As ubiquitous as it is useful, the classic school backpack can be seen hanging from the shoulders of second-graders and college sophomores alike.
But it might surprise you to learn that the very first zippered rucksack wasn’t created until 1938 and the first true backpack didn’t come about until the 1960s.
Prior to the invention of both the rucksack and backpack, kids carried school materials bound in a leather book strap and slung over shoulders, which, as you can guess, was neither waterproof nor conducive to carrying anything other than books. But we’ve come a long way since then. From moisture-proof, light-weight packs to updated versions of the classic form, backpacks are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Because of this trend, price and longevity are two things to consider when searching for a backpack. It’s going to be better for you and more cost effective in the long run to find something durable that will last you a couple years. Carrying around all your junk shouldn’t mean you should settle for a drab bag, either. You’re going to be carrying this around all year, maybe longer, so you’re going to want to fins something that not only fits all your necessities but also fits your personality.
We’ve rounded up the best back to school backpacks for 2018, so you don’t have to sift through all the zippers, straps, and capacity that set apart so many packs today.
Our Denver, Colorado, friends from Topo Designs have bag designs, well, in the bag. And not just for the outdoor adventurer. Topo’s Core Pack is the quintessential backpack for cross campus commutes or carrying around your daily necessities, offering enough room for books, a laptop, and your gym clothes. It’s simple design aesthetic also means it will match any out of the day.
The pinnacle of roll-tops, this Filson backpack is made with a beautiful saddle-grade bridle leather that’s easy to wipe or brush clean if a sleepy classmate spills coffee on the exterior. This puppy is fully lined with soft cotton to protect your gear, a durable top snap-closure that keeps dust and gunk away from all your valuables, and an adjustable cinch strap to keep the top locked down over anything you need to carry. And while adjustability and materials are key, it’s also a heck of a handsome bag that’s offered in both tan or otter green.
Although Hershel is notorious for their classic backpacks, they took a chance on this rebel, all-black Barlow model that is quiet on the eye, but does the damn job, and does it well. Larger than your average backpack, the Barlow is a contemporary minimalist take on the classic rucksack-style bag that offers cross-function appeal for students and weekend mountain trippers alike. Combining off-terrain durability with comfy EVA back panels, contoured shoulder straps, and custom rain protection, with a distinct urban flare, we’re slowly turning to the dark side with this utilitarian pack that defies terrain or purpose among the best back to school backpacks.
Now you know we had to include something stylish that wouldn’t break the bank. After all, we know what you’re planning on using all your spending money on. (Here’s the best Rye whiskey under $50 and the best tequila under $20. You’re welcome.)
The Everlane Snap Backpack is a sleek and dependable choice for all your daily journeys. With a water-resistant exterior, leather detailing, and a padded laptop compartment, this beaut is a cheaper alternative that offers all the space and protection you need to get you through the school year, if not longer.
Alchemy Equipment’s 25-liter Softshell Daypack is nothing short of magic. And — who would’ve guessed — Alchemy is offering it for half the retail price. It offers a shield-like exterior design that’s both highly modern and looks as though it belongs in either an art museum or weapons armory, with specs to match. The masculine matte finish is lined with a subtle reflective trim that’s great for bikers or early morning class-goers, as well as stitched and stretchable external pockets for extra carrying space. You’ll find an internal laptop sleeve on the back which is padded from your spine with an airflow molded EVA panel and silicone gripper on the lumbar for a more comfortable and stable carry.
We’re calling it a back-to-school pack because yes, you can put your books in here, but it’s secretly a top item on our travel-gear wish list too.
This cotton-canvas and Italian vegetable tanned leather bag from Taikan is a classic backpack silhouette built for a modern lifestyle. Featuring your typical laptop compartment and subtle dual pocket zip for added storage solutions, if this Taikan pack had a mantra it would be: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it … but add a few added tweaks to really make it sing like the champion Freddie Mercury. It also sports a very “street” color aesthetic with pale pink (peach?) contrasting against the white front pocket and black main section. A little style swerve never hurt anyone, though, so be bold, friends.
Roll-top bags are in, and there’s not much more we can say about that. However, we can go on forever about the STATE coated canvas Colby roll-top pack, which will give you an urban edge over all your peers. Sporting a rich, sycamore color, a large main compartment with a laptop sleeve, and a flat front kangaroo pocket with double zip access, the Colby is one of the best back to school backpacks for more than just its capabilities. For every STATE bag purchased, the brand will hand deliver a backpack packed with essentials to a local child in need.
Offering six loud colorways and two sizes that pair perfectly with any sense of style, the Pickwick Linen roll-top backpack from Brooks England is a perfect companion for those commuting on the bus, trekking on a bike, or simply lugging gear to and from upper level biology classes. The linen construction is known for staying cool in hot weather for you summer-class folks, but is also water resistant to last you year-round. Featuring soft yet sturdy adjustable canvas straps, a padded 13-inchlaptop sleeve, custom hardware, and steezy leather details made from genuine Brooks leather, the Pickwick Linen is a bag that’s tough to pass up.
The trusted Patagonia Arbor is a must when delving through the best back to school backpacks, mainly because it’s comfortable, durable as hell, and provides plenty of book and laptop storage. Its easy loading main compartment secures with both straps and a synch cord, can hold most 15″ laptops, and a zippered pocket on the inside of the lid can stash a wallet, keys, or phone well out of view.
Knowing Patagonia’s passion and love for the outdoors, this pack is also equipped with their bluesign® approved material, which offers the highest level of consumer safety and material consciousness that conserves resources and minimize impacts on people and the environment.
Article updated August 17, 2018 by Bryan Holt.
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