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The 21 Things You Should Always Keep in Your Backpack

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Auburn chapter.

When I first started college, I came to class prepared like I was in high school. I had a 2-inch, three ring binder with notebook paper for each class, a couple of mechanical pencils and a whole lot of stress about succeeding in my first college class ever (THEA 1000: Intro to Theatre).

Three years later, I’m still nervous about succeeding in my classes (BIOL 5501: Recombinant DNA Lab), but I am way more prepared than my freshman self was. Years of accumulating backpack sweat, getting randomly rained on in between classes and showing up to test days sans Scantron and #2 pencil have taught me a lot about what someone needs to carry on a college campus in order to survive and thrive.

If you follow this guide and carry these things with you, then you will be prepared for almost anything on campus; hopefully, it will make your class days a little bit easier. 


1. Pack yourself some sweet or salty snacks. These are great for curing those awkward whale noises your stomach starts to make during that quiet class two hours after lunch. Also, if you are bad at scheduling like me and forget to give yourself time to eat breakfast in the morning, a granola bar or two is great for tiding yourself over until it is time to head out and chow down. I always pack a couple of granola bars, like Luna bars, and then I occasionally throw in something fun like trail mix or a candy bar. 

2. I cannot stress the importance of making and bringing your own coffee. If you are addicted to caffeine, it’s so much cheaper to buy a bunch of coffee grounds and some creamer than to stop by Starbucks every day and spend $4 on a fancy drink. Get yourself a travel mug with a lid that you can lock closed- this makes it easier on you later in the day because if you have some coffee left, you can just lock your lid and stick the mug in an inner pocket of your bookbag. 

3. Get a water bottle. There are water fountains nearly everywhere on campus. With all the sweating you will be doing by walking around campus all the time, you will need to stay hydrated. Another perk is that you can save your food money this way – instead of buying a drink at every restaurant on campus, just refill your bottle and save almost $2 every meal. Just imagine how many chicken nuggets you can buy with that money. So many nuggets. Lots of students like to decorate their bottles with stickers to show their individuality, so be creative with it. 

4. Breath mints are an invaluable addition to your backpack arsenal. You feel better when your breath is fresh, and everyone in your classes will appreciate you getting rid of your coffee breath in the morning. These will increase your confidence and make you feel fresh and clean whenever you want. 

5. Runny noses are the worst, but having a runny nose and not having tissues is absolutely unbearable. When you have an unexpected sneeze in the middle of class, you do not want to be that person who wipes her nose with notebook paper because that is all she has with her. Trust me. Get yourself a mini pack of tissues to save yourself from your own nose. 

6. Shield your eyes with sunglasses. With the weather being so unpredictable, a gloomy day can turn incredibly bright in a matter of minutes. You don’t want to be caught unawares on a day when all of your friends want to study outside with no sunglasses and burning retinas. They are so important.

7. When the winter winds whip your face on the way to class, you will want chapstick. There is little worse than chapped lips without chapstick, so keep some on you at all times to avoid chapped lips. 

8. Pain medicine is probably one of the most important things you should have in your backpack. When a stress headache comes on during 8 a.m. Organic Chemistry, you can feel better by your 9 a.m. Chick-fil-a break. When it is time for you to use item number 10 on this list, you can get rid of pesky cramps and function in classes pain-free. Definitely pack this item. 

9. Backpack deodorant is crucial. Come sweaty summer days when you trek miles across campus to bounce between classes, you are going to want some backpack deodorant. Even if you don’t want it, the people around you are going to want you to have some. If you want to smell better and feel better, throw in a stick of deo. 

10. You probably know this by now, but you definitely need to carry some tampons or pads with you. Even if you are pretty regular and can tell when your Aunt Flo is coming to visit, you should still carry some with you to help out your sistas who are less prepared. 

11. When I asked my friends what things I should add to my list for this article, everyone I asked said you should pack an umbrella. With such volatile weather, it can be sunny one minute and a torrential downpour the next. To protect yourself and your stuff from getting soaked through, you should definitely pack an umbrella. Get one that’s relatively tiny when folded up, like a Totes umbrella, so it fits in your bag easily. 

