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Radley Stories

Style Notes

Backpacks in Fashion: How to Choose the Best Affordable Backpack?

12 May 2022

Find out all you need to know about fashionable backpacks with our Radley London guide. Delve into the history and trends, explore the different styles, and discover how trendy backpacks have become an accessory for every outfit.

The History of Backpacks

Backpacks were first invented as a way to evenly distribute weight across both shoulders, and reduce the risk of back, neck and shoulder pain. This innovation was particularly helpful for those who needed to carry lots of items, like hikers and those in the military. These first backpacks also meant wearers could have more hands-free movement, as practical features included dual straps, a harness and hip belt to keep it securely in place.

It is Henry Merriam who is believed to have made the first backpack  for the US military in the 1800s, originally using sheet metal and calling it a ‘knapsack’. Since then, many have redesigned the backpack using different materials, including leather, nylon, canvas and wood. One of the most unique combinations of materials was pioneered in the 1920s, when Lloyd F. Nelson tried redesigning a backpack used by indigenous people of Alaska, using sticks and seal skin. But it was Asher “Dick” Kelty and his wife Nena who are thought to have invented the backpacks for travelling that we know today. These modern backpacks were made with a welded aluminium frame and fabric exterior.

Are Backpacks Still in Fashion?

The simple answer: Yes. Backpacks are still in fashion.

But let’s start at the beginning. After it had been invented, the backpack quickly grew in popularity. People began to use the backpack for school as it was a comfortable and easy way to carry heavy books. By the 1980s, new backpack styles had emerged to accommodate the exact needs of students. With new advances in technology and education, they no longer needed to be as large. Learning was becoming increasingly more digital, so stylish laptop backpacks and smaller backpacks for school began to emerge. This trend led to a rise in mini backpacks in fashion - a modern style that was then adopted into fashion.

Many fashion brands now have their own signature backpack style. They may feature some of the same elements as original, more practical styles, including multiple compartments, internal laptop sleeves, exterior pockets and padded, adjustable straps, making them some of the best women backpacks for everyday use. Fashion backpacks may also be behind the rise in backpack sales  among women.

On the other hand, backpacks for travelling will be more equipped to carry heavier items with greater comfort. They might have more technical components that will make the user’s life easier, such as heavy-duty adjustable straps, a contoured fit and compression straps. Over the years, practical backpacks have also become more advanced with new features, such as extra pockets on the exterior, a more contoured shape, water bottle pockets and even protective rain covers. These are things you need to consider when choosing a backpack for travelling .

Are Backpacks Unisex?

Backpacks are a wardrobe staple for men as much as they are for women. This is true of all ages as trendy backpacks for school are a popular choice for both boys and girls.

While the backpack itself is generally gender neutral, backpacks in fashion are typically more focused towards either men or women. They’re worn as style statements, rather than solely for practical purposes.

Differences between backpacks for girls and those for boys can be seen in their size: fashionable backpacks for women in particular tend to be smaller and often come with more colourful designs, whereas backpacks for men tend to be larger, darker and more simplistic.

What are the Different Types of Backpacks?

Travel Backpack: One of the top backpacks for travelling, this type is used as an alternative to a suitcase as it gives the wearer the ability to walk and move more freely. They’re measured in litres and are designed to hold the same (if not more) than a suitcase. Extra straps keep it securely in place even when full and help to evenly distribute its weight.

Work Backpack: This might be a stylish laptop backpack that’s large enough to carry technology and will usually have separate, padded pockets to keep these items safe. The best women backpacks for work will also have multiple compartments with enough space for other work essentials. This style is the same as backpacks for school.

Commuter Backpack: This is a big and lightweight backpack that is both durable and waterproof in order to keep items safe while the wearer is walking or cycling into work. It’s likely to have a padded pocket inside for your laptop, a top zip fastening for easy access, and a loop for a bike light, among other standard features.

