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School backpack and daypack buying guide

You’ve no doubt heard those “stories” about your dad carrying his schoolbooks in an old burlap sack, walking to school uphill both ways — in the snow!

Well, that was then (maybe). This is now (for sure). Because, thanks to things like school buses, snowplows and highly engineered book bags, you’ve got it easy. These days, the hardest part is wading through the endless options. So to help you pick a pack that’ll work best for your needs, here are some tips to help you make smart back-to-school backpack buying decisions.

The Gear Guy is currently researching new models and writing an update to this article. Watch for his updated tips and reviews in the August 2017 issue of Boys’ Life.



There are several types of daypacks. First, you have the traditional backpack-style pack, which is most popular. Messenger bags and sling bags have many of the same features as traditional daypacks but in an over-the-shoulder design. And, finally, there are roller bags, school packs inspired by wheeled luggage.

DC Shoes Detention

DC SHOES DETENTION ($42, The Detention pack features a big main compartment with laptop sleeve and a front organizer pocket, a pair of mesh side pockets and an insulated cooler pocket up front to keep your lunch fresh. Capacity: 25 liters.


Sure, a cool looking pack is, well, cool — but comfort must be your No. 1 concern. Bottom line: books are heavy. You want a backpack with padded shoulder straps, a padded back panel and maybe even a hip belt and sternum strap, which help you carry heavy loads easier. Look for adjustable straps that accommodate bigger or smaller body frames and fit well on your back and shoulders.

Try it on. Make sure the bag doesn’t ride up toward your shoulders or sag down in the back. It should sit comfortably in the small of your back.

Granite Gear Echo

GRANITE GEAR ECHO ($35, Taller and slimmer than most packs, the Echo keeps your load closer to your back for a more comfortable carry. Inside you’ll find a laptop sleeve and plenty of pockets for organizing school gear. And since it’s made from a water-repellent fabric, your homework won’t get soggy on rainy days. Capacity: 28.25 liters.


Take a quick inventory of the things you’ll be carrying on most days. Will everything fit inside the pack? And do you have extra room for gym clothes and things you might carry occasionally, like snow boots or your bicycle helmet?

Check the tag, too. The amount of stuff a pack can carry is measured in liters or cubic inches. Be sure to measure the width of your school locker to make sure the bag will fit inside. If you have lots of heavy books and you can’t go to your locker between classes, consider a roller bag. You’ll be able to drag it effortlessly most places (you’ll still have to lift it up and down stairs and onto the bus).

High Sierra Fat Boy

HIGH SIERRA FAT BOY ($25, If you need a backpack that can hold a load of books, check out the Fat Boy. You get lots of organizer pockets too, plus a headphone port for your phone or MP3 player, a key keeper and a carabiner-type hook on the outside for attaching extra gear. Capacity: 39 liters.


Some guys prefer bags with one big bin-style compartment, while others like plenty of pockets, dividers and holders to keep their stuff organized. Look for handy extras like a cellphone holster, key holder, fleece-lined sunglasses pockets and ports for your headphones.

A laptop sleeve at the back of the bag can be a nice feature for some people. That way you don’t have to search through your bag and figure out what your laptop is stuck on when you’re trying to pull it out.

Dakine Grom 13L

DAKINE GROM 13L ($35, This pack has several organizer pockets, including a fleece-lined pocket on top for your sunglasses. You’ll have plenty of room for books and homework, but, best of all, it has adjustable straps to carry your skateboard. Bonus: The “Verde” (left) and “Mantle” versions are made from recycled plastic bottles. Capacity: 13 liters.


A quality pack should last long past your high school graduation. Look for bags with sturdy reinforced bottoms and load-bearing seams lined with binding tape. If you live where it rains a lot, get a water-resistant pack.

And never underestimate the need for heavy-duty zippers. Thick zippers help keep your bag closed when it’s packed really tight. The straps and buckles need to be strong, too, for those days when the bag is full.

Cub Scout School Bag and Boy Scout Book Bag

CUB SCOUT SCHOOL BAG ($20, Show your Cub Scout colors with this backpack. It has a front organizer pocket with a headphone port, a pair of mesh side pockets and plenty of interior space for your school supplies. Capacity: 18 liters. The Boy Scout Book Bag ($50, Offers a compartment for a laptop or hydration bladder and is perfect for school or a quick overnight. Capacity: 28 liters.


