The 5 best backpacks for students

As a high school teacher, I’ve seen a lot of backpacks in various states of decay, so I understand how crucial it is to locate a bag that can be used every day.
For children and teenagers, the appearance of a backpack is far more important than its functionality, so finding one that is both durable and well-designed, as well as suitable for all of your child’s school supplies and lunch box, is a difficult task. Most students today require a secure spot in their backpacks to store a gadget such as a Chromebook or iPad.
I combined my expertise as a teacher and student with advice from an occupational therapist and two teachers to help you choose the ideal backpacks for your kids, whether they’re preschoolers or college students. I also did some research and testing on the best backpacks available. In our “what to look for” explainer, you’ll find recommendations for picking a good backpack.

Here are the best backpacks we suggest:

The 5 best backpacks for students

The best preschool backpack

Wildkin 12-Inch Backpack
Pros: It’s the right size, there are a lot of design options, it’s simple for small kids, and it comes with an insulated food pocket.
Cons: Padding is thin, and it can only be spot cleaned.

The Wildkin 12-Inch Backpack is the perfect size for the tiniest of students, and it comes in a variety of exciting patterns that preschoolers will love.

This Wildkin 12-Inch Backpack is the perfect size for preschool-aged children. It also comes in a variety of interesting colors and designs, such as Pink Horses or Dinomite Dinosaurs, to help kids feel enthusiastic for their first day of school.

Because of its simplicity, we were struck by this backpack for preschoolers. It just features three pockets: one main pocket, one front pocket, and a water bottle holder, making it simple for small children to pack and unpack. Because the smaller front pocket is insulated and can hold food and snacks, you can use this bag instead of a lunch box. We were able to fit all of our preschool supplies mentioned in our methodology in this backpack with room to spare, despite its simplicity.

One disadvantage of this bag, especially for preschoolers, is that it can only be spot cleaned. However, none of the water splashed on the bag during our water-resistance test made in to the main compartment. You should be able to keep this bag in good shape if you clean spills as soon as they occur. The interior of the insulated pouch may be cleaned with mild soap and a moist rag.

The Wildkin Backpack includes padded straps and a padded back, although they were a little thin for us. Preschoolers, on the other hand, aren’t usually required to carry hefty books in their backpacks, so this isn’t a deal breaker.

The 5 best backpacks for students

The best elementary school backpack

Cat & Jack Kids' Backpack from Target
Pros: Affordable, with a variety of patterns, a chest clip, and a reflective strip
Cons: This item is not machine washable

The 17-Inch Cat & Jack Kids’ Backpack from Target comes with a reflective strip for bus stop safety and satisfies all of an elementary schooler’s needs at a reasonable price.

The Cat & Jack 17 Inch Kids Backpack is the ideal backpack for your young scholar, combining ergonomics, affordability, and cuteness. We found this backpack to be fairly comparable to other, more expensive children’s backpacks during our testing.

Although this backpack is small enough for young backs, it’s still big enough to accommodate standard-size folders, notes, a laptop, and whatever else they would need for elementary school. For youngsters who need to tote iPads, computers, or other devices to and from school, there is a great device sleeve.

Many primary school students spend hours, sometimes in the dark, waiting for the bus. A luminous strip on the Cat & Jack Backpack keeps kids safe at the bus stop.

The straps were thinly padded, but the back featured a considerable layer of cushioning. This backpack also contains a chest clasp, which is useful for spreading the backpack’s weight.

You won’t be able to wash this backpack like most other backpacks. It’s simply clean on the spot and wipe clean.

The 5 best backpacks for students

The best middle school bag

L.L.Bean Original Book Pack
Pros: Machine washable, with a reflective strip, this bag is the perfect size and organization.
Cons: There is no device compartment.

The L.L.Bean Original Book Pack is well-organized, the perfect size for middle school students, and it’s machine washable.

For decades, thousands of schoolchildren have relied on the L.L.Bean Original Book Pack. The main section of the backpack is large enough to hold notebooks, folders, and lunch boxes, while the little front pocket is ideal for pencils and other small objects. It provides just enough space for middle school students to bring what they need without allowing them to overpack.

The L.L.Bean Original Book Pack is a wonderful option for this audience because younger kids may not be carrying as many stuff to and from school. If your child is approaching the end of middle school, however, you should consider our high school recommendation instead.

We were dismayed to see no gadget sleeve or compartment in this backpack when it came to organization. Consider obtaining a separate sleeve or case for your middle-schooler if he or she needs to bring a gadget to and from school.

