Here are the top 21 college backpack essentials you need to always have in your school bag to get you through a long day of classes. Prepare your backpack with these items so that you are ready to face anything!  It can be tough to figure out what essentials need to go into your college bag every morning. There are certain items that, while not mandatory, will make life much easier on campus.  Here are some of the things I always have in my college backpack and some other suggestions!

Whether you have a backpack, messenger bag, or rolling book bag, you will need to keep college backpack essentials in whatever bag you choose.

Writing utensils, pencils, sanitizer, snacks, and pens are a few examples. You can never go wrong with these essential items, and we will explain each one in detail. College students need these backpack essentials for a variety of reasons.  

The 21 Best College Backpack Essentials

A college student studying on their laptop using their backpack essentials

1. Personal Essentials

Personal essentials like your keys and wallet are something you need to carry in your backpack all of the time.  Keep the keys in an outside pocket, so they are easily accessible when you need to get into your dorm or apartment throughout the day. Make sure your wallet is tucked away safely in an inside pocket. Keeping it in a pocket will prevent it from sitting at the bottom of your bag.  You don’t want to have any credit cards, ID, cash, etc., just floating around in your backpack all day! Put them somewhere easy to reach but still safe and secure.


2. Laptop and Laptop Charger and Battery Pack

A battery pack is another college backpack essentials every college student should keep with them at all times for those long days on campus. With so many things to check throughout the school day, it’s always nice having a backup battery pack.  Always have a power cord for your laptop too, it will be easy to charge your computer in between classes or at the library when you have free time.   These are especially good for students who live off-campus because they won’t be able to swing back to their dorm room to charge their laptops. A battery pack is a great way to keep a charge when you are studying outdoors too.


3. Hand Sanitizer and Sanitizing Wipes

Sanitizing wipes are the college backpack essentials you need for those long, tiring days on campus. Sometimes you are stuck in class all day, and there is no time or place to take a break to wash your hands.

During the day, you may find yourself sitting in a spot that doesn’t look quite clean.  If you have some sanitizing wipes with you, just give the seat a quick cleaning and feel better about sitting there. You can also wipe down any area that looks or feels grimy.  Sanitizing wipes are perfect for when you’re outside of the classroom too. We all know how gross public places can get! Wipe down the handles of your backpack before grabbing, throw some in your purse for on-the-go use, carry some with you to wipe off surfaces before you lean on them or put your phone against them, etc.

Sanitizing wipes are that college backpack essentials every college student needs. 

Everyone Hand Sanitizer Wipes, 1 Pack of 30 Towelettes, Coconut and Lemon, Plant Derived Alcohol with Pure Essential Oils, 99% Effective Against Germs
  • Contains: (1) Resealable Pack of 30 Everyone Coconut and Lemon Hand Sanitizer Towelette Wipes
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4. Portable Phone Charger: An Important College Backpack Essential

A portable charger or power bank – this is an absolute must because it’s the only way to keep your phone alive when there’s no access to an outlet. For safety reasons, it is a must always to make sure your phone has a charge. So don’t be the type that lets your phone die; take matters into your own hands with this portable phone charger and excellent backpack essential.

[2 Pack] INIU Portable Charger, Slimmest & Lightest Triple 3A USB C High-Speed 10000mAh Power Bank, Phone External Battery Pack Compatible with iPhone 12 11 X 8 Plus Samsung S20 Google LG iPad Tablet
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5. Headphones or Ear Buds are a College Backpack Essential

I always make sure to carry my headphones with me at all times, and this is another college backpack essential you should always have in your bag. Headphones are crucial to a college backpack, whether you use them to listen to music, podcasts, or lecture notes while walking around campus.  When you’re tired of hearing everything around you and just want some peace and quiet, in this case, headphones can be your best friend. Make sure to have a pair in your backpack at all times, just in case.

