Whether you use it for your carrying your laptop or a cheeky weekend away, everyone needs a durable and stylish backpack.
Laptops and tablets are getting slimmer and lighter, so they're important investments that you need to protect. And while a sleeve or cover can be handy at times, nothing screams full-on protection quite like a backpack or laptop bag. You also need a means of carting around all your chargers, batteries, cameras, e-readers, selfie sticks, fidget spinners, copies of T3 magazine etc, so pockets are always a bonus.
But if you’re after a bag for the weekend, you might want to consider a swankier designer offering. While big logos are on-trend, brands like Oliver Spencer and Paul Smith have an array of classic and good-quality bags that (with a bit of care) should last a lifetime.
Whether you're looking for high-end designer backpacks or rugged, water-resistant rucksacks, there’s a great option for you. From super stylish, to wonderfully waterproof, we’ve got this one in the bag.
How to buy the best backpack for you
Whether you're looking for a new satchel for work or starting a new school term, choosing the right backpack is essential. Not only should it look good, but it needs to be comfortable, and, of course, be big enough to carry all of your stuff.
Let's start off with size. Generally, a small backpack is around 6-10 litres. These are great for children, days out, and sportswear. A medium-sized daypack is around 10-30 litres, ideal for commuting. Over 35-litres and you're looking at overnight camping trips and backpacking expeditions.
We've also got a guide to the best laptop bags, if you're after something a little more slim and streamlined.
Next, you need to decide the type of protection you need. Do you walk to work, come rain or shine? You might need a fully waterproof 'pack. If you want the ultimate protection, then maybe the North Face Access Pack, complete with an exoskeleton, is more suited to you. (Another option here is to pop one of the smaller sacks from our best dry bags guide inside a regular backpack.)
Finally, comfort. If you're going to be lugging this thing around all day, you're going to want padded straps. Your shoulders will thank you later. Other comfort features to look out for are waist and chest straps. These aren't the last word in fashion, but they take the strain off your shoulders. And of course, all these straps are no good if they're not adjusted correctly – here's how to fit a backpack to distribute the weight properly.
Best everyday backpacks
The Austin backpack from Eastpak features a slightly more mature design than its famous Pak'R, making it ideal for University or your first job. It's made from hard-wearing nylon and has cushioned straps to ensure comfort, even when you're carrying the entire library on your back.
There are two external zipped pockets and an interior padded laptop sleeve. Best of all, Eastpak is so confident in the quality and durability of its backpacks that it offers a 30-year warranty.
Great for a hike and the office, Patagonia’s Arbor backpack looks old-school while including extras for modern-day life. Unlike backpacks of yore, the canvas is water-repellent and recycled and the spacious interior has a handy padded laptop sleeve inside. The rucksack also boasts ergonomic ‘human curve’ straps, make it great for lugging heavy work kit or a weekend away, plus, it looks great.
This Tom Ford backpack is a smart and practical item for your wardrobe, and could be paired with casual or more formal dress. It's made in Italy from velvet-soft nubuck leather, which actually grows even more supple with age. The sleek black leather is punctuated with bold, polished gold hardware. The interior is twill-lined, with enough space to carry your daily essentials.
Want to walk around in style? Available in black or cherry, this slim full-grain leather and nylon backpack is perfect to carry around all day. The front's two zipped pockets take passports, phones and cards, but you'd be wise to store most about in the right-hand side’s RFID-protected pocket.
Inside there's a compartment for a 14-inch laptop, another for a tablet, and a zipped pocket, though there's just enough room in its belly for an extra layer or a pair of shoes. It’s one for an overnight stay, or as a carry-on for inflight gadgets.
This simple yet functional backpack from The North Face has several compartments to keep your gear safely stowed. With heritage North Face styling, this pack is as good-looking as it is practical for all your everyday adventures.
It features a zippered main compartment and a secondary compartment for your smaller items. The design features a loop which you can hang a bike light from, and stylish two tone zip pulls.
