Back to School Guide 2016

It's August again. Summer's winding down, movies are starting to become less blockbuster-y, and you need stuff for school.

Dear class of (late) 2016 and beyond, let us — a team of post-college writers who all made questionable shopping decisions throughout their grade school and college days — help you find the best back-to-school supplies for class, the essentials for your dorm, and a few things that'll make hanging out at the quad more enjoyable. Sure, technology might have changed a bit since our glory days — and we've been following that part very closely — but some essentials never change.

(By the way, we're giving way a big chunk of our gift guide right now — enter here!)

Class

Ah, class. The reason you're paying good money for tuition. If it wasn't already, it's here that a laptop, not just your smartphone, becomes an extension of you and everything you do. Cherish the laptop. Worship the laptop. Don't break the laptop... and if you do, make sure everything is backed up.

Apple MacBook Pro

You may have to buy this through gritted teeth, because a long-overdue MacBook Pro update is likely to come later this year. But if you really do need a Mac for college, this is probably still the one you want — it has a far better screen than the MacBook Air, and is far more powerful and practical than the MacBook.

Starts at $1,299 / Apple

Acer Chromebook R11

Even if you need a full-on Mac or Windows laptop for school, you should still think about getting a Chromebook. They're great cheap knock-around computers, the kind of thing you aren't afraid to take on your spring break trip. Acer's R11 is the best of the bunch.

Starts at $186 / Amazon

Dell XPS 13

Just as the MacBook Air became the de facto Mac, Dell's XPS 13 is the de facto Windows laptop. It's thin, light, has decent battery life, and a big, beautiful display. It's probably the easiest Windows recommendation we've had in years. Don't worry about springing for the high-resolution touchscreen, though, you will be plenty happy without it.

Starts at $999 / Amazon

Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen

Because fountain pens make everything you write feel more important, and the Pilot is a totally decent and reasonably priced refillable model.

$19 / Amazon

Texas Instruments TI-36X Pro

You’re going to need a calculator at some point in college. The TI-36X Pro is the perfect mix of a scientific calculator that is simple enough to be allowed in almost any class, but still powerful enough to solve complex equations, integrals, and derivatives.

$19 / Amazon

Texas Instruments TI-36X Pro

You’re going to need a calculator at some point in college. The TI-36X Pro is the perfect mix of a scientific calculator that is simple enough to be allowed in almost any class, but still powerful enough to solve complex equations, integrals, and derivatives.

$19 / Amazon

North Face Access Pack

It’s hard to find a really exciting backpack, but The North Face’s Access Pack comes pretty close. The backpack has more pockets and pouches than you probably have devices to stuff it with, and some of them even have these nifty quick-grab tabs. Plus the backpack snaps open, so you can grab whatever you want faster than you’ll ever need.

$235 / The North Face

Amazon Basics Power Bank

Classes are long and Pokémon Go will drain your battery fast. This battery pack is small and light enough to slip into your bag and will keep your smartphone going through even the longest double-period lectures.

$20 / Amazon

Cotton bathrobe

A bathrobe exists to be the most comfortable outfit addition you own. It's just a bonus that it also feels like wearing a hug. Just the ticket for colds, hangovers, late-night paper writing, and yes, making a very weird statement about early morning lecture classes.

$58 / Amazon

Cotton bathrobe

A bathrobe exists to be the most comfortable outfit addition you own. It's just a bonus that it also feels like wearing a hug. Just the ticket for colds, hangovers, late-night paper writing, and yes, making a very weird statement about early morning lecture classes.

$58 / Amazon

Timex Weekender

There will be times in your life when you won’t want to wear a smartwatch. Whether you’re frantically wondering how much time is left on an exam or just looking to spiff up your look on a night out, wearing a real watch is never a bad choice. The Timex Weekender looks good, comes in a variety of styles, and (most importantly) won’t break your budget.

$36 / Amazon

Seagate Backup Plus Slim

Between your music, pictures, notes, essays, projects, documents, and movies, chances are you’ve got your whole life on your computer. So do the smart thing and back up everything early and often. Don’t be the person who loses their thesis when their laptop dies an untimely death.

