We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
The versatile backpack serves a variety of people, including students, hikers, and business travelers. Its marketing space is crammed with models both simple and fancy, cheap and pricey.
With such an enormous range available, how do you choose a backpack that fits your use? We've narrowed the field considerably by researching the market's top contenders. We believe there's something for everyone in our product matrix above.
At BestReviews, we purchase products from stores, test and evaluate them, and gather information from other owners and experts who use them. It's our mission to arm you with accurate, reliable product information so you can invest your dollars wisely.
Our BestReviews team began by researching the following backpack characteristics, all of which impact consumer satisfaction:
After thorough research on these, using various models of backpacks ourselves, as well as taking feedback from others who use backpacks for a wide range of activities, we were able to draw a number of considerations that should be made before purchasing a backpack. We'd like to share our findings with you.
Backpacks aren't just working gear anymore. Often, they serve as fashion accessories, too. A common mistake shoppers make is selecting a backpack with great style but limited practicality.
You want something that looks good but also accommodates your items with integrity and durability.
Palmer Batt is a former army officer who knows a thing or two about choosing the right backpack. He offers the following advice on choosing a size:
Whether for notebooks to college, or to carry all necessities for a month-long trek — there is no dearth of available models and designs in the market to cater to every need.
Size isn't everything; you must also consider versatility. Do you want an old-style rucksack in which you simply throw all your stuff inside? Or do you want a model that incorporates a protective area for your laptop, a pocket for your water bottle, and a slot for your cell phone?
With so many offerings in today's market, you should be able to find exactly what you want.
Not so long ago, backpacks were made of sackcloth or burlap and came in either brown or green. Now you have a mind-boggling array of designs and colors to choose from. Whatever your personal taste, there's a bag for you.
But before you leap for the one with the most visual appeal, spend a moment thinking about materials.
The right material of backpack will ensure your things remain safe from natural elements, while the wrong material will get them soaked in rain or dusty from travel.
Cheap backpacks are often made of thin nylon or polyester. They're lightweight but prone to tearing. They're not breathable and can grow hot against your body, even during mild exercise.
Not all nylon and polyester is cheap. Pay a little more, and you can get a backpack made of a tough modern textile that's both light and strong. A denier rating of 1,200D or above signifies durability.
Leather looks great, but not all leather is made of cowhide. Manufacturers sometimes use goat or sheepskin, which is thinner and more prone to damage.
Many leather backpacks are pre-treated, but you’ll still benefit from occasional maintenance. Damaged leather allows moisture in, and moisture causes leather to grow heavy and smelly.
Hard-shell ABS offers excellent content protection (ABS is the same material that motorcycle crash helmets are made of). There's no great weight penalty, and many hard-shell backpacks incorporate foam panels that cushion your back.
Properly closed, hard-shell packs offer unbeatable protection against the elements. They cost comparatively more than their softer competitors, however, and some people dislike the rigidity of the shell.
Several backpack makers offer a green alternative to standard materials. During the course of our research, we discovered that some backpacks are made from recycled soda bottles. One manufacturer even makes backpacks out of old tire inner tubes!
Backpacks come in a mind-boggling array of materials — from cotton to nylon, foam, leather, plastic, and even old tire inner tubes!
Perhaps all you want is a simple, cheap backpack. Or perhaps you want something with a variety of features that enhance security or durability. Palmer prefers backpacks with these features:
A Note About Zippers and Stitching
Here at BestReviews, we don't test to destruction because we donate our products to charity when we're finished with them. We do test rigorously, though, and zippers and stitching are often the first features to fail on cheap backpacks.
Load your backpack evenly to maximize comfort. Heaviest items should go in the middle rather than the bottom.
Backpack makers add numerous other features you may also wish to consider:
All of these are additional traits that can make a backpack go from good to awesome, depending on what you want out of your pack, and how much you are willing to shell for it.
When buying a backpack, double check the zippers and stitching. These are stretched the most when the backpack is used, and where maximum failures occur due to stress.
Wearer comfort is arguably the most important element of a good backpack, and comfort begins with a proper fit.
Serious hikers who carry heavy gear for days on end carefully measure their torso length to achieve the right backpack fit. While that's not entirely necessary for everyday backpack wear, the principle is worth bearing in mind. And it's easy to measure (with the help of a friend), so we've included directions here.
Measure the distance between your C7 vertebra (the knobbly protrusion at the base of your neck) and your iliac crest (in the middle of your back, level with the top of your pelvic bone). This distance is your torso length. Make sure to buy a backpack that fits your torso length properly; the store guide will be able to help you with this.
Mind you, this type of measurement pertains more to hiking backpacks than everyday packs. But those who are particularly tall or short may want to try on an everyday backpack before making a purchase.
You may notice that some backpacks designed exclusively for females are more expensive. These sport constructional differences that allow them to fit the female form better.
Padded straps are great, but how well do they support you? Sagging straps pull weight down your back, leading to incorrect posture and a backache. Make sure you can adjust your straps and still enjoy freedom of movement.
You may also wish to consider a backpack with a hip belt, which redistributes weight away from the shoulders, and a sternum strap, which adds stability by spreading the weight across the chest.
A snug backpack quickly grows uncomfortable if you get too hot. Manufacturers combat this problem with two approaches:
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.