Buying a backpack isn’t easy. Mostly because there’s a dizzying array of products out there, with more features than any one person could ever remember.
From different materials like Gore-tex and Cordura, internal and external storage, multiple different sizes, support for all your tech and gadgets, and more, finding what you want can be difficult, especially when you’re on a budget!
That’s why we’ve created this guide to help you find the perfect backpack for your needs. Read on to find the top 10 backpacks in 2020 for under $100.
Best Backpacks Under $100
Wenger Ibex Padded Platform Laptop Backpack
Out of every backpack we’ve seen, this outperforms all of the others consistently across the most areas.
As a general design, it’s impressive. Dark and distinctive, with enough accents to look like it has style, but not bright or garish enough to look wrong on a business trip. It’s made from polyester, with high-quality zippers, ties, and seams. From all accounts, this is tough enough to take months, if not years of solid use, and come out of the other side still going strong.
Storage is excellent. The main pouch is large, with a dedicated laptop pocket that can take laptops up to 17 inches, the largest on our list. The laptop pouch is covered from every direction with a triple layer of high-density foam, protecting from impacts, and keeping your tech safe. On top of this, there’s also a second dedicated tablet pocket, because who has just one device with them these days?
Two separate front zippered pouches add more storage, with a pair of small external side mesh pockets for water bottles and small items.
Shoulder straps are large and well padded, with a phone pouch mounted to one, and the bag itself has a stabilizing system built into it that keeps it standing upright, no matter how loaded it is.
A headset port, trolley strap, and limited lifetime warranty finish off the list of features. It’s also worth pointing out that this can be compressed down to carry on size. It really is a jack of all trades, which is why it earned our number 1 spot.
Kroser XL Computer Backpack
Made from durable and hard wearing ballistic fabric, this backpack is rough and tough enough to protect everything you put in it, including expensive laptops, tablets, phones, and more.
Storage is divided between an absolutely massive amount of internal sections. A pair of zippered front pockets that are perfectly sized for documents, and still thin enough for tablets. A dedicated hard shell safe zone that’s tough enough to take impacts, and a small RFID pocket to keep sensitive data and card details safe and sound.
There’s an external USB port that connects to an internal power bank, letting you keep your devices charged on the go. A built-in luggage strap lets you attach this to other pieces of luggage when you’re moving, and the main handle is reinforced with steel cabling, making absolute certain it’ll never break.
Be careful with this bag, however, as it’s slightly too deep to be classed as a carry on for some airlines. If you’re looking for a good carry on, we recommend the Matein Travel Backpack, also on this list.
North Face Borealis
The Borealis is one of The North Face’s classic packs, recently updated to a newer model.
It still features the same classic 28-liter design, built around injection-molded shoulder straps, and padded mesh back panels. A pair of extendable water bottle pockets sit on either side, doubling as extra storage space.
The front compartment has a zipper, and a tablet sleeve, keeping your tech safe. What’s new are easy-access pockets and a front-mounted elastic bungee cord for extra storage options.
Internally, there’s a dedicated laptop compartment, and the dual zip system makes for easy access. It’s almost perfectly sized to function as a carry-on, and light, too. There’s a wide range of adjustment, letting this fit almost anyone, from teens up to the biggest and burliest, with a sternum strap to take the force away from your shoulders.
Capable of carrying books, laptops, and a day’s worth of gear, this is comfortable as a backpack for standard use. But it’s also heavy-duty enough to work on trails or sitting on your back while you’re bombing around on a bike. As a general use backpack, The North Face knows what they’re doing, and the Borealis is a fantastic generalist choice.
Teton Sports Scout 3400
Teton make exceptional outdoor gear, and the Sports Scout is no exception to that. For a relatively budget priced camping and hiking pack, it’s absolutely massive, solidly built and packed full of the features you’d more commonly expect to find on something twice the cost.
3400 cubic inches of internal space gives you more than enough room to pack away several day’s worth of essentials. Specific compartments for sleeping bags, external bungee storage, gear loops and compression straps give you a large amount of external storage space too.
It’s a big pack, and the structure is held together with a solid internal frame that holds everything in place. Despite the size, it’s only a decently light 4.5lbs (2kg) unloaded. In case of rain, it has a built-in rainfly that folds in and out of its individual compartment.
Finally, like all Teton bags, it’s covered by their lifetime limited warranty.
Locallion 20L Ultralight Hiking Pack
When you’re travelling long distances through forests, mountains, and another rough terrain, every little bit of weight matters. This is why there’s an entire industry revolving around designing and producing ultra-light products for hiking, camping and other similar pursuits.
This pack is one of the best. At 20L, it has enough capacity for a day trip, especially when you factor in the external pocket space. On top of this, there are dedicated helmet netting, as well as corner loops that are strong enough to hold gloves and small tools, reflective light strips, and high-quality zippers and closings to prevent breakage.
The mesh straps don’t have the most padding, but this is a small pack, so they shouldn’t need it. There is a sternum strap, which helps to spread the load across your body, and if it starts to rain, there’s also a provided rain cover.
All of this, on a pack that weighs barely more than a pound. At this price point, that’s a fantastic deal, and one that’s hard to match.
Wildkin Kids 15 Inch Backpack
Buying a backpack for a child brings a whole host of new challenges. Not only does it have to have enough room to be useful, it also has to be hard-wearing enough to deal with the daily life of a kid.
