Best backpack 2021: return to the office or campus in style
The best backpack you can get is going to offer great style, comfort, and carrying capacity for a great price, but not all of the best backpacks are created equal. Some are best for quick day trips around town, while others are designed with long distance travel in mind.
With the return to offices and schools this year, there’s more incentive than ever to update your backpack after an extended period of lockdowns and working from home, and there are a number of fantastic backpacks out there for whatever you need to carry around.
From tear-resistant travel backpacks to the perfect weather resistant commuter backpack and everything in between, there are a lot of available options depending on your particular need, commute, and personal style.
So whether you’re traveling extensively for work, need some extra space for gym wear, or want to be a veritable MacGyver with a pocket or compartment for every occasion, we’re here to help you find the best backpack for your needs and budget so you can return to the office or campus in style.
Our Top Picks for Best Backpack 2021
Best backpack 2021: our top picks for work and school
The North St. Belmont is one of our favorite backpacks for the diversity of color and material options, but it has a lot more going for it than just its style. The interior compartment features a water-resistant material that will hold up against even the hardest downpours, and which also features a pair of velcro strips for optional compartment attachments that add some versatility and customization options.
The compartment can also fit up to a 15-inch laptop comfortably, though we managed to squeeze in a 17-inch laptop as well, but the fit isn’t as great.
The backpacks are made by hand in Portland, Oregon, so these run a bit on the expensive side, especially considering that beyond the main compartment there is only a front pocket and two side pockets by default, none of which have the same water-resistant lining as the main compartment. Still, if you’re looking for a light-duty commuting option with some great style and protection from the elements, then the North St. Belmont is one of the best backpacks you’re going to find.
Lo & Sons is known for making high quality, classic-looking bags of all kinds, and the Hanover Deluxe 2 definitely keeps this tradition alive. The interior compartments are roomy and well protected and can fit up to a 15-inch laptop comfortably, though we were able to squeeze in a 17.3-inch laptop in there as well, even if the fit wasn’t as precise.
Fortunately, the padded straps were very comfortable on a long commute and the construction was solid enough to throw around a bit without worrying about sullying the pristine look of the backpack. We didn’t throw it around too much though, since this is not a cheap backpack by any means, so you’ll want to take better care of it than your throwaway backpack from high school.
And while it does have some water-resistant construction, it isn’t waterproof, so definitely make sure one of those convenient side pockets is holding an umbrella if the weather looks iffy.
The Everlane ReNew Transit is the best backpack we’ve tested if you’re looking for something with more of a couture feel while keeping things functional for your commute.
With a capacity of 27L, it’s surprisingly spacious, with plenty of room for a 15-inch laptop, a change of clothes for the gym, work materials, and even a bento box or similar container for your lunch.
The straps also offer a good degree of comfort for a bag that has more style than most commuter backpacks. Best of all, the Everlane ReNew Transit comes in at just $75, making it one of the cheapest backpacks we’ve tested, making it very easy to recommend for just about anybody.
If you ever need to go from work to the nearest hiking trail, the Lo & Sons Habuka backpack might be just what you’re looking for.
Easily the best backpack for a versatile transition from work to play (or more work in the gym), the Habuka features a huge interior compartment with organizing insert, expandable water bottle pocket on the side, and a separate shoe compartment on the bottom to keep sweaty gym shoes and clothes apart from important work materials.
Like most other Lo & Sons products though, your color options are somewhat limited, though if you’ve ever wanted a navy blue camo backpack, surprisingly, Lo & Sons has you covered. While not the cheapest backpack going, you can still get a good deal with the occasional sale on the Lo & Sons website.
If capacity isn’t your biggest concern, and you just need a backpack that can hold your Ultrabook and some daily essentials, the Able Carry Thirteen Daybag should be at the top of your list.
Not only is it incredibly light on its own, but it has some nicely padded straps, which makes it extremely comfortable no matter how much stuff you stuff in it. Plus there are plenty of pockets, so you can keep things separate. There’s a main compartment for your laptop and other such items, a back hidden compartment where you can put your wallet if you don’t have pockets or don’t want to carry your purse, and a pocket on the front where you can store stuff that you need quick access to.
