A Guide to Different Backpack Styles – 10 Shapes & Their Purpose

Did you know that there are 10 types of backpacks?

One of the basic factors to think about when choosing a backpack is good shape. Style is just a bonus. How it serves the purpose of why you bought the pack should matter first. This guide to different backpack styles will help you classify a few different shapes and functions.

woman carrying a red backpack

There are over a million, if not more backpack designs and shapes. Although all backpacks illustrate the same shape of their content, each shape has a certain purpose intended to meet the needs of a user. It has to do with how many compartments the user wants, where he wishes the zippers are located, or how easy to open the bag.


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A Guide to Different Backpack Styles and Their Functions

The significant difference between all types of backpacks is their size, content organization, and of course, color and looks. So let’s take a peek at the different backpack style, their definitions, and their purpose.

1) Classic U-Shape

People, Girl, Bag, Backpack, ClothingThe U-shape is the most common backpack shape the world knows. It got its name from its form which is a U-design believing it can provide a wide space to put all your essentials in. This shape until now has been and is still serving its purpose to people extremely well. The big BUT here is if it comes with slots or dividers to make organizing items smooth and easy.

Normally, U-shape backpacks include a large compartment opened by a zipper from the front. Like any normal U-shaped bag, it intends to put everything all together in the main large compartment – no partitions in between. There can be a small pocket on the front as well and in some cases, side pockets. If you notice, a typical U-shape backpack has its extra slots outside of the bag.

2) Roll Top

Headphones, Earphones, Photo, Camera, Casual, BackpackThe seal design of a roll-top bag is its main difference as it is closed by rolling the intended excess of fabric at the top of the bag. The sides of a roll-top pack often come with a clip on top of the backpack or buckles that are attached to the webbing strap anchors for proper sealing.

Since roll-tops have a unique design, you have to close the bag wrinkle-free so that the sealing strips are pressed together. Hold the strips together, push to “burp” out trapped air, and seal.

A roll-top has a cylindrical body shape to promote better posture and comfort. This backpack is commonly used by cyclists when traveling or by hikers and campers due to the opening design that allows adjustments when they have to carry bulky items. With one roll, everything is inside your bag. No zipping or tying is needed.

3) Rucksack

Bag, Backpack, Rucksack, Backpacking, Retro, TravelerRucksack functions the same as traditional backpacks with one large main compartment that is accessed from the top. Historically, the rucksack is second to U-shaped backpacks as smaller pockets are located on the outside front, but instead of a zipper, it has a buckle and flaps to secure your essentials. Their main feature is its overall durable craft that is made of waxed canvas or technical material.

Rucksacks are typically considered larger backpacks with specific designs like detachable pockets. These packs are more often used by the military for their sustainability options. Rucksacks have one main area for entry which is at the top compared to a backpack’s multiple entry points. Since a rucksack is better in carrying heavy loads over a longer period of time, they come with chest or hip belts to support carrying a heavier load.

4) Drawstring

Backpack, A Gym Bag, Closing, BagAlso known as cinch bags, a drawstring backpack design has a closure at the top using a tie consisting of a cord that goes through a seam around an opening. Once pulled, it closes the bag. The flexible container with a single opening makes it a favorite gym pack. It forms a nice triangle shape when sealed and a convenient square when fully opened.

Drawstring packs are less structured than backpacks. The purpose is to easily accommodate bulky objects like sneakers, extra shirts, and towelettes, a lunch box, or a water jug. The best thing is that these bags are super easy to clean at home and depending on the material, they dry fast, too. Drawstrings are so far the most lightweight and affordable of all backpack shapes.

5) Clamshell

flat-lay photography of DSLR camera in backpack on wood parquet floorThis one has the front-loading trend where the entire front portion of the bag can be opened vertically wide to allow easy packing and unpacking. Compared to a pack that opens like a suitcase, the clamshell packing is arranged vertically on top of each other. That means it’s the perfect option if you need to carry electronics like laptops, tablets, cameras, and other fragile devices.

