Great bags you'll want to replace your totes.
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Backpacks are the only sensible bag for kids and teenagers to carry all their heavy textbooks to school without throwing their spines out of whack. But students shouldn’t corner the market on comfortable stuff-schlepping, nor do adults need to look like they raided an elementary school for their choice of an everyday bag.
Reviewed’s staff is passionate about backpacks, and we know our way around the various Herschel, Fjallraven-Kanken, and L.L. Bean packs out there. Whether you get one to bring to the office, around a college campus, on a day trip, or use it to relive your high school glory days is up to you.
The L.L. Bean Quad Pack is our top pick for students , but it has plenty of attributes that make it great for adults, too. It holds a variety of gear—from books to electronics to lunch boxes to gym clothes—without feeling too heavy, thanks to its squishy, supportive straps. It also has two convenient mesh side pouches that store water bottles for easy access. As a bonus, the Quad Pack also allows for airflow between the wearer’s back and the bag, which prevents a sticky, sweaty feeling, even with a full load.
If you use your bag primarily for toting electronics, you’ll want the Incase Icon, our tech-friendly favorite. The Icon has three separate compartments for a laptop, tablet, and smartphone (they’re specially designed for Apple products, but other brands should also fit). The different sections are heavily padded, which helps keep electronics safe if you happen to drop your bag.
A favorite of design nerds, style-conscious hikers, and Swedish schoolchildren alike, the Fjallraven-Kanken is the rare backpack equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too. It evokes a fresh, youthful vibe but doesn’t make wearers look like they did some damage in the kids’ department. We deemed it the best bag for “casual” use (a.k.a., carrying not-too-heavy stuff in a fashionable package) in our backpack test, on account of its lightweight yet durable vinyl material, roomy storage space, and minimalistic design.
I got a Herschel backpack three and a half years ago when I moved to New York City after college and promptly had my apartment broken into. The person who did so took my laptop—and used my trusty (if fraying at the seams) college Jansport to abscond with it. Getting a new laptop was my main concern, but I also needed a new backpack. I happened to be near an Urban Outfitters after I replaced my computer, so I ran in and grabbed a Herschel.
Since then, it’s been a blessing in my life. I bring it to work every day and appreciate that it has springy straps, a soft and roomy laptop compartment, and enough space in the inner body to carry a water bottle, a lunch box, books, workout gear, and more. My favorite part, however, is the incredible Mary Poppins-esque depth of its exterior accessories pouch. That is where the magic happens, keeping smaller items from getting lost in the main compartment, yet holding so many of them. Right now, it contains a phone charger, an apple, a pack of mints, sunglasses, a bottle of ibuprofen, three pens, a Biscoff cookie from a flight I took several weeks ago, hand sanitizer, a protein bar, and a pack of tissues—and, not only does it zip up without resistance, it doesn’t even look full.
Quilted bag brand Vera Bradley makes a quality backpack in addition to its quintessential totes. Lifestyle writer Jessica Kasperian likes that the Campus Backpack has a laptop compartment that is “perfect” for her Macbook and, because of its blanket-like material, feels nice and cushy on the shoulders even after extended wear. “I love that the fabric is soft and cushioned so it's comfortable,” she says. “I've had it for three years and it shows no signs of deterioration.”
Just looking at the sleek design of the Cotopaxi 16L Batac bag from the Del Dia collection, you may wonder if it can be both cool-looking and functional. According to managing editor Amy Roberts, the small, colorful bag has a lot going for it: It’s water-resistant, easy to clean, spacious enough for a day’s worth of exercise, hiking, or office gear, and made of a light, thin material that makes it easy to fold up and pack into luggage for use as a daypack while traveling. Perhaps best of all (for caffeine fiends, anyway), “the water bottle pockets are tall enough so my Zojirushi coffee mug doesn't topple out,” she says.