12. Since the whole reason you have a backpack is to attend class, you should probably bring class materials. This is really a matter of opinion on what you should bring to class – some people I know use notebooks exclusively, some just keep notes on their computers, some use composition books…there are endless possibilities. What I have found works for me is a 1-inch, D-ring binder for each class so I can three-hole-punch handouts and put them in with my notes on notebook paper. I pick a different color for each class, and I keep the colors consistent. For example, Immunology is purple, so on my Canvas page I have changed the color of Immunology to purple, and all my computer files for the class are tagged with a purple tag. But really, you just have to try different things and see what works for you. 

13. As a science major, my calculator is one of the best things I have kept with me at all times. When your phone calculator just won’t suffice, nothing beats a good old scientific calculator. I normally keep two in my bag, that way if I’m in a class where we have a test requiring a calculator, I can lend one to a friend who forgot theirs. If you have something that your major regularly requires, just keep one or two of them on you at all times and it will make your life so much easier. 

14. You should always keep things like your iClicker on you at all times. I have learned that even if you need something like this only on certain days, it pays to keep it with you all the time. You are more likely to forget something small like an iClicker than something large like a notebook, and then your attendance points for that day have just gone down the drain. This goes for any small thing you need for class – just keep it in your bag all the time and then you can’t forget it. 

15. One of my most recent purchases has been a portable phone charger, and it has been a lifesaver. A battery life-saver. During the school year, my phone is constantly picking up emails and texts (and more recently, Pokemon), so the battery dies quickly. With a portable charger, you are not anchored to a wall. You are free to continue living your life with the added bonus of more battery life.

16. Earbuds are great for listening to music on the way to class and they are kind of a universal sign telling others that they should not approach you. The possibilities are endless for walking down the concourse without being approached by someone to join their club, for watching Netflix between classes without interruption, or for listening to some chill music on the quiet floor of the library. 

17. A pencil case for your writing materials is great because it allows you to keep all of your pens and pencils in one place without littering the bottom of your backpack. I normally carry a bunch of my favorite pens for note-taking, a couple highlighters for between-class studying, and several #2 pencils for test days.

18. Your best connection to your classes and your professors is your laptop, and it pays to carry it with you. Even if you are like me and you refuse to take notes on a laptop, you should still carry it because it allows you instant access to Canvas, to your professors’ emails, and to things like word processors so you can do homework during class breaks. People are constantly using their laptops on campus, and you should too – it could allow you to increase your productivity in breaks between classes. 

19. I call this bag my library bag. It contains mostly Expo markers and a few highlighters. Expo markers are great for library trips because there are so many whiteboards you can use to study with, and if you bring your own you do not have to go check them out from the desk. Plus, you have way more colors. These could stay in your backpack, or you could just leave them at home and take them with you when you go to the library. I keep mine with me because there are so many occasions where I make random trips to the library, but they are definitely useful to always have on hand.

20. My planner is my baby. Seriously, life before this thing must have been a total mess, because now my life is entirely color-coded and easy to read. Planners are great if you are a little scatterbrained and overwhelmed like me – you can just write down all your assignments and obligations without having to remember them consciously. I keep mine color-coded with several different pens (which I keep in my pencil case). Red is for tests, pink is for work, green is for extracurricular activities, blue is for fun stuff, purple is for school, and black is for crossing things out. But just like your class materials, planning is a matter of figuring out what works best for you, I just definitely recommend you do it. 

21. One of the best decisions I have made with respect to keeping things in my backpack is definitely my test folder. In it, I have a couple of exam blue books, one green scantron, and at least 10 blue scantrons. Most of my classes use blue scantrons, and you have to bring your own. Come test day, I am usually really popular when people forget their scantrons, and it never hurts to have people owe you one. Keeping this with me all the time allows me to help my friends in other classes who have tests, and there is one less thing for me to forget to bring to exams. 

Did I miss anything? Have any other recommendations? Leave us a comment!

Meghan is a senior at Auburn majoring in microbiology and minoring in journalism. She has been a contributing writer for Her Campus since her freshman year of college, and she absolutely loves it! Her life is made up of alternating periods of stress and relaxation, but full of joy. She loves octopi, Dr. Pepper and strong jawlines.