Starts at $59 / Amazon

Mazama mug

You deserve better than the chipped, stained mug with your school’s logo that you got for free at orientation. Handmade in Portland, Oregon, Mazama’s mugs look great and will help keep your brew of choice close at hand as your deadline approaches.

$42 / Mazama

Mazama mug

You deserve better than the chipped, stained mug with your school’s logo that you got for free at orientation. Handmade in Portland, Oregon, Mazama’s mugs look great and will help keep your brew of choice close at hand as your deadline approaches.

$42 / Mazama

Dorm

If this is your first year in college, chances are you've downgraded your spacious bedroom to a shared box, a communal kitchen, and some very ingenious loft setups. Here's what you need when you're trying to stay indoors. And freshman, we promise you, the whole space thing gets better... unless you move to New York City, in which case the dorm room may in fact be larger than your first grown-up apartment.

Amazon Echo

You might not think you want a speaker you can bark commands at, but once you use an Echo you kind of don't want to stop using it. Plus, it's the perfect size to fill a moderately sized dorm room with music. It doesn't sound quite as good as the best speakers out there, but the voice control is second to none.

$180 / Amazon

Chromecast (2nd Generation)

Look, we get it, you are watching everything on your phone all the time. But if you happen to have a TV around, the Chromecast is the cheapest and easiest way to get Netflix on your device. Your phone is already in your hand, so you can just hit that Cast button to watch it on the bigger screen.

$35 / Google

Bonavita electric kettle

Coffee (and tea, I suppose) is an everyday part of adult life, so get started with a good electric kettle. This Bonavita lets you pick the exact temp for the water, so you can brew single origin beans (195–205 degrees Fahrenheit) or delicate white tea (140 degrees Fahrenheit) with the same device. And it will go to a full boil when you need that cup of noodles at 2AM.

$100 / Amazon

Bodum French Press

This press makes two cups of coffee, keeping the oils that filters often soak up. It's easy to use, classy, and perfect for late-night brewing.

$29 / Amazon

Gaiam yoga blocks, foam rollers

Whether you're a student / athlete or a student / slob, you're going to get the occasional ache or pain. Yoga blocks are great for passive neck, back, and shoulder stretches (if you're a keyboard jockey).

$25 for foam roller / Amazon

Gaiam yoga blocks, foam rollers

Whether you're a student / athlete or a student / slob, you're going to get the occasional ache or pain. Yoga blocks are great for passive neck, back, and shoulder stretches (if you're a keyboard jockey).

$25 for foam roller / Amazon

NASA Design book

NASA’s 1970s-era “worm” logo remains one of the best logos of all time, simultaneously appearing both futuristic and retro. But while the space agency has long moved on, spruce up your bookshelf with a copy of the design manual for the classic branding. (Note: this is also available as a PDF, if you prefer to own it digitally and save space.)

$79 / Kickstarter

Anker PowerPort 4

You have a lot of gadgets, it's okay. They're all powered by USB and your dorm room will be limited when it comes to outlets. Rather than fight with your roomie, just get this power hub (Anker makes the best ones) and leave the other plug for somebody else. You learned about sharing in kindergarten, you should keep doing it in college.

$50 / Amazon

Vornado fan

Chances are your dorm room won’t have AC, so you’ll want one of Vornado’s almost comically powerful fans. They’re designed to circulate air around the whole room, making everything cooler and helping you get some fresh air.

$29 / Amazon

Vornado fan

Chances are your dorm room won’t have AC, so you’ll want one of Vornado’s almost comically powerful fans. They’re designed to circulate air around the whole room, making everything cooler and helping you get some fresh air.

$29 / Amazon

Pandemic Legacy

Pandemic Legacy is a board game designed to be played only 12 to 24 times. As you play the game, sealed panels and cards will be unveiled and the game board itself gets permanently changed, making future rounds harder as your past mistakes come back to haunt you. Grab a group of friends and see if you can save the world together.