Before you buy, check our The North Face discount codes to find the best price.
Best backpacks for commuting
The Harber London Classic Rucksack (opens in new tab) is hand-crafted in Spain from full-grain leather and waterproof outer fabric which feels like canvas but is actually made from recycled plastic bottles. While the design is pleasingly retro and understated, the rucksack features plenty of thoughtful modern extras.
Inside, there’s a padded laptop compartment that fits a 16” laptop, a second padded compartment that fits a 13” tablet, a smaller zippered pocket and two more pockets. Note that the laptop pocket is not suspended off the bottom of the rucksack so while the padding will provide protection, you won’t want to slam the bag down on the floor with your expensive laptop inside.
The bag’s leather lid features magnetic clasps so you don’t have to undo the aluminium buckles to get at the rucksack’s contents, while there’s also a zippered closure under the lid for security. You’ll also find a couple of detachable straps inside which can be used to strap additional items to the outside of the rucksack.
On the outside, there’s a slim pocket on the front, and a hidden pocket on each side, one containing a removable magnetic key chain. There’s also a grab handle at the top, and a trolley sleeve so you can slip the rucksack over a suitcase handle. The shoulder straps swivel for extra comfort.
While the plastic fabric of the rucksack is waterproof, you may not want the leather – which is wonderfully soft and should age beautifully – to get caught in a downpour. Note that the lack of waist and sternum straps mean this is not the best option for longer bike commutes or for lugging really heavy loads in comfort.
The backpack has a 17.4-litre capacity, its dimensions are approximately 40 x 29 x 15cm (15.7 x 11.4 x 5.9”) and it comes in four colours: black, camel, mocha and olive.
The Isar rucksack from Côte&Ciel is really two bags in one. First, there’s a laptop section, suitable for notebooks up to 15-inches, and second, there’s a separate, expandable section which is ideal for softer items such as a pair of running shoes and your running kit.
Each of the two sections has a smaller zipped pocket inside for smaller items, and there’s a third, almost invisible pocket tucked between the two compartments that could be used to hold a passport or phone.
The design is durable and very well made. The Isar is available in a range of colours and fabrics including water resistant nylon and full grain leather. It's ideal if you want to be able to commute with your laptop and your gym kit or perhaps a change of clothes if you are going straight out from work.
If you're looking for an under-the-radar backpack for commuting, then we'd like to introduce you to the Stubble & Co Commuter. This backpack has been designed for style, practicality and extreme comfort. Featuring direct access to padded laptop compartment which is large enough to accommodate a 16-inch device, and a generous interior to hold everything you need for the day ahead. It's handcrafted with premium waterproofed canvas for long-lasting quality, and features a breathable and cushioned back panel for comfort.
The Pickwick 26-litre is a versatile canvas roll-top backpack with a design, which, according to Brooks "complements the ease that epitomises a urban journey by bicycle". It's made from water-resistant cotton and features genuine Brooks leather trim. The Pickwick has been designed by André Klauser in London and is manufactured in the hills of Tuscany by Italian artisans.
There's enough space for a 15-inch laptop. The pockets and roll-top system close toward your back, maintaining a sleek appearance while keeping your belongings to safe.
If you head up a start-up in East London or are off travelling to make some vlog content, this is the backpack for you – and every other style conscious go-getter. Sandqvist is known for its clean lines and minimalistic style and its Hege Grand backpack is on-brand. Made from organic heavy cotton canvas, with a contrast vegetable tanned leather foldover design that ensures durability, there’s a 15" laptop sleeve inside as well as two inner slip pockets and a zipper pocket to help you stay organized.
]There’s also a hidden zipper pocket that’s accessible from the outside, for frequently-used things like your phone and wallet, as well as adjustable shoulder straps in cotton to keep you cool in the heat of your shipping container office, or train journey to an exciting weekend destination. The 42 x 30 x 15cm won’t be to everyone’s taste and some may find the price tag steep for cotton, but it’s certainly one of the cooler options out there at the moment and it comes with a three year guarantee.
