Top 5 Packs for Back to School

Gear / Ideas & Advice

I know it feels like summer vacation just started, but somehow Back to School season is already almost here…and that means it’s time to start thinking about replacing that school bag of yours. (You know, the one that’s falling apart and has shoulder straps hanging on by a thread.) Lucky for you, we have lots of sweet packs for Back to School that are as great for school-related adventures as they are for hitting the trail.

It was really hard to pick just five (which you’ll notice when you get to the bottom and see that there are, in fact, six packs on the list), but I did my best. So, without further ado, here are this year’s Top 5 Packs for Back to School:

1. EMS Atlas, $59

Size and style make the EMS Atlas a great pack for Back to School.

Made with tough Cordura nylon and sneakily huge, the EMS Atlas is great for hauling all those books your teachers insist are necessary. There’s a large main compartment that also has a sleeve for hydration compatibility (so you can dump the books and load it up for weekend hikes) and, like all good back-to-school packs, it has a smaller compartment with an organizer panel to keep your stuff, well…organized. The padded smartphone and tablet pockets keep your devices safe, and the stealthy zip-out side pockets are perfect for stashing water bottles and snacks.

atlas 2

2. The North Face Jester, $65

You can't go wrong with The North Face Jester, one of our most popular packs for back to school

For as long as I can remember, the North Face Jester pack has been one of the best-selling packs for Back to School that we carry. Its simple design satisfies even the most minimalist gear snobs, yet it’s still able to carry just about everything you need for a full day of classes. The large main compartment fits plenty of books and notebooks, a smaller secondary compartment has an organizer panel to keep little stuff easy to find, and the bungees on the front are perfect for keeping your favorite hoodie within reach at all times. The Jester also comes in a women-specific version with smaller, curvier straps to better fit female shoulders.

3. EMS Four Wheel Jive, $89

If space and organization are your top priorities, the EMS Four Wheel Jive is your pack for back to school.

The EMS Four Wheel Jive’s enormous main compartment contains a padded laptop sleeve and room for some pretty big books. There’s also a large middle compartment with room for notebooks and folders and whatnot, and two smaller pockets that are great for holding flashcards so you don’t lose them before that big exam. The smaller front compartment has an organizer panel (of course) with a tablet sleeve and cell phone pocket. If you don’t mind spending a few extra dollars, this pack is well-worth the money and will last pretty much forever.

4. The North Face Borealis, $89 

Slightly larger than the The North Face Jester, the Borealis is a terrific pack for back to school.

In a way, the North Face Borealis is sort of like the Jester’s big brother (or big sister, if we’re talking about the women’s version). The Borealis is built upon the same sleek, simple, embellishment-free design as the Jester, but with a little extra space and a padded laptop sleeve. The Borealis also provides a bit more support than its younger sibling, and has a small stash pocket on the front (perfect for glasses!) in addition to the bungees.

5. Timbuk2 Command Messenger, $139

The Timbuk2 Command Messenger is a backpack alternative for students who think outside the box,For those who prefer a messenger bag over a backpack, the Timbuk2 Command Messenger is the king of all messenger bags. It uses high-density foam with crater holes to protect your laptop and has a separate padded area for your iPad or tablet. The Command has plenty of room inside for all of your school stuff, and is also sophisticated enough to accompany you into the real world after you graduate (chances are you won’t be able to afford a fancy brief case right away, anyway).

6. (Bonus!) Osprey FlapJack / FlapJill, $99

Ashely hasn't gone to school for a while, but the Osprey FlapJill is her personal favorite pack for back to school.

This is the pack I use every day, so I’m a little biased…but I’ll try to be objective here. One of my favorite things about the Osprey FlapJack and FlapJill packs is that they’re so simple. Padded laptop sleeve? Check. Tiny organizer panel to keep a pen (or a fork, which is usually what I end up using mine for—don’t judge me) readily available? Check. Enough room for a few books and a notebook? Yep. There are no unnecessary bells, whistles, or other frills on these packs, and—perhaps best of all—there’s no zipper on the main compartment, so you’ll never have to worry about this:

zipper 1

Or this:

zipper 2

And that’s obviously a win.

Do you own and love any of these packs for Back to School? Is there a different daypack you think should have made the list? Do you sometimes wish you could quit school and just be outside all the time? Leave a comment and tell us about it!
If you’d like more options to choose from before committing the hard earned dollars you made this summer, check out our full collection of
Packs For Back To School HERE.

Ashley Reven


Ashley is a passionate runner, rock climber, cyclist, hiker, snowboarder, and ice climber. She started working for EMS in 2003 and worked in three of our stores before setting up shop in the corporate office as a copy writer. If you ever need to dispose of weird trinkets, her desk is a good place to do so…her Albert Einstein action figure, racing nuns, and pipe cleaner/walnut squirrel could use some new friends. Follow Ashley on Twitter! @ashleyreven

1 Comment

  1. JLC
    August 14, 2013, 8:32 am

    I also own the FlapJill pack by Osprey. I use it for my adult “career” type job every day. I totally agree with the review – simplicity is key. Buy this pack! You won’t regret it. It holds my laptop, my lunch, a sweatshirt and all of the other misc little stuff that you’ve got to have at all times.

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