High school students need bigger packs to carry their supplies. By this time, they usually are required to have computers along with standard school necessities like books, binders, gym clothes and lunches. And don't forget music players, phones and cosmetics.
The JanSport Big Student (*Est. $40) stands out for its spacious but well-organized 2,100-cubic-inch capacity. Its two main compartments, smaller utility compartment and front stash pocket leave plenty of room for school supplies and extras like gym clothes, cosmetics or a laptop. The zippers and fabric stand up to years of overpacking, and it gets excellent scores for water resistance.
The Big Student doesn't have a hip belt, but students don't seem to mind. They say the padded, ergonomic shoulder straps feel a little stiff at first but soften up to offer the right blend of comfort and strength.
The North Face Borealis (*Est. $70) has less storage space than the Big Student (1,650 cubic inches), but it comes with a padded hip belt, "anatomically correct" shoulder straps and a ventilated back panel. It's one of several North Face packs to earn an endorsement from the American Chiropractic Association for their ergonomic features; it's also water-resistant and comes with a built-in laptop sleeve.
The downside to the Borealis is that older models seemed to have some quality control issues. It's not clear whether the newer Borealis packs will have the same durability issues. Until then, the JanSport Big Student is tops in carry capacity and durability, and it does very well with comfort; but if comfort and ergonomics are your highest priority, the North Face Borealis is well worth a shot.
A third pack -- the High Sierra Fat Boy (*Est. $30) -- has more carrying capacity: 2,380 cubic inches. Its compression straps are mostly helpful but can make access problematic, and it's not water-resistant. The Fat Boy draws mixed reviews for durability; users say it often lasts a year or less.