The best backpacks of 2012 are a mix of radical new designs with old classics, plus a smattering of ergonomic features. While researching our updated report on backpacks, six models stood out as the best for specific populations, from toddlers to college students. (We have separate reports geared specifically toward hiking backpacks and laptop bags.) Click through the slideshow to see each of the best-reviewed models, plus two more that caught our eye as something special, and a bonus lunch bag.
Skip Hop Zoo Packs
best backpack for toddlers
Skip Hop Zoo Packs (*Est. $20) are perfectly sized to fit toddlers. The smaller compartment doubles as an insulated snack holder, and the entire pack wipes clean easily. Kids love the 14 brightly colored animal designs so much that they can't wait until it's time to put their Zoo Pack on.
Lucky Bums Dragonfly 15
best backpack for kindergarteners
The Lucky Bums Dragonfly 15 (*Est. $50) is actually marketed as an outdoor pack for ages 9 and up, but parents say it's an extremely comfortable fit for their kindergarteners. The Dragonfly 15 is just the right size for carrying a few full-size folders or slender notebooks. The hip belt and sternum strap are very unusual finds in this age range.
best backpack for elementary and middle-school students
The classic JanSport SuperBreak (*Est. $30) is the best-reviewed backpack for elementary and middle school students. Parents love how durable they are; kids say they're comfortable, and love choosing among the 50 different patterns and colors. If your child tends to doodle on his backpack, the black-and-white SuperBreak leaves him plenty of space to color in.
JanSport Big Student
best backpack for high school students
The JanSport Big Student (*Est. $40) is the top pick for high schoolers, thanks to its 2,100 cubic inches of storage space; padded, ergonomic shoulder straps; sturdy construction; and dozens of pattern and color choices that leave some kids wanting to collect a whole set.
The North Face Jester
best backpack for adults and college students
The North Face Jester (*Est. $55) is roomy, sturdy, and comfortable enough for use in college, at work, or as hiking daypack. Reviewers appreciate its combination of carrying capacity and easy access, plus the ergonomic shoulder straps and removable hip belt.
L.L. Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack
best wheeled backpack
Both children and adults love the L.L. Bean Rolling Deluxe book pack (*Est. $100) for its sturdy construction and smooth-wheeled ride. You can wear the Rolling Deluxe as a regular backpack, too. It's large enough to carry an adult-size load, but small enough for older kids to handle easily.
MadPax Spiketus Rex and Bubble Packs
Wacky and kid-friendly
The Spiketus Rex (*Est. 60 for full-size) and Bubble pack (*Est. 60 for full-size) caught our eye for their wacky, kid-friendly designs. They come in several sizes, including full-size or half-size backpacks, and a nibbler-sized lunch box. Preliminary reviews of these backpacks look good.
BenBat GoVinci Backpack
Art gallery on the go
The BenBat GoVinci backpack (*Est. $35) originates in the UK, but is already available in the United States via Amazon.com. It caught our eye for its hard-sided construction and the built-in clear display frame, where your child can display his (or her) latest work of art. The GoVinci also doubles as a table (the frame's clear surface becomes a flat workspace). Both the backpack and a trolley (wheeled backpack) version are projected to be available in Michaels and MET stores by December 1, 2012.
STATkids Health ID Lunch Bag
The food allergy alert
Lunchtime shouldn't be scary, but if your child has food allergies it's hard not to worry about what he might be exposed to at school. The STATkids Health ID lunch bag's (*Est. $20) bright red coloring, plus a clear plastic sleeve for displaying a personalized medical alert card, gives an extra measure of protection. The entire bag is insulated, with a top-grip handle and zip closure.