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School Backpack Reviews

By: Kelly Burgess on July 18, 2017

Editor's note:
JanSport, The North Face and L.L. Bean are highly respected makers of backpacks, so no wonder they take our top spots this year in our updated backpack report. They're best for elementary to college kids, though, so if you have a smaller tot, take a look at Skip Hop Zoo's adorable offerings.

JanSport SuperBreak Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Capacity (cu. in.) - 1,550 Water bottle holder - No Laptop storage - No

Best kids' school backpack

Reviewers say the JanSport SuperBreak backpack is a great choice for kids from kindergarten and elementary school age through middle school -- and even into high school. It's attractive, durable and holds a surprising amount of school supplies without bulking up. Padded shoulder straps help ramp up the comfort factor. The SuperBreak comes in a wide range of stylish colors and patterns and may be the only backpack your child ever needs. See our full review »

Buy for $31.75
JanSport Big Student Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Capacity (cu. in.) - 2,100 Water bottle holder - Yes Laptop storage - No

Best high school backpack

The JanSport Big Student gets top marks from owners when it comes to packing and organizing a large quantity of gear; holding enough books, electronics and accessories for the busiest high school student. Ergonomic shoulder straps help distribute the load for maximum comfort. The Big Student comes in a wide variety of cool colors and designs. Like all JanSport backpacks, it carries a lifetime warranty. See our full review »

Buy for $32.89
North Face Borealis Review
Also Consider
Specs that Matter Capacity (cu. in.) - 1,650 Water bottle holder - Yes, 2 Laptop storage - Yes

Best college backpack

For a college student, a sturdy backpack with secure storage for a laptop computer is virtually a must-have, and reviewers say The North Face Borealis more than delivers. The Borealis earns high praise for its comfort, durability and versatility. It's also water-resistant, making it a good choice to tote electronics. Reviewers particularly like the headphone port and exterior water bottle holder. It comes in a variety of color combinations.

Buy for $178.97
L.L.Bean Rolling Deluxe Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Capacity (cu. in.) - 1,935 Water bottle holder - No Laptop storage - No

Best rolling backpack

The L.L.Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack gets raves from reviewers for being comfortable to walk with and sturdy enough to carry everything your child needs. It gets high marks for durability, and many adults say they love it for travel. It comes in a wide range of colors and patterns for a stylish, versatile wheeled bag. Although it's wheeled, this bag also features padded shoulder straps for carrying like a traditional backpack. See our full review »

Timbuk2 Rogue Laptop Backpack
Also Consider
Specs that Matter Capacity (cu. in.) - 1,526 Water bottle holder - Yes Laptop storage - Yes

Commuter backpack

With a slim design, waterproof construction, and a dedicated laptop compartment, the Timbuk2 Rogue Laptop Backpack is a great choice for any type of commuter. It will keep your important papers and electronics safe and dry, and features enough compartments and compression options so there's no shifting of the load when you're making a turn on your bike or navigating the subway stairs. The Timbuk2 Rogue is top-loading and comes in five colors.

Buy for $45.99
Skip Hop Zoo Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Number of pockets - 2 Water bottle holder - Yes Padded straps - Yes

Best toddler backpack

Skip Hop Zoo backpacks are just the right size for a toddler or preschooler, with an exterior cup pocket that gets raves from moms and their kids. The padded shoulder straps are much appreciated for ramping up the comfort level. These backpacks come in more than two dozen bright, kid-friendly animal styles. Reviewers say Skip Hop Zoo Packs are durable enough to last for multiple siblings, and will still look like new after a run through the washing machine. See our full review »

Buy for $16.36

Types of Backpacks

Backpacks for Toddlers/Preschoolers

Backpacks for the very young should be very lightweight and simple to use. At this age, a plethora of pockets and compartments is more overwhelming than helpful, and may be impossible for little fingers to navigate. A small compartment for crayons and one large compartment for papers or a change of clothes for daycare is all they need. A side-mount water bottle holder is also a great feature for field trips, picnics or travel. These smaller backpacks are great for little backs, but usually are not large enough to hold an 8.5 by 11-inch folder.

Backpacks for Elementary Through Middle School

By this time, a child needs a backpack large enough to hold 8.5 by 11-inch folders or binders. The older the child, the bigger the binder. A few organizational options will help keep everything organized and easy to find. Padded shoulder straps help keep fatigue at bay.

Backpacks for High School and College

High school and college students often don't have time to stop at their locker between classes and have to carry their backpack everywhere they go. That makes good weight distribution, comfortable, ergonomic shoulder straps and durability even more important. Look for a good number of organizational options, including smaller compartments for electronic devices and cosmetics -- items college and high school students usually like to have on their person at all times. Some high schools -- and nearly all colleges these days -- require a laptop, so a laptop sleeve may be a necessity. Backpack-toting adults typically want the same things in a backpack, so the same considerations apply.

Rolling Backpacks

Rolling backpacks are great if you have orthopedic problems or frequently haul a heavy load. 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. However, many schools do not allow wheeled backpacks for various reasons -- either due to size restrictions, trying to control tripping hazards in crowded school halls, or because they prefer that children leave their backpacks in their lockers. Be sure to check with your school to see what the policy is. However, school aside, rolling backpacks are extremely popular with adult hobbyists, who find rolling backpacks a handy way to haul fabrics, craft supplies and the like, and travelers, who appreciate their ability to tuck under an airline seat or fit neatly into an overhead compartment.

Young or old, there's a backpack to suit your needs

Although backpacks are most often thought of as a means 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. There are a few important factors in choosing the right backpack, however. Organization features are key, but even more important is choosing the right backpack for the age of the person who will be carrying it. This will influence not only the type and number of pockets and holders, but also the weight and size of the pack.

Experts recommend that children carry no more than 10 to 20 percent of their bodyweight in a backpack, so, when choosing a child's pack, first look for a pack that's big enough to hold everything he or she needs for school, then work backward from there. It should fit your child comfortably now, but still leave room to grow so it can be used for more than one school year -- although don't expect your middle-school or high-school-aged child to agree to use the same backpack he or she took to preschool. It's nice if a backpack offers a range of color and pattern options; if a child gets to choose a favorite color they may be happier with the backpack overall.

Price isn't always the best indicator of quality. Our Best Reviewed backpacks range from $20 to $100, with some highly durable, lifetime-warranted 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 and dollar signs to the price, however, so consider whether you really need a lot of pockets and zippered pouches.

Finding The Best Backpacks
Our Sources
"School Backpacks"
2. Amazon
"School Backpacks"

There are few expert reviews or professional tests of backpacks. One exception is TheWirecutter.com, which did a roundup of laptop backpacks this year -- we used it to help us choose our best commuter backpack. We also spotted a couple of blog posts focusing on backpacks for toddlers.

However, owners are very passionate about their backpacks and we found thousands of user reviews for the top backpacks. This includes reviews from parents of young children, as well as many teens and young adults who offer up their own feedback. ConsumerSearch evaluated all of these backpack reviews to narrow down the choices for the best backpacks. We take into account performance, comfort and durability to find a backpack that will be a good fit for any life stage or activity.

Recently Updated
Backpacks buying guide

What every best Backpacks has:

  • Ample capacity.
  • Good organization.
  • Sturdy zippers.

Read More »

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