Backpacks are no longer just for school kids, yet somehow it’s difficult to find one that doesn’t make it look like you’re on your way to GCSE physics.
Thankfully, there are backpacks out there as on-trend as any other bag, even if it’s a hassle to find the perfect one. To avoid the preppy aesthetic, we recommend avoiding anything too bulky or bland, but at the same time choosing the colour carefully to complement the rest of your wardrobe.
Practicality is another issue. Ideally, your backpack should be as useful for a busy workday as it is a quick trip to the shops or a long walk. For that reason, it also needs to protect your belongings from the elements, as well as protecting your back and posture.
With this in mind, we tried backpacks small and large, minimalist and bold, expensive and thrifty, to find the best available right now. We put both the bags and our backs through their paces, only including those that didn’t leave us aching after use.
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Fjallraven kanken no. 2: £120, Fjallraven
The first kanken backpack was designed to help prevent back problems and bad posture in Swedish schoolchildren but has since gone from practicality to a must-have. Thankfully they live up to their reputation. The no.2 edition of the backpack is surprisingly roomy and feels extremely sturdy, making it perfect for everything from work to a night away. It also comes with two side pockets and one on the front, large enough to easily stash away your phone, purse and keys, and thanks to the double-wax finish you can feel safe in knowing that your valuables are protected from the worst weather. And it doesn’t hurt that it goes with everything.
Dr. Martens mini leather backpack: £109, Dr. Martens
If you’re looking for something sleek and understated, this is the backpack for you. Made from Dr. Martens’ trademark durable 100 per cent leather, it fastens with a buckle at the front and adjusts at the straps. Versatile and secure, it might not fit in all the essentials for a school or workday, but still feels surprisingly roomy. Perfect for days out.
Topshop blaze mustard backpack: £20, Topshop
We’re a big fan of Topshop’s accessories, which reach the perfect balance of quality and price. This mustard faux croc-leather backpack is bold and on-trend, but not the most practical entry on the list (we couldn’t fit in our laptop and it doesn’t feel sturdy enough to weigh down for a long day at the office). Nevertheless, it makes the perfect autumnal addition to your wardrobe and kept our tester’s belongings safe and dry in a misjudged day out in constant rain.
Hype black splatter explorer backpack: £34.99, Hype
This backpack reminded us of our favourite school bag in the best possible way. It was one of the comfiest on the list, with padding in the straps and back of the bag. Despite having such a high capacity (it can contain up to 18 litres), it never felt painful or like the bag was in danger of ripping. It’s surprisingly budget-friendly for such a high quality bag and while Hype offers a range of designs from minimalist to OTT, our tester’s favourite was the black splatter pattern, which complements most outfits without standing out too much.
Lifeventure kibo 25 RFiD travel backpack: £39.99, Lifeventure
Lifeventure has combined its 25 years of travel experience with the latest technology to create the perfect travel backpack. The brand’s “ruco-dry eco plus hydrophobic treatment” means it’s totally waterproof, it offers two bottle pockets and a padded 13” laptop section, and – most impressively – there’s a hidden radio-frequency identification (RFiD) protected pocket, blocking any personal information such as credit cards or identification from being picked up by airport RFID readers. Deceptively big, it also holds up to 25 litres of your belongings. At such a low price for all its unique features, it’s a must-have for any frequent flyers.
Hunter original nylon backpack: £55, Hunter
Just like its famous wellies, Hunter’s backpacks are designed to last you for years to come. While it’s coated in water-resistant nylon to protect your belongings from light rain, it also features a padded mesh back panel to avoid the dreaded sweaty back situation. Available in a range of shades, our tester loved the military red option, which adds a pop of colour to dark autumn wardrobes.
Muji water repellent mini rucksack: £19.95, Muji
Small backpacks are a wardrobe must-have, especially when they’re as practical as this one. It’s coated in a water-repellent polyester, holding up well in the bad weather. The front pocket is easy to access and big enough to hold your phone and, depending on the size, your purse. While it comes in three shades, we liked the light beige – it even stays surprisingly clean thanks to the waterproof coating.
Eastpak padded pak’r: £45, Eastpak
Backpacks are Eastpak’s speciality but our tester’s favourite was the brand’s classic: the padded pak’r. The main compartment is roomy, with a handy 13” pocket for your laptop and a bigger than average front pocket. It feels comfortable and sturdy on your back and also comes with a two-year warranty. An added bonus is that it’s 100 per cent vegan.
Herschel Supply retreat backpack: £80, Herschel Supply Co
Practical yet cute, this backpack fits in even the bulkiest of items. The laptop sleeve is larger than found in most backpacks, measuring at 15 inches, and is fleece-lined to ensure the safety of your device. It also feels very secure, with both a drawcord cinch closure and two buckle straps. However, our favourite feature was the internal media pocket, which fixes your headphones into place to make it easier to safely listen to your music while out and about.
Mi-Pac nylon day pack leopard: £29.99, Mi-Pac
If you’re looking to stand out with your backpack, Mi-Pac has you sorted. We were immediately drawn to this bag’s leopard print fastening, but were soon drawn in by its other features. It’s fully lined with slick nylon, meaning no leaks throughout the day. The double zip-and-clip fastening is secure, and the logo badge is reflective for added safety during the dark winter months.
The verdict: Backpacks for women
Our favourite was the kanken no.2 – Fjallraven’s backpacks are classics for a reason. However, if you’re looking for something a bit more purse-friendly, we loved Mi-Pac’s nylon day pack, and the kibo 25 RFiD travel backpack is unbeatable for frequent travellers.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.