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. $45) stands out for its 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. It doesn't have a built-in laptop sleeve.
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 Big Student comes in a variety of colors and designs, to please males and females. It also carries a lifetime warranty.
The North Face Borealis (Est. $90) 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.
College students may have to pack for a whole day on campus, meaning they need room to lug a lot and a design that's comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Among backpacks recommended for college students, the North Face Jester (Est. $65) stands out. Reviewers love the 1,830-cubic-inch capacity, waist belt and ergonomic shoulder straps, and it has lots of dividers for organizing the smaller of its two storage compartments. The frame fits most adults, from 6-foot-tall men to petite women, and some call it the most comfortable pack they've ever put on, thanks to its ergonomic shoulder straps and removable waist belt.
The North Face Recon (Est. $80) has the same carrying capacity and an endorsement from the American Chiropractic Association for its ergonomic features, including hip belt and contoured shoulder straps. On the downside, reviewers say stuffing too much into the pack's outer pockets can impinge on the main compartment. Like the Jester, the Recon does very well in tests of durability. Both are covered by a lifetime warranty.