23 Different Types of Backpacks and Their Names (Guide)

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Looking for a new backpack, but don’t know which type to choose? Well, we don’t blame you. There are at least 23 different backpack types, each one intended for a slightly different purpose.

That’s why in this article, we’ll give you a short description of all backpack types, so you can find out which one is right for you. We divided them into five main groups: everyday backpacks, travel backpacks, hiking/camping backpacks, sporting backpacks, and multi-purpose backpacks.

Everyday Backpacks

1. Traditional College (School) Daypacks

Backpack type 1: college school daypacks
Key Features:
– Best for: college, office, school
– Affordable
– Lightweight
– Simple, but roomy
– Doesn’t retain shape when empty

A traditional college daypack is probably the most popular backpack type. That’s because they’re affordable, spacious, and incredibly versatile. You can use them for school, college, the office, hiking, and even traveling.

Usually, they’re quite simple but spacious. The main compartment is front-loading, and they’ll be around 20-40 l in volume. Some may come with additional pockets for organizing your smaller items, but for the most part, you’ll get a spacious main compartment and one or two exterior pockets.

The only disadvantage with this type of backpack is that it doesn’t retain its shape when packed half-empty. Also, they usually aren’t waterproof. Besides that, they’re not the most comfortable backpacks out there because the padding on the backside and the shoulder straps is minimal.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: VASCHY classic school backpack

2. Laptop Backpacks

Backpack type 2: laptop backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: college, office, school
– Affordable
– Retains the shape when empty
– Usually, very organized
– Less space in the main compartment

In the last few years, many tech-savvy people have been replacing their regular backpacks with laptop backpacks. Some of us need to carry our laptops with us everywhere we go, so having a tech-friendly backpack is essential. These backpacks have a dedicated, padded laptop compartment that keeps your laptop safe. They also come with many pockets and compartments for organizing chargers, tablets, headphones, keys, pens and notebooks, sunglasses, and other everyday items.

That said, laptop backpacks usually have a slightly smaller main compartment compared to regular college backpacks. They’ll fit around 5-10 l less than a similarly sized college backpack. Most laptop backpacks are specialized for everyday use in the office. Because of that, they have padded straps and soft back-side panels for comfort, they’re minimalistic and professional-looking, and they retain their shape when half-full or empty. Since they’ve gained popularity, many Chinese manufacturers have started offering solid options in the $20-50 range.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Matein 15-inch laptop backpack

Read Next: Best 17-Inch Laptop Backpacks in 2022 Compared

3. Mini Backpacks

Backpack type 3: Mini backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: as a substitute for a purse
– Affordable
– Lightweight and compact
– Cute and good-looking
– Very little space in the main compartment

Mini backpacks are more intended for fashion, not practicality. They’re great for girls who don’t carry around a lot of stuff and don’t like to carry a hand-held/shoulder-strapped purse. With some outfits, mini backpacks also look better when compared to handheld purses.

Because they’re so small, they’ll usually only be able to fit around 10-20 l of items inside. Many mini backpacks are made from genuine or faux leather, making them retain their shape when empty or half-full. That said, they aren’t intended to be used for long periods because they aren’t too comfortable or durable. They’ll be great for short day trips, though, or laid-back everyday use.

4. Crossbody Sling Backpacks

Backpack type 4: crossbody-sling backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: college, office, school
– Affordable
– Lightweight
– A spacious main compartment
– More comfortable for some people

Some people just don’t like the way that regular backpacks look. That’s where crossbody sling backpacks come in. They’re a great alternative for those who are looking for something unique.

Instead of having two straps, they have only one, which goes around your right shoulder and wraps around your left-side hip. Some people prefer sling backpacks because they’re more comfortable. Not for long-distance hikes, but for everyday use in school or college.

