Although backpacks are most often used to haul school supplies, a good-quality pack can be pressed into service as anything from a diaper bag to a daypack for hiking or travel. But with so many choices, how do you choose the best backpack for your needs? Experts say you should keep the following factors when shopping for a backpack:
Price isn't always the best indicator of quality. Our Best Reviewed models range from $20 to $100, with some highly durable, lifetime warranty bags coming in at about $50. That said, an expensive backpack will have more features: internal organizers, reflective detailing for better visibility, extra padding and sometimes a built-in laptop sleeve. All those extras add weight to the pack, so consider whether you really need a lot of pockets and zippered pouches.
Capacity is key. When choosing a child's pack, first look for one that's big enough to hold everything he needs for school, then work backward from there. It should fit him comfortably now but still leave room to grow. Weight also matters; experts recommend that children carry no more than 10 to 20 percent of their bodyweight in a backpack.
What do you want to use the backpack for? The best packs will serve you well in everything from bike commuting to traveling and hiking. We have separate reports on purpose-built hiking packs and laptop bags, but many of the bags in this report can do double duty.
If you have orthopedic problems or frequently haul a heavy load, you might prefer a wheeled backpack. Most have tuck-away straps so you can wear the pack on your back while navigating crowded areas; smooth-rolling wheels and telescoping handles let you pull the pack behind you when terrain and crowds allow. Some are specially sized for children.
ConsumerSearch evaluated dozens of reviews from both experts and owners to guide you in choosing the best backpack, from preschoolers to college students to businesspeople. We take into account performance, comfort and durability to find a backpack that will be a good fit for any life stage or activity.
Elsewhere in this report
Backpacks for Toddlers and Older Kids
What's the best backpack for your toddler or preschooler? Editors say Skip Hop Zoo Packs and Stephen Joseph Quilted are best. JanSport SuperBreak and Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie are the best kids' school backpacks.
High School and College Backpacks
What's the best backpack for high school or college? Editors say JanSport Big Student and North Face Borealis are the best high school backpacks; North Face is ideal for college.
Best Rolling Backpacks
What's the best rolling backpack? Editors say L.L.Bean Rolling Deluxe and JanSport Wheeled SuperBreak are top of the line.
What should you look for in a backpack? Editors suggest what features reviewers say are most important when shopping for a backpack.
Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top backpacks, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.