8 Back-to-School College Essentials to Keep in Your Backpack TipTechBlog


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$33 at Amazon


Hydro Flask 21-ounce, standard mouth

A good reusable water bottle

$15 at Walmart

hand sanitizer

Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer Refreshing Gel

Hand sanitizer

$10 at Target


Totes Water Resistant Foldable Manual Open Compact Umbrella

A folding umbrella

The back-to-school season might be behind us, but if you haven’t shopped for college yet, fret not. We’ve got you covered. These school supplies will still be useful as the year progresses. It can be hard to remember everything you’ll need, which is why we’ve created this list of things you’ll definitely want in your backpack.

This story is part of Gift Guide, our year-round collection of the best gift ideas.

Be prepared for whatever college throws at you this year. Having these items in my backpack gives me peace of mind, which can be helpful in your first year away from home. Learn from my college experiences (and mistakes), and don’t forget to pack these eight college backpack essentials.


James Martin/CNET

If you’ve seen the jokes posted on social media about college students and their emotional support water bottles, I’m here to report that they are 100% true. A good water bottle is key for a busy student to keep hydrated. I’ve tried a lot of different brands over the years, and my personal favorite is the 21-ounce Hydro Flask in my school’s colors, which also happens to be one of CNET’s top choices for best reusable water bottles.

white AirPods Pro outside of open case against red background

Sarah Tew/CNET

If there’s one thing that is universal about college campuses, it’s that they’re loud. Being able to block out noise in the dorms, libraries or on the quad is essential, especially if you’re like me and need quiet spaces to focus. Check out this CNET review of the best noise-canceling headphones for 2022 for specific recommendations. As an Apple user, the AirPod Pros are my go-to.

Four Anker 521 chargers are displayed near phones on a flat surface.


Leaving your dorm without your laptop and phone chargers is the number one way to ruin your day. Learn from my mistakes and avoid that dreaded 20% battery notification during your Zoom class by keeping an extra charger in your bag. Streamline your life with a multiport charger like this Anker model, which can charge up nearly anything (including a lot of laptops), thanks to its 65-watt power rating and multiple USB ports (both USB-C and USB-A are here, so it’ll work with nearly any portable gadget). 



Now that you’ve got the charger, don’t forget about the cables. iPhones and some Apple accessories use Lightning, while USB-C cables are becoming the standard for nearly everything else. Keep a handful of styles and lengths in your bag so you’ll never be caught empty handed.



Even in a digital world, where you’ve probably already spent a lot of money on a laptop, you’ll likely need a piece of paper at some point. Grab that spare notebook you’ve had for years but never used or treat yourself to a new, fun one. Throw in a pencil and pen while you’re at it too. 

hand sanitizer


No one wants to get a cold or the flu when you’re away from home and busy with schoolwork. That’s why I always kept a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with me while I was on campus, especially when I ate in dining halls. Grab this multipack and share with your friends (the hand sanitizer, not germs). 



Literally getting caught in the rain, while running late to class, miserable and wet, is just not part of the ideal college experience. Stick an umbrella in the outside pouch of your backpack, and watch with superiority (and dry clothes) during the first flash rainstorm of the semester.



Band-Aids, antiseptic, aspirin and other first aid items aren’t things you think about until you need them. Having a first aid kit in your dorm (or, even better, a small one in your backpack) will save you a lot of time and hassle in the future. Amazon sells complete kits like this one or you can DIY it. Either way, you don’t need to spend much to ensure you’ll be prepared.

More back-to-school recommendations

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