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Published Aug. 27, 2021

Bookbags can play a central role in the social and academic lives of students. If you have about a decade or two between yourself and middle school, one glance at your raggedy old Jansport might bring those vibrant memories back to life, flooding your brain with those first awkward moments waiting in line to file into class in the morning. And if you’re in school now, you know that your backpack can say a lot about you. 

It’s hard to balance essential functionality with equally important style—but it can be done. Our guide to the best backpacks for school will help any backpack-wearer make a great first impression while juggling an array of notebooks, textbooks, and pencils.

What to consider when finding the best backpacks for school

Many parents are still trying to get their 9-year-old back into that sweater that was just so cute when they were a toddler. Don’t try that with bookbags—that Transformers bag might be really sweet in first and second grade, but by third your child will probably be itching for something more mature. 

First through second grade is a good time for lightweight packs that allow for storage of markers, tissues, and the safe transportation of precious early works of art home for quick framing. You’ll also want to look for a material that can shrug off spills and stains, as little folks are often spilling in the most creative ways. By high school it’s time to consider strength, practicality, and utility.

Functionality is key for the best backpacks for school

Let’s be real, a backpack won’t just get used at school. That thing goes everywhere: the mall, the skate park, camping, and even on vacation. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, it’s worth investing in something that is reliable, good looking and functional outside of school. 

For students, storage is essential. You’ll want to look for school bags that have pockets for phones, laptops, and tablets. It’s also helpful for the inner lining and outer material to both be water-resistant so that all their notes, homework, and graded papers stay safe from the elements.

Simpler designs can be better

There’s no dismissing a classic design. For younger kids, providing a simple but reliable solution to book and pencil storage is probably the best bet. Look for straps that won’t leave marks on their shoulders and a durable fabric that won’t shred when the dog actually tries to eat their homework. Older kids’ sense of style evolves throughout high school, so when in doubt, a plain-colored bookbag will do the trick for all four years.

College kids need more

The vast disparity between the requirements of college classes can be stunning. That’s without even factoring in the number of professorly “quirks” you’ll find unique to each department. The sizes of textbooks and variety of gadgets, required writing instruments, and specialized tools they’ll need to have on hand at all times puts all that nutty professor stuff to shame. Capacity is the name of the game—college kids need enough room to handle textbooks and notebooks for back-to-back classes followed by a marathon study session in the library.

Style is king and queen

If you’re really trying to reach a fashion-forward youngster who won’t suffer the indignity of wearing a traditional two-strap school bag, have them take a look at the various sling-style options available. They lean towards a more casual look and come in a variety of cute designs. Sling backpacks also lend themselves to commuting in tight spaces, like on a cramped school bus.

The best backpacks for school

Send a middle schooler to class with a first-grade-appropriate design, and you are asking for trouble. You’ll need to remember that backpacks are used differently and are required to carry an increasingly heavier load as your child advances through each grade.

Best multifunctional backpack: Herschel Little America Laptop Backpack

Durable and Comfortable

Clocking in at 19.25 inches high and 11.25 inches wide, this backpack has space for everything. Herschel

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An elegant design and padded straps are the cherries on top of this technology-friendly design. The Herschel backpack is loaded with storage space, featuring multiple compartments, a headphone port, and a phone pouch. And, its tech-safe fleece sleeve helps protect 15-inch laptops and tablets or smaller.

Best backpack for elementary schoolers: Nike Kids Brasilia Just Do It Mini Backpack

Small but Mighty

A sporty style with ample storage space. Nike

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This dusty pink Nike backpack is the best backpack for elementary school and provides the youngest students with plenty of room to grow. In addition to a main compartment, small pockets on the inside and outside provide storage space for pens and pencils, erasers, and other trinkets. Side pockets allow kids to store a water bottle, while padded shoulder straps keep them from straining their arms.

Best backpack for middle schoolers: JanSport SuperBreak One Backpack

Classic Design

A lightweight, sturdy backpack that comes with a drink holder and non-absorbent polyester lining. JanSport

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The JanSport SuperBreak has received some nice upgrades since most millennials used them. Even without them, the SuperBreak provides a straightforward and stylish solution to book porting—definitely one of the best backpacks for middle school. It contains a front pocket with an organizer for pens, pencils, and protractors, and its main compartment can hold textbooks and binders. The materials used are water-repellent, and the 600 denier polyester helps resist abrasion.

Best college backpack: Mancro Laptop Backpack

Built-In USB Port

This durable pack is made with water-resistant and eco-friendly nylon. Mancro

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With style and supreme functionality, this laptop backpack provides college students with a main pocket, laptop compartment, external pocket, and smaller outer pocket for knick-knacks and small items. The padded straps offer comfort and shoulder pain relief, while the included lock and metal zippers ensure security. Plus, it comes in five different colors to suit anyone’s personal style. Get one of the best backpacks for college before heading to campus!

Best sling backpack: KAVU Original Rope Sling

Compact and Stylish

Look good and move fast with this sporty backpack. KAVU

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KAVU’s rope sling packs are favored by runners due to their small size and stylish storage solutions. Made from 600 denier polyester, it’s durable enough to lug from class to class all day, too. It offers a zippered front pocket for cell phones and two vertical compartments with zippered pockets. The sling backpack is offered in dozens of colors and patterns.

FAQs

Q: What are the best quality backpacks?

It really depends on what you’ll be using your back for. JanSport has a great reputation for younger students who carry few books, while more expensive brands like NorthFace and Patagonia are favored among hikers. The most important aspect is material: it should be durable and water-resistant (think nylon and polyester).

Q: What are the best fabrics for school backpacks?

Codora and rip-stop nylon are generally touted as being more rip-resistant than polyester, but most grade school students don’t need that level of toughness to carry books. For older and younger students, 600 denier polyester is water-resistant and tough, ensuring it’ll last the full year.

Q: What is the best value backpack?

JanSport has a great reputation for providing value in its backpacks. They might not come with all the bells and whistles, but you can get something cheap and reliable without looking too hard if you explore their product lines.

The final word on the best backpacks for school

Remember friends, they call them the “formative years” for a reason. The best backpacks for school are something that will be attached to students for a good part of their early lives, so it’s essential that they’re both practical and slick. When in doubt, go for a sturdy fabric in a monochrome color—it will stand the test of time.

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