Mini Backpack: One of the most popular backpacks in fashion. Giving you all the benefits of a backpack without any of the bulk, this smaller design is made to carry only your daily essentials. Making these the best women backpacks for everyday use. They also make a perfect mini-me backpack for girls.

Hiking Backpack: A hiking backpack is something you are likely to wear for long periods of time, so it’ll be large, lightweight and with a lot of practical features. Some are fitted with a frame for extra comfort and stability. They also have multiple compartments that are easy to access, a back panel for ventilation, many attachment points, hip belts, sternum straps and shoulder straps.

Hydration Backpack: Usually used for hiking, a hydration backpack is fitted with a system that allows the user to drink hands-free. It holds a pouch that attaches to a long tube, which means the wearer can stay hydrated while hiking, without removing the backpack to access a water bottle.

Weekend or Overnight Backpack: These styles are similar to travel backpacks in that they are designed to hold everything you need for any overnight stay but come in much smaller sizes. An overnight backpack will be large enough for daily essentials, as well as a change of clothes and wash bag.

Day Backpack: This could be a trendy backpack or a practical one. It’ll be large enough to hold daily essentials without being too bulky and may come in lots of designs. Another of the best women backpacks for everyday use.

What is the Difference Between a Rucksack and a Backpack?

The terms ‘backpack’ and ‘rucksack’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but the main difference is how each style is used.

‘Backpack’ is the more commonly used term. It’s used to describe the practical and fashionable backpacks for school, work, college, weekends and fashion.

The term ‘rucksack’ is more often used to describe those worn on adventures, for activities such as camping or hiking. These tend to have padded, adjustable shoulder straps, a chest strap and a waist strap, as it is likely you’ll be carrying more items.

How to Choose the Best Backpack for You

What are you using your backpack for?

Trekking, running chores, school, work or something else. Backpacks are used for lots of occasions. If you’re wearing a backpack during exercise, a more lightweight style will be ideal. Look for one that has adjustable straps and multiple compartments. Or, if you are looking for an accessory for casual days, a trendy backpack will be perfect as it’s likely you will only need to carry your daily essentials.

How much will you need to put in it?

Consider what you need to carry in your backpack. If your bag is going to be heavy and full of lots of items, it’s better to go for a backpack with thicker straps that will distribute the weight more evenly across your shoulders. If you only need to carry a few things, a mini backpack makes a lightweight and bulk-free choice. Alternatively, the best women backpacks for work are large enough for technology, lunch and perhaps your gym clothes too. For this, you may want a stylish laptop backpack.

Try it on

Make sure your backpack suits your needs and feels comfortable by trying it on. Adjust the straps to the perfect length and make sure it can support the weight of the items you need to carry, while still feeling comfortable.

Where are you taking it?

If you’re going to be wearing your backpack outside often, you may need a waterproof backpack or even a water-resistant design that will be protected from rain or snow. If you will only be using it for short trips and won’t be spending much time outside, you might consider a more fashionable backpack material, such as suede.


If you have a backpack for travelling, there might be additional elements to consider. Do you need a rain cover? A hydration reservoir or extra straps to attach items to the exterior of your backpack? Consider all the things you need to carry and make sure your backpack is equipped for them.

How Should a Backpack Fit?

Wearing a backpack that is too heavy or doesn’t sit evenly on your shoulders may cause muscle strain across your neck, back and shoulders, and lead to poor posture, muscle imbalance and increased risk of long-term injury. To avoid pain or muscle damage, make sure you follow these steps:

  • Always wear both straps on your shoulders.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so the backpack sits high on your back.
  • Ideally your filled backpack should weigh less than 10% of your body weight. If you do need to carry more, the weight should never exceed 20%.
  • The lightest items should always go at the bottom of your backpack.

Fun Facts about Backpacks


Now you know everything there is to know about backpacks, how about reading up on more of our accessory styles? For guides on Trendy Designer Purses, How To Pack A Suitcase and All About Fun Umbrellas, head over to Radley Stories