Knapsack Nation


We all remember the lazy August days of summers past, awaiting the L.L. Bean catalogue in the mail, ready to take a pen to the decisive back-to-school shopping glossy and circle the new book bag and lunch box we'd be sporting for the new year. To be "in" in the halls of childhood, one thing was absolutely necessary: a backpack (one-strapping was the ultimate in cool; those roll-y ones, not so much).

Well, that was then, and this is now, and now, guess what's happening? Backpacks are a thing, though they tend to veer more high fashion than elementary-school inspired (except for Nick; he's got his "knapsack for grown-ups"). Think: the floral embroidered Christopher Kane number that quickly sold out on Net-A-Porter (a similar version's available for preorder at Saks!). Why? Street wear is back, Grimes is a style icon, and sneakers will run you $800, which is all to say...gone are the days of yearning to be mistaken for a lady who lunches. Now we're embracing the decade of our childhood and aiming to dress like an adult version of a 12 year-old circa 1997. It's high time to ditch the purse and return to le sac (note: phrases in French always seem chicer. Vive le français!). You with us? Ok, good.

If you, too, find yourself in need of a highly practical toting option, here, our top picks for backpacks that will leave you looking the appropriate amount of 'throwback' without crossing into infantile territory:

The I like my Sketchers, but I love my Prada backpack” Backpack: Prada Velva Backpack [2]

The Classic: JanSport Right Pack [3]

The “I May or May Not Take Psychotropic Drugs” Backpack: Topshop Floral Rave Stitch Backpack [4] or Pierre Hardy Rucksack [5]

The Not-So-Standard Black Leather Backpacks: Coach Rivington Leather Backpack [6]

The “I’m A Hipster” Backpack (sometimes confused with the “Fashion Bag” Backpack): Topman Exotic Print Backpack [7] or Meredith Wendell Backstroke Rucksack [8] or Christopher Kane Embroidered Velvet Backpack [9]

The Fashion Bag" Backpack: Alexander Wang Marti Bag [10] or The Row Convertible Hobo Backpack [11] or Sophia Webster Ziggy Cutout Leather Backpack [12]

The 80s/90s “Throwback” Neon-Inspired Backpack: American Apparel Nylon Cordura School Bag [13] or Marc by Marc Jacobs Pretty Nylon Knapsack [14] or Graf & Lantz Wool Backpack [15] or State The Garfield [16]

Let us know if there are any star options we’ve missed. And while the items found inside our bags may no longer include Lisa Frank folders and a pencil box (they've been replaced by a stray lipstick tube, blotting papers, and an iPhone...who are we kidding, those are permanently attached to our palm), the two-strap vehicle is not much different. And you never know, maybe our new accessories will inspire us all to go back to school. See you in Cog Sci 101 next semester?

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • May

    You forgot Fjällräven Kanken backpacks!

    • mt

      Yes! Everyone wears these in Denmark (I just moved to the US after living there for 2 years): cool young things, middle aged folks, moms and dads use them as diaper bags, and of course the little ones trot off to school in them. No one age demographic has an exclusive hold on them, which I love.

    • Shara

      lol I have a friend who bought it last year and when we went to a festival this year, she saw shitloads of hipsters wearing it (although one can argue that she is kind of also one) and got really annoyed.

      I think she's been using it a lot less since XD Like she probably would have just stopped using it altogether if it wasn't because she just needed to carry her laptop to uni everyday.

    • Anna

      seconded. In Berlin, they're the ultimate hipster accessory and literally EVERYwhere

      • Shara

        I'm probably commenting a bit too much on this post, but do you know
        why it is so popular? I don't really get it.. I don't think it looks
        especially good - it certainly doesn't look very special compared to
        endless other options out there. It's not very cheap too.

    • Madeleine

      I love mine! Have had many adventures over the past few years...although now they've been co-opted by the hipsters I've supplemented with a little leather backpack from the flea market in Berlin (totally not a hipster choice, nuh-uh)

    • Nina

      YES! I'm from Denmark and Kanken was the ONLY cool bag when I went to high school years ago. And now that it seems to be on everybody's back again, I'm actually missing mine a bit... It's definitely not very comfy, but I love that it's so unpretentious and classic. It's like Converse All Stars for bags.
      Oh and I shouldn't forget my good old Haglöfs Tight, which I still wear on days I have to bring my laptop.

