Best backpacks 2020: stylish backpacks for school, your commute, or travel

Finding the best rucksack or satchel to keep your laptops, tablets and other tech safe on the go

The best backpack or laptop bag 2020

Here at T3 we have scoured the vast reaches of tech-luggage-obscurity to find the best backpacks and laptop bags around. Whether you're looking for high-end designer backpacks or rugged, water-resistant rucksacks, we've got you covered.

Both 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, and copies of T3 magazine etc. 

From stylish to monstrously rugged, these are the bags of gold.

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 sports wear. 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're going to be focusing on daypacks in this feature, but you can checkout our guide to the best carry on luggage, if that's more your bag.

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 exoskeleton, is more suited to you.

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.

Best everyday backpacks

1. Eastpak Austin Nylon Backpack

It's stylish, durable, and affordable, what more could you ask for?

Reasons to buy
+30-year warranty+Padded laptop compartment+Attractive design+Affordable

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.

(Image credit: Patagonia)

2. Patagonia Ironwood Pack Backpack

We love this 100-percent recycled pack from outdoors brand Patagonia

Reasons to buy
+Recycled+Laptop sleeve doubles as water reserve+Ergonomic straps+Waterproof finish

Made from 100-percent recycled polyester and treated with a polyurethane coating and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish - we really rate this pack from outdoor brand Patagonia. It's equipped with a padded laptop sleeve which doubles as an insulated hydration reservoir when you hit the trails, and features Human Curve shoulder straps which ergonomically fit your body.

3. Tom Ford Buckly leather backpack

A luxury backpack ready for the urban jungle

Reasons to buy
+Great brand+Sleek design+Chunky zips+Soft nubuk leather

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.

4. Knomo Beaufort

Reasons to buy
+Holds a 15-inch laptop+RFID-protected pocket
Reasons to avoid
-Not very colourful

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. 

5. The North Face Berkeley Backpack

Reasons to buy
+Bright+Bike light loop+Compartments
Reasons to avoid
-Not the smartest

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.

(Image credit: John Lewis)

6. John Lewis & Partners Oslo Leather Backpack

Sleek, smart and stylish

Reasons to buy
+It looks more expensive than it is+Includes laptop sleeve and pockets
Reasons to avoid
-Leather not for everyone

Nothing screams important exec like a leather briefcase. This Oslo Leather backpack by John Lewis is just as smart, but a whole lot more practical. Crafted from soft leather with clean lines and clever details, it looks the business, but is also great for storing all your tech essentials. Features include a two-way zip fastening for the main compartment, a 15" laptop sleeve  and a roomy external pocket for a phone or anything else you want to keep easily to hand, as well as two more open pockets for less precious bits and pieces.

Measuring 40 x 30 x 12cm it’s a good size for your daily work stuff, without being too roomy and tempting you to pack (and lug around) the proverbial kitchen sink. Perfect for commuters, there’s a back strap and top handle, plus the smart sleeve on the back is designed to slot over a suitcase handle, enabling you to go hands-free at the airport if you like. Available in navy and black.

Best backpacks for commuting

1. Côte&Ciel Isar

A unique looking laptop bag and holdall in one

Reasons to buy
+Versatile+Spacious+Original design+Durable

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.

2. Filson Ranger Leather-Trimmed Twill Backpack

This ruggedly handsome backpack will look right at home in a Soho Farmhouse

Reasons to buy
+Rugged materials+Rustic design+Padded shoulders+Large capacity

Inspired by vintage forestry bags, this hardwearing 'Ranger' backpack from Filson is cut from durable twill (engineered to resist wear and tear) and canvas. We can see it looking like part of the set at Soho Farmhouse. It's the perfect bag if you tend to abuse yours. With approximately 22-litres of interior space, so plenty of room for a laptop, essentials, and a hoodie or pair of trainers. The straps are padded for comfort.

3. Brooks England Transit Linen Pickwick

Designed in London, this backpack is effortlessly stylish

Reasons to buy
+Great brand+Sternum strap+Metal feet+Made for cycling

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.

(Image credit: John Lewis)

4. Sandqvist Hege Grand Organic Cotton Backpack

A luxury leather and cotton backpack from one of our favourite brands

Reasons to buy
+Super stylish from a cool name+Comes with a three year guarantee+Understated+Great size
Reasons to avoid
-Cotton isn’t smart enough for everyone

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.

5. Knomo Southampton Briefcase

Sleek, stylish, and deceptively practical

Reasons to buy
+Small but roomy+Premium leather design+Comfortable

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.

