Forget loops for ice picks and built-in hydration systems. Unless you happen to attend school on a precarious mountain perch in southwestern Peru, you need a backpack that caters to a different set of needs. Like room for your laptop and MP3 player. A separate pocket to divide sweaty gym clothes from notebooks. A pocket that can keep a can of Coke cold until lunch. And we’ve found backpacks that deliver. These slick back-to-school backpacks could almost convince us to revisit the forlorn halls of high school. Or the tree-shaded greens of a college campus… which would take significantly less convincing.
While we appreciate the retro appeal of JanSport’s classic Superbreak, the Unhinged adds plenty of utility with a larger main compartment, padded 15-inch laptop pocket, and even a hidden security pocket. We also dig the blocky duffel-looking style and the unhinging (appropriately enough) front pocket, which swings out to accommodate long cargo underneath – like a skateboard, or a rolled up poster.
Rather than marking a bag up with Sharpies and Wite-Out, buy one that has “you” written all over it right from the get go. TimBuk 2’s custom-designed messenger bags let you pick every fabric, panel by panel, then choose the binding, logo and liner. You can even order one with a built-in laptop sleeve and “shagg bag” for gadgets.
Patagonia’s minimalist travel pack won’t accommodate everything but the kitchen sink like some of its SUV-inspired counterparts, but it won’t weigh you down from class to class, either. At only 14.3 ounces, it adds barely anything to the weight of what you decide to cram in it, yet offers a back pad that doubles as a seat cushion, a lid that doubles a s compression sack, mesh pockets for water bottles, and a hideaway waist belt to help distribute the weight, should you decide to really load it up.
If you can excuse the dated ‘90s name, Columbia’s approach to a commuter pack actually carries over quite a few smart additions from its overengineered hiking bags. The company’s Omni-Shield fabric, for instance, will keep your gear dry on that sprint to class through a downpour, the compression straps will crush that fluffy sweatshirt into nothing, and the “rescue whistle” might not be that bad idea for late walks home in sketchy areas of town. You also get a padded laptop sleeve with its own dedicated zipper and a unique front pocket swings open like a locker, for easy access to small items.
Dig the customizability of the TimBuk2, but prefer a backpack… or just something a little cheaper? Nike’s Cheyenne follows the same formula as the rest of its NikeiD line, allowing you to pick every color, from the seams to the colors of the polka dots, stripes or houndstooth, then embroider it with up to 24 characters of your choosing.