  • Nomadic D.

    Did you see that Eastpak is doing crazy photo prints on some of their bags now?

    I actually think they're great options cause you get that classic (sort of Jansport-y) design, with a more fun modern twist. Also, you guys skipped Herschel:

    I'm sort of obsessed with the canvas Little America. That said, I haven't bit the bullet and actually bought a backpack yet, not since I was in middle school. But maybe it's time to stop theorizing and just go for it. For the health of my spine if nothing else, right?

  • Kristien

    I love that this is a thing. Basically, I love everything about the "new 90's" thing that's happening right now. Only in about the past year have I realized that the 1990's were incredibly awesome, and I'm so glad I got to grow up in that decade, and that I was old enough to appreciate and remember it's awesomeness. For me, the ultimate fashion in the 1990's was dELiA's!I poured over each catalog that was anxiously awaited in the mail. ITG, you should TOTALLY do a bit on their 90's fashion (because now they kinda suck and look like everyone else)...I'd love to see some of the old catalogs on here!

  • Kristien
  • Sara

    I love Eastpak, but their products are so hard to purchase in the USA. I do not know why. And, I love American Apparel backpacks, because they are made in the USA, they are simple, good quality, and they look good.

  • Heather P.

    When I was in high school, I totally had a black velvet purse with a similar flower pattern to the Christopher Kane embroidered backpack! Man, that takes me back YEARS!

  • Ingrid

    Fjällräven Kånken! Everyone has them in Finland/Sweden.

  • Helen

    I've always called them rucksacks, although I'm not quite sure what a 'ruck' or a 'knap' is. I find them intensely useful for chucking around so am a bit perturbed to see my fave (Christopher Kane) is £1000+... Maybe not.

    • Shari

      Hi there, both are German words. Rucksack comes from Rücken = back plus sack obviously = sac. While "Knap" is widely not used anymore it derives from "knappen", in modern language "knabbern", which means to bite, eat.

      It is funny I don't know anybody here in Germany who would still use the word Knapsack. But I am from Cologne maybe it is different in other regions. Therefore it is nice that words live on in other countries.

  • Cay

    I highly recommend Everlane's! They're super cute, well-made, and their whole production philosophy is really great. They look very simple from the outside, but they have a laptop sleeve and everything inside. I just bought one to use as a work bag for when I do the whole Citibike thing back home in the evenings :).

  • amb
  • Emma Hager

    Loved this post-- I think it just taps into that whole concept of re-connecting with the interests of our past. And...I'd love to see a style icon (beauty, too -- her
    hair experimentation) post on Grimes! She's one of my style icons, for sure,
    and upon trying to dissect why, I think it largely has to do with her
    not-precocious and subconscious cool. She rocks a ton. Oh, and I’d so go for that Chris Kane backpack.

  • Shara

    I feel like some of the more 'classic' styles (like the Jansport or American Apparel ones) are quite hard to pull off, because if you're not 'cool' enough you'll just end up looking like a dork.

    Like if models wear it, people look at them and think "Ah.. 90s street style chic" but for some of us, we wear it and people think "Oh.. she just got back from the computer class" XD

  • Kirsten Burrows

    I love Harper Ave backpacks, they are so glam! Check them out:

  • cindy

    Baggu has some really cute backpacks --> bright colors, stripes, and polka dots


Sophia Webster
Sophia Webster Ziggy Cutout Leather Backpack
Christopher Kane
Christopher Kane Embroidered Velvet Backpack
Graf & Lantz
Graf & Lantz Wool Backpack
Marc by Marc Jacobs
Marc by Marc Jacobs Pretty Nylon Knapsack
American Apparel
American Apparel Nylon Cordura School Bag
Topshop Floral Rave Stitch Backpack
JanSport Right Pack
Prada Vela Backpack
Meredith Wendell Backstroke Rucksack
The Row
The Row Convertible Hobo Backpack
Pierre Hardy Rucksack
Alexander Wang
Alexander Wang Marti Bag
Topman Exotic Print Backpack
State The Garfield Backpack
Coach – Rivington Leather Backpack Black