What To Pack In Your College Backpack

The perfect college backpack has only the essentials. If you have to carry your pack a few miles across campus each day, you need to be selective about what you bring. Make sure you have these categories covered, and you should be ready to go.

Class Materials

More than anything, you need the basic materials to participate in the class. Confirm that you have a copy of the syllabus in a folder or binder for your reference. Stay on top of the schedule, so that you know when you need to bring certain items, such as:

  • Textbooks
  • Other instructional materials
  • Notes from previous classes
  • iClicker or Internet-ready device
  • Projects or research papers

Some classes use a lot of materials throughout the semester. It will be easier to carry your backpack throughout the day if you bring only what you need and leave the rest at home.


These days, many professors expect you to bring and use certain devices to enhance the classroom experience. Keep in mind that every item you add in this category could make the pack extra heavy. Stick to what you know you’ll use:

  • Laptop
  • Smartphone or tablet
  • Headphones
  • Charging cables

These tools can be handy for taking notes or for studying between classes. Professors usually share their technology policies upfront. Read the syllabus and ask questions, if needed.

Classroom Supplies

Classrooms and professors are increasingly connected via devices, but there is still a time and place for classic school supplies.

Pack the following:

  • Notebook
  • Pens or pencils
  • Highlighters

This will help you stay organized when you encounter a professor who won’t let you use a laptop to take notes, or when you quickly need to write something. If you often forget to bring test materials on exam day, you might want to add a slim folder with a few scantrons or test booklets. They don’t weigh much and could save you a lot of frustration.

Food and Drink

When you’re in your first years of college, you have little control over your schedule. You might have long breaks between classes, or a wall of lectures back-to-back. Time (and money) to eat and hydrate may be harder to find than you expect. Pack a refillable water bottle that will fit easily into your backpack. Keep a few dry snacks in a place they won’t get smashed:

  • Granola bars
  • Nuts
  • Crackers
  • Dried fruit

These foods can provide you a much-needed boost of energy. To save a lot of money over the course of the year, bring your own coffee. Keep a few spare packets of instant coffee that you can add to hot water from the campus cafeteria or convenience store.

Personal Care Items

Staying comfortable during the day changes throughout the season. As you spend hours on campus with hundreds or thousands of other people, you may need a few extra items to help you get through the difficult days:

  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lotion
  • Lip balm
  • Over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol or Advil
  • Season-specific gear such as sunblock, umbrella, extra gloves or a hat

Most of these items may be available on campus, but in limited supply or for a higher cost. Who wants to pay $3 for a pack of 10 tissues when you could bring it from home? Just make sure not to overdo it. It can be tempting to pack for every possibility, but that can weigh you down over time. Instead, focus on what you might need for the day. You can always refill it for tomorrow.

You don’t want to be the person who is always unprepared. You also don’t want to be overloaded with unnecessary gear. This list helps you cover the most likely items to pack, so that you can strike the right balance for each class day.