Durable School Backpack
November 28, 2009 10:43 AM   Subscribe

My son needs the most durable school backpack we can find.

He is a sophomore and for reasons that pass my understanding, doesn't use a locker, but carries all his books and his laptop with him all the time. He needs a seriously heavy-duty backpack that will last longer than a couple of months.

He doesn't need any bells and whistles -- no extra pockets or straps or rings for hanging things or zippered compartments. It just needs to be killer strong and large enough for six classes' worth of textbooks. And a laptop.

Any suggestions? THANKS
posted by Srudolph to Shopping (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Chrome messenger bags are super-durable. I once put a five year old child in mine and picked the bag up (only a foot off the ground - just as a test).

They also sell backpacks. Alternately, go the Army surplus route.
posted by zippy at 10:52 AM on November 28, 2009

Best answer: Lands End bags rock and have a lifetime guarantee. My kid's broke and they had a record of the purchase (I bought it online) and they gave me a credit for the full amount towards a new bag.
posted by tilde at 10:55 AM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

My husband carries his life in his backback, it seems. I don't have a particular backpack to recommend, except to say that he has had good luck with backpacks from L.L. Bean being durable and lasting a long time. They make various grades of packs they call book packs that might work for your son.
posted by gudrun at 10:58 AM on November 28, 2009

I've recommended LL Bean before. My kids carried them all through school and they still have them hanging in their closets now. The only time we replaced them was when they wanted a new style. After throwing them in the washing machine, they look almost as good now as when they were new.
posted by raisingsand at 11:07 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by craven_morhead at 11:07 AM on November 28, 2009

The best backpack that i have ever gotten was a spalding one. I have had it for 16 years. I stil luse it to this day.
posted by majortom1981 at 11:12 AM on November 28, 2009

I was also going to chime in to recommend L.L. Bean. Their bags are wicked durable, many are designed to hold laptops as well, and they survived my high school life of one locker visit per day plus 4+ AP/honors courses (that means the fat books). They also come with a lifetime guarantee.

I do not recommend getting any kind of messenger or one-strap bag if he's carrying that much weight. I can only use one of those for a day or so, even with a light load, before it really starts hurting my back.
posted by athenasbanquet at 11:24 AM on November 28, 2009

I have had this L.L. Bean backpack since I was 13. I'm 29 now and I still haul it to work every day. I have a Chrome messenger bag as well, and I really want to like it (especially considering how much I paid for it), but the one strap absolutely kills my back if I'm carrying more than 10-15 pounds or so.
posted by makonan at 11:40 AM on November 28, 2009

Best answer: nthing Chrome. I've had mine for about a year and a half now and it is as good as new. I am notoriously tough on backpacks - mine never last more than a year. I also have the biggest Chrome bag and I love the size. The only thing about having a freaking HUGE backpack is that everyone will comment on it. One day I will try to fit some of my friends in it.
posted by majikstreet at 11:40 AM on November 28, 2009

Nthing LL Bean. This bag is absolutely huge.
posted by oceano at 11:44 AM on November 28, 2009

Refurbished ALICE medium, no frame. Definitely durable and more comfortable.

I used one through high school to carry a bunch of wicked heavy AP science and math books, up to 8 or so smaller books for language/literature classes, graphic calculator, and a 1997 era hand-me-down laptop (not talking slim and lightweight here). Based on the way it holds the weight (lower down), it feels lighter than an L L Bean with the same load.

It does have outside pockets (that's where the Shakespeare and the pens and the bottle of Jolt go but NOT, let me make this clear, the graphing calculator, as I found out the hard way.)
posted by cobaltnine at 11:56 AM on November 28, 2009

If you have an REI around, and are willing to become a member, they provide a lifetime guarantee on the stuff you buy there. Don't abuse it obviously, but it provides an extra layer of protection against getting a defective bag.

Whatever bag you pick, is there any way your son can reduce the number of books he carries? I'm a grad student, and I used to experience some back pain when lugging around huge quantities of books + laptop. Lately I've been working hard to leave everything unnecessary at home, and it makes the whole bag experience much more pleasant. I know it may not be feasible because teachers tend to be uptight about having the correct supplies, but I can imagine 30+ pounds of books in there, and that's just not cool.
posted by Alterscape at 11:57 AM on November 28, 2009

I can recommend asolo as a durable backpack with good support. I have one backpack of theirs and another made by Mckinley, which I picked up years ago at a used hiking goods store and have put through hell numerous times ... amazingly it still looks barely used!
Unfortunately I can't find a site online (google gives me mostly pages related to the mountain of the same name).
posted by mannequito at 12:45 PM on November 28, 2009

I recommend hitting up REI if there's one near you. They carry lifetime guarantees and are really well-built and durable to start with. I got one made by Wenger, the same company that makes Swiss Army Knives. There was a nice distribution of pockets, laptop protector, etc.

