The Best Backpacks for Artists and Designers in 2021

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When people ask me what the best part of being an artist is, I immediately and without hesitation answer: “why, the cool backpack I get to carry, of course!”

But seriously, a good backpack is an absolutely essential kit for any artist, and getting the right backpack can make your creative and professional life so much easier.

What Makes a Good Artist Backpack?

Artists often want to easily carry art supplies, sketch pads, computers, tablets and phones, even easels and cameras, so we need a backpack that

  • Has lots of safe and protected compartments and utility pouches for art supplies
  • We want to make sure our laptop compartment is nicely padded and our oils don’t leak onto everything else
  • Is big enough for everything we need to take with us
  • Including our art portfolio, sketch pad, computer and/or laptop, even possibly our easel and pochade box
  • Is an overall well built and durable bag
  • We want our new backpack to last for years, and don’t want it to suddenly burst apart when fully packed
  • Is water resistant
  • We would hate to have our paintings all turn into watercolors after just a few drops of rain
  • Is easy to carry – these are big packs, after all, and we do have a lot of art supplies

Are there Different Kinds of Artist Backpacks?

Generally I see two basic types of artist backpacks:

  • En Plein Air, or just Plein Air, backpacks, which tend to be on the huge side, are designed to easily carry a large artist portfolio, canvas, easel and, well, pretty much half of your studio – everything you need to paint in “the open air.” I saw one that was so big I swear it had a special compartment for the kitchen sink!
  • Standard backpacks, which also generally need to be quite big, are designed to carry plenty of art supplies, a large sketchpad, a big laptop and/or tablet and, of course, a coffee flask. These aren’t designed for, or usually big enough for, an easel, pochade box or large canvases.

The huge Plein Air backpacks are never really stylish, and they can look a bit ridiculous on somebody with a smaller frame, but they are absolutely essential if you are doing outdoor art or simply like to go and paint anywhere and anytime you feel like it.

Plein Air backpacks can also be necessary for art students who are always bringing an easel, pochade box and large art portfolio between home and school.

Large backpacks are also oversized, but in a much nicer looking and more manageable way. They are good for almost any artist, and still have plenty of room for large artist portfolios, sketch pads or even some smaller or foldable easels, and can handle a large laptop or tablet with ease.

Does a Good Artist Backpack have to be Expensive?

The short answer: no, absolutely not!

But, of course, they can be. So many companies are making what they call artist backpacks, which look suspiciously like normal, everyday packs but cost sometimes quite a bit more. And so many buyer’s guides for the best artist backpacks feature just those packs, without apparently considering any alternatives.

But for the same money you can often find a much better made backpack that suits an artist perfectly but is actually made for everybody – and sometimes they are substantially less money!

So the focus of this article – The Best Backpacks for Artists – a 2021 Review and Buyer’s Guide – is different. We will include the four best En Plein Air packs designed especially for artists, but for standard artist backpacks we will only have a single one that is actually designated for artists, with the others being brilliant artist packs in everything but name.

How Can I Choose the Best Artist Backpack for Me?

If you are going to emulate the French Impressionists and set up your easel and paints in the great outdoors whenever inspiration hits you, or if you for whatever reason need to easily carry around a working studio, you are going to need a huge backpack, so you might want to concentrate on the Plein Air section of this buyer’s guide.

But otherwise, you should probably just get a good, large backpack, and you should be able to bring all of your artistic accoutrements with you wherever you go. Really? Accoutrements? I’m apparently still thinking about Monet and Cezanne…

Below you will find 8 different backpacks which I know to be of top quality materials and construction, all designed with artists and their needs in mind. You will find them divided into two sections:

Find one that fits your needs, your budget and your own sense of style, and you can rest assured that my recommendation is a great pack, functional, durable and highly reviewed. In fact, each and every backpack in this buyer’s guide of best backpacks for artists in 2021 will be a great value, a great asset and a great companion on your artistic journey.

