The 10 Best School Backpacks
This wiki has been updated 30 times since it was first published in March of 2015. These days, kids have to carry around a ton of stuff on their way to and from school, including books, laptops and sports gear. The backpacks on this list offer enough space for everything, a variety of pockets for organization, and attractive designs, so they can show a little flair. Many are equally suitable for hiking trips and as carry-on luggage, too. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
May 17, 2019:
Joining the selection is the Vancropak a-001, which features a thoughtful design that includes spots for your books, laptop, phone, water bottle, sunglasses, and cards. It’s also lightweight and budget-friendly.
We also added in the ProEtrade Bookbag, which offers a handy USB charging port and anti-theft back pocket, and it’s ergonomically designed, with S-curve shoulder straps and chest straps. We removed the Beyle Laptop and the Fallout Vault Tec 111 due to their lack of availability.
The North Face, Dakine Mission, and Adidas selections moved up on the list, thanks to their durability, ample cushioning, and an array of well-placed pockets. They’re all also versatile enough to be used for a variety of activities in addition to school, including sports activities and hiking. We removed the Beyle Laptop and the Fallout Vault Tec 111 due to their lack of availability.
EggKids Maja This colorful pack will brighten your little one’s morning and have him or her skipping out the door to preschool. It's made with dirt- and water-resistant Vinylon, and features two side pockets for water bottles. There’s also a handy, dedicated spot for a card listing your contact information. It's available in four vibrant colors, and each features a cute animal friend. Eggkids.com
Pottery Barn Gear-Up This bag is playfully designed, yet ultra-cool, and comes in tie-die, camo, outer space, and pixilated patterns that your middle-schooler will love. There’s a place for all of his or her important belongings, to help stay organized and on track. They’re made with water-resistant polyester, with durable stitching and padding to protect a laptop. Pbteen.com
Compartmentalize Your Life
Since they are often designed around carrying books and school supplies, the first consideration in building a backpack should be the size of the main compartment.
A backpack is a simple thing. It's got zippers, pockets, a main compartment, straps, etc. Each one is like a canvas for manufacturers to try to capture a potential aspect of personality, something that will resonate with a buyer either for aesthetic or practical reasons.
Since they are often designed around carrying books and school supplies, the first consideration in building a backpack should be the size of the main compartment. Sometimes that compartment will be subdivided for organizational purposes or to hold an electronic device like a laptop or tablet. After that, anything is possible.
Over the years, more attention has been paid to the negative effects a heavy backpack can have on a kid that has to haul it back and forth to school every day. This is why so many bags for kids and adults nowadays have front straps that go across the chest and/or the waist.
Those extra straps came to school bags from the hiking packs worn by those crazy people that want to live outdoors a few weeks each year. When properly adjusted, the horizontal straps take the weight of the bag off of your shoulders and back, and place it squarely on the top of your hips, allowing your core and your legs to do the heavy carrying.
If you've never had the pleasure of reorienting your bag weight to your hips, do yourself that favor.
Put Your Back Into It
Full disclosure: My sister designs children's backpacks and school accessories as a career, but none of her designs made into our top five list or our top ten video. Better luck next year, sis.
I also bring that up because she's spoken to me at length about the practical sacrifices that manufacturers often make in the name of a look they think will sell.
I also bring that up because she's spoken to me at length about the practical sacrifices that manufacturers often make in the name of a look they think will sell. It's a competitive marketplace, and kids stand a significant chance of being bullied for having the wrong bag.
While adults don't necessarily have to fear that kind of bullying landscape, we do have to contend with all the fashion and beauty demands our media place on us, along with their attendant social anxieties.
That's why it's important to teach your kids, or to teach yourself, the most important rule of fashion: Be you.
Choose your bag with your heart, not your head. Don't worry about what other people are going to think. If you love how you look in whatever you're wearing, it'll look good on you, and people will take notice. That is, I guarantee, how it works.
A Storied Way To Carry Books (While We Still Have Books)
In the early parts of the 20th century, kids carried their books bound up in leather belts, generally called book straps. The straps turned a stack of books into a single mass that could be swung over the shoulder with relative security.
This was particularly useful in those days, since kids had to walk to an average of 10 miles to school in up to five feet of snow. Uphill. Both ways. You know, "Back in the day."
But those square shapes persist in a major part of the industry today.
Then came the canvas backpacks of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, which had zippers on them pretty much from the outset. This make was the standard until nylon was introduced in the 60s. The material changed then, but the design was much the same.
I grew up in the 90s, when the only backpacks anybody wore were Jansports. If you didn't have that brand, you were weird. It was plain as day. Little did we know that the company reached back to the late 60s, when two outdoors enthusiasts wanted to make professional packs, but they didn't own a sewing machine.
The story goes that one of the men offered to bring a woman named Jan on board and he fell in love with her, eventually offering to name the company after her if she'd marry him.
It wasn't until the 70s that anyone thought a book bag should be cut and shaped to fit books. I guess sales were good enough up until then that nobody cared to innovate. But those square shapes persist in a major part of the industry today.
In recent years, as more classrooms have converted to digital technology, and as that tech gets smaller and more interconnected, backpacks have begun to shrink. In time, their era will come to an end, and we'll be the ones out on the porch with mason jars full of freshly squeezed lemonade telling stories of the good old days.