If he's carrying the books to get the problem sets, maybe he can photocopy out all the problem sections and just cut out the problem and paste it onto the top of whatever homework he's doing. That's what I eventually moved to for my engineering curriculum so I didn't have to rewrite and redraw.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:04 PM on November 28, 2009

I have been using JanSport backpacks since high school. They aren't indestructible but the lifetime warranty is quite good. I have two backpacks so that when one of them needs repair or replacement, I can easily switch to the other one. One of my backpacks has S-curve shoulder straps, and hip and sternum straps which your son will never use because they will make him look like a dork. But he should.

I wouldn't even consider leaving a laptop in a locker.
posted by grouse at 1:04 PM on November 28, 2009

Chrome is a pretty good way of giving your kid hipster cache before his time.

My black, typical JanSport backpack has been with me for about 10 years now, and though the waterproof lining is gone, the thing hasn't ripped a seam and the zippers still work great. Plus it looks neither dorky nor like I'm pretending to be a hiker.

Also, tell him to use his silly locker for his books and carry his laptop around. Having that many books in a backpack, or, god forbid, a messenger bag, can mess a kid up or at the very least add to the rockiness of high school.
posted by tmcw at 2:51 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like Timbuk2 bags. However, if he's carrying that much stuff every day, he can seriously mess up his back. If he's going to insist on carrying all those books every day, you should insist on him using a rolling backpack. They aren't as fashion-forward, so it may just convince him to start using that locker.
posted by melissasaurus at 3:15 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Alternately, go the Army surplus route.

Refurbished ALICE medium, no frame.

I went through roughly one backpack a year in high school, and got tired of it. When I went away to college, I paid a visit to my local army surplus store, picked up an old ALICE, and it's still going strong 15 years later.
posted by LionIndex at 4:03 PM on November 28, 2009

I used a Jansport Squirt pack through my four years of college. It's got some minor surface wear, but is otherwise as good as new.
posted by andrewcilento at 4:56 PM on November 28, 2009

I have some experience lugging textbooks (I'm in my 11th year of University) and highly recommend any pack from MEC.
posted by Cody's Keeper at 5:24 PM on November 28, 2009

As great and durable as Chrome bags are, carrying six textbooks and a laptop on his shoulder every day is going to be very uncomfortable, and could even lead to back problems. LL Bean is definitely the standard in durable school backpacks, you can't really go wrong there and I would nth the suggestion of something like this. Plain and functional, it will fit right in with all the other kids and he won't have to worry about carrying some weird looking outdoorsy or metro messenger bag around. That being said, I would encourage him to rethink the use of his locker. It's there for a reason, and that reason is so that kids don't have to lug around 60 pounds of textbooks all day.
posted by sophist at 6:33 PM on November 28, 2009

My son is a sophomore without a locker too. He carries all of his textbooks, lunch, water bottle, etc. All day every day. He loves his Wenger Synergy backpack from the company that makes Swiss Army knives. It is durable, has nicely padded straps, and lumbar padding, and it has good zippers and is strong enough to hold everything that he has to carry.

He tried a messenger bag, but it really didn't work for the textbooks.
posted by ghostbee at 10:24 PM on November 28, 2009

Timbuk2 makes incredibly strong and tough backpacks that can be converted to messenger bags when you are carrying a lighter load. My husband has one and it has lasted very well for him. It also has a great laptop protection sleeve that has kept my laptop safe and secure (in my messenger-style Timbuk2).
posted by nursegracer at 12:07 AM on November 29, 2009

Take a look at Tom Bihn bags. Very durable.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 4:51 AM on November 29, 2009

I have to recommend the Tom Bihn Brain Bag. It does have bells and whistles, but the bag will last him until he graduates from college and beyond. I'm 5'3" and used it in grad school and it was the only bag that really felt comfortable on my shoulders (lots of library books/binders and my laptop). I sold it after school and switched to one of their messenger type bags, but the person I sold it to would also attest that it looked like new even after all my use.

There are also uncool, but functional waist and sternum straps.
posted by stefnet at 4:56 AM on November 29, 2009

I've had a basic black Jansport that I've been using for about ten years. I travel a lot and I have completely abused this backpack by overstuffing it, or putting all my heavy stuff in it to use it as my carry-on and I have never had one problem with it. I came back from a trip this weekend and was once again marvelling how the zippers have never broken or even stuck. I've even had to put it through the washing machine because I forgot a had a banana in there once, which kind of smooshed all over the place and it went through the wash perfectly. I love this backpack. I also have an Eddie Bauer backpack, which I've had similar results with, though I don't use it quite as often.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:41 AM on November 29, 2009

As great and durable as Chrome bags are, carrying six textbooks and a laptop on his shoulder every day is going to be very uncomfortable, and could even lead to back problems

Chrome also makes backpacks.

Also, they have a 20% off sale this weekend.
posted by zippy at 7:06 PM on November 29, 2009

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