Comparison Chart:
Best Backpacks for Artists and Designers in 2021

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The Best En Plein Air Backpacks for Artists in 2021

This is a Plein Air backpack, but it is a rare exception – it is designed to carry a pochade box, an easel and large canvases or drawing boards, as well as all your other art supplies, but it is actually quite compact and stylish, and suitable for use as an everyday backpack as well.

The Sienna Plein Air Ultimate is also an exceptionally well-made backpack, strong, durable and secure. It was clearly designed by artists and for artists, and everybody seems to find it extremely functional and useful, as well as easy to wear and easy to carry even when fully loaded.

The Sienna Plein Air Ultimate is more expensive than similar bags on our list, but its compact size, stylish design and superior quality, as well as its supreme utility, make it well worth the money.

Tall, wide and overall really big, with plenty of pockets and internal room for a tripod or folding easel, pchade box and art portfolio case or sketchpad up to 4K size, the Walfront 4K canvas portfolio backpack looks more like a proper Plein Air pack than the Sienna above.

But the Walfront 4K does share with the Sienna a very high level of material quality and superb craftsmanship, and should last for many years – even with heavy use.

If you want the best overall Plein Air backpack for artists on the market today, this very well may be the one. In fact, it is actually a bit more practical and useable in this respect than even the more expensive Sienna, even if not as attractive.

But they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if there is something beautiful about a truly top-quality piece of equipment then the Walfront 4K Canvas Portfolio Backpack is drop-dead gorgeous!

The next Plein Air pack in our buyer’s guide of the best artist backpacks in 2021 represents a remarkable value.

The Welldeal heavy duty portfolio backpack really lives up to its name, being one of the most durable and well-made bags I’ve seen. And it is perfectly designed both for utility – with all the compartments you need to carry an easel, art portfolio, canvases or drawing boards, paints and art supplies – and for comfort – with thick padded backpack and shoulder straps and a cushy side handle.

Anyway, with a name like Welldeal, it’s got to be good, and the Welldeal Heavy Duty Portfolio Artist Backpack is the best I’ve found for the price.

The lowest priced Plein Air backpack on our list of best backpacks for artists, the Transon Plein Air artist backpack gives up very little to the more expensive packs in terms of size, storage, usefulness, material quality or durability.

This roomy artist portfolio bag has plenty of space for an easel, canvases and boards, a pochade box and whatever other art supplies or materials you might want or need to carry, and its rigid frame and water resistant fabric will protect it all.

If you are on a tight budget, an art student or just starting out on your artistic journey, the Transon Plein Air Artist Backpack Canvas Bag may well be the perfect choice

The Best Standard Backpacks for Artists in 2021

Hex makes the finest backpacks in the world today.

I know that’s a strong statement, and there are certainly some very specialized manufacturers and packs out there that are even more expensive, tougher and better at what they are intended for, but I have never seen such quality or intelligent design in any other pack, especially when coupled with such an undeniably cool vibe – hey, we’re artists here, aren’t we?

Designed for a working professional artist, serious fine artist or amateur (including, of course, comic book artists!), the Hex X Jim Lee has all of the waterproof pockets you need, room for even large laptops, space for sketchbooks up to 11×17 and a lot, lot more. It even has a removable 11×17 art portfolio case that can be used separately.

Besides, come on! Jim Lee? Batman? Not just that, but when you see the Hex X Jim Lee Artist Backpack you’ll swear it’s the coolest pack in the world.

Hex’s motto is “Equip The Creators,” and the Jim Lee artist backpack is some of the finest equipment made today, and my easy choice for the best overall artist backpack in 2021.

Here’s the first backpack on our list of best artist backpacks in 2021 that wasn’t specifically designed with artists in mind – but when you use it you will swear it was.

