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best backpacks for high school
A backpack is an important part of your child’s school accessories. Backpacks come in hundreds of different styles, shapes, sizes, and materials. The best one for your child will change as your child ages.
We outline the best picks for Pre-K students , elementary school students , middle school kids , high school students , and college students or young professionals.
When I was a kid, I looked forward to the annual back to school shopping spree every August. I’d usually snag two new pairs of jeans (most often Levi’s), a pair of boots, a couple of shirts, and the necessary array of notebooks and other school supplies. And every few years I’d get a new backpack.
These days, backpacks come in hundreds of different styles, shapes, sizes, and colors. They’re made of different materials and have a wide variety of features, including multiple pockets and compartments to house not only books, lunches, and sweatshirts, but laptops, phones, and other high-tech devices, too.
The choice of backpacks can also be a fashion statement. From the younger set, who may pick a bag displaying one of their favorite characters, to teenagers opting for a sleek and sporty look, a backpack is an important daily accessory and another chance to express your unique style.
How to pick the right backpack
There are many considerations to think about before purchasing a school backpack and they change as your child ages. Here are some of the main things to keep in mind:
- Price and longevity: How long do you expect a backpack to last? If you buy a poor quality backpack for less, it may not last as long and you’ll have to replace it earlier than you would a pricier, more sturdy option. Our picks can last for years before your kid either outgrows them or wears them out.
- Size and capacity: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a backpack not “weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight.” The size of the backpack should correspond accordingly.
- Comfort and support: In recent years, there has been a big emphasis on support for the back. In fact, school backpacks are now built more like hiking backpacks because so many children were complaining about tingling in their arms and numbness after lugging around heavy backpacks. Look for a pack with a padded back and wide, padded shoulder straps once your kid hits middle school and starts carting around textbooks.
- Features and organization: Besides the main compartment, the backpack should have multiple interior and exterior pockets for organizing items — especially for older kids. Popular features include water bottle holders, laptop pockets, key chains, and reflectors.
We’ve combed through expert and buyer reviews to find the best backpacks for every age group from pre-school to college and beyond. Read on to check out our top picks. You can also find our guide to all the school supplies your K-12 student needs and all the college dorm supplies your college kid could possibly want .
Here are the best backpacks for back-to-school students:
- Best for pre-school: Dabbawalla Backpacks
- Best for elementary school: JanSport Superbreak
- Best for middle school: L.L. Bean Deluxe Plus Book Pack
- Best for high school: North Face Recon
- Best for college and professional life: JanSport Odyssey Daypack
Updated on 07/19/2018 by Owen Burke: Updated formatting and pricing. Added our guide to everyday stylish backpacks.
Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.
The best backpack for pre-school
Why you’ll love it: Dabbawalla’s backpacks are the perfect size for young kids, and they come in tons of fun styles.
All the bags in Dabbawalla’s colorful line of pre-school backpacks feature a sturdy grip handle, wide zipper openings, and cushioned straps that adjust from the inside and can be pulled tight when carried as a tote. In addition, they are all crafted from toxic-free neoprene, a foam material that is degradable, recyclable, and most importantly, washable! Every bag is individually sewn in Taiwan by a family-owned and operated sewing facility that supports fair labor practices.
But it’s the brightly-colored, whimsical designs that have attracted a cadre of loyal fans. The soft, rounded bags come in more than 20 different patterns, including a kitty , an owl , a cow , a shark , a plane , a panda bear , and a lady bug .
These bags are sized specifically for pre-school. The 10 x 9 x 7-inch bags will not hold a standard 9 x 12-inch portfolio, but they can contain everything your kid needs for pre-K. Each bag has subtle differences, but all of them have at least one outside pocket and several inside mesh pockets. Many of the backpack designs are also available with a matching insulated lunch bag for an extra $18.
User reviews on Amazon are mainly positive. “I love this! It’s very cute, soft, perfect for my son’s lunch at kindergarten and made with non-toxic materials. It is kind of small but it fits perfectly what we need,” wrote Julia G. on April 1, 2015.
Across the web, parenting bloggers, including Alpha Mom , Natural Mom Gear , and Mommy Kat and Kids , recommend Dabbawalla backpacks and lunch bags for their high-quality materials and adorable designs.
Pros: Stylish and unique designs, easy for kids to open and close, sustainable and eco-friendly
Cons: Some users think the bags are too small and get dirty easily
The best backpack for elementary school
Why you’ll love it: The JanSport Superbreak backpack comes in tons of fun colors and patterns and it holds just enough gear for elementary schoolers.
JanSport is still the go-to backpack brand for tons of school kids. The Superbreak backpack is sturdy, just the right size for elementary kids, and it comes in tons of colors and patterns. The list of options on Amazon is epic, so you’re guaranteed to find something your kid likes.
The backpack has a roomy pocket in the back that’s perfect for notebooks, folders, and your kid’s lunch box. The small pocket on the front is handy for pencils and other small items. It’s a lightweight bag, but it’s sturdy enough to handle anything your kid can throw at it.
There’s no laptop compartment or other padding, though, so don’t overstuff it. Since elementary-age kids don’t need those extra compartments or bells and whistles, the Superbreak is a good option for the 5-10 crowd.
Buyers on Amazon give the JanSport Superbreak high praise and an average 4.4 out of 5-star rating. The only complaints seem to be about durability, but broken zippers and split seams are rare. In fact, many reviewers say these backpacks last for years.
“As child number 3 is getting ready to start school we have bought yet another Jansport backpack! Not because of wear and tear but because it wears very well! My oldest — who is rough on her backpack — is going into 3rd grade and has used her same backpack since pre-k,” verified buyer Deidre A. Becker wrote .
JanSport’s Superbreak backpack is also the most affordable option in our buying guide, so it’s a good idea for parents on a budget.
Pros: Tons of colors and patterns, good size, sturdy material
Cons: No compartments inside
The best backpack for middle school
Why you’ll love it: The L.L. Bean Deluxe Plus Book Pack is durable, roomy, and comfortable, making it ideal for middle schoolers.
The L.L. Bean Deluxe Plus Book Pack has been a mom-approved favorite for more than 25 years. Made of strong polyester, with a nylon bottom, this roomy pack fits everything your middle schooler needs and then some. And with a padded back and adjustable ergonomically curved straps, it’s comfortable, too.
Dual main compartments, along with a fleece-lined interior pocket, help keep everything organized. On the outside, there are two side mesh water bottle holders and an integrated audio cord port. Reflective trim on the front and back of the bag provides 360-degree visibility to keep your student safe.
There are more than 50 user reviews on the L.L. Bean site, with an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars. A whopping 98 percent of users said they would recommend this product.
“I bought this backpack for back to school. It is amazing quality and has many different compartments. It has everything you need,” wrote one buyer on July 8, 2017.
Another buyer said she bought the bag on a recommendation, and her kids love it. “Another mom with four children who had used these through high school recommended it to me. She said it was the only backpack that ever held up for any length of time with heavy books and notebooks … My daughter started using this two years ago in the fall. She carries an enormous amount of things with her. I totally expected the straps to break during that first year. At the end of that year it looked brand new and was in great shape,” she wrote.
This backpack comes in seven colors, including brilliant blue, fresh mint, and red; or six prints including bold aqua paisley swirl or bold violet brush strokes.