5 Backpacks That Are Better than Tote Bags

updated Dec 17, 2019
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(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Until a few months ago, I was firmly in the tote bag camp. Until a few months ago, I couldn’t actually remember the last time I even owned a backpack! Maybe it was in college? Or was it high school when an L.L. Bean bag with your initials monogrammed on it was the “in” thing?

Regardless, I would say that, as a non-school-going, non-book-toting individual, I had been fairly happy with my tote bags for nearly every occasion, from my daily commute and trips to the gym to weekend getaways. But now that I’ve made the switch to backpacks, it’s safe to say I may never go back.

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Why I Made the Switch to Backpacks

As an editor, I spend the bulk of my days hunched over my keyboard. Whenever I am lucky enough to get a massage, the therapist always groans about the knots that result from hours and hours and hours of shoulder hunching. It is expected. I shrug: I am a slave to my computer.

But, the last time I went in for a de-knotting, my masseuse mentioned something else: My left shoulder was significantly higher than my right, and it was all thanks to my tote bag. Notably, she said that it didn’t even matter if the bag was heavy; just carrying my bag on one shoulder was throwing my body out of whack.

That was when I started looking into backpacks — and when I realized that backpacks don’t have to be super geeky! Okay, they are still a little bit geeky, but in a sort of cool way. And, in addition to the fact that they are better for my body, I’ve found they are surprisingly spacious (all the better to hold all my various food-related souvenirs).

Here are my top picks for backpacks that combine good looks with comfort and functionality.

5 Backpacks That Are Better than Tote Bags

  1. Poler Men’s Rolltop Black, $70: I opted for this practical black pack with a roll-top main compartment, a separate snack section (my terminology), and a padded pouch for my laptop. It is surprisingly roomy and I use it to lug everything from groceries to food-related travel finds.
  2. FÖRENKLA shoulder bag, $18 at IKEA: If you are looking for an affordable option that’s not short on style, consider this IKEA find. It has plenty of compartments and its red-hot hue makes it stand out from the, ahem, pack.
  3. Fjallraven Rucksack No. 21, $145: Thinking about trekking around Sweden this summer? Or maybe you’re just into the classic look of this green-and-tan rucksack? We don’t blame you. We’re sweating it, too.
  4. Baggu Canvas Backpack, $28: If you’re looking for a backpack that’s more beach-ready than trek-ready, consider this nautical option.
  5. Lorimer, $85 at State Bags: This bright backpack will help you stand out in a crowd (so your travel buddies can always spot you). It’s got a padded laptop sleeve in the main compartment, a zippered front pouch, and a small side pocket. The best part? For every bag purchased, the company will deliver another bag — filled with supplies — to an American child in need.