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

Advice from a real college student about the everyday essentials you actually need, the items you are most likely to forget and the cheapest places to find them all.

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

The back-to-school season is upon us. As you prepare to go back to school, there are some items that are an absolute necessity -- especially if you're going to be on a college campus. I'm currently a college student, and through a lot of trial and error, I've figured out exactly what I need in my backpack to make it through a full day on campus. 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.

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.

Amazon

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). 

CNET

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.

Amazon

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. 

Amazon

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, I still kept a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with me while I was on campus, especially when I ate in dining halls. Now, it's a must-have. Grab this multipack and share with your friends (the hand sanitizer, not germs). 

Target

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.

Amazon

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.

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