What are the Different Kinds of Backpacks?

Sheri Cyprus

All types of bags and totes are useful for carrying many different types of supplies and equipment. However, backpacks allow for items to be carried directly on the body while still allowing the free use of both hands. They are not just the preferred bag of mountaineers, but also of students, parents, daily commuters, travelers and many others. Different kinds of backpacks fulfill different needs.

A hiking backpack.
A hiking backpack.

Some travelers use backpacks to travel for up to a week or sometimes longer. Backpacking through Europe was once extremely popular and rucksack is the European name for a backpack. The types suitable for travel often feature hidden inner pockets to secure important documents as well as money or traveler's checks. Outer zippered pockets add convenient extra storage. Mesh pouches available on some backpacks allow temporary storage for wet items and many people use these bags as luggage for camping vacations or short hiking trips.

Short hikes may only call for a small daypack.
Short hikes may only call for a small daypack.

Daily commuters and students often prefer the kinds of backpacks that conveniently accommodate MP3 players and headphones as well as cell phones. Room for extra shoes and a lunch or snacks is also often desired by workers and students. Notebook backpacks are types that can store notebooks, textbooks and paperwork easily, and there are also others available to carry notebook or laptop computers and their accessories.

Couriers might use backpacks to transport goods.
Couriers might use backpacks to transport goods.

Children's backpacks are sized for toddlers to teens to carry and are often available in many popular licensed designs and trendy colors. Parents of young children and infants often use those that can hold diapers and accessories as they leave their hands free to push a stroller or hold a child's hand. Athletes such as snowboarders, skiers and cyclists may use backpacks to hold snacks and athletic gear. Some have outer pockets made especially to hold water bottles.

Many prefer backpacks that can accommodate headphones.
Many prefer backpacks that can accommodate headphones.

Messenger bags are not really backpacks, although they are convenient bags for those on the go. These bags are styled like a bicycle courier's bag and have a shoulder strap and a large rectangular bag space. They are usually worn across the body rather than on the back and are often waterproof.

Backpacks should have a holder for water bottles or other beverages.
Backpacks should have a holder for water bottles or other beverages.

The kinds of backpacks used for backpacking sports by mountaineers are often more rugged than other backpacks. These may have frames on them for extra support. Sleeping bags and other equipment can usually be attached to the frames on most types made for mountain climbing.

Backpacks might include a pouch with a removable ice pack to keep food items cold.
Backpacks might include a pouch with a removable ice pack to keep food items cold.
Bug spray is often included in a backpack's contents for people going outdoors.
Bug spray is often included in a backpack's contents for people going outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


It's always fun to look through the different types of backpacks available at the store. Isn't it amazing how many different choices we have?

I'm a college student, so my needs for a backpack are pretty straightforward:

I need it to be able to carry heavy loads without the straps or fabric tearing. I carry lots of stuff cross-campus every day -- sometimes two textbooks per class, my P.E. clothes, P.E. shoes, lunch, water bottle, wallet and Netbook along with power cords and such.

I need it to be big enough to fit all of that stuff in without being so big it looks like I'm going for a mountain hike. Fitting through doorways is a must...and I'm only half-joking about that!

I need it to be distinctive enough to recognize as mine. Buses and stores these days make you leave backpacks at the front half of the time due to terrorist threats, so I need to be able to recognize which pack is mine instantly to grab it as I exit. Unique colors or an unusual design style are pluses to me.

Finally, it needs to be comfortable to wear. Carrying around all of that weight every time I walk around campus is tough enough without straps cutting into my shoulders.

If you're a college student and you're thinking of using a backpack, keep the above stuff in mind! I'm a pro at this by now, I know what I'm doing.


@ahain - I've seen kids wearing those harness backpacks around town. Doesn't look inhumane or like the kid is on a dog leash to me, so don't worry that it looks bad to others. Safety is the most important thing for your kid, especially safety around cars.

Anyway, I think this kind of backpack is cute -- I've seen the monkey type you're describing, as well as a dinosaur, a cat (leopard, if I recall correctly), and a teddy bear. Several of them had tail leashes that were removable with a fastener similar to a dog leash.

I wonder who makes this kind of backpack? It's a really cute idea, practical for both the parent and child, and teaches your toddler how to use a backpack to carry stuff around at a pretty young age (which seems like a really important skill in school!)

To add my two cents to the more hardcore hiking side of this backpack conversation, my personal favorite backpacks for heavy duty wear and tear are Swiss Army backpacks. Swiss Army makes everything tough and durable, really; even the Netbook sleeve I bought by them holds up better than the average brand.


As far as types of backpacks go, this probably doesn't sound very impressive, but what about plushie backpacks? I'm the parent of a little girl who absolutely adores her plush backpack that is shaped like a monkey.

It's really cute when she wears it, because it looks like the monkey is on her back hugging around her shoulders (the straps at the arms and legs).

This kind of backpack is pretty small, with only one simple pouch to hold very small amounts of stuff since a toddler can't carry much on her back.

It serves a double purpose, though -- the monkey's tail is actually a strap that I can hold onto so that she can't wander off while we're out on the street or anything. It looks a bit like a dog leash with a harness, as weird as that sounds.

Since my daughter thinks of her monkey backpack fondly, she loves wearing it, and I love the peace of mind that she won't be able to run into traffic if I let go of her hand for a second.


@seHiro - A cautionary tale! It could have been worse, I guess -- you got the laptop into your backpack in time to save it from getting ruined, after all.

In general, when choosing a backpack it's important to consider what you'll be asking of it. It sounds like your friend just brought his usual city backpack, figuring it would hold things well enough, but actually needed a pack that would withstand more weather and wear and tear.

I myself do not do hiking as a hobby, but my brother does, so I get to see what kind of gear he uses. His backpacks are those tough heavy duty hiker kind with a metal frame on the back and pouches for water and such.

Maybe you can tell me, since you do hiking more seriously -- what's the metal bar for? According to WiseGEEK, it is used to hold gear strapped onto it, and also for extra support, but I'm curious if it has any other uses.


For anybody looking to go backpacking in the Pacific Northwest -- say, in Forks, home of the Twilight vampire craze as well as the Olympic National Rain Forest? -- take a few words of advice from a local resident.

If you go hiking, be aware that this area is known for bears and cougars. Yes, you can actually run into one face to face.

Also, look into waterproof backpacks. I had a buddy from California come up here to go hiking with me, and he brought a city style backpack -- you know, the kind with the MP3 player pockets? -- and insisted on lugging his laptop along for a nature hike. The laptop seemed silly to me, since we weren't going to be anywhere near an electric socket or an internet connection, but I figured if he was willing to carry it, I'd leave him be.

Well, this being Forks, it poured rain during our hike. Lo and behold, his backpack wasn't waterproof, and his laptop got a bit damp before we both realized what was going on and I stuck it into my waterproof pack. Lesson learned -- he says next time we hike, he'll let me pick his gear for him.

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