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Blog, Lifestyle

College Commuter Backpack Essentials

It’s August now which is basically the Sunday of Summer. Soon it’s going to be time to spend long days on campus again. I’m headed into my final semester of college and graduating in December. I’ve spent three years as a commuter in college, so I think I have a pretty good grasp and what you do and do not need. I’m here to tell you all the college commuter backpack essentials that you MUST have to make your time easier.

Even if you’re not a commuter, you may want to keep these college backpack essentials in mind. There are going to be days when you don’t have time to run back to your dorm or apartment to grab something you forgot for class. Plus, that won’t really fly in college. If you forgot your essay back home/dorm, don’t even ask if you can go get it.

However, this is mainly put together with commuters in mind because that’s how I chose to do my college experience. I live about 15 minutes away from my university which doesn’t sound too bad but it’s also just not close enough to run back home if I forgot something. In fact, I learned pretty quickly what I don’t need to bring with me to campus and what I actually need to have with me.

For example, on my first day of being a freshman, I just thought I could use my backpack from high school, which only had one large pouch and no drink holder, and just bring my purse and I would be fine. Nope! I had a three-hour gap between my first and second class so that day I went home and made some adjustments right away. Not to mention, I was also late for my first day. But that was more of a newbie freshman parking problem. But yeah, try not to be late on your first day.

College Commuter Backpack Essentials

Here are the must-have college commuter backpack essentials! It may seem like a lot of things but if you think about how much stuff you had in your locker during junior high and high school, it’s kind of like that. A portable locker…I guess.

Picking a backpack

I’ve linked some of the best college backpacks here. You’re going to want to pick ones that are durable, a lot of different pouches and sections, have drink holders, and fit your style. I made the mistake, as I mentioned before, of thinking I can use the one from high school. It was a big mistake. It just didn’t work for how many things I needed to have with me and get to quicker.

Reusable water bottle

Not only is it better for the environment but it makes it easy to fill up at any water fountain around campus. Especially on those warmer days when some buildings are ice cold, some are warm and stuffy, and all the walking in between those buildings. Plus, if you get the stainless steel ones you can bring one with water and one with coffee. And if you don’t drink coffee yet, you will soon.

Notebooks, binders, and textbooks

Even if you are more of a notetaker on a laptop, some professors have a strict no technology policy so it’s best to always have some paper to write on. As well as you retain information better when you write it out. The binders are optional, that’s just how I have found it easiest to organize everything for my classes. And bring your textbooks to class, please. No one likes having to share there’s with the person who conveniently always forgets to bring it. Even if you don’t need it in class, bring it. You have to kill time between classes anyways. Might as well make it productive.

college commuter backpack essentials

Pencil case

Pencil cases sound lame and like the things you always bought for elementary school. But they are everything. I bought this one in gray my freshman year and I’m still using it so it holds up.

You’re going to want to stock up on…

  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Extra lead
  • Highlighters
  • Sticky notes
  • Paperclips
  • Permanent marker
  • Flash drive
  • White-out

The SOS case

I created my SOS case halfway through my sophomore year when I started to learn I would need things and be mildly inconvenienced when I learned I didn’t have them.

You’re going to want to have…

  • Pads/Tampons
  • Ponytail holders
  • Advil
  • Bandaids
  • Lotion
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Travel deodorant
  • Chapstick
  • Tissues
  • Bobby pins
  • Cough drops
  • Prescription medicine (if you have it)
  • Touch-up makeup if you want

Wallet + loose change

Don’t lug your purse. It’s too much stuff. Throw your wallet into your backpack and you’re good to go. Make sure that you also have some loose change with you for vending machines and pads/tampons.

Packed lunch + snacks

Packing your lunch is cheaper than buying something on or off-campus every day. It’s even cheaper than a meal plan. Schools are already taking so much of your money so bring your lunch. And snacks. Bring so many snacks.


Headphones are required for some classes so it’s best to always have them on you. Plus it’s great for listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks obviously.

college commuter backpack essentials

Sweaters + umbrellas + hats + gloves

Some buildings can be absolutely freezing when temperatures are still scorching. So, it’s always a good idea to bring longer layers you can take on and off. Umbrellas are often overlooked when packing your backpack. But they will be your lifesaver when you come out of class and see it’s pouring down rain so you don’t have to book it across campus and get soaked.

If you go to school somewhere that gets colder weather, make sure to always have a winter hat and gloves in your bag.

Laptop + laptop charger + phone charger

A lot of campuses have free charging docks, but don’t rely on those. Make sure to bring all the technology and chargers you need for the day to keep you worry-free that your things are going to die. It’s also best if you purchase a laptop case for your backpack just as an added protection.

Index cards

Index cards are your best friend in college. Some professors let you use note cards during exams. They’re great for studying and creating speech outlines. Stick a pack in your bag, just in case.


I’ve raved about using planners for school and life, in general, here where I talk about other helpful college habits. They have been my life-line since I was in junior high. Basically, buy a planner and thank me later.

Must-Have College Commuter Backpack Essentials Checklist

And there you have it. Those are my college commuter backpack essentials! I agree that it sounds like a lot of things, but what you think you don’t need will be the one thing you really need.

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