Clamshells are easier to organize as the extremely accessible design helps you take out or pack an item without moving anything else around. This also makes a great pack if you need to bring large stuff like a blanket, towel, pillows, or other items that require an entire space to conveniently fit in.

6) Splayed

Hand Luggage, Hand Baggage Regulations, PassportBackpacks with a splayed shape work in the opening where a zipper extends from one side of the bag all the way around to the other side. The term splayed which means “outspread” is similar to a Clamshell opening. But unlike the clamshell’s only one large main compartment, the Splayed has individual compartments for a laptop, shoes, and other essentials.

Since the splayed opening offers many compartments where you can see everything when you open the pack, this is the best teacher backpack for conferences and out-of-town seminars that lets you carry all your things in a well-organized and elegant manner – just like a suitcase. A clamshell’s front-loading accessibility is every organized person’s bag come true.

7) Satchel

Backpack, Vintage, SkinThis bag is commonly used to carry books and folders so the files don’t get crumpled. But nowadays, it has become popular for its classy, and rectangular shape that includes straps, buckled top flap, and typically in a V-form from the center of the back of the bag, rather than separate straps on each side.

A satchel pack is known as a crossbreed of a leather body bag and a backpack. Mostly used for fashion, satchel packs are (if not often) made of leather material. This backpack is popular in European and Asian countries as a small bag with a classy signature.

Satchel backpacks today already come in unisex designs for a unisex model. This is your go-to bag if you’re looking to travel to a place for a day and take so many Instagram-worthy pictures there.

8) Knapsack

Woman Wearing Backpack Standing in Front BuildingSimilar to a rucksack, a knapsack can be opened by lifting its buckled top flap. The only difference is that the knapsack is much smaller. This is perfect if you just want to bring a small number of things. Knapsacks are mostly cylindrical in shape.

Though small, they are durable, robust, and lightweight so it’s an ideal bag to use when you’re planning to hike. The fabric used for the knapsack is almost always waterproof so if you’re looking to go to the beach and just have fun without having to worry about your things getting lost, I recommend a knapsack.

9) Randoseru

The Randoseru is a race-related backpack originally used by Japanese school children. The first Randoseru bags were used by Japanese soldiers and eventually got the name “ransel” from the Dutch which means a backpack. Its overall shape and style can organize books including essential items like shirts and even shoes.

A Randoseru style is a pack made of a thick cushioning back panel, covered in soft, breathable fabric. It has wide side panels that are also reinforced with an internal layer to keep its square-like shape for maximum space capacity. While its pig-hide leather is heavy, top manufacturers today have made them look and feel tough but a bit lighter, waterproof, and more resistant to everyday wear and tear.

10) Central Zipper

As the name suggests, the opening of this backpack is a big zipper in the center that opens up and down giving you easy access to the things inside. It’s not as popular as the other backpack shapes mentioned above but it’s slowly gaining popularity in the minimalist community. With its ease of access, busy professionals like teachers will enjoy using it for school or to travels.

The central zipper design though opens in the backpack’s front face allowing you to complete access of contents from top to near the bottom. The style helps reduce the amount you need to unzip and open up the bottom of the bag.



Choosing a backpack these days can be eluding. While there are different terms used, the truth is all of them function the same – they are worn at the back. Their main differences come with the style, shape, compartment, and closure, which we have discussed above.

My pick is the Splayed backpack. A pack that comes with partitions, slots, and pockets makes a well-organized bag. I like the thought of smooth packing and locating your things easier in one look. Other than it saves you from scrambling your stuff looking for a pen, the individual compartments and pockets will keep your belongings safe because you know where they are.

I hope this post alleviates you from the endless debate regarding which functions best, a rucksack, a backpack, a knapsack? Here’s one hint: the moment hesitation or puzzlement comes in the middle of your shopping; think that all of those bags in front of you are backpacks that simply come with some twists. Those twists are the shape, compartments, zippers, slots, and even color, which only you can decide upon.


So, which among the backpack shapes do you already have or are planning to get? You might need some help deciding, let us know. Leave your comments and we will be happy to help.