That said, sling backpacks have less space inside compared to regular backpacks. The main compartment will be quite roomy, but you won’t get many pockets for organizing smaller items, and the bag won’t retain its shape when empty.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Outdoormaster sling backpack

5. Leather Backpacks

Backpack type 5: leather backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: college, office, school
– Expensive
– Heavier than regular backpacks
– Much more durable
– Signature authentic looks

Here’s another backpack type that has recently gained a lot of popularity – leather backpacks. Although genuine leather backpacks can cost hundreds of dollars, they’re insanely durable, and the signature vintage style looks just amazing, which is why they’re so popular. Compared to regular backpacks, leather backpacks are heavier, have less space inside, and aren’t as comfortable.

However, many people still prefer to use them over regular backpacks, mainly because of their good looks. If you decide to go with a leather backpack, make sure to get one that’s made out of real leather, not faux. The faux leather will last a year or two, while genuine leather can last decades. Another solid option is to get a leather/canvas backpack, which looks similarly good but will be more comfortable and practical.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: VELEZ full-grain leather backpack

Read Next: Top 20 Best Vintage Style Suitcases Compared

Travel Backpacks

6. Carry-on Backpacks

Backpack type 6: carry-on backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: travel, digital nomads
– Moderately priced
– Lighter than carry-on suitcases
– Maximized size for carry-on requirements
– Spacious & organized

Carry-on backpacks are great for people who don’t like suitcases. They’re made in a perfect size to fit the overhead compartments on airplanes. The most common restriction for carry-on’s is 22 x 14 x 9 inches, meaning most carry-on backpacks will be under this size limit.

These backpacks are usually used by digital nomads, business travelers, and in general, everyone who travels frequently. Carry-on backpacks will come with many smaller compartments for organizing all the smaller items, they’ll be quite spacious inside, and sometimes they’ll also come with a laptop compartment. They’re also quite durable and comfortable, with heavily padded backsides and padded shoulder straps because they’re meant for traveling.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Matein carry-on backpack

7. Personal Item Backpacks

Backpack type 7: underseat backpacks
Key Features:
– Best in combination with a carry-on suitcase
– Affordable
– Lightweight
– Can secure on top of a suitcase
– Spacious and organized

Essentially, personal item backpacks are similar to carry-on backpacks, just smaller. They’re small enough to be used as a personal item, which has to fit under the front seat in an airplane. Most personal item backpacks won’t be larger than 17-18 inches in length. They’re intended for traveling, as well as everyday use.

This means that they’re comfortable, spacious, and are built from durable materials. Some more expensive options from Osprey, Samsonite, Fjallraven, or Eagle Creek will also be semi-waterproof and offer quite a few built-in pockets and compartments for organizing all the smaller items.

Personal item backpacks are great for people who use them in addition to a carry-on suitcase. Just make sure that the backpack comes with an additional strap on the backside that wraps around the suitcase’s retractable handle, so it can be stored on top when you’re walking long distances.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Rangeland travel backpack

8. Wheeled Backpacks

Backpack type 8: wheeled backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for business travel
– Moderately priced
– Heavier than regular backpacks
– Good for people with back problems
– Usually optimized for carry-on size requirements

Some frequent travelers prefer to use a wheeled backpack as their carry-on instead of a regular suitcase. The reason is quite simple. When you’re going through airports, stations, and paved cities, you can pull out the retractable handle, and roll it behind you, which puts less strain on your back. And when you’re walking on stairs or rugged roads, you can just push the handle back in and use it as a regular backpack.

Wheeled backpacks usually are pretty spacious, retain their shape when they’re empty, and offer many pockets and compartments for organizing your smaller items. But because wheeled backpacks have a built-in handle and wheels, they’ll be heavier than regular backpacks. That said, they’re still slightly lighter than regular suitcases. If you get one, make sure that it’s within the carry-on size limits (22 x 14 x 9 inches.)