Urbanears Alby True Wireless Earbuds with Charging Case, Teal Green
  • Enjoy music all day long with up to 15 hours of total playtime. Three hours of non-stop listening per charge plus 4x additional on-the-go charges with the USB-C charging case.
  • Customize your fit with silicone in-ear tips in three sizes ensuring a comfortable fit with passive noise cancellation for an immersive sound experience.
  • Tap or talk - stay in control without reaching for your device. Use touch controls to effortlessly navigate through tracks and calls, or tap to activate your device’s voice assistant for hands-free control.
  • Developed to keep up with you, the water-splash resistant design (IPX4) ensures that no weather or workout will stop your beat.
  • Designed to make technology a part of your personal style statement. Urbanears Alby comes in four on-trend colorways in a tactile matte finish.

6. Re-Usable Water Bottle or a Travel Mug

An excellent backpack includes a compartment for a water bottle! It’s essential to stay hydrated while in college. Not buying plastic water bottles all day long is also a great way to save money and the environment.  Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day by carrying your water with you in a reusable bottle.  Alternatively, you can refill your bottle at any water fountain on campus. Using a refillable water bottle will prevent you from having to buy water throughout the day.

Make sure you get a leak-proof travel mug; if it tips, you don’t want your beverage getting all over your school supplies.

Contigo Luxe AUTOSEAL Vacuum-Insulated Travel Mug | Spill-Proof Coffee Mug with Stainless Steel THERMALOCK Double-Wall Insulation, 16 oz., Stainless Steel
  • Seal it in: leak- and spill-proof Travel mug thanks to AUTOSEAL lid
  • For the long Haul: Stainless Steel double-wall vacuum insulation keeps drinks hot up to 5 hours or cold up to 12
  • Lend a hand: one-handed drinking convenience on the go
  • Lock it up: lock feature prevents accidental pressing of AUTOSEAL button
  • Squeaky clean: underside of lid opens up for thorough cleaning

Travel mugs are also a must-have college backpack essential. You can use the travel mug for drinking coffee, tea, or water.  Alternatively, you can bring tea bags and fill up hot water in the cafeteria.

7. Healthy Snacks

Another thing to add to our list of backpack essentials for college is healthy snacks.  If you get hungry, you’ll want to have some snacks on hand just in case!  Healthy snacks are great because they will help keep your energy levels up throughout the day while eating nutritious food. When trying to memorize and study, it is vital to keep your energy up with healthy food.   A snack bag will prevent you from stopping for fast food between classes, which can be expensive and not very healthy.

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I always pack in my college bag essentials: some healthy nuts, which are a great source of protein, mushroom jerky, and some dried organic mango. I prefer to make a mix; I’ll use unsalted walnuts, 1/2 salted cashews, unsalted roasted hazelnuts, and then mix and match any other nuts that I have on hand. Sometimes I’ll add a sandwich or healthy chips to my college backpack too. 

These three backpack essentials for your college bag will keep your energy levels even during the day!


8.  Stylus Pen for Touch Screens

Another college backpack essential for any student is a stylus pen for touch screens. Touch screens are everywhere now, so it’s necessary to have a stylus pen if your hands are dirty or wet.  If you keep the stylus in an outside pocket, then it will be easy to access when needed. 

If you’re an avid user of smartphones and tablets, then a stylus can be your best friend. It will make it easier for touch screens and help with selection accuracy when typing or swiping! You’re not alone if you’ve struggled to highlight a phone number buried in the text. A stylus can be used as an alternative on your smartphone or touchscreen device so that selecting specific lines becomes easier!

Stylus for iPad (2 Pcs), StylusHome Magnetic Disc Universal Stylus Pens Touch Screens for Apple/iPhone/Ipad pro/Mini/Air/Android/Microsoft/Surface All Capacitive Touch Screens - Black/White
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Our List of 21 College Backpack Essentials Will Help You Get Through The Day!

9. Textbooks and In-Class Materials

Textbooks and In-Class Materials are more examples of something you will need to carry in your bookbag. The in-class materials are often: study notes, flashcards, graphs, and binders. Having the right books and in-class materials for your college backpack is imperative for you to study for your classes on breaks during the day. I am the type that always chooses to make use of every moment of spare time, and I love to study during those breaks.

