The best gear for going back to school

You should never stop learning—or getting excited about truly excellent highlighters.

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Sharpen those pencils and shake the sand from your backpacks. The sun is quickly setting on summer barbecues and the chime of that first school bell ticks ever nearer. Whether you’re a parent, teen, or grown-up who just really likes a fresh set of office supplies, these goods set up your fall right. Teach yourself how to treat yourself.

Belkin’s Active Pro Backpack is modern and gimmick-less, making a solid choice for pretty much every student. Your devices (including a laptop up to 15.6 inches) will be safe here; the pockets have protective foam and the satchel itself is done up in a water-resistant nylon coating. The only adornment is a single reflective strip down the middle, designed to keep the wearer safe while biking or walking around at night. $50.

Think Geek’s 18-in-tall, glow-in-the-dark knapsack includes a laptop sleeve and padded straps for extra comfort. Secure your pencils and other small objects in its zippered mesh organizer pockets. $40.

The Rocketbook Everlast Smart Notebook has 36 reusable pages that—if written on with Pilot FriXion pens, markers, or highlighters—can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. After 15 seconds the ink dries and you can scan the notes with your smartphones camera to Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive. The notebook comes with one pen. $30.

The Everlast Mini notebook has most of the same functionality, but is much smaller. There are 22 pages that can be wiped clean. The notebook is $16.

The best mug

Ember’s temperature-control ceramic mug was my favorite product of 2017. This year, they introduced a new color: matte black. This mug will stain less than the white model, but is equally suited to keep your beverages hot for extended periods. It also makes a great holiday gift. $80.

The Dash rapid cold-brew coffee maker is no standard cold brew maker. The machine creates up to 42 ounces of cold brew in as little as five minutes. Dash uses tech it calls “ColdBoil,” which basically pumps water from the carafe to the brewing chamber, where the water pushes through the grounds and thereby brews the coffee. The liquid is then pumped back into the carafe. The machine has settings for a light—which is ready-to-drink—medium, or darker concentrate, which should be mixed with milk or water. $100.

If there’s a nicer-looking set of speakers than Urbanears’ Baggen, Stammen, and Lotsen speakers, I haven’t come across them. The multi-room speakers come in up to six colors—blue, black, green, grey, orange, and pink—and can be controlled with an app on your smartphone. You can connect devices to the speaker via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or an aux cable. There are two knobs on top of the fabric-covered speakers to adjust the volume, program sound presets, and manage the multi-room settings. The Baggen features a 60-watt speaker and weighs 14.5 pounds. The Stammen has a 36-watt speaker and weighs just under 8 pounds. The Lotsen has a 20-watt speaker and weighs just under 5 pounds. Prices range from $200-$361.

Think of the Panda Planner as the offspring of a bullet journaling notebook and one of those spiral-bound planners you got in middle school. The notebook includes monthly, weekly, and daily pages, and encourages you to write down your goals and achievements. It’s also comes with a 1-year guarantee, so if you buy it, start planning, and then totally ignore it for 3 months, you can get your money back. $25.

There are three types of people in this world: binder people, notebook people, and—though a much smaller contingent—accordion folder people. The Five Star Flex NoteBinder aims to appease people from all three realms. It’s got thin plastic covers (like a notebook) held together with three rings (like a binder) that can accommodate some 1.5-inches of paper—or about 300 sheets. It’s also got loads of pockets (like a portable file system) that keep your loose hand-outs and notes. The binder comes in several candy colors and loaded up with 100 sheets of paper. $16.

Some notes are more important than others. Use this set of five Zebra highlighters—pink, orange, yellow, blue, and green—to keep your school work organized and make sure all the important information easy to spot. These are beloved by bullet journalers and study Youtubers—and for good reason. $6.

This correction tape pen is the best of all possible worlds: easy to grip and store in your pencil case, with no sticky fluids or smudging. Grab some refills here if you think the pack of three won’t last all year. $7.

Do you think all looseleaf is the same? No no no. These Kokuyo Campus papers have 26 holes—which mean it will fit in non-standard binders—and are extra smooth and extra bright. Plus, your pen ink won’t bleed through. $12 for a pack of two.

Uni-ball Signo DX pens come in red, black, and blue. The .38 mm pen tip is nice and thin, and the inky lines doesn’t smudge, even under highlighter. This pack comes with ten. $14.

The Laundreez 6-liter portable washing machine is a clutch item for dorm life. If you don’t have an easily accessible laundry room, this device is small enough to stash away in your room. Fill the Laundreez with water and detergent and let the clothing soak. The pouch has a screw off cap that will keep the water inside. The bag can also double as a toiletry bag or a dry bag to keep wet bathing suits or towels from soaking your other belongings. $30.

These ZIPIT monster pencil cases come in three styles: jumbo, regular, and a three-ring model that fits in your binder. The jumbo pencil case can hold up to 50 pens or pencils. All sizes are made of a polyester fiber and come with a zip that makes the whole thing look like a monster’s face. D’aww. $10.