Our recommended pick on Amazon: High Sierra rolling backpack

9. TSA-Friendly Laptop Backpacks

Backpack type 9: TSA-friendly approved backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: business travel, digital nomads
– Moderately priced
– Retains shape when empty
– Easier to go through airport security
– Usually, very organized

Essentially, TSA-Friendly laptop backpacks are identical to regular laptop backpacks, only with a slightly different laptop compartment. You see, when you’re going through airport security, your laptop has to be taken out and placed inside a separate bin. That’s because the x-ray machines can’t see through them.

On TSA-approved backpacks, the laptop compartment unzips all the way around, which lets you open up the laptop compartment by 180 degrees, as seen in the picture above. Because the laptop doesn’t cover the rest of the backpack, you won’t have to take it out, which makes going through the security slightly easier.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: SwissGear SA6752 TSA-approved laptop backpack

10. Lightweight Foldable Daysacks

Backpack type 10: foldable daypacks
Key Features:
– Best for: Traveling
– Affordable
– Very lightweight
– Can be folded in a tiny sack
– Can be stored inside luggage as a backup/daypack

Some people travel only with a carry-on suitcase and their purse, tote, or duffel. However, purses, totes, and duffels aren’t very convenient if you’re planning on hiking or walking long distances. Packing a regular backpack inside your suitcase only for that reason seems unreasonable because it takes up a lot of space and often it quite heavy. So instead, you should get a lightweight foldable daysack, which doesn’t take up almost any space or weight.

Of course, foldable daysacks aren’t as durable or comfortable as regular backpacks. However, they’re usually really affordable, which makes up for it. Some people don’t like how “cheap” foldable daysacks look, but you can find ones that look just like regular backpacks if you look around.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Venture Pal foldable backpack

Trekking/Camping Backpacks

11. Frameless Trekking/Camping Backpacks (Rucksacks)

Backpack type 11: Frameless hiking backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: Hiking, trekking, traveling
– Moderately priced / expensive
– Lightweight
– Very spacious
– Often comes with waterproof covers

Frameless hiking backpacks are great for shorter trips when you’ll be carrying less stuff with you. As a general rule, frameless rucksacks shouldn’t be used when you’re carrying over 30 lbs. If you’re planning on carrying more items, the bag won’t evenly distribute the weight, and you’ll carry too much weight on your shoulders. However, if the bag is under 30 lbs, they’re a better option than framed trekking backpacks because they’re much lighter.

When getting a frameless hiking backpack, you should make sure that it’s large enough, that it has a comfortable hip belt, a comfortable chest strap, and that it’s water-resistant/waterproof. It’s a good idea to get one from a well-known manufacturer, like Osprey, North Face, Rei, or Eagle Creek, because they’re durable and having a well-made backpack is essential.

Lastly, you’ll have to pay more attention when packing a frameless hiking backpack. It has to be packed smartly, and the heaviest items need to be placed in the middle or downside. Also, no items should “stick out” on the backside. Otherwise, you could develop back problems.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Granite Gear Virga 2

12. Framed Trekking/Camping Backpacks (Rucksacks)

Backpack type 12: Internal frame hiking backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: Hiking, trekking
– Moderately priced / expensive
– Heavier than frameless rucksacks
– Better for people with back problems
– Very spacious

Framed trekking rucksacks are great for long-term hikes (for instance, when hiking the Pacific Crest Trail) and for people who carry more stuff on their hikes. They come with a rigid internal or external frame that distributes the weight more evenly, and as a result, they put less strain on your shoulders and more on your hips.

When packing a framed hiking rucksack, you don’t need to pay that much attention to how and where you’re placing the items because the frame helps with evening out the weight. Framed backpacks are also better for your back because less strain is put on your shoulders. That said, the main disadvantage is that they’re heavier than frameless backpacks, which is why they don’t perform that well on shorter hikes when you’re carrying just the essentials.