The SwissGear 1900 ScanSmart backpack is an incredibly tough and durable pack, and has a huge laptop sleeve – for a notebook computer up to 17 inches – and a separate sleeve for a computer tablet. The front organizer pocket keeps your most used tools – pens, pencils and brushes – easily accessible, and there are lots of other pockets and compartments for everything else.

There are lots of other neat little features and gadgets included, and the overall design is thoughtful and intelligent. Plus, the SwissGear 1900 is remarkably comfortable, even when fully packed.

With plenty of room for big sketchbooks or artist portfolios and great organization overall, the tough and comfortable SwissGear 1900 ScanSmart Laptop Backpack is an ideal backpack for artists.

I’m giving some special love to Jansport here, and include not only the Big Student Backpack but in fact five of their remarkable backpacks. Artists tend to love them because they are strong, waterproof and roomy, with the trademark front organizer pocket seemingly designed with artists’ supplies in mind, and because – let’s be honest here – for all of their plain looks they are a bit of a fashion statement.

After all, over the years Jansport has remained one of the best, most loved and most highly reviewed backpack manufacturers in the world, with packs of timeless and highly functional design and superb craftsmanship.

So we are starting with the classic – the Jansport Big Student Backpack. Water resistant, big enough for larger sketch pads and lots of supplies, and nicely set up to organize all of your stuff, this pack also has a laptop sleeve for an up to 15 inch notebook computer. Plus it is available in 14 different colors, including a light blue with pineapples – what more could you possibly want?

The next Jansport on our list of best backpacks for artists can be a real spine-saver. We artists do tend to carry around a lot of stuff, and the Jansport Driver 8 Rolling Backpack not only has plenty of room for all of it – including a large sketchbook, 15 inch laptop and tons more – but wheels and a retractable handle, so we don’t have to carry that weight.

But if you really have a lot of stuff to carry, and even the two big Jansports may not be enough, the over-sized Far Out series might be just right for you. I certainly wouldn’t trust anything less well made than a Jansport to easily carry that much gear. There are three sizes: the Jansport Far Out 40 Liter Oversized Backpack, the Jansport Far Out 55 Liter Oversized Backpack, and the Jansport Far Out 65 Liter Oversized Backpack. If you need more room than that, you might consider getting a Volkswagen Microbus.

Probably the most popular backpack in the world today, the Jansport is also one of the finest, and offers a lifetime warranty, and these three models are absolutely great choices for any artist.

Our last recommendation for the best standard laptops for artists in 2021 is also by far the best value on the list.

The nice, roomy AmazonBasics laptop backpack can accommodate a notebook computer up to 17 inches, and has plenty of room for bigger sketchbooks, art portfolios and more. Lots of large and small compartments can help you easily carry and organize all of your art supplies, and the great design means they are all easily at hand.

This AmazonBasics backpack is strong, well built and very comfortable to wear. It is also incredibly highly rated, with an average customer rating of over 4.5 stars – and with nearly 13,000 reviews!

The least expensive pack I know of that I would entrust with all of my precious art gear, the AmazonBasics Laptop Computer Backpack is a really great bargain, and a really great artist backpack.

Conclusion: Who Makes the Best Backpacks for Artists and Designers?

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Hey, didn’t I answer this already? Hex! And the coolest!

But be that as it may, we all may not want to spend nearly three hundred bucks on a great artist backpack. And, as I’ve also already mentioned, we also may not want to spend a premium for one of the many other backpacks out there which are “made for artists” and have an inexplicably high price, even though they (unlike the Hex) seem about the same as one “made for everybody else.”

Plein Air backpacks are another matter – in that case it is, obviously, necessary to get one designed for artists – but whatever your needs are I think you will find that all of the backpacks I’ve selected are just ideal for an artist, and I ‘m sure that any pack you choose from my recommendations will serve you well for a long time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article – The Best Backpacks for Artists – a 2021 Review and Buyer’s Guide – and I also would love for you to visit my blog – Art Side of Life – for other buyer’s guides, as well as online courses, articles and lots of other resources.

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