Last Updated: May 13, 2021

Bookbag Vs. Backpack: What’s The Difference?

Bookbags, backpacks, rucksacks, knapsacks – they might all look nearly identical, but there are some key differences you should be aware of. Especially if you’re looking to get one of these bags and aren’t sure what those differences are, and which is the better option for you.

That’s where we come in – we’ll cover all the major differences between bookbags and backpacks in this guide, and share some of our favorite products in both categories with you. Read on to see how these types of bags differ, and to find some excellent bags in both categories!

The Differences Between Backpacks And Bookbags

Bookbags are actually simplified backpacks that are primarily meant for carrying books, files, and other school supplies. Unlike great versatile backpacks, they rarely have more than one roomy compartment and an extra pocket on the front panel. On top of that, bookbags will usually have very simple shoulder straps, and they will rarely feature padding or breathable mesh on the backpanel.

Basically, all backpacks can be bookbags because you can use pretty much any pack you buy for school supplies. Well, except maybe hydration packs that have a really small capacity – those are usually designed to hold just hydration bladders and maybe a couple of extra items.

But you can’t use every bookbag in the same way you can use a backpack. Here’s a good example of that – below, you can see a very simple bookbag (Fjallraven Kanken Classic) and a really good travel backpack (Osprey Farpoint).

backpack vs book bag examples

Backpacks have more compartments, pockets and just generally more features than standard bookbags. They are usually made from sturdier materials, which means better durability and water resistance. On top of that, the majority of the great backpacks are extremely comfortable to wear, thanks to innovative technologies used in their back system.

To put it layman’s terms, you will usually see thick foam padding, breathable mesh, and possibly even a sternum strap and a hip belt in the best backpacks. Bookbags are much simpler, and they normally feature a smooth backpanel with thin shoulder straps – some brands will put breathable mesh on the straps, but that’s a pretty rare occurrence.

These features are very important in backpacks because you usually end up carrying those bags on your back for hours at a time. And considering that the bigger packs can get quite heavy, it is crucial that you don’t feel that weight on your shoulders, and that the bag isn’t slowing or weighing you down.

When To Get A Bookbag

If you are a student looking for a simple bag with minimalist design, then a bookbag is probably the better option for you. Especially if you want something that doesn’t have a complicated interior, and doesn’t have a hundred different pockets and compartments.

Another advantage of bookbags is that they are very lightweight and affordable – good and sturdy backpacks are not really cheap, and if you’re on a very tight budget a bookbag is definitely the way to go.

Best Bookbags To Buy

herschel pop quiz bookbag

If you really want a bookbag but aren’t sure which ones are worth getting, we’re here to help. Check out the posts linked below – you will see dozes of really good bookbags, and I’m certain you will find at least one that’s up to your standards.

But there is one bookbag that’s better than the others and that’s the Fjallraven Kanken. You can read a more detailed review of this bag, but in a nutshell, it’s a bag that’s been around for decades and that surpasses everyone’s expectations when it comes to simple bags like these. The Kanken is made from extremely durable fabric that’s actually water-resistant, and it even features ergonomic shoulder straps. The only problem is that it’s a lot more expensive than other, simpler bookbags.

When To Get A Backpack

If you want a bag that’s more versatile, something you could take on hikes, field trips, and even the occasional trip, a proper backpack is definitely the better option for you. You will appreciate the larger capacity, better organizational features, and improved durability that comes from premium materials and high-quality construction.

The main advantage of backpacks is that there are so many different options out there that you could look at different bags for hours, and still have no idea how to choose the right one. And I think that’s beautiful – it’s a lot easier to get a great bag when you can choose from hundreds of different options, than when you only have 50 bags to look at.

There are hydration backpacks, hiking backpacks, Alpine climbing backpacks, skiing backpacks, laptop backpacks, travel backpacks, and so many others. And, quite a lot of them are extremely versatile, especially the ones that have a medium capacity of some 30-40 liters, with multiple compartments for easy organization.

Osprey Nebula is my favorite example of an extremely versatile bag – I have the old version and I use it for everything, from light hikes to trips to a different country. It works, it’s super comfortable to wear and it is ridiculously sturdy.

Best Backpacks To Buy

ogio bolt backpack

When buying a backpack, the first thing you need to figure out is what you want to use it for. Is it just for school? Or do you want a bag that would also work for hikes, camping trips, and maybe even proper travel?

Would you carry your laptop in the bag, or just a tablet, or maybe both? There are many backpacks out there that are specifically designed for carrying laptops, tablets, and other computer gear. There are even backpacks that are designed solely for gaming laptops and will fit even the thickest and bulkiest 18” computers.

In any case, once you decide what type of backpack you want, be sure to check out our buying guides where you will easily find that perfect bag for you.

About the Author Anna Timbrook

Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.