If you decide to get a framed backpack, make sure that it’s roomy enough and that it’s either waterproof or water-repellant. It should have a comfortable hip belt and a chest strap, and that a well-known manufacturer makes it.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Teton Sports Scout 3400 internal frame backpack

13. Military Tactical Backpacks

Backpack type 13: Military backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: Travel, camping, hunting
– Moderately priced
– Very durable
– Well-organized
– Rugged camo looks

Some people prefer to use military tactical backpacks for hiking. They won’t be large enough for long-distance hikes, but they’re perfect for ones that take only a few nights. They’re great because they’re durable, practical, and have that rugged military look. Mostly though, people choose them over other backpacks just because of their signature looks.

Tactical backpacks are pretty spacious and have various compartments for organizing all of your smaller survival items. They’re also water-repellant or waterproof and very comfortable to wear. When you compare them to regular hiking backpacks, they’ll be heavier, slightly less comfortable, and smaller in size.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Hannibal tactical backpack

Sporting Backpacks

14. Drawstring Gymsacks

Backpack type 14: drawstring backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: gym, workout, short hikes
– Very affordable
– Very lightweight
– A quick alternative for a backpack
– Not very comfortable

Drawstring gym sacks are very, very simplified versions of backpacks. Essentially, it’s just a fabric bag with additional ropes attached so that you can carry it as a backpack. They’re very cheap, and you can easily get one for $5-$10. As the name suggests, they’re mostly used for carrying your training gear on your way to the gym. That said, if you’re carrying too much stuff, a gym duffle might be a better option.

15. Hydration packs

Backpack type 15: Hydration packs
Key Features:
– Best for: running, cycling, short hikes
– Affordable
– Very lightweight
– Better than carrying a bottle
– Can’t pack much stuff inside

Hydration packs are great for running, cycling, and for very short mountain climbs. Some don’t even resemble a backpack, but rather a vest. They’re made that way, so they’re more comfortable to use while sporting.

Usually, hydration packs will hold around 2 l of water inside. You can drink the water through a plastic tube that’s attached to a shoulder strap, so you don’t have to stop running or cycling every time you want to have a sip. Hydration packs are pretty cheap, especially the Chinese options on Amazon. They work similarly well to more expensive options, but they just won’t last as long.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Teton Sports Trailrunner 2 hydration pack

16. Running Backpacks

Backpack type 16: Running backpack vests
Key Features:
– Best for: running, cycling, short hikes
– Affordable
– Very lightweight
– Can also pack a hydration pack inside
– A very comfortable way of carrying essentials while sporting

Running backpacks look very similar to hydration packs – instead of resembling a backpack, they look more like a vest, which is much easier to wear when exercising. The only difference is that running backpacks can also hold 5l -10 l of additional items inside, not just a hydration pack. These are great for mountain runners and cyclers who need to pack more items inside, not just water. A lot of running backpacks will also have a built-in hydration pack. They’re also great for shorter one-day hikes because they’re comfortable and will fit all the essentials inside.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Salomon Active Skin running backpack

17. Cycling Backpacks

Backpack type 17: Cycling backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: cycling, motorbiking
– Moderately priced
– Usually waterproof
– A spacious main compartment
– Doesn’t retain shape when empty

If you’re a serious cycler or biker, and you’re not afraid of riding in the rain, then you seriously need to consider getting a cycling backpack. They’re large, comfortable, and, most importantly, waterproof. If you’re no stranger to cycling in the rain, you need a backpack that doesn’t get wet inside and is easy to clean off.

These types of backpacks are more expensive but well worth it. You get one large main compartment and no additional pockets for organization. They’re top-loading, instead of front-loading, and don’t have any zippers on the outside, so water can’t get in.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Earth Pak Waterproof backpack

18. Skiing/Snowboarding Backpacks

Backpack type 18: skiing snowboarding backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: skiing, snowboarding
– Moderately priced
– Water-repellant
– Spacious main compartment
– Comfortable

Snowsport backpacks are great for skiing and snowboarding. They’re slimmer and taller than regular backpacks, and they’ll also come with a ventilated backside and padded shoulder straps, which makes them comfortable to wear while sporting. They’re also water-resistant or waterproof, which ensures that the contents inside won’t get wet.