Plus, the laptop pocket itself is nicely lined with this soft fur-like material that means your laptop isn’t going to get scratched, even if your bag gets tossed around a bit while you’re moving around the city.
It is limited to 14-inch laptops, though, so creatives with beefy 15-inch devices may want to look elsewhere.
The Solo NY Grand Travel TSA backpack isn’t going to appear on a fashion runway anytime soon, but that’s fine, since this backpack is meant for another kind of runway.
Designed to make travel easier than ever, this backpack has a TSA-friendly design for faster opening and access to clear an airport checkpoint faster, while also featuring interior compression straps to make for tighter packing when you’re on the road for work.
The 17.3-inch laptop sleeve is also one of the largest we’ve come across, so if you’ve got a beast of a mobile workstation, this bag can more than accommodate it.
The Hex Technical Backpack lives up to its name with an extensive number of compartments to store everything from hard drives to battery packs, including a top pocket for a wireless charging pack (Hex wireless power bank sold separately), though other wireless charging packs will fit as well, making it an excellent companion for traveling or long commutes when you might need some extra juice for a phone of tablet.
The number of compartments and organizing pockets is also impressive, though the actual interior compartment capacity is less so, coming in at just 17.5L. This can still hold the essentials, including a 16-inch laptop, but you’ll need to use the space efficiently if you’re going on a longer trip.
Fortunately, the material construction is very durable and features an antimicrobial exterior shell, so you don’t need to worry too much about what it’s picking up from sitting on the floor of a bus terminal or subway car.
The Able Carry Max lives up to its name with a huge 25L main compartment and a sizeable secondary 5L compartment for extra storage and a back compartment that can fit a 17-inch laptop comfortably.
The back panel also features a ventilated design to keep things cool on the go, while thick padded straps help keep you comfortable on a long commute or cross country trip.
That said, the additional pockets aren’t as plentiful as we’d have liked on a bag this expensive, but the durable, tear-resistant materials at least means that this investment is likely to last a very long time.
Tips for shopping for the best backpack in 2021
Which brand is best for backpacks?
While there is no one brand that is best for backpacks generally speaking, there are some brands that are known to make backpacks for more specific segments of the market.
Solo NY is well known for making more utilitarian, highly functional backpacks that aim for function over couture with a more reasonable price point.
Lo & Sons makes backpacks that are more classic in style but offer quality construction with excellent compartment options and spacious capacities that make them great commuter or travel bags.
Everlane definitely has a more couture appeal while also keeping things more reasonably priced, though their bags don’t slouch when it comes to functionality.
North St. has a lot of style options while also being handmade with quality water-resistant materials, making them great commuter bags that you won’t be embarrassed to bring to class or the office.
Able Carry and The North Face make backpacks that feature high capacities and highly durable materials that can handle the rigors of a long hike up a mountain as well as a long commute through an urban center.
There are as many different brands as there are needs, but with a little bit of research, you’re sure to find the best backpacks for your needs.
What is the best backpack to get for school?
Depending on what you need to bring with you to class, the best backpacks are going to feature roomy compartments for books and a decent-sized laptop, while also having thick and comfortable straps for carrying to, from, and around campus.
We would be lying if we said that style didn’t matter, so if you want to go for a more classic look, the Lo & Sons Hanover Deluxe 2 and the Everlane ReNew Transit backpacks might be more your speed. If you want a more eye-catching design, the North St. Belmont and Able Carry Thirteen Daybag backpacks have some bold colors to help your backpack stand out in a crowd.
What is the best backpack for commuting?
If you’re commuting to the office, you’re going to want a backpack that is comfortable, stylish, and able to carry everything you need for work and possibly more.
The Lo & Sons Hakuba has amble capacity for your work material and laptop, while also featuring a waterproof compartment on the bottom for gym shoes and other gear to help you get a workout in before or after work.
The North St. Belmont features high quality materials with some solid water-resistant construction, making it a fantastic option if you’re worried about the weather damaging your work materials and laptop inside.
If you’re looking for compartments galore to help keep everything organized, then the Hex Technical backpack is right up your alley, featuring high-quality materials, ample pockets (including an insulated water bottle sleeve on the side), and a pocket up top for a wireless battery pack to charge your phone while you hang out in an airport terminal or on the light rail into the city.
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