6. Burton Tinder

Vintage styling with everyday usability

Reasons to buy
+Retro styling+Drawstring closure+Padded laptop compartment

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

1. Herschel Casual Daypack Heritage

Wanna look preppy? Check out this classic backpack from Herschel

Reasons to buy
+Classic design+Affordable+Space for 15-inch laptop+Comfortable

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.

2. Cath Kidston Oxford Rose Backpack

We love this bold pattern

Reasons to buy
+Standout pattern+Roomy+Padded straps

If you're after a backpack with a bold pattern, look no further than this pack from Cath Kidston. We really love the green and pink colour scheme printed on the waterproof oilcloth. It really stands out.

Inside there's a padded section to keep your laptop secure, and plenty of room for A4 folders and essentials.

(Image credit: Mr Porter)

3. MONCLER New George Backpack

Quilted but so cool

Reasons to buy
+Covetable brand+Built to be durable+An investment piece+Comfortable
Reasons to avoid

If you like your bags designer but durable, Moncler’s New George backpack is worth saving up for. It’s built for durability, whether you're hitting the slopes or bustling through a busy commute, thanks to its hard-wearing quilted shell. But there’s plenty of room inside for all your laptop and other kit and practical pockets to keep you and all your high-tech gadgets organized. 

The straps and back are padded to ensure comfort, while the handy zipped pocket will keep your phone easily accessible. Moncler’s a desirable brand and despite its simple black colour, this black backpack will turn your friends green with envy. 

4. Eastpak Out of Office

A classic from Eastpak, now with a modern twist

Reasons to buy
+Classic design+Iconic brand+Cool patterns

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.

5. Fjällräven Kanken

Fjällräven is so hot right now, but good luck pronouncing it

Reasons to buy
+Carry handle+Cute branding+Practical design

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

(Image credit: Tumi)

1. Tumi Alpha 3 Slim Solutions Brief Pack

This premium track backpack can certainly take a beating

Reasons to buy
+Durable+Used by tonnes of Celebs+Smart euro-traveller chic

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. 

2. Lowe Alpine Cloud 35

Travel luggage meets commuter backpack: brilliant all rounder

Reasons to buy
+Compartment for everything+35L capacity makes it good for longer trips as well as everyday
Reasons to avoid
-No waist strap

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.   

3. Samsonite Pro-DLX 5

Reasons to buy
+Wheels as well as backpack straps+Laptop & tablet sleeves+Ideal for travel
Reasons to avoid
-Very formal look

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. 

4. Mammut Xeron Courier 25

A great all-rounder from Swiss mountaineering brand

Reasons to buy
+Fast access+Separate laptop entrance+Four colours

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.

5. Incase EO Travel Backpack

Reasons to buy
+Carry-on size+Takes a suit
Reasons to avoid

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 17-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

1. The North Face Access

Uses a steel exoskeleton to keep your tech safe

Reasons to buy
+Exoskeleton protection+Ejects tech+Button opening

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.

2. Osprey Radial 26

The best bike commuter backpack

Reasons to buy
+Exceptionally comfortable to wear+Repair or replace lifetime guarantee
Reasons to avoid

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.

3. Patagonia Stormfront Pack 30L

The ultimate waterproof backpack

Reasons to buy
+Keeps your gear 100% dry+Comfortable to carry
Reasons to avoid
-Very Expensive

If you need a backpack you can travel with which will keep your gear dry even if it takes a swim, Patagonia’s Stormfront Pack is it. Canyoneers, canoeists, anglers and photographer on the go spring to mind immediately. 100% nylon, 100% waterproof welded construction and an easy-to-use, fully waterproof TIZIP main zipper protect the interior of the pack. 

The 30L backpack itself is ultra-simple – one large main compartment with a little mesh pocket and an external, water-resistant stash pocket. It’s really comfortable to carry with adjustable, low-profile padded shoulder harness and removable waist belt. A brilliant choice if you need the 100% waterproofing, if not then it’s very expensive for what is essentially a very well made yet basic bag.

4. OverBoard Classic Waterproof Backpack Rucksack

Keep your valuables as dry as a bone

Reasons to buy
+Fully waterproof+Floats+Comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Overkill for the commute

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.

Best backpacks: Osprey Daylite Plus 20L shown in blue

(Image credit: Osprey)

5. Osprey Daylite Plus 20L

A ‘cool’ daypack for shorter hikes and general outdoors adventure days

Reasons to buy
+Ventilated backpanel for boosted airflow+Removable hipbelt for carrying comfort+Osprey water reservoir compatible

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 spacermesh 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.

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