If you plan to use your backpack for more than just hauling your homework back and forth from school, look for a pack designed with other activities in mind. For instance, if you love skateboarding consider a pack with a skate keeper.

Need your pack to do double duty on those Scout outings? Look for a hiking-style daypack that has a large capacity (at least 1,500 cubic inches) and perhaps room for a hydration bladder.

Columbia Windward Daypack

COLUMBIA WINDWARD DAYPACK ($35, This simple pack has two compartments: one large main compartment for all your books and homework and a front zippered organizer pocket. And thanks to its durable water repellency, the Windward can do double duty as a daypack for the trail. Capacity: 26 liters.


Here’s a backpack that totally breaks all the rules, but still, it’s really awesome.

Gig Pack

GIG PACK (Not for sale, This prototype backpack, created by Brazilian designer Gustavo Brenck, easily converts from a backpack to a scooter. The nylon backpack contains compartments for notebooks and other items. The Gig Pack is not yet available for sale.

68 Comments on School backpack and daypack buying guide

  1. Hey! I'm a girl! // January 13, 2016 at 10:15 pm // Reply

    Whoa!!!!! That scooter backpack is sooo me. I would always be using the scooter mode.

  2. I got the army one

  3. Those are very expensive options. I recommend going for something reasonable ones like Serbags Backpacks, if you’re in canvas material.

  4. I use a Maxpedition bag. Pricey, but the very best quality bag you can buy. Will last you years.

  5. boylifeman // June 6, 2014 at 9:00 pm // Reply

    thanks for my camping backpack

  6. Man I really love packs with hip belts. The equal distribution of weight is so important for distance hiking, if you’re a car camper it is not needed however.

  7. I prefer backpacks without any hip belts, I really like all the weight on my shoulders instead, it feels good.

  8. bulldog says // December 3, 2013 at 7:04 pm // Reply

    i really want gear but my dad says no

  9. Father Time // July 28, 2013 at 1:17 pm // Reply

    Just bought a Duluth Pack; Sahara daypack. This is really cool and talk about being made tough, wow! Thanks for the suggestion. Love the life time warranty too.

  10. I have the REI Lookout 40 pack which is a very comfortable and durable pack with a full frame (HDPE frame sheet, aluminum stay) for only $100.

  11. Knife Overlord // October 28, 2012 at 8:32 pm // Reply

    Scout Direct sells Alps Mountaineering packs for 40% off to scouts; really nice packs and tents too. I have the Solitude 3300 ci model w/ waist belt. Give it a peek.

  12. Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // August 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm // Reply

    I just got a new day pack called The Compact Assault Pack b Condor. It has a little over 1000 C.U.I (cubic inches). It will be my primary hunting back pack as well as a day pack.

  13. MahnaMahna // July 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm // Reply

    Am I the only one who uses High Sierra?

  14. I really have so many backpacks, I won’t need another till I’m 40! I love my New Balance bag, but the elastics on the front are a breaking hazard!

  15. If you can afford $100.00 a Duluth Pack Daypack is great and guaranteed for life; find that anywhere else. I have two: blue for summer and orange for winter. Made with thick waterproof canvas, leather straps (Padded if desired) and rivits.

    • MN Boy Scout // April 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm // Reply

      I love the duluth pack backpacks! They are incredibly durable, strong and many are quite big. My only complaint is the dye used to color the fabric stains everything in the backpack when it gets wet. You might want a pack cover if you use it outdoors or where it might get wet

      • Off-Trail Monkey // April 24, 2012 at 10:51 pm //

        They are supposted to be sealed in Canvac before outdoor use. This prevent color bleeding.

  16. My old day pack is falling apart time to find a new one.

    • Flash 18 guy // July 26, 2011 at 4:32 pm // Reply

      I have the Flash 18. It holds a bladder, has lots of space, has a hip belt and a sternum strap,and it turns inside out becoming a sleeping bag stuff sack. It is $30 at REI.

    • Try a Teton Sports The Executive pack. I don’t actually own it but I do have the Explorer 4000 and the Scout 3400 and both are great packs so I highly recommend any Teton products they are cheap but reliable. P.S. Go to Gear Guy backpacks and see my comment on the Explorer 4000. Hope you like it.

      • Man try other packs instead of just Tetons!

