The best backpacks for commuting, hiking, or just rambling

There’s way more out there than those Fjallraven Kanken bags. Check out these great options.

Backpacks are one of the world’s greatest pieces of gear. They let you carry stuff, spread the weight out evenly between your two shoulders, and provide you with a fun, “I’m so independent! I can use both hands!” feeling.

But from ubiquitous names like Jansport and Herschel to hardier brands to store your smelly gym clothes, there are a ton of options to sift through. Whether you’re using a backpack as your daily commuting companion, taking a laptop to the coffee shop, or venturing out into the woods, here are a couple of great buys.

For keeping a slim profile. Amazon

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I love this little backpack because of how easily it conforms to my body—a good quality for a pack to have if you’re on a crowded subway. The pocket on the back is handy, as is the laptop sleeve (for a machine that’s just 13 inches, max) and other compartments. You won’t fit much in this tidy, sleek bag, but that’s okay.

For being stylish. Amazon

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You’ve probably seen Fjallraven Kanken bags around. Everywhere. “Kanken,” by the way, means “carry” in Swedish—so now you can feel smart whenever you see one of those bags. Of course, the company makes more than just Kanken packs: Their Norrvage Foldsack is made of 80 percent recycled wool, and the fleece stems from industry “spillage.”

For staying upright (but not uptight). Amazon

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The best backpacks stay upright when you set them down on the floor; that way, you don’t have to hang them up or lean them against something. The YETI Crossroads pack does just that, thanks to a firm, flat lower portion. I also like the external water bottle pockets that flatten down sleekly with magnets when empty.

For everyday use. Amazon

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Many backpacks are unisex, but the North Face’s Jester pack is more tailored to a women’s build. Inside is a laptop sleeve, side pockets for water bottles, and other compartments for pens or charging cables. The removable hip belt also keeps it tethered, in case you wliternt the extra security.

For protecting your sunglasses. Amazon

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At the top of this backpack is a rigid compartment designed to protect your possessions from being crushed when your bag is bumped around or crushes in storage. (That’s also a great spot to put your shades.) With the handle on the side, you can also tote this around, briefcase-style.

For a military vibe. Amazon

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Do you want to exude a Jack Ryan vibe? (The John Krasinski, not Harrison Ford, kind.) Then this burly bag from 5.11 Tactical might be what you’re looking for. With the sewn lashing points on the outside, it’s got a military-contractor feel. Other bags from the company have been impressive.

For day hikes. Amazon

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This cute, nifty hiking companion has all the features you need for a vigorous climb up a mountain in the summertime. Your body will appreciate its ventilated mesh back, and the easy access to hydration (it has space for three-liter water reservoir inside). I also like that it has small zippered pockets built right into the hip belt—a good place to stow a map or multitool.

Mammut Trion Spine 35
For backpacking. REI

The robust Mammut backpack would be overkill for a casual day hike, but it’s perfect for a gnarly backwoods journey. More importantly, PopSci awarded the Active Spine Technology in this product a Best of What’s New award; it has pivot points in its frame at both your chest and hips, so the bag can move with the natural swagger of your body.

Rob Verger

Rob Vergeris an associate editor at PopSci, where he covers aviation, the military, transportation, outdoor gear and gadgets, and other tech topics. A graduate of Columbia Journalism School, he's also written for The Boston Globe, Newsweek, The Daily Beast, CJR, VICE News, and other publications. Contact the author here.