Knomo's Southampton is deceptively roomy, even though its footprint it pretty small. We love the premium, leather and canvas design. The bag is separated into multiple sections, a back space with a padded laptop and tablet pocket, while the front part can hold plenty of cables, plus books and such like.
Both pockets are protected by sturdy zips and the straps are notably comfy to wear for extended periods of time. It can be carried like a tote or worn like a backpack, so it's two bags in one, really.
The Burton Tinder Backpack combines vintage styling everyday usability, and we think it looks great. The pack features a simple drawstring closure, which is great when you quickly need to whip out your laptop in a coffee shop, a padded laptop compartment, and a quick access accessory pocket.
Yep, it may look retro, with it's vintage canvas and faux leather details, but this is a thoroughly modern backpack. It's built to last as well, with a lift time warranty.
Best backpacks for school, college and university
Going for that preppy look? The Herschel Heritage backpack is a classic, functional design that will treat you well. It's cut from canvas, with leather accents to add a touch of class. The pack is finished with a diamond-shaped accent and woven label.
Inside features Herschel's signature striped fabric liner, and a 15-inch laptop sleeve.
The Out of Office pack is a simple, stylish design which comes in a number of different prints - we love the Parrot m in the company's AW16 collection. Now more commonly found in the school playground than war zones, Eastpak has continued to be a market leader.
The Out of Office pack is a simple, stylish design which comes in a number of different prints - we love the Parrot motif in the company's AW16 collection. The backpack features a separate laptop compartment, and shoulder pads with SGS.
This Swedish outdoorsy firm was born from the idea of creating more a comfortable 'carrying system'. The Kanken, specifically, was created in 1978 to help prevent back problems among school children. This modern (yet still classic) backpack is stylish and practical, with space for a 13-inch Macbook (or smaller). The water-repellent body is built to last, and a carry handle wins points for simplicity and versatility.
Best backpacks for travel
Tumi is the brand when it comes to business travel. The new Alpha 3 Slim Solutions Brief Pack is professional and understated, while allowing you hands-free comfort when you travel. It's made from the patented, ultra-durable FXT ballistic nylon, durable fabric and leather trim. Inside there's a padded laptop pocket, which fits 15-inch laptops, as well as plenty more organisational features (such as card pockets, pen loops, and a key leash). That's not all, though, the backpack also features Tumi Tracer, an exclusive program which helps to reunite you with lost items.
This backpack has a lot going for it – with a 35L capacity you can use it for your travels (cabin compatible too) and also as your commuter backpack, thanks to the TSA approved laptop sleeve, padded cable vault and multiple internal load organisation options.
There really is a place for everything including tablet sleeve, phone pocket, security pocket, lower pocket that’s ideal for anything wet, dirty or smelly. There’s even a sternum strap with whistle key clip. Using this backpack makes being organised easy. The moulded back system makes the Cloud 35 comfortable to carry and encourages a good posture. As you can use for both travelling and commuting the price tag seems fair.
Aimed at frequent business travellers. This formally-styled backpack from Samsonite measures 48x33x20cm and weighing 2.6kg, its takes 28 litres of gear, and includes compartments for a 10.1-inch tablet and a 17.3-inch laptop.
However, it's how it works around the airport that impresses most; the backpack straps can be packed away, and it can be dragged around on its two wheels using a pop-up telescopic handle. It's also got a RFID-protected pocket to protect against payment and identity fraud through skimming of credit cards and passports.
This 25-litre courier style backpack is practical and attractive, perfect for both communing and day trips.
The large rolltop allows fast access to the main compartment which is divided with a large mesh pocket. There's also a laptop compartment, which can be accessed through a separate zip pocket (very useful for airport security). The internal laptop compartment is reinforced with a backplate to keep belongings protected, and the pack comes in four muted colours.