College students studying at a desk with some backpack essentials around them.

10. School Planner

A planner is a must for any college student, and it is one of the college backpack essentials every student should have.  A planner allows for better time management and will help you stay on top of your work, classes, and social life.  While you can keep track of your life on your calendar app on your phone, sometimes it’s nicer to see it all written out.  I would recommend having a small planner that you can carry with you everywhere, just in an emergency.  You should also consider purchasing a more oversized planner that you can leave at home or your dorm for when you have time to sit down and write things out.

You don’t want to miss out on anything when you are in college!

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11. Pens and School Supplies

Another college backpack essentials every student needs are good pens with a variety of colors. Writing instruments are great for both classes and taking notes in your planner. Stock up on pens and make sure you always have some on hand in your backpack.

Paper Mate Profile Retractable Ballpoint Pens
  • Ballpoint pen with bold 1.4 millimeter point helps you confidently communicate your thoughts
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  • Reliably vivid ink brightens up your notes
  • Convenient retractable design and color matching barrels
  • Black, Blue, Red, Green, Purple, Orange, Magenta, Turquoise, Lime, Brown, Navy and Plum ballpoint pens bring your handwriting to life

As easy as it is to use your phone for everything, I always recommend having a planner and pen on hand during college.  If you are in class or studying at the library, sometimes it’s just easier to jot notes down with a pen instead of typing them into your phone.  Having pens with different colors allows you to color-code your notes and planner. Color coding your class notes is a great way to study for tests, as the colors will help you remember what information goes with which subject.


12. Flashcards

Flashcards are always good things to have on hand, especially if you are in a science program; having anatomy flashcards in your backpack will allow you to review the material quickly. Often there will be a pop quiz or an exam that needs study time. You must have the correct flashcards when studying during your breaks during the day. I am a studious multitasker who prefers to make the most of each moment of spare time by studying while I am on my class break.

13. Scientific Calculator

Scientific calculator - one of our 21 best college backpack essentials

Another college backpack essential is a scientific calculator; most students will need a calculator for at least one class, whether math, science, or history major.  There are many types of calculators; some will be specific for math or science, while others might have functions that are more useful to statistics students.  Knowing what you’ll need a calculator for will help you decide on which one to buy.  

Texas Instruments TI 84 Plus Graphing Calculator with Guerrilla Military Grade Screen Protector Set, Certified Reconditioned
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  • Certified Reconditioned. Looks and works like new.

A scientific calculator with all the functions might be helpful for math and science students.  The good thing is that all students can use them, so it is irrelevant whether you need all of the calculus or graphing functions. Even though it has these advanced functions, a scientific calculator will still work for basic tasks. These calculators can range in price, so it’s essential to research them before purchasing one.  Whatever your major or class schedule is, having a scientific calculator will come in handy during the college semester.

14. Gum and Mints

One backpack essential for college students is having gum or mints on hand.   Keep gum or mints on hand in case this happens while you are walking around campus. Gum or mints will give you fresh breath while also quelling that craving for something sugary while on campus. Sometimes listening to a long lecture on a complex topic, you can increase your attention by popping a piece of gum into your mouth. Doing this can help keep you alert without having more caffeine.

A pack of gum or mints will keep you from getting that dreaded pre-class morning breath that can turn away potential friends and dates before you even meet them. FYI: keep xylitol gum away from dogs and other pets. Do not leave the gum in your backpack on the floor with the zipper open so a dog can grab it.

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15. Tampons or Menstrual Pads

Anyone with a monthly menstrual cycle needs to pack tampons or menstrual pads in their backpack. When you are new on campus, finding out where to go for these can be daunting. The items you need should be kept in your dorm.  Nevertheless, don’t forget when you have classes all day and don’t want to leave class because you aren’t familiar with the campus. A tampon in your bookbag will come in handy in an emergency. Keep extra tampons in your bookbag in case your period decides to start.  You never know when or where it will happen, so don’t be caught off guard!