$70 / Amazon

Splendor

Sometimes you just need a quick break from class, and Splendor is perfect. A single round takes only around a half an hour, as you collect cards to create jewelry in this easy to learn but strategically deep game.

$40 / Amazon

Nerf blasters

Need a guaranteed way to meet friends in your dorm? Nerf war. Need to spice up a house party? Nerf war. Lazy weekend afternoon on the quad? Nerf war. Don’t get caught in the crossfire when the foam starts flying.

$30 / Toys R Us

Nerf blasters

Need a guaranteed way to meet friends in your dorm? Nerf war. Need to spice up a house party? Nerf war. Lazy weekend afternoon on the quad? Nerf war. Don’t get caught in the crossfire when the foam starts flying.

$30 / Toys R Us

Quad

Time between classes? Need an escape from your roommate? This is the quad's raison d'être. It's a place to meet and play frisbee, watch others play frisbee, watch that one group in the corner try to learn bocce, and maybe get some reading done while enjoying fresh air.

UE Boom 2

If you're going to buy a Bluetooth speaker (and you should, they're great), you should get the best one. The UE Boom 2 is waterproof, the right size, and gives you great sound for a great price.

$200 / Amazon

Sony MDR-XB50 earbuds

Seeing as they're only 30 bucks, Sony's XB50 earbuds are a pretty fantastic deal. They're stylish, have a built-in mic for phone calls, and will still fit comfortably in your ears. Most importantly, they sound much better than Apple's EarPods.

$30 / Amazon

Beoplay H6 headphones

Want the best-sounding headphones to go along with your smartphone? Beoplay's second-gen H6 headphones offer incredible sound quality and top-notch comfort. At $299, they're not a cheap buy, but headphones are one of those gadgets worth splurging on. Walking across campus never sounded so good.

$299 / Beoplay

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

There are a few different models of the Kindle, but the one in the middle is the best one to get. The screen looks great, the battery lasts forever, and it weighs next to nothing. Don't sweat the cheap one or the super expensive one, neither is worth it.

$120 / Amazon

Fujifilm X70

The Fujifilm X70 has a fixed lens with roughly the same point of view as an iPhone, only the larger sensor, cute design, and physical controls mean you'll find it much easier to take better pictures and have more fun doing it. There's no zoom, but that's no problem — just get closer.

$699 / Amazon

Fujifilm X70

The Fujifilm X70 has a fixed lens with roughly the same point of view as an iPhone, only the larger sensor, cute design, and physical controls mean you'll find it much easier to take better pictures and have more fun doing it. There's no zoom, but that's no problem — just get closer.

$699 / Amazon

Polaroid Zip

Take a second and think about all the photos you've taken with your phone. How many of those have you ever bothered to look at again? The Zip printer gives you a chance to make a physcial connection with those digital memories — or, at the very least, print out something to stick on your mini fridge.

$130 / Amazon

Boosted Dual+

Electric skateboards are a thrill, but they’re also a luxury. The good ones are prohibitively expensive and the cheap ones are just not good enough to be worth your money. If you want an electric skateboard, Boosted makes the best one around. Just be sure to grab a helmet first.

$1499 / Boosted

Samsung Gear 360 camera

Anyone can take a selfie with a phone and selfie stick, but with the Gear 360, you can take a pic of yourself — and everything else — all in one shot. You'll need a Samsung phone to use it, but apart from that, the Gear 360 is at the vanguard of the next wave of media creation. Just think about how cool 360-degree snaps could be.

$375 / Amazon

Looq DG selfie stick

Your college years will most likely be the best-looking times of your life. Don't let anyone shame you into not taking as many selfies as humanly possible. Please, for the love of god, take as many photos as you can during this carefree time and savor your youthful good looks. Your future self will thank you when it comes time to choose a Tinder pic.

$13 / Amazon

Uniqlo ultralight down vest

I'm not the only staffer who rocks this coat. It's super light, perfect for camping, and can be squeezed into a tiny stuff sack. Perfect for spring and fall — or winter, if you're in California.