Middle school parents can rest easy knowing that this backpack has a huge reflective strip to make youngsters more visible to cars while waiting at the bus stop. A padded back and straps are also included.

Another reason to be happy as a parent: In a mesh laundry bag, the L.L.Bean Original Book Pack can be machine washed (it will need to line dry).

Although L.L.Bean offers personalization choices, we recommend against having your child’s backpack personalized with their name, nickname, or initials. This is a security risk because outsiders will have access to information about your child.

The 5 best backpacks for students

The best high school backpack

North Face Jester Backpack
Pros: Ergonomic design for comfort, numerous pockets and organizational features, lifetime warranty, chest clip
Cons: This item is not machine washable.


The North Face Jester Backpack is an iconic backpack with an ergonomic design and a lifetime warranty.

Today’s high school pupils are infamous for their hectic schedules. Some of my students used to come to school at 6 a.m. for sports practice, then went to class, volunteer activities, or even part-time jobs, and didn’t get home until late at night. They’ll need a bag that can keep up with them, and they’ve found it in the fabled The North Face Jester is ready to take on the challenge. This bag easily held all of the high school materials in our space test with plenty of room to spare.

High school students also want backpacks that can support textbooks while also protecting pricey electronics. I’ve seen pupils wearing backpacks that had broken straps, zippers, and even holes because they weren’t up to the job.

This tough bag has a padded laptop sleeve in the rear and is ergonomically intended to safeguard their developing backs. The backpack has a chest clasp and a well-padded back and straps. Chest clips, according to occupational therapist Karen Jacobs, program director of online post-professional OTD at Boston University, can help alleviate weight off the shoulders, especially for older children.

The North Face Jester Backpack is available in a variety of colors and sizes for both men and women. It’s also backed by the North Face’s lifetime warranty, making returns simple and hassle-free.

The backpack is composed of breathable material and has reflective panels on the outside. Because The North Face does not encourage machine washing its backpacks, you’ll have to clean this one by hand.

The 5 best backpacks for students

The best backpack for students in college

The North Face Recon Backpack
Pros: Professional appearance, padded device sleeve, and ergonomic chest and waist clips
Cons: It’s not machine washable, and the back is a little stiff

The North Face Recon Backpack has a sleek, professional appearance, but it’s still roomy and durable enough to hold all of your belongings.

Instead of bringing textbooks to class, college students usually bring laptops and notebooks. They may not require a backpack that can withstand mountains of textbooks, but they do require something that is both durable and fashionable. Furthermore, many college campuses are huge, requiring students to walk several miles each day in certain circumstances (shout-out to my alma mater, Penn State). The North Face Recon Backpack checks all of these boxes and may be used as a professional bag as well.

A medium-sized main compartment, a front mesh pocket, two water bottle pockets, and a padded cell phone pocket are all included in the backpack. A padded gadget sleeve is also included in the main pocket.

The chest and waist clips are a big selling point for this backpack, as they can assist distribute weight more evenly and relieve pressure on the shoulders during long walks across campus. The only issue we experienced with this backpack’s comfort was that the back is a little stiff and may become unpleasant after a long day.

The straps of the backpack are well-padded. If it gets soiled, you won’t be able to wash it like most other backpacks. Only spot clean the North Face Recon.

This backpack is also a wonderful option for someone who does not usually use the bag for school because it has a basic style on the outside. Use it to seem put-together while carrying your items around the workplace, as a carry-on, or anyplace else.

Our backpack testing procedure

Each was placed through a set of four tests, which are detailed below:

Space

  • We prepared each bag with the following items to ensure it could accommodate all the kids needed:
  • We packed a tiny water bottle, lunch box, extra set of clothes, and a couple kids toys in our preschool bags.
  • We packed a water bottle, lunch box, folder, notebook, book, and iPad in our elementary school backpacks.
  • We packed a water bottle, three-ring binder, notebook, textbook, and laptop in our middle school, high school, and college backpacks.

All of our finest options fit each item well for its age range, with plenty of room to spare.

Resistant to Water

Things get spilled by kids. It’s unavoidable. We dumped 3 ounces of water on the outside of each backpack to see how it would hold up to spills. We checked the interior of the bag for any dampness after five minutes. Inside, all of our top picks were bone-dry.

Comfort and Ergonomics

Backpacks must be comfortable, especially when they are heavy and used by children all day. We looked for cushioned straps, a padded back, a chest clip, and/or a waist clip in each backpack.

Organization

We counted the number of pockets and compartments in each backpack, as well as the organization of the pockets, the presence of a device sleeve, and the presence of water bottle pockets.