      • Knife Xpert 157 (aka Chad 101) // May 3, 2012 at 8:16 pm //

        I did I tried i tinny Remington pack and that was terrible! I guess I love tetons so much because I had such a bad pack before i got a good one

  17. bobthecactus // April 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm // Reply

    maxpedition all the way. I own a Falcon 2. it may seem expensive, but it is worth the price.

  18. North Face makes some good day packs, but unlike Camelbak, it doesn’t have good space for a waterbladder. I just got a Camelbak daypack for x-mas and just looking at it I can tell it is awesome.

  19. I just use my hunting pack for scouting activities. I have a Cabela’s Scout Elite pack. its got enough room for the essentials, plus anything else I want to throw in there. Plus they come in lots of different camo patterns, so can pick the one that looks most like where you hunt. Mine’s a sagebrush pattern, and it blends in really well.

  20. hippiescout151 // September 25, 2010 at 9:30 am // Reply

    camelbak is good for a camp daypack

  21. lightweight gu-ru // July 13, 2010 at 5:49 pm // Reply

    Sometimes the Walmart brand is a good choice for a cheap day pack. They are very good.

    • That’s true, I just bought a daypack from Wal-mart and it works just as well as the more expensive sports store variety~~~worked much better on my pocketbook, too.

  22. me123456789 // April 24, 2010 at 6:45 pm // Reply

    i have a real good element pak

  23. cars 1st class // April 20, 2010 at 7:49 pm // Reply


  24. I want a durable daypac

  25. Guys, they’re day packs! They’re aren’t meant to look cool. They are just meant to carry your simple small gear, water, and stuff you’d use for the day. And they are NOT YOUR SCHOOL BACKPACK!!! They don’t cost that much, the most expensive one I’ve seen was like $15. Unless you mean Camel-Backs and stuff like that, those can be a little pricy.

  26. element and burton r the best if u sk8

  27. Where can you get some of the hiking backpacks like in the magazine?

  28. My dad was in iraq and when he came back he gave me his camelbak backpack to have and it is AWESOME. Since it is military issue it has a built in water hydration pack in it. Very spacious and has a cool feature like being waterproof! Camelbak rules!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Chose camelbak if you need water bottles, hydration packs, or even day packs. Best brand!!!!!!!

  29. i use my camelbak mule as a dat pack it is not the cheapest but its alsome

  30. I don’t go bkpacking much but ill use this site if ido

  31. I have a backpack from west 49 that I bought 3 years ago and I use it every day for school.

  32. First Class Scout // October 9, 2008 at 3:43 pm // Reply

    I have a daypack that I use for school and for Scouts. A good backpack is indispensable.

  33. I am on my 5 th backpack for school

    (Green: up to 2nd grade)

    (Yellow: 2nd to 5th and almost all of the 2nd half of 7th grade)

    (Red: 6th and 1st half of 7th grade)

    (Clear: few days of 7th grade)

    (Blue: (End of 7th grade to now)

  34. philmont 09 75 // August 5, 2008 at 5:53 pm // Reply

    I love my camelback for everything trips, hiking, and just being a day pack but my favorite thing is the hydration system.

  35. kootenaykaos // August 5, 2008 at 11:12 am // Reply

    wierd it doesn’t show the pictures

  36. Pyro Maniac // April 25, 2008 at 4:41 pm // Reply


  37. i like north face backpacks because they have many things like a waterproof cover!

  38. Sling backpacks rock! I have an addiedas one.

  39. I really like the dc back pack it is not that bad but some are really exspensive but i lie them

  40. backpacks should look cool and have some style

  41. those backpacks r super ugly

    0 stars,

    100,000,000,000,000,000 thumbs-down.

  42. 93 fanatic!! // May 2, 2007 at 10:55 pm // Reply

    Hey I just think It’s cool how you always post pics and prices not just info.

    (Maybe I’ll buy some nice DC shoes Nav II)

  43. all the back packs zippers break they are not very good

  44. Some are too expensive!!!!!!

  45. there very ugly

  46. the backpacks r ugly

  47. What about backpacking packs? Inner and outter frames? What about those backpacking/camping packs?

  48. Why isn`t there any camping backpacks???

  49. How come most of the backpacks are normal? Anyway thank you for some ideas.

  50. Thank you for helping me chose a backpack

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