$50 / Uniqlo

Uniqlo ultralight down vest

I'm not the only staffer who rocks this coat. It's super light, perfect for camping, and can be squeezed into a tiny stuff sack. Perfect for spring and fall — or winter, if you're in California.

$50 / Uniqlo

Discraft Ultra Star Sport Disc

College and ultimate frisbee go together like dining halls and Pepto-Bismol. It works on the quad, at the beach, and even inside your dorm's common area — at least until an RA yells at you. The best part? You don't even have to be good.

$10 / Amazon

Snapchat towel

Don’t just stay dry, look cool. Whether you’re walking back from the shower, or relaxing on the quad, this towel will let everyone know that you really, really like Snapchat.

$25 / Amazon

Misfit Ray

We get it. You want to know how many steps you're taking when going from class to class and from house party to house party, but you don't want something that screams "I GO TO THE GYM!" I get it. The Misfit Ray is for you. It looks like a bracelet you might wear even if it didn't count your steps and track your sleep. And you never have to charge it because the batteries last six months or more.

$100 / Amazon

Fitbit Charge HR

Don’t fall victim to the dreaded Freshman 15. Sure, it may not win any beauty contests, but the Fitbit Charge HR packs a heart rate monitor, step tracker, calorie counter, and sleep tracker all in one device to help you keep in shape.

$150 / Amazon

The Underground Railroad

In Whitehead's newest novel set in the antebellum South, escaping slaves ride a literal underground railroad in their quest for freedom. Cora, the book's protagonist, journeys from state to state after escaping from a plantation in Georgia.

$14 on Kindle / Amazon

Company Town

A murder mystery about the last unaugmented woman on a futuristic oil rig city, who is also a master martial artist guarding a genius rich kid who is being threatened by Roko's Basilisk. Sort of.

$12 on Kindle / Amazon

You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine

Alexandra Kleeman's debut novel is dark, weird, and obsessive. A nameless narrator joins a food cult and slowly starts to lose the threads of reality. Kleeman's precise, unsettling prose makes even the most mundane tasks (like eating an orange) sound eerie.

$11 on Kindle / Amazon

You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine

Alexandra Kleeman's debut novel is dark, weird, and obsessive. A nameless narrator joins a food cult and slowly starts to lose the threads of reality. Kleeman's precise, unsettling prose makes even the most mundane tasks (like eating an orange) sound eerie.

$11 on Kindle / Amazon

I Love Dick

The title is sincere: the protagonist "Chris" is in love with a man, "Dick," who is not her husband. It's been read by hip women since its publication in 1997 and is now becoming a TV show for Amazon.

$9 on Kindle / Amazon

All the Birds in the Sky

Two childhood friends, a boy with a time machine who's into science and a girl who talks to birds and learns magic, cross paths as they go through life — and try to stop the apocalypse. Why choose between sci-fi or fantasy when you can have both?

$13 on Kindle / Amazon

Saga

Boy meets girl, fall in love, have a kid, and move into a tree that’s also a spaceship. But they’re on opposite sides of an intergalactic war, forcing them to go on the run from soldiers, bounty hunters, and a robot prince. Think Star Wars, but better.

$10 for Volume 1 / Amazon

Saga

Boy meets girl, fall in love, have a kid, and move into a tree that’s also a spaceship. But they’re on opposite sides of an intergalactic war, forcing them to go on the run from soldiers, bounty hunters, and a robot prince. Think Star Wars, but better.

$10 for Volume 1 / Amazon

Credits

Art Director - James Bareham

Designers - Frank Bi, James Bareham

Developer - Frank Bi

Editorial Leads - Ross Miller, Michael Moore, Michael Zelenko

Contributors - Sam Byford, Dieter Bohn, Chaim Gartenberg, Andrew Hawkins, Dami Lee, Elizabeth Lopatto, Sean O'Kane, Lizzie Plaugic, Adi Robertson, Dan Seifert, Chris Welch

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