Very few backpacks are sized to fit a small child's frame and big enough to hold a full-size notebook or folder, which your child usually needs to carry starting in kindergarten. Of these, the 915-cubic-inch Lucky Bums Dragonfly 15 (*Est. $50) stands out for its comfort and safety features, including a hip belt, sternum strap, reflective loops on the pack's external cinch strap and a padded, ventilated back panel.
The Dragonfly 15 is marketed for ages 9 and up, but reviewers say it's sized more for a small child's body and barely large enough to hold a 1-inch binder (parents say that large binders don't fit). Parents also say this pack's fabric feels a little thin, and it receives only average scores for durability and water resistance in a series of independent tests. There isn't enough feedback from reviewers to be sure how the Dragonfly 15 holds up over time.
Reviewers say the 954-cubic-inch L.L.Bean Original Junior (*Est. $30) is just big enough to hold what your child needs during "those early elementary years." It's designed for ages 4 and up. Kids like the padded straps, but it doesn't have a hip belt or sternum strap to keep things stable. Several parents write that one of these packs served several kids in turn (as each outgrew it). However, some note that the zipper can get caught on the flap of fabric designed to cover it.
If durability is your primary concern, choose the Original Junior until the Dragonfly 15 establishes a track record; but if ergonomics and comfort are more important, the Dragonfly 15 is tops.