What else do we suggest?

Jansport Big Student Backpack: Jansport has a long history as a leading backpack manufacturer. The Big Student Backpack isn’t intrinsically bad; it just wasn’t as nice as some of the other backpacks we examined. This bag is ideal for students who bring a lot of items to school.

Jansport Superbreak: Jansport is a dependable and trustworthy backpack brand. We found this backpack to be quite basic, with no gadget compartment and minimal padding. It is, however, the most affordable high school bag we investigated, making it a viable alternative for those on a tight budget.

The Amazon Basics Sport Laptop Backpack is one of our favorites; it has enough of storage and organization, and it passed all of our tests with flying colors. We had to leave it off our list because it was out of stock at the time of publication.

The L.L.Bean Junior Original Book Pack is a good bag for smaller kids with good organization, padding, and a fluorescent strip. We didn’t include it in our top 10 because it was quite similar to our top pick but cost $10 extra.

What we don’t advise

Pottery Barn Teen Gear-Up: The Pottery Barn Teen Gear-Up backpack is a fashionable alternative with a variety of patterns to choose from. Water that we spilled on the cover leaked right through to the main compartment, therefore it failed our water-resistance test.

Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie: The Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie, like the Teen Gear-Up backpack, failed our water-resistance test. It’s especially critical for smaller kids to pass this exam because they’re more likely to spill stuff on their backpacks.

Kane Kids Backpack: Like many of the other primary school backpacks we evaluated, the Kane Kids Backpack functioned admirably. It came with a gadget sleeve and lots of storage space for school essentials. However, it costs more than any of the other primary school backpacks we looked at.

Fjallraven Kanken: The Fjallraven Kanken is a very popular backpack. While it passed our tests, it fell short of expectations. The backpack’s material is extremely thin, and it doesn’t feel nearly as strong as our top picks.

What to Look for When Purchasing a Backpack

  • While personalized backpacks are wonderful for youngsters, we strongly advise against putting your child’s initials or name on it, as Jacobs and teacher Whitney Rancourt both believe. Knowing your child’s name provides an ideal opportunity for child predators to appear kind and familiar. Jacobs also advises reflective backpacks to keep students safe while waiting for the bus or walking to and from school.
  • A backpack should not weigh more than 10 to 20% of a student’s total body weight, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The backpack’s size should match the size of the person. Jacobs also suggests seeing your child’s back as a rectangle and making sure the backpack fits comfortably within that rectangle. As a result, she also suggests purchasing a backpack that your child can try on, whether in-store or from a retailer that offers free returns.
  • Look for a backpack with a padded back and large padded shoulder straps for comfort and support. Narrow straps that dig into shoulders, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, can impede circulation and create pain. Jacobs also recommends investing in a ventilated backpack. She also suggests that older children use a chest or shoulder strap to help alleviate the weight off their shoulders.
  • A good backpack should feature many inner and exterior pockets for organizing stuff in addition to the main space. Water bottle holders, laptop pockets, charger pockets, key chains, and pencil pockets are all popular features. Many students carry electronics in their backpacks, therefore a water bottle compartment is essential to avoid water pouring on the device. According to Jessica Prohias Gardiner, a learning specialist at LREI (Little Red Elisabeth Irwin) High School in New York City, “organization systems (compartments that fit folders, pens, erasers, and every school supply in between) are important — especially for children who might have executive functioning issues.”
  • Appearance: We all know that kids prefer cool backpacks, but striking a balance between cool and utilitarian is crucial. “Avoid backpacks with sequins or glitter embellishments that won’t hold up to ordinary machine cleaning,” Rancourt advises. “By the end of the year, the most eye-catching backpacks in the first week of school frequently look the poorest.” She also believes that backpacks should be washable, as kids frequently store them in filthy locations.

What is the best way to pack a backpack?

Jacobs gave some great advice on how to carry a backpack that isn’t overly heavy and comfortable for students:

  • Place the heaviest object in the back.
  • Check your child’s backpack on a daily basis to make sure he or she isn’t carrying needless goods.
  • The night before, prepare your backpacks.
  • To assist goods stay in place, use compartments.
  • Backpacks should be packed on a table or an elevated surface. This makes packing and putting it on your child’s back much easier.
  • If your youngster complains that his or her bag is too heavy, look into why and what might be removed. Most schools can supply digital textbooks as well as supplementary copies of books for students to keep at home.

Jacobs also stressed the significance of speaking with your school’s occupational therapist if you have a problem with backpacks.


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