Getting a backpack from Cotopaxi’s Del Dia collection comes with the added cachet of knowing no one else will have the same one as you. Everything in the collection is made from leftover materials from other Cotopaxi bags by factory employees who design each bag individually to create unique color combinations.
For a professional-looking bag that combines the style of a designer tote with the comfort of a backpack, look to the Kenneth Cole Reaction Travel backpack. Melissa Cooper, Reviewed’s manager of search marketing, says she is “in love” with the backpack. This is due in large part to its extra strap on the back, which loops around the handle of a rolling suitcase, allowing you to carry it there rather than on your back. It also has a padded laptop pocket, a front pocket with organizers for tablets, notebooks, and chargers, and a compact design that helps the bag hold a lot more than it looks.
Video editor Melissa Rorech can vouch for the long-lasting quality of the Case Logic backpack—after all, she’s had it for nine years. “It’s been the only thing I’ve taken on week-long and more trips,” she says. “It survived the end of high school as well as all of college with me, and it still works completely fine. No rips, tears, zippers broken, nothing. It’s doing great and I’d recommend it to literally everyone.”
At $50, that means the bag cost Melissa just over five dollars a year, which is a pretty stellar cost-per-wear breakdown. If you’re interested in more than durability and affordability, it also has a faux fur-lined laptop pockets, thick foam padding on the straps, and compression straps that can be used to resize the bag if you’ve overpacked it and need to stick it in an overhead bin compartment on a crowded flight.
Executive editor of growth Megan McCarthy likes the OGIO Soho backpack, which has three separate clearly-divided pockets and designated spaces for laptops and cords, all in a restrained and sophisticated-looking package.
One reviewer on Amazon agrees, saying the bag is “deceivingly spacious” due to its pad at the bag’s base, which adds extra protection for electronics but can be removed to create more room, extra storage pockets, and ability to hold a 17-inch laptop.
In search of work bag that makes people ask if you used to live in Paris, because you seem so cultured and refined? If so, you should invest in a backpack from Côte & Ciel.
Senior tech and home writer Michael Desjardins says his Isar bag is “one of [his] favorite possessions.” Though it looks like fashion-y bag that doesn’t carry all that much, the Isar is fully functional with its side-loading zip pouch. “I love the design—it’s unique and striking,” he says. “The main front pocket is huge, but adjustable, so the bag itself is only ever as deep as you need it to be.”
Maybe you just can’t decide between a tote and a backpack. If you get the Fossil Camilla bag, which has straps that allow it to switch between the two, you don’t have to. One of my friends swears by the bag, which she says helps her look professional in her conservative-skewing office, but doesn’t force her to only carry it on one shoulder if she has to walk somewhere after work. The bag’s thin leather straps aren’t as durable or comfortable as something you might find at L.L. Bean, but they work fine for evening the weight distribution onto both shoulders during a commute.
The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 has a cult-like following on Reddit’s One Bag community, which is dedicated to making it easier to travel light. This is due to the bag’s uncluttered features, which include five zippered pockets with dedicated uses, an interior water bottle pouch, and a possibility to make it bulletproof, should you so desire.
Sunil Doshi, Reviewed’s VP of product development, also has one—and loves it. He has used it as an everyday work bag for a decade, and says it looks just like it did the day he bought it. “I really like that it holds a ton of stuff despite not seeming that large," he says. "It also doesn’t have any pockets or mesh jutting out, and the silhouette of the bag is smooth.”
Updates editor Seamus Bellamy loves his Squared backpack from Saddleback Leather, which is also referred to, both by him and the brand, as “The Tank.” How did it earn its name? “Thick, supple leather,” he says. “I’m pretty sure that it can’t be killed by conventional weapons.”
The bag is made from two layered pieces of leather (the same kind that’s used to make boots), which helps reduce seams and the bag's potential of ripping or punctures. It also has a 100-year warranty, so, while it’s definitely pricier than others on this list at nearly $600, it’s a bag that’s meant to last a lifetime. (And then some—the company’s motto is, “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”)
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.