I Tried 5 Popular Backpacks Every Day The First Month Of School

They all offer something different, but one edges out the rest.

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Back to school? More like back to stress. Figuring out how to get around campus and having to push through crowds of students who are also trying to get to class can be *a lot*. The last thing anyone wants to deal with is a book bag that’s unreliable and uncomfortable. But with so many options from so many brands, it can be overwhelming to try and find the one that’s best for you. So, I did all the heavy lifting (literally) and tested out a bunch of fan-fave backpacks so you don’t have to.

As a college senior, I’ve definitely gone through my fair share of bags over the years, never landing on the perfect one, so trying out different backpacks the first month of my final year of school actually proved to be a rewarding experience. Could I have found The Bag — the one that’ll take me through graduation? The handful I evaluated all had rave reviews across the board, especially on TikTok, and ranged in size, comfort, practicality, and aesthetics, so I had high hopes that one would work out for a fashion girlie like myself.

Below, you’ll see five of the most popular backpacks for 2023, along with my assessment for each after one week’s use. I know we’re already a month-plus into the new school year, but it’s never too late to switch out your bag to the one that fits your vibe.

For The Overpacker

North Face has always been the it girl of backpacks. The brand’s Borealis is a great bag for a student who lives somewhere with the typical weather of all four seasons and needs to lug around a lot.

Key features:

  • FlexVent™ suspension system.
  • Organizational compartments.
  • Separate laptop zipper compartment.
  • Waist belt.
  • Water-resistant.
  • Side water bottle pockets.


A major selling point for this bag is the amount of compartments: There is a laptop sleeve, a main compartment, a smaller compartment with slip pockets and zipper pockets, and an even smaller pocket at the top of the bag; this can store smaller, looser items like Chapstick, keys, and your wallet. Oh, and did I mention the bungee cord in the front that can hold a jacket or blanket? Yeah, that’s a thing.

I had the fortune of wearing this bag while it was pouring rain outside and all of my things inside remained perfectly dry and the actual backpack dried quickly as well.

The durable and sturdy bag is known for its FlexVent™ suspension system that makes it comfortable to wear by design and fabric, including the rounded shape. The padded straps make it super comfortable to wear on your shoulders, and the waist belt adds extra support.


It’s the most expensive bag I tried out, which is particularly not ideal for those who *cry in broke college student* — but I actually looked past the nearly $100 price tag, considering the bag can hold up really well under many different conditions, stand the test of time, and be able to store everything you need in an organized way.

What got me was the color selection: Though there were more than 15 options to choose from, there weren’t many that I actually liked, plus the style didn’t really match my vibe. I am definitely a fashion girlie, and I don’t think this fits the cute and trendy look I usually go for.

Overall Score: 3.5/5

Based on my needs, this bag seems a bit more suitable for travel, camping, or just someone who needs something a bit more heavy-duty. Since I usually just use my laptop for everything, I don’t need to carry around that many books, so this bag almost felt too empty when I was walking around because of all the unused space.

For When You’re On The Go

Shay Mitchell’s brand Béis has become synonymous with anything and everything travel. The Pretty Little Liars alum’s Weekender bag went viral on TikTok as the perfect bag for a short vacation — and it looks like the company’s Commuter Backpack is following in its viral footsteps, racking up more than 23 million views on the app so far.

Key features:

  • Separate laptop zipper compartment.
  • Front zipper pocket.
  • Inside zipper and slip pockets.
  • Key leash.
  • Trolley passthrough.
  • Contoured straps.
  • Inner and outer water bottle pockets.


Pockets! The main pocket features several zipper, mesh, and slip pockets to fit notebooks, pens and pencils, tech accessories, and more. There is also an inside water bottle pocket, which is something I have never seen before. I’m obsessed with it because sometimes it’s annoying to have your water bottle protrude from the outside of your bag or touch anything your bag might run into.

If you really want your water bottle on the outside, a small zipper pocket on the side allows an elastic water bottle holder to be pulled out or stored when you don’t need it. The final zipper pocket in the back, the laptop compartment, is nothing new, but is super padded and adds to the amazing organizational elements.

The look of the bag is also super chic and really helps it feel more elevated, since carrying around a backpack often doesn’t feel as stylish as a tote.


At $98, it’s one of the more expensive backpacks on the list, but I think it’s incredibly worth it based on all the thought and detail that went into creating a bag that truly makes your day easier.

The one real con for me is the limited color range: The bag only comes in beige and black. I would love to see it in other shades, especially considering there are so many options with other items like the Weekender.

Overall Score: 4.5/5

Based on both aesthetics and functionality, this bag is a major yes for me. It helps you stay incredibly organized, can complement any ‘fit, and is easy to style. A triple threat.