16. Lotion 

If you are prone to dry skin then A travel-size bottle of hand lotion is another one of college backpack essentials that’s always great to have on hand while you are out and about on campus. You never know when your hands or face will get dry. Especially in the winter and with all of the hand sanitizing, your skin can dry out quicker. Having a travel-sized bottle of hand lotion in your backpack will help keep your skin moisturized, even if you have to reapply throughout the day.

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College Student running: Here's your ultimate list of backpack essentials!

17. Umbrella

Another thing you should carry in your college backpack is an umbrella, they are inexpensive, and they come in different styles. Having an umbrella for college is vital if the weather changes; you’re going to want one on hand because it can get very windy outside, and it’s often hard to carry a big umbrella with you while running to class or walking between buildings.  A good umbrella will take up very little room, so I always keep one in your backpack for rainy days.

totes Titan Automatic Open Close Windproof & Water-Resistant Foldable Umbrella, Black
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18. Stethoscope (for those med, nursing, vet, and science students)

The next college backpack essentials some students need are a stethoscope, especially for those med, nursing, vet, and science students. Many times you will be practicing and learning how to use the stethoscope with your classmates.  Having a stethoscope on hand during those hands-on learning activities can be super helpful and valuable. 

3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803
  • Monitor and assess a wide range of patients
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  • Open bell stays clear of dirt and debris by covering it with the small diaphragm
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Nursing students, medical students, and veterinary students will learn to take the vitals in a classroom setting before graduating.  Carrying your stethoscope is an excellent way to prep for the challenges that lie ahead as a medical professional. Just be sure to choose the best veterinary stethoscope if you are trying to become an animal doctor.

19. A Mini Emergency Kit

A  mini first aid kit is excellent for a college student’s backpack. It’s the ultimate in emergencies. It has 66 high-quality supplies, including everything you might need to take care of minor cuts and bruises on your college journey! You won’t be able to go wrong with our great value emergency pack. Also, a mini first aid kit is an excellent addition to your college backpack essentials; add your tampon or maxi-pad to this mini kit, so you don’t have too many little bags floating around.

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20. Hoodie – A Must Have Backpack Essential for College

Another item I always have when on campus all day is a hoodie.  I have worn hoodies since I was in high school, so they are something that not only keeps me warm when it’s cold but also provides me with peace of mind.  With a hoodie or zippered sweatshirt, you won’t have to worry about shivering in the classroom. If you go to college in a warm climate, then usually the school has the AC blasting. You will be cold in the school even if it’s hot outside. A hoodie is always great to have on hand if you need something light or just want an extra cushion in case your chair isn’t comfortable. 

21. Cold Brew Coffee or a Tea Bag – Backpack Essentials

Most college students are running on little sleep between studying, socializing, work, and other obligations. Having a pick me up like a can of cold brew or some tea bags is essential. 

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I always have a can of cold brew in my backpack, and I consider it one of the number one college backpack essentials. It helps revive me, especially around those late-night study sessions where you need to be alert and awake.

Also, having some tea bags around is a great way to have some warm beverages on hand. Having these two college backpack essentials for your bag will allow you to have some tasty, refreshing drinks on the go or in between classes. I love being able to sip some green tea while listening to a lecture.


As a college student, you can never be too prepared for those long and tiring days.  Keeping the items mentioned above in your backpack will help ensure you are ready for anything that mother nature throws your way and any other situation that may arise throughout the day. Being organized and prepared is half of what makes or breaks a stressful day.  With these college backpack essentials on hand, you are all set for anything!

Being prepared is key to keeping sane and reducing stress during long, stressful days on campus.  Our list of college backpack essentials is designed for students looking for quick solutions while they’re in class or on the go. From hand lotion to cold brew coffee, there are plenty of ways you can keep your skin moisturized and boost your energy without taking up too much space in your bag. Whether you’re a nursing student, a medical student, a vet student, or just trying to get through those late-night study sessions, our tips will help you succeed!