Most of us at Engadget haven’t been in school for some time, but we still appreciate a good backpack when we find one. We may have ditched textbooks a while back, but we still have a lot of gear to carry around. At minimum, most of us have to lug our laptops to and from meetings, while some of us have additional camera and video gear to schlep around town. So while our current backpacks don’t carry the same school gear that you might have, we’re confident that they can handle everything you need to bring with you to ace your classes.
Timbuk2 Lane Commuter bag
What’s green and portable and, oh hey wow, has a secret pouch in the bottom that holds a waterproof sleeve which I just right now discovered while writing this? Yeah, it’s this here Timbuk2 Lane Commuter bag that I’ve owned, but apparently never truly known, for the past 4 years. I bought it because it’s lightweight, comfortable to wear, could be expanded to accommodate oversized items, had a pair of exterior water bottle holders — one for soup, the other for more soup — and offered a generous number of pockets.
The Timbuk company has a well-earned reputation for quality construction. I still regularly carry their messenger bag a decade-plus after I bought it and this laptop bag is of parallel durability. Even after the rigors of a few CESes, the Timbuk has shown remarkably little evidence of wear and tear. The color hasn’t noticeably faded and the straps are still unfrayed. Nor is my laptop any worse for wear despite the bag’s rough-and-tumble travel. And while my bag was pretty well water resistant before, the discovery of this sheath is a handy additional layer of protection — not to mention a teaching moment about the importance of paying attention when unboxing new gear. – Andrew Tarantola, Senior Reporter
Baggallini Soho Backpack
I had gone through a number of backpacks before receiving this Baggallini bag as a gift, and I can say that most of my previous daily carries can’t hold a candle to this one. It’s hard to find backpacks that are both durable and have some style that’s not strictly utilitarian. The Soho Backpacks fits the bill nicely with its water-resistant nylon fabric and taller doctor-bag profile. I can hold up to a 13-inch laptop in the interior padded sleeve and I like the healthy number of pockets the bag has. I most often use the front two pockets for quick-access things like my phone and keys, and pretty much every time I go out, both side pockets are filled with a water bottle and an umbrella. I also appreciate its luggage handle sleeve, which lets me rest my back a little bit while traveling.
While I’m glad I have this bag now to support me through all kinds of trips, I often think back on my college years and how useful it would have been to have then. I carried a lot of inadequate bags back then, and I’m pretty sure some of my back problems are a direct result of that. At least now I can prevent further injury by carrying this practical yet somewhat stylish backpack whenever necessary. – Valentina Palladino, Senior Commerce Editor
Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack
I’m kind of a sucker when it comes to bags. I’ve enjoyed using Peak Design’s original Everyday Messenger for the past six years, but its size often felt a bit restrictive during longer trips. So last year I bought Peak Design’s 45L Travel Backpack, and it’s probably the best backpack I’ve ever owned. Just like the company’s other gear, you can tell a lot of thought went into making it. There’s a seemingly endless number of zippers, pockets, handles and loops smartly strewn across the bag, which makes it really easy to organize your gear or tie down bulkier equipment like a tripod. You can even transform it into a duffel by hiding its shoulder straps and hip belts behind cleverly placed flaps, while built-in compression snaps help slim it down for carry-on duty. And of course there are separate padded sleeves for tablets and up to a 16-inch laptop.
The only real downside is that it’s a bit large and sometimes wearing it makes me feel like a turtle. It’s a great backpack for hauling a bunch of gear and clothes around during a long weekend. Unfortunately, not long after I bought this thing, Peak came out with a less bulky 30L version, and if I had to do it all over again, I’d probably go for the smaller one. – Sam Rutherford, Senior Reporter
Dagne Dover Dakota Backpack
There are many reasons I love my Dagne Dover Dakota backpack, but the main one is that it has pockets. A lot of pockets. One big pocket on the front, three more on the other side of the front flap, two internal side pockets, two external side pockets, and two more pockets on the back. Oh, and there’s also a large padded laptop compartment that’s big enough to fit my 13-inch MacBook Pro (According to the company, it should fit most 13-inch laptops).
All of these pockets give me enough room to store a multitude of cables, external batteries, accessories, a water bottle and so much more. I especially love the two back ones as I can reach them easily while I’m wearing the backpack, making them ideal for essentials like my wallet, phone and travel documents.
The internal cavity is roomy as well. I’ve managed to fit in a large DSLR camera along with a giant telephoto lens. It’s great as a gym bag, too, as I can fit in an extra change of clothes and a pair of shoes. I love it for travel too. It holds so much stuff but it’s still compact enough to fit underneath the seat in front of me. In fact, the latest version of the Dakota even has a sleeve that fits perfectly over your luggage handle.
Plus, this thing is durable. It’s made of neoprene, a soft lightweight material that dries quickly if it gets wet. It’s also insulating and shock absorbent. I bought it back in 2017 and five years later, it’s still holding up. It doesn’t look quite as pristine as it did back then, but it’s just as functional. Sure, it’s rather pricey at $185, but for a bag that has lasted this long, it’s worth it. – Nicole Lee, Commerce Writer
Waterfield Staad Attaché bag
I’ve been buying gear from Waterfield in San Francisco for almost 20 years, a rather startling amount of time. But their bags, laptop sleeves, gaming cases and everything else I’ve tried has been exceptionally well-made and smartly designed. I’ve picked up a number of their bags over the years, but the one that I keep coming back to is the Staad Attaché, a waxed canvas (or ballistic nylon) messenger bag with a full-grain leather flap.
The thing that I like the most about it is that it can carry a lot of gear but it’s still fairly compact. It has two built-in sleeves for carrying a laptop and tablet, two deep hand pockets, a key fob, and a main compartment that’s big enough to carry headphones, books, a camera, or whatever else you deem most essential. There are also two external zippered pockets for anything you might need to get your hands on quickly. This bag is big enough for me to carry everything I need for a day or two, but small enough that I don’t overpack.
The Staad Attaché looks classy and understated on the outside, but the interior is a bright yellow. That might seem an unusual choice, but it makes it easier to see what’s inside than a dark liner. It’s a good example of the smart design decisions Waterfield makes. And, perhaps most importantly, this bag can take a beating. Waterfield products are expensive; the Staad Attaché starts at $289. But they’re the kind of product you buy once and can use for a lifetime. I’ve taken this bag on tons of work and personal trips and is still in perfect shape. The waxed canvas and leather have aged well over the years, and I expect I’ll be lugging this bag around for another decade, easy — unless I get tempted by another Waterfield option before then. – Nathan Ingraham, Deputy Editor