Your Ultimate Buying Guide to the Best Backpacks for School

May 15, 2024

One of the key items on most back-to-school shopping lists is backpacks. And not just any backpacks, but cool backpacks!

As much as your kid would like a cool-looking backpack, it’s also important that the backpack is versatile and rugged. This article outlines the different types of backpacks and some key features to consider when choosing the best backpack for school.

Types of Backpacks

Several backpack styles are on the market to suit the needs of various students. You can generally break down backpacks for school into the following categories: 

  • Standard backpack: A standard backpack features two shoulder straps and one large compartment with a zipper closure. This is a classic choice for most students due to its versatility, comfort, and practicality.
  • Sling bag: A sling bag features one shoulder strap that goes over the shoulder and across the chest. Your child can put the bag on quickly, and it stays snugger on the body, making it a good choice if your student plans to wear the bag while riding a bike. However, these bags are generally smaller, so they might be ideal for those carrying fewer items each day.
  • Functional backpack: A functional backpack is like a standard backpack but with more features. These features may include secondary storage compartments, side pockets, drink pockets, etc. This is great for those needing more features and space than a standard backpack might offer. 
  • Rucksack: A rucksack is like a standard backpack, but instead of a zip closure on the main compartment, they typically have a large top flap that folds over and buckles shut. Rucksacks generally offer more storage space than standard backpacks.
  • Rolling backpack: A rolling backpack is a backpack that features wheels on the bottom and a top handle, so your child can easily move it on the ground. This backpack style can be great for students carrying heavy books or items.
  • Kids' backpack: kids backpack is a bit smaller than a traditional backpack, making it easier for a child to use. They come in various colors and styles — including a matching backpack with a lunchbox — so your child is sure to find a school backpack they enjoy.
  • Laptop backpack: A laptop backpack is like a standard or functional backpack, but inside the backpack, you’ll find a compartment or flap to safely carry a laptop, tablet, or similar device. This may be necessary for students who regularly need to transport their laptops from school to home.
  • Clear backpack: A clear backpack is similar to a standard backpack but is made from transparent material, making it easier to see what’s inside the bag.

What Are Some of the Best Backpack Brands?

There are many great backpack brands to choose from, each with their own styles, materials, and more. Some of the best-selling backpack brands include:

Backpack Features to Consider


Most kids lug around a lot of stuff — textbooks, notebooks, homework, calculators, and, sometimes, even equipment to support their activities, such as sports clothing or an instrument for band practice.

However, some lucky kids have newfound freedom because their school has gone increasingly digital — just one sleek tablet or laptop, and they have what they need, at least for a few classes.

Before you invest in back-to-school backpacks that are too big or too small, talk to your child about what they’ll regularly carry around, and then plan your kid’s backpack purchase accordingly.

For example, you can look at a large backpack or something smaller like a book bag. Most backpacks in the traditional style are considered laptop backpacks because they have special compartments or pockets for laptops or other electronics like a tablet. Even then, you may want to consider a laptop sleeve or tablet case to keep devices safe inside the bag.

Children may need instruction about how to wear their backpacks properly. That’s important for ergonomics and may help them stay balanced while biking to school.


Yes, you want backpacks for school that are the right size, but there’s another consideration to balance with equal, shall we say, weight. Today, kids are under a lot of pressure, and sadly, much of it is from their backpacks.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a child’s backpack should not weigh more than 10% to 15% of your child’s body weight. Go ahead and weigh your child’s backpack. You’re likely to be surprised at just how heavy it is.

After weighing your child’s full back-to-school backpack, you might need to help them brainstorm how to make it lighter — such as leaving heavy textbooks at school or only bringing them on certain days.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), you can focus on the shoulder straps, which should be padded and wide, and your child should wear them over both shoulders for better posture and help prevent lower and upper back pain and neck and shoulder strain. The NSC also recommends backpacks for school not hang more than 4 inches below the waistline, which can cause your child to lean forward due to increased weight on the shoulders.

Consistently carrying an overstuffed backpack can lead to trouble today and down the road.

How much will your child be in and out of the backpack? Since many children usually go class to class and use different books or supplies throughout the school day, consider a backpack with multiple pocket configurations and compartments so they can easily find what they’re looking for. Many of today’s backpacks have features like a water bottle holder, mesh pockets, and bungee cording.

Cost and Durability

Of course, the cost is a factor, but this is one of those areas where you’ll probably be better served spending more for a rugged backpack, which will last, than going a little cheaper and having to replace it sooner.

If you live in a rainy or snowy climate, or your child will be walking to school — potentially in inclement weather — consider whether the pack is waterproof. You can also use a waterproofing spray that can help repel dirt and stains.

Elements that indicate a well-made backpack include sturdy zippers and strong straps. Many of the best backpacks for school also come with a warranty, so be sure to save the requisite paperwork just in case.


Don’t worry; we’re not totally overlooking the need for cool backpacks for school.

Today’s backpacks come in a variety of styles — from stripes and geometric patterns for your young sophisticate to whimsical fabrics adorned with almost any theme you can think of, such as arrows, space, hearts, animal prints, camo, and dinosaurs. You can even find backpacks and matching school supplies with your favorite characters! From a more traditional black backpack to brighter colors like a pink backpack, your student is sure to find something they enjoy.

In fact, a special shopping trip for school backpacks and lunch bags is a good way to cap off your summer and get your child excited for the year ahead. Enlisting their participation in selecting cool backpacks for school is an important way for them to showcase their interests and personality.

Keeping Your Back-to-School Backpacks in Top Condition

So, we’ll state the obvious: Backpacks can get pretty darn gross as they slide along bus floors and are grabbed by germy hands. That’s why you should try to do some routine maintenance to make sure your pack stays as fresh as possible.

Empty Everything Out

This is a good time to go through artwork and homework and find any errant school supplies to repurpose. You also might discover that whatever you’ve been packing for school lunches hasn’t been making the grade — and definitely better to find this out sooner rather than later.

Check the Laundry Instruction Tag

Sometimes, even the best backpacks for school shouldn’t be fully immersed, so definitely try to check the directions before tossing them in the washing machine.

Remove Anything Detachable

Take off any hooks, straps, etc., that are easily removable. Soak the straps in a solution of water and liquid detergent and allow them to air-dry.

Wash the Pack in the Washer or Spot Clean

Depending on the directions, you can wash the backpack in the washing machine — the best bet is to use a gentle cycle and turn it inside out — or spot clean with mild detergent. Either way, air-dry away from direct sun.

Consider the Material

If it is a leather backpack, follow directions for cleaning leather garments, such as not immersing them in water. If the backpack is waterproof, don’t submerge it more than once or twice a year, as that can harm its protective coating.

About the author

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer who specializes in small business, finance and real estate.

All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is,” and neither the author nor Office Depo. warrants the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions, or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.