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 hiking daypack or travel bag. (We have separate reports on purpose-built hiking packs and laptop bags.) Price isn't always the best indicator of quality; our best-reviewed models range from $20 to $100.
You won't necessarily get better quality in an expensive backpack, but you usually get more extras, like 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.
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.
Adults should choose packs for carrying capacity and fit too, but they may shop with the full range of activities they intend to pursue in mind. The best packs will serve you well in everything from bike commuting to traveling and hiking.
If you have orthopedic problems or frequently haul a heavy load, you might prefer a wheeled backpack. Some are even specially sized for children. Most have tuck-away straps so you can wear the pack on your back while navigating crowded areas; smooth-rolling inline-skate wheels and telescoping handles let you pull the pack behind you when terrain and crowds allow.
Some are specially sized for children.
Ultimately, the very best packs will offer enough easy-to-access storage to hold everything you need, be comfortable on your back or rolling behind you and hold up well to years of use.
ConsumerSearch evaluated dozens of reviews from both experts and owners to guide you in choosing the best backpack for anyone -- from the youngest tot just starting preschool, to the adult commuter who needs to keep his valuable electronics safe and dry. We take into account performance, comfort and durability to find a backpack that will be a good fit for any life stage or activity.