It's back-to-school season, and you can help your child put his or her best foot forward with a new backpack. Because this is something your child will be carrying every school day, you want to pick a pack that's sturdy, durable, and stylish. While your kid may want you to purchase a backpack based on looks alone, as a parent you'll want to consider a backpack's quality and features. We've created this shopping guide with all the information you need to pick the right school backpack. Our top pick is The North Face unisex Jester backpack, which includes plenty of compartments to keep your kid organized.
Considerations when choosing school backpacks
Standard backpacks are the most ubiquitous school backpack design. These basic models will hold books and binders in their main compartment. They typically feature at least one zippered exterior pocket for smaller school supplies or personal items. Backpack straps are generally padded for comfort and adjustable for size.
Laptop backpacks are becoming more popular in the technology age. They are modeled like standard school backpacks but with the added inclusion of a padded compartment that fits most laptops. If your child is toting a laptop or iPad to school, it'll provide peace of mind to know the device is protected in this interior space and separated from the rest of your kid's gear.
Two-in-one backpacks are convertible and can be used either as a shoulder/messenger bag or as a regular backpack. While not all parents will be fans of their children carrying a heavy book bag over one shoulder, older kids may prefer this look.
Wheeled backpacks come with a set of wheels and a retractable handle. They can either be worn on the back or rolled on the ground, much like a carry-on suitcase. This type is ideal for children with physical disabilities or other conditions that prevent them from carrying a heavy backpack. Be aware that many schools ban this type.
External size: While there is no universal sizing for backpacks, school backpacks often come in smaller sizes for children. Check the backpack's external dimensions to be sure it won't swamp your younger child or be too small for your bigger kid. Also, if your child has a locker, you want to be sure it won't be too large to fit inside.
Internal size: Factor in what your child will be toting to and from school — a lunch bag, sports gear, heavy textbooks, etc. — when considering the internal capacity of a backpack. You want to be sure your child can fit all his or her stuff in a pack. If your child has a locker where he or she can stow items during the day, you may consider a smaller capacity pack.
Compartments: Some backpacks only come with one single large compartment. This may work for elementary school kids. But when your child hits middle or high school having a backpack with multiple compartments will help them stay organized. Smaller compartments for keys and cell phones may help keep these precious items from becoming lost in the shuffle.
Style: As functional and practical as the backpack you choose for your child may be, if your kid doesn't like the way it looks, chances are it won't ever be worn. Fortunately, many quality brands offer a variety of colors and designs for you and your child to choose from.
School backpacks range in price from as little as $10 to upward of $100. You can find a reliable school backpack between $25 to $30.
Q. Is there anything else I should consider before buying my kid a school backpack?
A. Often schools have rules concerning backpacks. For instance, your school may only allow plain colors or require that the backpack fit into a locker. As aforementioned, many schools ban wheeled backpacks. You definitely want to check your child's school rules before making a purchase.
Q. I'm concerned my child is carrying too much weight on her back. What features should I look for to mitigate this?
A. A backpack with a waist strap will relieve some of the pressure from her back; however, often kids don't wear these straps because they're "uncool." Another option is a wheeled backpack, if your school allows it. For safety, your child shouldn't carry a pack that's more than 15% of her body weight.
School backpacks we recommend
Best of the best: The North Face Unisex Jester Backpack
Our take: A win-win purchase, this top-of-the-line pack offers a wide assortment of stylish colors and functional features.
What we like: Great for older kids who need lots of organized compartments, including one for their laptop. Name brand trusted for quality and durability.
What we dislike: For some, the interior is not spacious enough.
Best bang for your buck: Eastport Everyday Classic Backpack with Interior Tech Sleeve
Our take: A budget-friendly laptop-style backpack with bonus features.
What we like: Exterior side pockets can fit water bottles. Extra-padded shoulder straps. Zippered padded sleeve protects laptops. Also great for travel.
What we dislike: Could offer more exterior pockets and color choices.
Choice 3: JanSport Big Student Backpack
Our take: An attractive backpack featuring ample compartments from a trusted brand in the industry.
What we like: Sturdy — can last for several years of wear. Lots of pockets, including interior laptop sleeve and exterior mesh water-bottle pocket.
What we dislike: Zippers have a tendency to become caught in the fabric covering them.
Ana Sanchez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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