Another great hybrid design, this bag has three compartments, two of which open exactly like a suitcase. The middle area has a zone for clothes that can easily fit a suit and other clothes, while there is a soft compartment behind it for a 16-inch laptop (or a couple of shirts).
The front of the bag is of a more traditional backpack style, with organiser pockets for batteries, phones, pens and earphones. There's even a soft pocket for storing keys, coins, phones or sunglasses. It's all soft-sided, so it's not going to give your stuff much protection, but the whole bag can be reduced in size using a wraparound zip, while four compression straps keeps everything as small as possible.
Best backpacks for outdoors
The North Face Access pack is perhaps the most advanced on this list - with a steel exoskeleton to keep your tech safe, and a shell design which pops open at the press of a button. It even 'ejects' your tech to make it more accessible.
The pack features comfortable 'Flex Vent' shoulder straps. The contrasting yellow interior features four pouches and two zip entry pockets. It'll fit laptops up to 15-inches in size.
This beauty makes easy work of a bike commute – the trampoline suspended mesh backsystem meant that we arrived at our destination without any dreaded wet patches on our back. The pack sits comfortable and moves closely with the body making it comfortable to ride in and also to run with – the ventilated stretch yoke and load lifters on the harness combined with the elastic hipbelt certainly do their job.
This good looking backpack, complete with reflective details for visibility at night, has loads of little compartments for stashing and separating your stuff, as well as a padded laptop and tablet sleeve. We like the built-in high vis raincover and LidLock helmet attachment too – it’s very well designed and made.
Patagonia is as trendy as Gucci right now, making its eye-catching Black Hole daypack a bit of a bargain. As well as being fashionable, the glossy black bag is seriously durable, making it perfect for work and play. Made of light and strong polyester ripstop, the bag is made waterproof thanks to a special film laminate coating, which gives it its distinctive shiny look. There’s a padded sleeve in the main compartment that fits most 15-inch laptops and a zip pocket for small items, while a heavy-duty moulded back lets you fill the 25-litre bag to capacity and still stay comfortable.
With a sturdy toll-top this backpack is 100-percent waterproof (Class 3 - IP66). It floats safely if dropped in water, and will also protect your kit from dust, sand and dirt. It's comfortable, too, with lightweight straps which have a ventilation system, as well as adjustable sternum straps and waist straps.
Finding a decent backpack to take out on day hikes and extended walks just got a little easier… The Daylite Plus 20L pack is lightweight yet still offers a good amount of storage inside for your waterproof jacket, a pair of binoculars and other outdoorsy kit.
The great thing about this Osprey backpack is that it has a ventilated spacer mesh panel, which promotes better airflow across the back. We tested the Daylite Plus throughout summer and didn’t suffer from a clammy back when wearing it out on longer excursions. It's also designed with quick-release side compression straps.
Boosting your carrying comfort is a removable webbing hipbelt, which comes in handy when you’re lugging a heavier load than usual. For external storage, there are twin mesh pockets, which we found a tad too shallow for our larger water bottles, but smaller ones fitted fine. Speaking of hydration, the Daylite Plus is compatible with Osprey’s Hydraulics reservoir.
Overall, this is an affordable and rugged daypack that’s comfy to wear, offers plenty of adjustability, and can even accommodate your laptop or tablet if you’re working outdoors. Even better, it's often on sale.
How we test the best backpacks
We spend a lot of time reviewing the best backpacks, so when it comes to recommending what backpack to buy, you can be safe in the knowledge that we'll recommend the best options for you.
We'll usually spend a week or longer testing new backpacks, and the review process is fairly straightforward – we use them to travel, commute, and generally carry our stuff everywhere. This helps us see how comfortable and practical they are.
Once the initial review period is complete we'll publish a full review, give the backpack a star rating, and add an abridged review to this guide. If it's really good then we'll also continue using the backpack, and update our recommendation if we discover anything interesting after extended use.