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We answer a lot of shopping questions at Racked, from where to buy the ideal loafers to where to find “normal” non-denim pants. Recently, someone in our Facebook group for shopping tips asked a question that probably resonates with a lot of people: Where can you buy a quality, low-key backpack that works well for a commute but also has features like a water bottle pocket — without spending a ton of money?
Luckily, there’s a pretty wide overlap between backpacks that won’t look out of place schlepping your lunch and computer to your office, carrying your stuff out on a date, or toting your lunch and a towel for a weekend jaunt to the beach. Plenty of brands are making bags that work for all of these situations — and in a lot of cases, you can satisfy all those needs in the same bag.
Here, I’ve pulled together the brands making the best multi-purpose backpacks in a few different price ranges, but largely for under $100. And all of them make several options, so if you need more room for textbooks or would get more use out of something that looks more like a purse than a book bag or hiking pack, I’ll leave that up to you. (If you’ve got a bigger budget and really specific needs, I suggest heading over to Carryology, a site that’s all about bags that includes some super in-depth reviews of backpacks, organized by different categories like daypacks and camera bags.)
State now makes more than 20 styles of backpacks in all kinds of colors, materials, and sizes, starting at $35 for a very simple drawstring bag (most full-size bags hover around $85–$90). While I’m partial to the Lorimer ($85) in black, which is lightweight and has served me well for the past two years as a commuter bag, State has lots of options in brighter colors and flashy prints, too. But one of the coolest things about the brand is its #GiveBackPack program, which donates a backpack filled with school supplies to an American child in need for every bag sold. For this back-to-school season, State has partnered with Chance the Rapper’s SocialWorks as well as other local organizations to focus on students from under-funded neighborhoods in Chicago.
With 12 different options starting at $40 — from mini bags to extra-large commuter packs — Everlane is a solid option for buying a backpack. If you’re looking for something on the smaller side that can still fit a laptop, I’d recommend the Modern Twill Single Snap Backpack in large ($65), which can fit any Macbook in its interior sleeve.
If you need something that can stand up to heavier wear-and-tear for a bike commute or a hiking trip, check out Timbuk2, which was founded by a San Francisco bike messenger. The website filters bags by activity as well as feature, so it’s pretty easy to find what you’re looking for, whether that’s a wet/dry compartment, reflective safety strips for nighttime biking, something carry-on size, or a water bottle pocket. (There’s also a device fit guide, if you’re planning to cart around a computer.) The brand is a little pricier, with backpacks starting at $79 at full price and $62 on sale, but all bags come with a lifetime warranty.
The Brooklyn-based brand makes five different styles of backpacks, including a drawstring-top canvas version ($42), a foldable, simple take ($32), and a backpack shape that falls more in the purse category that’s available in leather or suede ($248). All are unisex, fit varying needs, and come in a huge range of colors and patterns. (While you’re at it, it’s worth checking out the rest of the brand’s fall lineup, too.)
You’re probably already familiar with Herschel’s ubiquitous classic backpacks ($44.99), but the fact that the brand makes so many different styles (starting at $19.99 for a mini backpack) makes it worth mentioning here. While you can find a few styles from the brand at Urban Outfitters and in skate shops, there’s a whole lot more variety in size, style, color, material, and price if you purchase directly from its website.