A Dependable Backpack for College and Beyond


HomeHome / News / A Dependable Backpack for College and Beyond

Sep 01, 2023

A Dependable Backpack for College and Beyond

To a college student, a backpack is akin to a third arm. For the majority of my undergraduate career, my appendage of choice was the Herschel Classic Backpack XL. I’ve dragged this affordable

To a college student, a backpack is akin to a third arm. For the majority of my undergraduate career, my appendage of choice was the Herschel Classic Backpack XL. I’ve dragged this affordable Wirecutter pick on the floors of lecture halls, thrown it haphazardly around dorm rooms, and soaked it with countless spilled beverages. Despite my abuse, it has held its shape and good looks while reliably carrying all of my grown-up school supplies.

Simplicity is what makes the Classic Backpack XL cool. It comes in a plethora of colors and patterns to stand out or blend in—but it offers no fancy laptop protection or organizational features.

As a pandemic-era college kid, I spent my time reading, writing essays, and often taking classes outdoors. Through it all, my Herschel backpack endured hot pavement, muddy grass, and even bright yellow North Carolina pollen, which wiped right off. Although the bag is not technically waterproof, I’ve been caught in the rain with it dozens of times, and my belongings have stayed relatively dry (although, to be safe, I suggest using a separate laptop case). Testers for our guide to high school and college backpacks also noted that this model’s durable polyester material is inherently water resistant.

After three years, I’ve started to notice some damage only recently. A few holes are developing in the canvas bottom, though not the lining. My black bag has faded from the sun, too, though I don’t mind how it looks.

With a 30-liter capacity, the XL is a bigger version of Herschel’s Classic bag and includes additional features such as an internal sleeve that fits up to a 15-inch laptop and two open side pockets, which I appreciate since I frequently take both a water bottle and a travel coffee mug on the go. The side pockets are also great for a compact umbrella.

This bag has fewer frills than others we recommend, and it may not work for the hyper-organized who want lots of nooks and crannies. Zoe Vanderweide, staff writer on our style team, wishes that it had a separate laptop compartment instead of a simple internal sleeve because its lack of dividers “can lead to a Mary Poppins situation.” But she does appreciate that the open main compartment allows her to fit bulky or oddly shaped objects: On a trip to the beach, she was able to cram it full of towels, water bottles, and picnic supplies.

The Herschel Classic Backpack XL can handle the necessities—say, a laptop, a textbook, a sweatshirt, and an umbrella—but not much more. If you tend to pack a lot, you may find yourself short on space. Unlike on other Wirecutter backpack picks, such as the Patagonia Refugio Daypack 26L, the canvas on this Herschel bag isn’t especially stretchy. When this bag is full, fitting a laptop into its designated sleeve can be difficult.

Since this backpack isn’t designed for oversize loads, it lacks a sternum strap and curved shoulder straps—features that help make heavy backpacks more comfortable to wear. If an ergonomic bag is important to you, look elsewhere.

The Classic Backpack XL doesn’t compromise on style. Even with its large capacity, it has the clean lines and structure of smaller, fashion-focused bags. I’ve found that it blends into many workplaces just as well as it does on campus. Though there are elements of college life that I’m happy to leave behind, as I transition from college to the real world, this bag has been worth holding on to.

This article was edited by Rose Maura Lorre and Jennifer Hunter.

Hana Stepnick

Hana Stepnick is an editorial projects intern. She recently graduated from Duke with a BA in public policy. She is from the Washington, DC, area, which is potentially the reason for her interest in politics and definitely why she thinks every museum should be free.

by Truth Headlam

Whether you’re going to school, work, the gym, the store, or on vacay, you need a bag. Here’s the Wirecutter-recommended carrying gear we love most.

by Kit Dillon

After traveling with 22 backpacks, we’d choose to carry the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L or the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L—but we offer other great options as well.

by Kit Dillon

A buy-it-for-a-lifetime backpack should last you for years of heavy use. But as with all investments, you need to decide if it makes sense for you.

by Ellen Lee

A great school backpack should be comfortable to carry, durable, organized, and let kids express themselves. Here are four backpacks we think kids will love.