In this guide:
Whether you are sending your little one off to school for the first time, or have a tween returning to middle school, a good backpack can make or break their day. And their back.
While some things on your back-to-school list can be bought by pushing through a crowded aisle and throwing what you can into your shopping cart, a backpack requires a bit more thought. Your child wants to make a fashion splash with their backpack’s design, and you want them to be able to walk upright for the remainder of their lives.
We’re here to make at least one thing about back-to-school shopping easier. Here’s our take on the best backpacks and how to find them.
What to Look for in a Great Kids Backpack
Purchasing a backpack isn’t as easy as grabbing something cute and fleeing the store. Here are some things to consider while you shop.
There are certainly other types of school bags on the market, so what makes a backpack so great? Messenger bags and other types of bags that can be slung over one shoulder will naturally cause that part of the body to carry more than its fair share of pressure. A properly fitted backpack will help evenly distribute weight over the body, which is healthier for your child’s posture and overall well-being.
You want the top of the backpack to reach the base of the neck and the bottom to reach the top of your child’s hips. It should be firm against the body, not hanging too loose or low on the back. You never want your little one to be dwarfed by their backpack, and one that does not properly fit can ultimately lead to sore, even strained, muscles.
Padding and straps are crucial for comfort. When possible, make sure that at least the straps have some padding and are wide enough that they won’t dig into your child’s skin. Some backpacks also have padding on their backs. If you have a child who is going to be carrying around a heavy weight load, you might want to consider a backpack that has straps across the chest and/or waist for more even weight distribution.
So many things in life come down to having enough pockets. Consider what your child will be carrying throughout their day and make sure there’s plenty of room. Don’t forget, if they are going to pre-school or spending the afternoon with Grandma, then you’ll probably store essentials like sunscreen and a sun hat in the bag. A stylish backpack without suitable storage is a waste of money.
When loading up a backpack, remember that it shouldn’t weigh more than 10% of your child’s total weight. If you find your little one regularly carrying more than this, especially as they advance through school, consider purchasing a bag with wheels.
Now that we have some basics out of the way, let’s move on to our picks for your tots, kindergarteners, tweens, and teens.
Best Backpacks for Toddlers
Around the age of two, as your child is starting to strut their stuff with more confidence, it might be time to add a backpack to your toddler’s belongings. Whether they want to feel like a big kid on your vacation, carry their lunch to preschool, or pack up their favorite toys for a playdate, here are some of our favorite toddler backpacks.
This 3-dimensional backpack comes in several colors and designs, so your toddler is sure to have fun browsing. The material is lightweight and shock resistant, while also being stain and wear proof. It’s also environmentally friendly. An optional 32″ leash comes included, so you can keep your child close when going to crowded places.
Size: 9.1 x 5.1 x 9.8 inchesView on Amazon
This bag is 100% cotton and comes in ten designs, so you and your tot will have a blast picking out a favorite. It’s machine washable and can be closed easily with a drawstring pull. An additional magnetic snap adds extra security to keep those valuable toddler belongings contained and safe. You can adjust the straps as needed to get that perfect fit and send your tot off in style.
Size: 13 x 13.5 inchesView on Amazon
Best Backpacks for Kindergarten
Now that your little one is getting ready to step foot in a classroom, they’ll need a backpack that does more than just look cute. Here are some of our recommendations to get that academic career off to a strong start.
This polyester bag eliminates the need for a separate lunch bag; it has an insulated cooler that will keep your child’s lunch fresh and ready to eat. There’s also a side pocket to stash a drink throughout the day. Be aware that some parents find this bag too small, so if your kindergartener needs to pack heavy, you might want to look for a larger backpack.
As far as comfort goes, however, this bag delivers.
The straps are padded, as is the lumbar area of the back, and a chest strap offers additional stability and weight distribution.
Size: 14 1/2 x 10 x 5 1/5 inchesView on Amazon
Made from 600-denier polyester fabric, this backpack is durable, has a moisture resistant liner, and padded straps that you can adjust.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a side pocket to store a beverage. It does, however, have plenty of other storage places for pens, notebooks, and all the other odds and ends of school.
This backpack comes with a year-long warranty from the manufacturer.
Size: 15 x 12 x 7 inchesView on Amazon
You’re going to be paying a bit more for this bag, but it’s also going to grow with your child for a few years. Available in several colors, it has padded straps, a padded lumbar area, and a chest strap. It also has reflectors on its loop, side pockets for a beverage, and is large enough to hold school supplies and a lunch bag.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the array of designs you find in other bags, but it is a product that parents report lasting for years.
Size: 16 x 11.25 x 6 inchesView on Amazon
Best Backpacks for Middle School
Now that your little one is coming into their tween and teen years, it’s time for a backpack upgrade. Here are a few of our picks for your consideration.
This bag comes in several colors and with a lifetime warranty. It has plenty of pockets, including one that is padded and can fit a laptop up to 15″, as well as a separate phone pocket. The straps are padded for that extra level of comfort, and the product itself is lightweight.
This backpack is made from water resistant polyester and is a reasonably priced product that can grow with your child for years.
Size: 17.5 x 13.5 x 6.5 inchesView on Amazon
Available in several colors, this backpack comes with lots of storage, a padded back, and padded shoulder straps. It has side pockets, an organizer, and a media pocket on one strap. With all those pockets, it’s a bit disappointing that there’s not one specifically for laptops. That being said, this is an affordable backpack that parents report as being durable and comfortable for their kids.
Size: 18.5 x 12.5 x 8.5 inchesView on Amazon
This polyester bag has lots of storage for those books, notes, and folders. With two main compartment pockets, front pockets, including one with a utility organizer, and a side pocket for a beverage, your child will never be short on space. There is no chest or waist strap, which is surprising considering the price of the bag. The shoulder straps, however, are padded and ergonomically designed for comfort and weight distribution.
Size: 17.5 x 13 x 10 inchesView on Amazon
Hopefully, now that you have an idea of some good backpacks for your kids, that back-to-school shopping will be done in no time. If nothing else, the right backpack is sure to get your child excited to hop on that school bus. Well, at least for the first day. And who knows, maybe you’ll even have the house to yourself for five minutes in the mornings after you wave goodbye to your kids.