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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.

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