How to choose a backpack for work, university and commutes

A step-by-step guide on picking the best backpack for you

How to choose a backpack
(Image credit: Lina Verovaya / Unsplash)

Let’s be honest, buying back to class supplies isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. But when it comes to choosing the best backpack, it’s important to pick one that can handle your workload, constant travelling and the odd wear and tear. But with so many sizes, materials and brands on the market, how do you know which backpack to buy?

In this simple guide, I’ll take you through everything you need to consider before buying a backpack. Whether it’s for school, university, work or the gym, keeping this advice in mind will help you find a great option that will last a long time.

P.S. For specific recommendations, check out these 12 commuter bags and backpacks for work or school.

Consider size and capacity

The first thing to consider when buying a backpack is its size and capacity. If you pick something too small, all your items will be squished together or you’ll have to carry most of your belongings outside of your backpack. Alternatively, if you pick something too big, everything inside your bag will clang around which increases the likelihood of things breaking. Essentially, you want something spacious enough for anything and everything you could possibly need.

Strangely, backpacks are measured in litres. According to Wired, backpacks that can hold between 10 - 19 litres are best for lighter loads, whereas 20 - 29 litres is best for students and laptops that are around 15-inches. Anything bigger than this, you’re looking at something designed for weekend or camping trips. With this in mind, choose a backpack that will fit your laptop, notepads, stationery, lunch, and personal items like your wallet and keys.

Go for a classic design

For work or a professional environment, you’re going to want to show that through your clothes and accessories so choose a backpack design that’s classic and understated. Of course, you can play around with colours and patterns as much as you like, but you don’t want your bag to look too OTT and most importantly, be impractical. Pick a backpack that can go with every outfit you wear and one that can stand the test of time rather than following current trends.

Targus Cypress Hero backpack

(Image credit: Targus)

Focus on material durability

Choosing the right backpack material can be hard but generally, you should look for a backpack that’s high quality and durable. Popular backpack materials like polyester and nylon are water-resistant and slightly heavy, meaning they can carry more without breaking a sweat. Alternatively, canvas and leather options aren’t the best with water but they’re more breathable, meaning your things won’t start to smell if they’re too crushed inside your bag.

It’s also worth thinking about your backpack’s straps. I’ll go more into comfort later, but as the strap is what keeps your bag on your back and stops it from crashing to the floor, you’re going to want a sturdy strap which isn’t likely to break. Most backpacks will have straps made of the same material as the bag so make sure you’re picking something durable and practical. If you want extra support, a backpack with a middle strap that goes across your chest is a good choice.

Think about fastenings

In my opinion, you should always choose zip fastenings for any bag. I have nothing against buttons or magnetic fastenings, but as you’ve got your bag on your back for the majority of the time, a zip feels more secure and protective. Zips are also easier and less hassle to open and close compared to other fastenings.

Don’t forget comfort

If you’re carrying a backpack around for several hours, it’s important to pick something comfortable. Choosing padded shoulder straps and ergonomic backs is better for carrying heavy loads and they evenly distribute the backpack’s weight. Having padding built into your backpack is also kinder to your back and shoulders, and they’re less likely to leave marks.


(Image credit: Pexels)

Pick an organised interior

For people who thrive off organisation or who always lose something in their bag, a backpack with an organised interior and separate sections is a must. Look for a bag that has slots for your laptop and tablet, smaller pockets for chargers, stationery and other gadgets, and a separate pocket for gym clothes. Not only will this keep everything neat and tidy, but you can also keep things separate, for example, you don’t want your water bottle to be too close to your laptop in case it leaks.

Backpack tech features to look out for

Backpacks, like everything, are starting to become more technologically advanced, and many have smart features which you can use to store and charge your electronics. If you’re always on the go or travel a lot, these three features are something to look out for.

Built-in laptop sleeve

A backpack with a built-in sleeve provides an extra layer of protection to your laptop, tablet, phone and other gadgets. This designated space means you won’t have to squeeze your laptop into a too-small space or have it overcrowd the rest of your bag. It also makes your laptop more accessible.

USB charging port

Yes, you read that right. You can get backpacks with USB charging ports so you’re always juiced up and ready to go. Choosing a backpack with this feature means you’ll never be caught out by your phone dying and you’ll never miss a call, text or email again.

Blocking pockets

If you’re commuting with personal data on you, like your cards or passport, choose a backpack with a blocking or hidden pocket. A blocking pocket secures your personal belongings and prevents your cards and electronics from being stolen, and a hidden pocket means your belongings are completely inaccessible to pickpockets.

Bethan Girdler-Maslen
Home Editor

Beth is Home Editor for T3, looking after style, living and wellness. From the comfiest mattresses to what strange things you can cook in an air fryer, Beth covers sleep, yoga, smart home, coffee machines, grooming tools, fragrances, gardening and much more. If it's something that goes in your house, chances are Beth knows about it and has the latest reviews and recommendations! She's also in the know about the latest deals and discount codes from top brands and retailers.

Having always been passionate about writing, she’s written for websites, newspapers and magazines on a variety of topics, from jewellery and culture, to food and telecoms. You can find her work across numerous sites, including Wedding Ideas Magazine, Health & Wellbeing, The Bristol Post, Fashion & Style Directory, TechRadar, CreativeBloq and more. In her spare time, Beth enjoys running, reading, baking and attempting craft projects that will probably end in disaster!