Snowboarding/skiing backpacks come with a large and spacious main compartment, and they don’t have too many built-in pockets and compartments. They’re equipped with additional attachments for your helmet, poles, or an additional jacket on the outside. Most will have a hip belt and/or a chest strap that keeps the bag secure while sporting.

They’re also great for shorter day-hikes in the winter. If you’re considering getting one, you should choose a reputable brand, like Osprey, Dakine, or Burton.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Dakine Helipack skiing backpack

19. Hunting Backpacks

Backpack type 19: hunting backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: hunting, camping
– Moderately priced / expensive
– Usually, weatherproof
– Rugged camo looks
– Spacious and well organized

Hunting backpacks are very similar to tactical military backpacks, only slightly different. Tactical backpacks have a more square-like shape, and the camo isn’t always great. On the other hand, hunting backpacks will usually have excellent camo, so they’re harder to spot, and some of them will be much larger compared to a tactical backpack.

Hunting backpacks are comfortable to wear because they have padding on the backside and the shoulder straps, and they come with a chest strap and a belt strap, so the weight is more evenly distributed. Most hunting backpacks have dedicated compartments for hydration packs and many other compartments for organizing all the survival gear. They usually come with various attachments on the exterior, where you can hang/attach additional items. They aren’t only great for hunting – they’re also wonderful for shorter camping trips and hikes.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Tidewe hunting backpack

Multi-Purpose Backpacks

20. Duffle Backpacks

Backpack type 20: duffle backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for quick weekend getaways
– Moderately priced
– A simple and large main compartment
– Easy to pack/unpack
– Long-lasting

Essentially, duffle backpacks are regular duffle bags, only with two additional straps on the backside. Carrying a duffle by the shoulder strap or by the top handle is much harder than wearing a backpack, which is why the duffle-backpack concept is quite clever. These backpacks are much easier to pack into because they’re much more spacious and usually larger than regular backpacks. This makes them a great choice for hockey/soccer players and people who regularly go to the gym.

Read Next: 8 Best Convertible Duffel Bag Backpacks in 2022

Our recommended pick on Amazon: G4Free travel duffel backpack

21. Tote Backpacks

Backpack type 21: tote backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: college, office, school
– Affordable
– Lightweight
– Can also be used as a tote bag
– Simple and spacious main compartment

In a few words, tote backpacks are just regular tote bags with two shoulder straps attached on the backside. Most commonly, people choose them only because of their unique looks, not their practicality. Although the main compartment is quite spacious, you won’t get too many smaller compartments and pockets for organizing all the smaller items.

Compared to regular backpacks, tote backpacks are less comfortable because the shoulder straps don’t come with much padding. It’s also worth noting that most tote backpacks are made only for women.  Tote backpacks are a pretty solid choice for an everyday backpack. They’re really affordable, good-looking, and quite spacious inside. Our staff member’s girlfriend uses a tote backpack, and she’s thrilled with it. That said, she uses it quite rarely, and she mostly bought it because of the unique look, not usefulness.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Osprey Arcane tote backpack

22. Messenger Bag Backpacks

Backpack type 22: messenger backpacks
Key Features:
– Best for: college, office, school
– Affordable
– Lightweight
– Can be carried by a shoulder strap
– Less comfortable than regular backpacks

Backpacks just don’t look good with some outfits. For example, if you’d be dressed in a classic suit, most backpacks wouldn’t look very fashionable, would they? That’s where messenger backpacks come in. These squared backpacks can transform into regular messenger bags when you hide both backpack straps and attach a single shoulder strap.

Messenger backpacks aren’t as spacious and comfortable compared to regular backpacks. The shoulder straps and back panels usually aren’t padded, and the bag itself is thinner because a large messenger bag wouldn’t look stylish. They’re great for everyday use in the office because most will come with enough smaller pockets for organization, and the bag will retain its shape when empty or half-full.

