Choosing the right backpack comes down to both the function and form of the bag. Even though there are thousands of backpack styles that exist, all of them are derived from 10 backpack shapes and silhouettes.

The silhouettes themselves are driven by the function and form of the bag; in many cases, they’re derived from the zipper placement and number of compartments that a backpack might have. Materials also play a role in a backpack’s shape, from the choice of materials in a backpack’s outer shells to the hardware and zippers.

These are the 10 types of backpack styles and how each style influences its features and aesthetic:

1. Classic U-Shape

Known for its’ versatility, this backpack is the most popular of all the styles here. Its U-Shape name is taken from the classic silhouette that one most typically thinks of with a backpack. The basic shape also allows for a wide variety of options to fill the bag. From laptops to books to snacks for a short hike, this classic silhouette has and continues to serve its users well.

The central features of this style include a large main compartment that opens from the front of the bag, a front pocket (usually with a zipper), backpack straps, top handle, and side pocket(s). The capacity ranges from twenty to forty liters, making it large enough to carry the essentials, but small enough to be manageable.

2. Roll Top

This backpack is commonly used when traveling due to its opening at the top of the bag, making it also a preference for many commuter cyclists. A piece of fabric usually rolls up at the top, allowing for adjustments to be made based on fluctuating carry capacity.

The opening at the top of the bag promotes ease while reaching for your battery pack during a long plane ride or while packing layers to best accommodate your back while roaming the city.

The central features of this style include the roll top, a cylindrical body shape to promote better posture and comfort, a top handle, standard backpack straps and side pocket(s). Extra straps and clips may be added for either aesthetic or function.

3. Lids / Rucksack

The shape of this backpack is standard. However, the flap that falls over the top opening of this backpack makes it unique. The flap is a piece of fabric with straps that usually attach to the front of the backpack with either magnets or buttons. This style also has more outer pockets and straps than the original, classic backpack.

This bag has a capacity of fifteen to thirty liters and has many use case potentials. It can be used for school, travel, or fashion. Other key features of this style include the top handle, front pocket(s), side pocket(s), aesthetic straps, and standard backpack straps.

4. Drawstring

The draw (pun intended) of this style of backpack is that it is both affordable and lightweight. Ranging from ten to twenty-five liters in capacity, this bag is meant to be used as a gym bag. Its’ defining feature is the drawstrings usually made out of cord. The cords can be adjusted to open and close the bag.

The shape of the bag is triangular with the top cinched and square when fully opened. There are few other features to this bag; it may or may not have front pockets or internal pockets, and it has no top handle.

5. Clamshell

A clamshell backpack gets its name from a clam-shell like appearance when the bag is fully unzipped and opened. These backpacks can lay fully flat on either of their main surface and will feature zippers that unzip the bag all the way from one side to the other, giving way to a flat, suitcase-like opening.

Clamshell backpacks are great for organizing multiple items and being able to pack a lot in a small, compact space, making them great for travel.

6. Splayed

The backpack with a splayed opening is similar to a Clamshell backpack in that there is usually a zipper that extends from one side of the bag all the way around to the other. A distinction between the two is that a splayed backpack normally has multiple compartments whereas a clamshell backpack will open into one main, larger compartment.

With a Splayed backpack, there might be several compartments for a laptop, shoe compartment, and main compartment. Because of the multiple compartments, the zipper on a splayed backpack won’t open all the way and so it won’t lay flat like a suitcase the way that a clamshell backpack would. Still, the large access area and ability to hold multiple compartments makes a splayed opening popular for tech backpacks for work and travel backpacks.

7. Satchel

This backpack is a hybrid between a leather cross-body bag and a backpack. It is focused on style and aesthetic and features a signature look of leather and rectangular shape.

Usage for this bag is mostly fashion, though a decent amount of items can fit in this bag. Key features of the satchel include the buckled top flap, front pocket, and backpack straps.

8. Knapsack

This backpack has a top opening that can be revealed by lifting up the fabric flap. Most of the time, the knapsack is made of waterproof or water resistant material. The bag is usually closed at the top with drawstrings. The shape of this bag is cylindrical.

Other key features include side pocket(s), backpack straps, and buckles. This backpack is perfect for inclimate days and can be used for both work and play.

9. Randoseru

This classic japanese backpack is known for its unique, hollow interior featuring firm leather and a front flap secured by leather straps. The use of this is mostly fashion, though in Japan is used as a backpack for a child attending school.

Other key features of the randoseru include standard backpack straps, a leather top handle, and buckles or magnets to hold down the leather flap on top.

10. Central Zipper

The central zipper backpack can sometimes feature a lid opening, which makes it similar to a lid backpack. A primary point of differentiation though, is that a central zipper backpack will have one main zipper that opens down the center and middle of the backpack’s front face.

This can be a convenient feature for travel and being able to easily access a backpack’s main compartment from one outer zipper. It’s a relatively newer type of backpack type that has gained popularity recently with the rise in minimalist packing and the “one bag” movement.

Further Reading

What Size Backpack Do You Need? The Backpack Size Chart

8 Types of Materials that Bags Are Made Of

100 Types of Bags, Backpacks, and Leather Goods You Should Know

When Was the Zipper Invented?

Vegetable Tanned Leather or Chrome Tanned Leather?