Best Backpacks

Updated September 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

33 Models Considered
18 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
70 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best backpacks

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. Before choosing the right model for you, consider the size you need, the materials available, any additional features you want, and perhaps most important, how comfortable the backpack is to wear.

A backpack could be for everyday use, or for strenuous activities like hiking or trekking. Choosing the right one is key.

Size and versatility

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:

  • Think about what you carry on a day-to-day basis. Lay items out on a bed or table if it helps you visualize the volume.
  • Think about “extra-curricular” uses. Will you use your pack for college during the week but hiking on the weekends? If so, select a size that will serve both purposes.
  • Will you use your backpack as carry-on luggage? If so, find something that complies with airline size restrictions.

Size isn't everything; you must also consider versatility. Do you want an old-style rucksack in which you simply throw all your stuff? 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 cheapest backpack materials

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.

Tougher textiles

Not all nylon and polyester are 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.

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Did you know?
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 shells

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.

Recycled materials

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. 

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Did you know?
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:

  • Twin zippers. Palmer likes to lock his zips together. He also favors TSA-friendly locks while traveling.
  • Metal zippers. Palmer finds that metal zippers tend to last much longer than plastic ones.
  • Double, multiple, or zigzag stitching at stress points. This type of stitching adds valuable security to seams, handles, and straps.
  • Additional top handle. Palmer appreciates the convenience of this helpful extra.

Backpack makers add numerous other features you may also wish to consider:

  • Internal pockets for smaller items.
  • External tool loops or "daisy chains” for additional attachment points.
  • Elasticized outside pockets. These lie flat when not in use but can accommodate items as large as a basketball.
  • Built-in rain covers.
  • Padded areas to protect laptops or other gadgets.
  • Truly watertight sections (check for IP67 standard).
  • Straps or clips that permit attachment to other luggage.
  • Pockets for hydration packs.

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.


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.

Finding the right fit

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.

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Did you know?
You may notice that some backpacks designed exclusively for females are more expensive. These sport constructional differences allow them to fit the female form better.

Finding the right straps

Padded straps are great, but how well do they support you? Sagging straps pull the weight down your back, leading to incorrect posture and 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.

Finding the right airflow

A snug backpack quickly grows uncomfortable if you get too hot. Manufacturers combat this problem with two approaches:

  • The use of breathable fabrics/foam padding. These elements are found frequently on less-expensive packs. They help the pack retain structural flexibility.
  • The use of contoured back panels. These elements are often found on pricier backpacks. They keep the pack rigid and help it hold its shape.
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