Our recommended pick on Amazon: Mygreen crossbody backpack

Frequently Asked Questions About Different Types of Backpacks

What’s the Difference Between a Rucksack, a Backpack, and a Knapsack?

Most people don’t know the difference between a backpack, a rucksack, and a knapsack. Although all three terms are very similar (and quite often, they mean the same thing), there are some differences you should know about.

The term “backpack” is used for all types of backpacks, regardless of the size, usefulness, and materials. Obviously, this is the most popular term that people use all over the world.

“Rucksack” is a term used to describe larger backpacks intended for hiking/camping/trekking. Rucksacks are top-loading, weatherproof, over 40 l in volume, and usually have lots of attachments and straps on the outside for hanging water bottles, sleeping mats, tent poles, e.t.c. The term rucksack originated from Germany in the 19th century and literally meant “back sack.” This term is still used quite often today.

The term “knapsack” describes a waterproof backpack made from canvas, leather, or nylon and is usually used for hiking or military purposes. This term originated in Germany in, 16th century. Today, it’s rarely used in Europe, such as Germany, Holland, UK, and Denmark.

Which Are the Best Backpack Brands?

Although there are a lot of good backpack brands, only a few stand out among the crowds. Osprey, Noth Face, Patagonia, Rei, Marmot, Eagle Creek, Herschel, SwissGear, Dakine, Burton, High Sierra, Fjallraven, and Quicksilver all make really solid backpacks. That said, each of these brands specializes in different backpacks at various price points, so you really have to do some research to find out which brand is right for you.

Read Next: 15 Best Luggage Brands in 2022 Compared

Which Backpack Types Are the Best for Your Back?

If you’re looking for a hiking/trekking backpack and you have back problems, you should definitely get a backpack with a built-in frame. These are much better for your back compared to regular, frameless backpacks. It’s impossible to single out a specific backpack type that’s better for your back because it really depends on the model itself. Aside from the internal frame, there are a plethora of other essential factors that determine how good the backpack is for your back.

Other factors that you should look out for are:

  • Does the bag come with a chest strap?
  • If it has a chest strap, does it also have a hip belt?
  • Is the padding on the backside and shoulder straps thick enough?
  • How heavy is the backpack? Try to get a backpack that’s as light as possible.
  • Taller and slimmer backpacks are better for the back when you’re comparing short, square-like backpacks that “stick out” because the weight is spread out more evenly.

Which Types of Backpacks Are the Safest?

Backpacks have many factors that make them safe, and there are even some “anti-theft” backpacks on the market. These backpacks will usually come with puncture-proof zippers. You’ll also be able to lock the zippers with TSA-approved locks. Additionally, these backpacks may have anti-theft pockets for your wallet and passport hidden under the backside of the backpack, and RFID-blocking electronic compartments that block all the incoming and outgoing electric signals, so no data gets stolen.

Can Backpacks Be Used as Personal Items, Carry-Ons, or Checked Luggage?

Backpacks can be used as personal items, carry-ons, and checked luggage, as long as they fit the size, weight, and a few additional requirements.

Personal items: Must fit under the front airline seat. The exact size requirements vary from airline to airline, but generally, Backpacks used for personal items shouldn’t be above 18 x 14 x 8 inches. Sharp objects, such as tent poles or pocket knives, can’t be packed inside.

Carry-on backpacks: Must be under 22 x 14 x 9 inches in size. The limit varies between airlines, but this is the most common one. Sharp items, such as tent poles or pocket knives, can’t be packed inside.

Checked backpacks: Must be under 62 linear inches in size (width + height + length). Also, there mustn’t be any straps or attachments hanging on the outside, so they don’t get caught up in the conveyor belts. A good practice is to wrap hiking rucksacks (the ones that come with lots of hanging straps) in plastic wrap before checking them in.

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