What’s in My Backpack: A Tour of the Gear I Pack Now (And What I Used in College)

I’ve had a few requests to do a video that goes through the gear I pack in my bag, so here it is!

As an independent author, speaker, and video producer, the gear in my bag represents the work that I regularly do. My backpack accompanies me most often to coffee shops or to Gravitate, an awesome co-working spot in Des Moines.

I also take it with me when I travel to conferences and speaking engagements, as well as the odd shooting location when I want to include some cool b-roll in a video (my recent video on test-taking is a good example).

Those of you with keen eyes will notice that the word “class” is not among those locations. While I do still take classes on Coursera and do plenty of self-directed learning, it’s true that I’m no longer carting textbooks to classrooms on a campus anymore.

For that reason, I’ve also included an extra section to this video that covers things I used to pack in my bag, back when I was a student at Iowa State.

What's in My Backpack: A Tour of the Gear I Pack Now (And What I Used in College)

Here’s a Pinterest-worthy image for sharing this video 🙂

I’ve also included a list of the gear below, with links so you can check out anything that interests you. Some of them are referral links, which means I’ll get a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you use them to buy something.

If you’d like to find other gear, apps, books, and tools I recommend for college, the Resources page is where you’ll want to head.

If you’re unable to see the video above, you can view it on YouTube.

Full Backpack Gear List

My backpack gear

  • Minaal Carry-On backpack – a bag I backed on Kickstarter a couple years ago. While it’s amazing for longer-term travel, it’s probably overkill for daily campus use. I’ve actually backed an upcoming messenger bag on Kickstarter, which I’ll be switching to for daily use once it comes in – and as I mention in the video, I used to use Swiss Gear’s Synergy backpack, which worked perfectly for college and only costs $70.
  • Macbook Air 13″ (student discount link) – after switching to a Macbook Pro from a Gateway gaming laptop back in 2010, I became a fan of OS X when it comes to portable computing. If you’re looking for a comparable Windows option, though, the Dell XPS 13 is getting amazing reviews. For other options, here’s Laptop Magazine’s list of the best laptops.
  • iPad Mini – first generation, because I really just use this as a replacement for my Kindle. I used to do a lot of drawing a note-taking on it as well, but I’ve largely switched to paper these days.
  • Paperback book – I’ve almost always got one of the physical books I’m reading in my bag. The book in the video is Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance. If you’re looking for more book recommendations, check out my Essential Reads for Students list.
  • Notebook – my catch-all note-taking device. I create my weekly task plans here, write out lists of b-roll for videos, take notes on books and course content, flesh out business ideas, and more.
  • Sketchbook – non-lined paper for illustrations, such as the ones for Planning Mode vs. Robot Mode and the Student Budgeting Guide.
  • Folder – I use this to organize any random papers I get. Really comes in handy for organizing receipts on business trips before I get a chance to scan them into Evernote. As a student, you’ll probably need something more; I always used an accordion binder in college and loved it.
  • Logitech Presenter R800 – a presentation remote I use for speaking engagements. Connects to my laptop and lets me control presentations, and also comes with a laser pointer.
  • Mac adapters – I have a Thunderbolt-to-VGA for presentations, and a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet for when a place doesn’t have wi-fi.
  • Business cards – always have a few on-hand in case you meet someone at an event and want to make a good impression. I use Moo to print mine; they make really high-quality cards. You can check out my business card design tutorial if you’re interested in making your own.
  • Pens and pencils – I always carry two pens, just in case someone I meet needs one. It’s another way of making new friends.
  • Umbrella – trust me on this; always have one in your bag. The Minaal also comes with a waterproof covering hidden in a secret pocket, so I never fear the rain when I’m out with all my gear.
  • Hoodie – for coffee shops with crazy air conditioning.
  • Mac and iPhone charger – for obvious reasons.
  • USB cables – I keep a MiniUSB and a MicroUSB in the bag mainly so others who end up needing them will be happy, but also for charging the next item on the list.
  • Portable USB charger – I picked this up in Japan, and it was a life-saver. Running Google Maps all day to get around Tokyo can really sap my phone’s battery.
  • Earbuds – I love Apple’s earbuds, because I can make phone calls with them. Apparently you can get them on Amazon for 2/3rds the original price.
  • Tea thermos – because putting a mug in my backpack would spell disaster.
  • Plug strip – I always bring one of these along with a 2-prong to 3-prong converter when I travel, as outlets can be a highly contested resource in airports and hostels.
  • Skate tool – skateboarding was my favorite way of getting around campus.
  • Book flags – useful for marking terms and passages in books you don’t want to highlight.
  • Clicker – because some of my classes required it. (Not linking to anything because you should check your class requirements to make sure you get the right one)
  • Pick Four notebook – an awesome goal-tracking tool. Note: These must be out-of-print now, as they’re super expensive. Linking just so you can bookmark them, in case they ever come back. I definitely don’t recommend spending $90, as you could easily write goal progress in a regular notebook.
  • TI-83+ graphing calculator – required when I had math classes.
  • Textbooks – I guess I forgot to mention this in the video, but my bag often had a textbook or two in it, unfortunately.