LEGO has a 12-inch ruler? Yes, yes it does. Build your own with LEGO plates and bricks. Complete the set with their colored pencils and markers. $13.

The only place in college for a mess is the mess hall. Keep your bedroom neat. Made of steel and wood—and 3.8″ x 9.6″ x 4.4″—this Yamazaki desk organizer has two areas to keep your pencils, coins, and keys in place. There is also an area to rest your watch and a spot for your smartphone. $30.

And, of course, there are flash cards—highly effective for memorizing things, but so often crushed at the bottom of our backpacks. The cards in this set are made of tough wood pulp and are held together with a stainless steel binder ring, so they’re less likely to get crumpled or lost. The set comes in four colors—red, pink, purple, and orange—so you can color-code your classes. [$9 ({rel=nofollow}.

Exercise to battle those late-night fast-food runs or inevitable sugar-doused coffees. Grab a standard composite leather Wilson college basketball; the material is designed to absorb moisture. $65.

Toiletry bags get gross after a year of college life. You forget to tighten the toothpaste tube or only half-rinse your razor before sticking it back into the bag. Grab a new dopp kit to start the year off fresh. This set comes with two nylon oxford fabric bags with two zippered compartments each. There are elastic straps for keeping your items in place. Use one as your water repellent bathroom gear holder and the other to organize your cables, chargers, and batteries. $22.

These closed-back Focal Listen wireless headphones can hold a 20-hour charge, have comfortable, heat-sensitive memory foam, and connect over Bluetooth 4.1. The headphones have a built-in microphone and large, discrete function buttons on the front and back of the right cup for accessible controls. If you aren’t sold on wireless yet—or need a chord to connect them to your laptop—they come with a 3.5mm headphone cable you can attach. $197.

Some folks really hate on Beats headphones, but the fact of the matter is they’re stylish, come in a variety of colors, and have a 40-hour battery life that can be recharged with a USB cable. The headphones connect over Bluetooth and have a built-in microphone to take phone calls. $197.

It’s hard being away from home, so give your favorite college student a little taste—or smell—of home to take with them. These Homesick candles are made of soy wax, burn for over 60 hours, and are all hand poured. $30.

If your in college, this iHome will keep your desk uncluttered and futuro-cool. This tilting mirror, Bluetooth speaker, and LED light, can make phone calls, control Siri and Google voice assistant, and charge your smartphone. It measures just 7 inches by 9 inches. $80.

Listen, if you want a boring, plain night-light, that’s fine. If you don’t, consider this Minecraft torch that can also charge two devices via USB cable. $10.

School days can be long—doubly so if you’re not sitting near an outlet at your longer classes or seminars. Keep your phone alive as you drain the battery checking sports scores or Twitter. This Anker power bank can charge your phone over seven times and has three quick-charge USB ports. $66.

This portable espresso maker weighs less than a pound and measures under 7 inches, so it’s easy to toss in your schoolbag. To make the espresso, place ground beans and hot water into the pod and push the button to instigate about 116psi of pressure, pushing the liquid out of the bottom. It’s made out of a food-grade—and BPA-free—plastic. $50.

This set of four glass shot containers—2 beakers, 1 Erlenmeyer flask, 1 Florence flask—each holds one ounce of liquid. $10.

Look sharp on your first day back at school with these colored pencil earrings. Each is handmade from 2-inch pencil stubs and hooks onto your ear with a silver-plated fish hook. There are 24 colors to choose from. $4+.

Wrap all of your computer and speaker wires into a neoprene “cable management sleeve.” This set comes in three lengths—20, 30, and 40-inches. $15.

The UE Wonderboom is cheap, has a battery life of up to 10 hours, and is straight-up adorable. The waterproof speaker produces a rich, bass-heavy, 360-degree sound, and can be paired with other UE Wonderbooms, creating a web of surround-sound. Your phone only needs to be within 100 feet for it to work. $67.

All work and no play makes the college student bored out of their mind. Get a Nintendo Switch for the downtime in between classes or after you’ve finished your homework. The Switch lets you play on the go or on your TV screen at home. Sit back and relax with some Mario Tennis Aces or Mario Odyssey. $299.

Stay hydrated! Don’t you know how important water is to your flesh? This borosilicate glass water bottle will cut down on your plastic consumption. It’s also heat-resistant and comes in six colors. $13.

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Billy Cadden Avatar

Billy Cadden

Senior Director of Commerce

Billy Cadden is the Senior Director of Commerce for the science, tech, and outdoor group at Recurrent. He began working as the Commerce Editor at PopSci in 2017, where he spent 5 years diving deep into every product he could get his hands on. Cadden splits his time between Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, and Woodstock with his dog Wanda. He spends his time seeking new coffee shops and writing for his solo music project