When I think back to my days as a student, I wonder how I made it through without chronic back pain. On any given day, my backpack would be crammed with textbooks, note pads, a change of clothes for work, headphones, an umbrella, snacks, and all sorts of other odds and ends–and I lugged that bag to and from different classrooms in multiple buildings. Needless to say, I know a thing or two about how the right backpack can keep you organized, and your back in tiptop shape.

The best backpacks for busy students are ones that are large enough to hold all the books, note pads, supplies, and electronic devices you need for class, while being durable enough to last more than a semester, and designed in a way that doesn’t put undue strain on your back and shoulders. They should also have ample compartmentalization, great style, and can serve other functions outside of the classroom. Here are two that I was able to take a close look at.


JanSport Big Student Backpack JanSport-Full

The first thing I noticed about the JanSport Big Student Backpack was how unbelievably light it is when empty. At only 1.3 pounds, it’s almost shocking how much it can hold and how sturdy it feels when it’s full and on your back. Part of that comes from the fact that it is made of 600 Denier durable polyester, while the other part has to do with the design of its shoulder straps. They are quite big, wide, and curved in the shape of an S so weight is evenly and comfortably distributed on your back. The back panel of the backpack is also padded for added comfort.

Comfort aside, what makes this backpack great is its design. It has two large main compartments that let you separate your books from your laptop, or perhaps your laptop and books from your work uniform. It also features three zippered external pockets, and a side water bottle pocket so you have easy access to hydration throughout the day. One of the external zipper pockets features an organizer, so you can keep things like your pens, calculator, smartphone, and keys neat and tidy and within reach.

To see how the JanSport Big Student Backpack was would stack up in the real world, I laid out everything I would imagine the average student would need for a day on campus.

That included:

  • IMG_28263 “textbooks”–random books from my book shelf;
  • Laptop in its case, tablet, e-Reader, and laptop charger;
  • Notepad and pens;
  • Headphones;
  • Umbrella;
  • Wallet;
  • Uniform for work (I was a server during school, so  shoes, shirt, and pants);
  • Makeup;
  • Water bottle

The JanSport Big Student Backpack’s two large compartments proved to be exceptionally useful. In the back compartment I put my laptop, tablet, e-Reader, the three books and note pad, and in the front compartment I stashed my work uniform. I then used the three exterior pockets to house my umbrella, wallet, pens, makeup, headphones and laptop charger, and the dedicated side pocket for my water bottle. Everything fit in very nicely, and there was ample room for more. The weight was nicely distributed, and even though the backpack was heavy when I first lifted it up, it didn’t feel heavy when on my back.

Swiss Gear 17.3” Laptop Backpack

The second large capacity backpack I Swiss-Gearwould consider for the busy student is the Swiss Gear 17.3” Laptop Backpack. With a 32.5-litre capacity, it too is designed for people who need to carry a bunch of stuff with them on a daily basis (the capacity of the JanSport Big Student Backpack is 34-litres). Similar to the JanSport Big Student Backpack, the Swiss Gear 17.3” Laptop Backpack is quite light when empty, also weighing in at only 1.3 pounds. Regardless of its light weight, it too looks and feels exceptionally sturdy and with wide, padded, and adjustable shoulder straps and padded back panel, no matter how full the pack is, it provides optimal support and comfort.

Like the JanSport Big Student Backpack, the Swiss Gear 17.3” Laptop Backpack has two large main compartments, however, while one compartment is larger and top loading, the second is smaller and side loading, and specifically designed to hold a 17.3” laptop. In addition to its two main compartments, the Swiss Gear backpack also features two large external pockets–one of which includes an organizer for your pens, smartphone, and keys–as well as two side water bottle pockets, and one small mesh pocket on the front of the right shoulder strap, which can be used to keep your bus pass, phone, or other essentials handy.

IMG_2809To see how the Swiss Gear backpack stacked up next to the JanSport pack, I loaded it with the same list of items as before. Interestingly enough, I found the side laptop compartment to be somewhat awkward. It is definitely a cool feature, but because of its dimensions, I had to put my work uniform and books in the same front compartment, which is less than ideal. However, if you don’t need to tote smelly work clothes with you to and from school, this is likely not an issue. The Swiss Gear backpack made easy work of all my items, and I could easily have fit more books, clothes, and other essentials.

Just like the JanSport, when I picked up the Swiss Gear backpack, it felt exceptionally heavy, but once I had it strapped on, it was feather light.

The verdict

If I had to choose between the JanSport Big Student Backpack and the Swiss Gear 17.3” Laptop Backpack for myself, I would go with the former, however both are great options. They provide ample room for all your day-to-evening-to-night essentials, feature multiple compartments and pockets to keep you organized, and feature ergonomic should straps to keep you comfortable, and your back safe from strain. The other great thing about these backpacks is that they can easily serve double duty as carry-ons for those spring break getaways!

Stacey McGregor
Stacey McGregor is a marketing and communications professional based in Vancouver, BC. She has a passion for the written word, loves learning about new technology and gadgets, and enjoys sharing what she learns through Best Buy's Plug In blog.