Buying a backpack for your kids' return to school? Well, as Alice Cooper didn’t sing: School’s! Back! After! Summer!, and while many parents and guardians will be breathing a sigh of relief, others will be dreading the sheer amount of stuff you’ll need to get for the new school term.
Not only that, but once you’ve bought the stuff you’ll need to buy a backpack to put it in. We can help with that bit.
Let’s find out how to find the best backpack for children of any age.
The best backpack for kids: what to look for
Backpacks are not created equal, and a badly chosen one could be a false economy. Here are some key things to consider.
Backpacks are often pressed into service for more than just school books: for example our 11-year-old often has to carry entire binders, while our 5-year-old carries sports kit. Will the backpack be big enough to cope with everything but not so big your child’s tempted to use it instead of their locker? Does it have dividers to keep wet socks away from school books?
Adjustable, comfortable straps are crucial. Padding is helpful and for some children the ability to clip the straps together can stop the backpack from falling off.
Material and waterproofing
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere sunny then water resistance isn’t a big deal, but if you’re in Seattle or Scotland it’s worth looking not just at the fabric but how it’s put together: uncovered zippers let water in.
If there are water bottle pockets, are they deep enough for an ordinary bottle or will it fall out? If it’s mesh, is the mesh strong and reinforced at the top so it won’t wear out?
That white or blush pink backpack looks lovely hanging on a rail. Will it look so good after it’s been dropped in the dirt and a few pens have exploded inside it? Even wipe-clean fabrics might not be able to handle the things younger children put them through.
We’ve just been informed by our youngest that they no longer love Batman; it’s Pokémon all the way now. Will your chosen design still delight the child halfway through the year?
This matters more to older children, who will often prefer a pack with the right logo than the right specifications.
The best backpacks for kids
Here are our picks of the current crop. We’ve looked specifically at kids’ backpacks here; older children may find that a hiking backpack or dedicated laptop bag might be a better option.
These are products that we haven't had in our test labs, but based on our experts' opinion and knowledge of the most reputable brands around, we think these are worth looking at.
Our selections, ranked from cheapest to most expensive, take into account online reviews, brand reputation, product capability and unique features, to help you pick through the maze of choices available to you.
1. Vaschy Classic Basic Backpack
Cheap and durable
Key features: front zip pocket | Dimensions: 16.9 x 12.9 x 5.5 inches | Weight: 360g | Capacity: 20 liters
This is a big seller on Amazon with good reason: its design is reminiscent of the vastly more expensive Fjallraven Kånken – more on that in a moment – and it’s a solid, well-made backpack that comes in a range of attractive colors to suit every taste.
We’d go for the dark red or black because our kids are a menace, but if you’re brave you can get pastel shades and white too. The Classic Basic is made from durable, water-resistant polyester, has a divided main compartment, a zippered front pouch and two water bottle pockets, and a total capacity of 20L, which means it’s good for older children too.
2. Puma Boys’ Backpack
A best-seller for a reason
Key features: front zip pocket, 2x side pockets | Dimensions: 16.9 x 12.5 x 3 inches | Weight: 430g | Capacity: not stated
Amazon’s current backpack best-seller covers all the essentials and comes in multiple shapes and colors. It’s polyester inside and out, hand washable with a zipper closure, and at 17 inches tall by 12 across it’s a good size for juniors.
As some reviewers have pointed out, you can fit a Nintendo Switch in the outside pocket. Some versions include a basic lunchbox and others come in satchel form, but we think the standard backpack in relatively sober colors is the best bet. Puma doesn’t quite have the brand cachet of, say, Nike, but it doesn’t have the price tag either.
3. Vaschy Little Kid Backpack for preschoolers
Fun designs and easy to clean
Key features: front zip pocket, 2x side pockets, chest strap | Dimensions: 14.6 x 11 x 4.3 inches | Weight: 350g | Capacity: 11.5 liters
Currently number one in Amazon’s most-wished list, the preschool version of the Vaschy comes in a range of designs to cover every gender and has a decent 11.5L capacity. That’s big enough for an A4 tablet and there are dividers to keep everything separate.
With a generous front pouch, useful side pockets and a chest strap it’s good for little ones, and the zippers are designed specifically for smaller hands. The polyester fabric is easy to clean, durable and fairly water-resistant, and it’s a great option for 3 to 6 year olds.
4. Nike Kids’ Brasilia Backpack
A good bag from a big brand
Key features: interior zipped pocket, exterior zipped pouch, 2x side pockets | Dimensions: 16 x 11.75 x 4 inches | Weight: 323g | Capacity: not stated
For some kids all that’s going to matter here is that big swoosh, which is printed on the back and on one of the shoulder straps. But the bag itself isn’t bad with polyester inside and out and a fairly generous size of 16 inches tall by 11.75 inches wide.
There’s a decent range of colors including sober and scorching options, and the external pockets are generous enough for fairly big water bottles. Inevitably you’re paying a bit more for the logo, but the Brasilia is pretty tough and nicely made.
5. Fjallraven Kånken Mini Classic
Style at a price
Key features: reflective logo, convertible straps, 2 x side pockets, 1 x front pocket, Vinylon fabric | Dimensions: 11.4 x 7.9 x 5 inches | Weight: 220g | Capacity: 7 liters
We live in a student bit of our city and these packs are everywhere right now. The Kånken is a genuine style icon dating back to the 1960s, but like many style icons it’s priced accordingly: prices range from around $55/£57 to well over $100/£100 depending on the version you go for. There’s also a special recycled version made from old plastic bottles for extra green points.
This Mini Classic is one of the more affordable ones. It’s made from wipe-clean, water-resistant Vinylon with padded straps and there’s a rain flap over the main zipper to stop water getting in. It’s adjustable to fit sizes from child to adult, and this version offers 7L of storage space (it’s 11.4 inches high by 7.9 inches across). Bigger versions are available, such as a 20L version suitable for 17-inch laptops.