That’s why Wildkin backpacks are specifically designed to be extra robust and easy to clean. They’re made from 600 denier polyester, which is super tough, stain-resistant, and basically wipe clean. Internally, there’s a moisture-resistant nylon layer, in case of unfortunate spills, and the whole bag is rugged enough to be left to air dry after hard days or tough weather.
Designed for 3 to 10 year olds, at 15 inches, this bag is big enough to hold schoolbooks, or be taken on trips and days out.
Available in over a dozen different styles, there’s sure to be one your child loves.
Modoker Vintage Laptop Backpack
Rocking old school style combined with modern sensibilities, get the best of both worlds with this vintage look satchel style bag.
Available in a whole range of colors including denim and bold pastel, it’s distinctive and eye-catching. But just because it looks retro doesn’t mean it is.
The roomy main compartment is large enough for the day, and there’s extra storage scattered throughout the entire bag. A second internal pocket with its own zipper. A front pocket, also with its own zipper, two external pockets, and a power bank pocket.
Yes, this bag actually has space for a power bank, with a smartly integrated USB charging socket. The internal pockets are also spaced and sized for standard laptops, with enough padding to keep them safe.
Thick, padded shoulder straps that are comfortable longer-term finish everything up. As a travel bag, a book bag, or a general business bag, this excels.
Bopai Anti-Theft Backpack
Travelling on business can be fraught with issues, especially when you’re heading somewhere with a reputation for pickpockets and other less savory things. But even under normal circumstances, extra security is always welcome.
If you’re looking for a little extra safety in your luggage, this backpack is perfect. The interior is large enough to hold a 15.6 inch laptop, as well as a tablet and more in the multiple pockets. The back opens to a 45 degree angle, locking to prevent unfortunate spills.
In terms of security, there are two hidden pockets built invisibly into the structure of the bag. One in the center of the reverse, large enough for passports and documents, and held securely up against your back where no one can reach it. A second pocket is built into the left shoulder strap, large enough for cards and bank notes.
The bag itself is well made, with anti-collision padding to keep electronics and valuables safe, and it’s perfectly sized to function as a carry-on. For business, local as well as abroad, the security offered by a bag like this is invaluable.
Matein Travel Backpack
Designed around the needs of the modern traveller, this pack is smartly designed and well featured, with a huge amount of storage space despite being perfectly sized to work as a carry on.
Internally, there’s tons of room, with a dedicated laptop pocket that can hold up to 15.6 inch laptops (that’s a standard-sized screen.) A second main pocket offers a decent amount of internal storage space, with a USB charging slot that lets you link your devices to an internally stored power bank.
Water-resistant and made from hard-wearing polyester, it’s built to last, and the thick padding on the straps makes sure that it’s comfortable even when fully loaded down. Rear padding is thick, with multiple ventilation ports for breathability, and the top handle is padded for comfort.
Matein also offers a whole range of other bags, including a slightly larger brother to this one, as well as dedicated school and baseball packs, so if you’re looking for a well-made budget bag, it’s worth checking their entire range.
North Face Recon Squash
The kids version of the best selling North Face Recon backpack, the Recon Squash is perfectly sized for kids, and just large enough to fit standard 9×12 folders and large textbooks, with space left over for water bottles, lunch, even a phone.
One large external pocket and two side mesh pockets add to the storage options, increasing the already generous 17 liter capacity. Available in multiple bright, attractive colors its distinct enough to look great without standing out or being garish. Inside, there’s even a name tag section so it can never be lost.
It’s great to carry, too. Lightweight despite the capacity, the straps are wide and comfortable, with an extra sternum strap that spreads the load when it’s packed full.
Whether used as a regular school bag, or as a carry on for holidays, there’s a lot to love here, and more reasons to buy.
Best Backpack Under $100 Buying Guide
Different backpacks are designed for different things, and one of the main things you need to do when buying a backpack is understood what you’re going to be using it for.
There are big differences between a pack designed for hiking, as opposed to a bag that’s built around being the best piece of carry on luggage possible.
Identify what you’re going to be using your bag for, and isolate bags that meet your needs.
Size and weight
You would think that a bigger bag that can hold more stuff, and a lighter bag would be better in general, right?
Not necessarily. When it comes to size, a bag that’s overly large can be a hindrance. Excess space that’s not in use is wasted, and a bag that’s too big for what you intend to use it for can actually make life more difficult.
In terms of weight, it sits on a spectrum alongside toughness and cost. A cheap and light bag is liable to break easily. Cheap and sturdy tends to be expensive. Finally, sturdy and cheap is inevitably heavy.
Again, buy for what you need. If you plan to travel regularly, invest a little more money, and if you plan on trekking with your bag, a little extra weight isn’t going to matter compared to how robust the pack you buy will be.
Not all bags are created equal, and some come with far more than others.
When it comes to extras, look for things like:
- Dedicated laptop and tablet
- Extra padding on the shoulders and back
- Quick access pockets
- USB charging stations
Frequently Asked Questions
How large can my carry-on luggage be?
Most US airlines use the same dimensions for carry on luggage, which is 22 x 14 x 9 inches, or a total of 45 liters of internal space.
It’s always worth checking both your bag and your airline provider, as things can change, and it saves unfortunate accidents at the airport.
What is an internal frame backpack?
Backpacks with an internal frame are designed to be used with heavy loads, especially if you’re going to be wearing the pack for the majority of the day.
Packs like these have an internal skeleton that holds the pack together, generally made from plastic or a light metal like aluminum, and their strength and light weight makes them the ideal choice for activities like hiking and skiing.