For The Fashion Girlie

Charlie’s backpack on Heartstopper has been around forever. It comes in more than 50 (!) colors, including a show-stopping cobalt blue that always stands out in a crowd.

Key features:

  • Double top handle.
  • Full-zip main pocket.
  • Laptop slip pocket.
  • Water resistant.
  • Side water bottle pockets.


I don’t carry around a ton of school supplies, or stuff in general, so this backpack being on the smaller side compared to the other options I tried this month was not a problem for me. Everything fit perfectly and it didn’t feel too heavy. The fact that the zippers of the main pocket extend all the way down to the bottom, so the bag opens completely, is really nice because I never have to go digging around in the dark when looking for something.

I also really like the two top handles on the bag because it makes it really easy to lift it up to put on my back. I was wearing the bag in 90-degree weather, but according to the brand, it’s meant to be water-resistant, which will be key for rainy days.


The straps are very small and not padded, so if you are carrying around lots of supplies or if you have something heavy in your bag, those straps are bound to dig into your shoulders and probably be uncomfortable after a while.

There also aren’t any extra compartments inside the bag — which is surprising for something that’s $90 — so if that is something you’re looking for, for extra organization, it may not be the best fit for you.

Overall Score: 5/5

The Kånken was a perfect fit for my carrying needs (mainly because I don’t have much stuff to haul) and my aesthetic, so if you have similar preferences, then I highly recommend.

For The Minimalist

I used three different Herschel backpack styles throughout my four years of high school, so I’m very familiar with the brand and can attest to its amazing quality. It’s equal parts functional and modern.

Key features:

  • Laptop slip pocket.
  • Front zipper pocket with mesh slip pocket inside.
  • Key leash.
  • Padded straps.
  • Two outer water bottle pockets.


The slim egg shape of this bag was a win for me. It’s adorable and something different than the bulky, more square-shaped backpacks we’re used to seeing. The gold zippers are a nice stylistic choice while also feeling super durable and non-flimsy.

Like the Béis bag, the key leash on the inside is super nice to attach your key ring to and the organizational pockets within the front zipper can be used for smaller things like gum, lip balm, hair ties, or hand sanitizer, so they aren’t just floating around.

The straps are super padded, making it easy to carry around without straining your back or shoulders. Similar to the Fjällraven Kånken, the top handle straps make it super easy to lift up and throw on your back when you’re in a rush. The bag also comes in multiple different colors and prints, making it aesthetic AF.


The laptop compartment is the only slip pocket within the main section, but because I’m not carrying around a ton of books or notebooks, this worked great for me.

IMO, the only con is the size; the bag is labeled Mini on the site, and it definitely lives up to the name. While the size worked perfectly for me, it felt like it might be a little small for those carrying around textbooks.

Overall Score: 4.25/5

The best thing about the Herschel bags is their ability to last. The canvas material means you don’t have to worry about putting your bag on the ground since it won’t really scratch and it’s a bit harder to get dirty. They have this amazing quality while still supporting the stressful struggle to stay organized and on top of your work.

For Keeping It Classique

JanSport is, arguably, the most classic. The brand has been around since the late 1960s, worn by students for generations. It’s known for its simple and functional style that fits a lot, caters to all, and comes in many different patterns, colors, styles, sizes, and materials.

Key features:

  • Laptop slip pocket.
  • Small front zip pocket.
  • Medium front zip pocket with smaller slip pockets inside.
  • Organizational front pockets.
  • Key lip.
  • Padded straps.
  • Suede bottom.
  • Zipper pulls.
  • Outer water bottle pocket.


A huge plus for this bag is that there are two front pockets: a smaller zip front pocket and a medium zipped pocket behind it. This is a great way to separate items by size, so you know exactly where to look for different items and the medium zipped pocket has smaller organizational pockets inside. The main compartment is super roomy and well-suited for the student who carries around paper copies of books or has a binder designated for every class.

The straps are also sufficiently padded, so you shouldn’t have much of an issue when it comes to the weight of the bag. The zipper pulls make the pockets easy to open and I’m a big fan of the soft corduroy material. It adds something different to the overall look.


The liner on the inside is white and feels pretty cheap, so it seems like it might wear down after a while. The white color would make it very hard to clean if something spilled inside your bag and would just stain easily, in general.

Overall Score: 4/5

The classic style of this bag makes it a great option for school and the sheer amount of options on the site gives you a variety to choose from, despite the fact that the lining isn’t the best choice.

Final Thoughts

All backpacks are not made equally and everybody is going to have different needs. While the Fjällraven Kånken might not be everybody’s first choice, it was my favorite based on style, size, and the way it carried everything I needed.

The Béis bag was a very, very close runner-up. You get the most bang for your buck with the fashionable look, comfortability, and innovative organization aspects. All Shay Mitchell needs to do is come out with more colors and then it’s allll over.