experts and selected backpacks based on their durability, features, and comfort.