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Which hardshell backpack is best?

Backpacks are always popular because of their versatility and ease of use — but that squashy exterior can mean your precious gear gets damaged. The answer is a hardshell backpack, which is designed to keep all of your devices safe.

Hardshell backpacks vary in their capacity, protection, pockets, and additional features. There are dozens to choose from, so we’ve been looking at a wide selection to help you make the right choice.

To find the right hardshell backpack for you, keep reading our buying guide. Our favorite, the Mobile Edge Core Gaming Laptop Backpack, is popular with gamers for its focus on large laptops and accessories, but it also offers flexible, high-quality protection for busy students and business users.

Considerations when choosing hardshell backpacks

Laptop size

At the top of many people’s lists when it comes to buying a hardshell backpack is the laptop size it can carry. You need to check carefully, because some are smaller than you might expect. Manufacturers usually give maximum exterior dimensions, but those can be deceptive. The shape of the shell will have an impact on what will actually fit inside.

There’s also a question of just how big your laptop actually is. For example, some 17-inch models actually measure 17.3 inches. Several high-end gamer laptops can be a challenge due to their size. In some cases, you may be able to find a customer review that mentions your specific laptop model.


Internal storage is a major factor, of course. Look at how it’s divided up to see whether it will accommodate your gear. Note whether you can swap things around for greater flexibility and whether it offers pockets or webbing to prevent small items from rattling around.

On the outside, you might have extra pockets for bits and pieces you want to access quickly. A holder for a water bottle is always useful.

Protection and materials

When it comes to protection, many different materials are used. PVC and polypropylene are cheap and relatively tough, but better when reinforced. ABS and polycarbonate — used in some motorcycle helmets — are good. Carbon fiber and kevlar can be immensely strong and lightweight but are fairly expensive. Ballistic nylon has a degree of give to it, so it’s not prone to cracking like some materials.

Straps need to support the bag and be comfortable. Heavy-duty nylon weave is common. Look for a high Denier number — 600D or better. Zippers and buckles can be plastic or metal. The latter usually adds to the price but should last longer.

Other features of a hardshell backpack

Many hardshell backpacks include a designated pocket for a power bank, as well as USB ports for easy charging. Some more expensive models come with power banks built in.

It’s a good idea to check the weight of the backpack, especially if you’re buying a larger model or one that you plan to travel with. Sternum straps help to distribute the load and make carrying the bag for long periods more comfortable.

Does the area that’s going to rest against your back have plenty of padding for comfort? Cheap models can be thin and hard, which can be frustrating if worn daily.

Hardshell backpack price

The cheapest hardshell backpacks cost around $30, but durability and longevity vary. Reliable mid-range models cost $50-$70, and models with the best protection often cost $200 or above.

Hardshell backpack FAQ

Q. How do I know if a hardshell backpack is waterproof?

A. The manufacturer should specify the water-resistance or waterproofing of a backpack. Most have good weather resistance, but few hardshell backpacks are 100% waterproof. Some have additional rain hoods for increased protection.

Q. Is a hardshell backpack suitable for aircraft flights as a carry-on?

A. There’s no reason why not, but each airline has its own size and weight limits. What’s okay with one airline may not be with another. Unfortunately, these rules change all the time, so it’s vital to check before every flight. Some models include TSA-friendly features that help get you through airport security more easily.

Hardshell backpacks we recommend

Best of the best

Mobile Edge’s Core Gaming Laptop Backpack

Mobile Edge’s Core Gaming Laptop Backpack

Our take: A high-quality, large-capacity model for serious gamers and gadget users.

What we like: Well-made with individual compartments for your laptop, tablet, keyboard, small games consoles, etc. Central power bank pocket for charging, plus external USB 3.0 port. TSA-checkpoint-friendly. Four exterior pockets maximize storage.

What we dislike: Not much. Some 17-inch laptops are oversized and do not fit.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Best bang for your buck

Oscaurt’s Anti-Theft Travel Backpack

Oscaurt’s Anti-Theft Travel Backpack

Our take: Stylish, low-cost backpack for light-duty use.

What we like: Concealed zipper protects contents from pickpockets and opportunist thieves. There’s also a hidden pocket in the side. USB port for charging. Decent storage for day-to-day items.

What we dislike: Limited interior space. Poor rain protection. Stitching quality varies.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

CUCYMA’s Motorcycle Backpack

CUCYMA’s Motorcycle Backpack

Our take: Features that make it great for bikers also make for a good all-around backpack.

What we like: Carbon-fiber reinforced shell offers good protection and looks great. Padded 1,680D Oxford nylon is comfortable and highly wear-resistant. Good range of interior pockets. Numerous motorcycle-friendly features.

What we dislike: Topples over when put down. Straps are short for those of large build.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Bob Beacham writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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