What gear do you keep in your bag?

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Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

Hey there! Please note that some links in the article may be referral links, meaning that if you buy something through them, I'll earn a commission (at no extra cost to you). This helps to support CIG, but please don't buy anything unless you truly believe it'll benefit you! You can learn more here. Thank you :)

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  1. The picture is really cool to look at, As a traveler, I too have all these gears in my backpack always. I will never forget to take this backpack with me as this is going to help me at any critic situations. I hope this blog post is going to be a treasure for all the travelers around the globe.

  2. I’m still in high school but I carry a lot with me. I bring my chrome, notebooks, folders, textbooks, pens, pencils, my TI-36X solar calculator that I got from my eldest brother, and a small notebook with a monthly and daily planner. The planners are super helpful when it comes to remembering due dates and activities. The notebook I use to keep track of my homework. The only other thing I have is an extra notebook for when I read self help books, whether it’s your book to something else I”m reading I take a lot of notes otherwise I won’t remember what I read. Thus why I have so many pencils and pens.

  3. Highlighters. So many highlighters. And a little kit with tape and a mini stapler and stuff. And a 3-hole punch. Sharpies. Gum. Clipboards (for labs where I am out in the field running around). Food. Tissues. Eyeglass cleaner wipes. A unicorn. And I plan on getting one of those power banks, too. Oh, and my roommate has that same mug!

  4. A CPR pocket mask, we don’t do mouth to mouth anymore. Also, small medical kit for the minor cuts, headaches, and such. Toothbrush and paste as well, I have crazy hours and sometimes nap in my car for 20 minutes; good to freshen up afterwards. Oh, and hand sanitizer. Not a germaphobe, just work in EMS.

    Thanks for all your hard work, I’m going back to school at the age of 53 and all of this has helped.

  5. One item I couldn’t have done without this year was a spare t-shirt. It somehow ended up in my bag at the beginning of the year and I put it in the bottom of my laptop compartment. It has saved my laptop many times from where I have dropped my bag and it came in handy once or twice when I got caught in the rain or needed a change due to doing long hours in the summer.

  6. Good list! I have ha Fjällräven Rucksack 21. At all time I have a couple of protein energy bars, can’t lose my gains. Chargers for different devices, iPad, laptop, notebook, highlighter, whiteboard marker and pens, a pocket knife, USB memory, hand lotion, gum and a tote bag if I need to carry something extra (like when I’m shopping). Usually I also carry some books needed for classes and labs.

  7. Snacks! I always try to have some form of food in my bag when out and about, especially for this semester. Hangry is not a good state to be in during class. I also have my wallet and pack of gum stored in another smaller packet. If I didn’t bring a snack, I can buy something and afterwards I don’t have to worry about pieces in my teeth or bad breath.

  8. I’m going to be the one girl to say it. Tampons and sanitary towels! All the time. If you’re out all day and you or a friend happen to start their period, then you’re sorted.

  9. One of my staple back pack items is my planner! And a deck of cards because you never know when you might need those! Love your videos by the way!

  10. Awesome website! I have been a subscriber for a while but this is my first comment (woohoo lol). Love the content and how it applies to life beyond college as well. Thank you for sharing and your dedication!

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