The best backpacks are the ones that contain all the goodies your kiddos need to carry, but do so in a comfortable and preferably eco-friendly way. And since we often find we end up paying an arm and a leg (or feels like it) for school supplies, backpacks that make it past the first few weeks of school are always hits.
We understand, as we’ve also been looking for the best backpacks for back-to-school and the whole year through. We’ve asked experts and had companies send us samples so we could really give them a good work out, and we’ve compiled a list of everything you should look for and pay attention to when you’re looking for the best backpacks for your children (even the grown ones in college!) to take to school.
Why Is A Good-Fitting Backpack So Important?
Think about the last time you carried a heavy bag on your shoulders? Diaper bag? Purse? Messenger bag? Remember how good it felt when you were able to put it down?
Now, think about your little one carrying their whole academic lives in backpacks on their backs. While backpacks are great for allowing heavy loads to be evenly distributed in our littles, too often, clinicians see more backpack overload. This strains the neck, shoulders and back of our kids.
Additionally, a heavy backpack can be the trigger for lower back pain in our children and this can turn into back pain for them as adults. It’s essential not only to find the right size backpack, but also one that focuses on making sure straps can handle weight loads appropriately.
A backpack that is a poor fit or not strapped well can distort curves in your children’s lower and middle backs and that can cause muscle strain and irritation to their rib cages and spine joints. It can also take them off their balance and make it easier for them to fall. Yes, watching your kindergartener get on the bus with a bag as big as she is may be an adorable picture, but it’s a sign that it’s not a good fit and you might want to compensate. A too-heavy backpack can also lead to the rounding of their shoulders, and this affects posture and all sorts of muscle function.
And it’s awful when children and teens carry their backpacks on one shoulder. This causes uneven weight and spine stress, as well as stress to the middle back, their ribs and their lower back. This only compounds as they get older, so ensuring they wear their backpack correctly is a must.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that backpacks don’t exceed 10-20% of your child’s body weight. If it does–you’re going to need to figure out a different way to carry what’s necessary because your child’s back health is too vital to lifelong strength.
Walk This Way (And Wear This Way)
There are some really great strategies you can employ with your children to make sure their backpacks are just right for them. Your goal (once you’ve found the best backpacks) is to make sure they wear it correctly so they minimize strain on their lower and middle back. To encourage that good back health, consider the following tips:
- Watch the weight of the bag. Yes, school requirements for what needs to be carried can get out of hand and our kiddos need us to be their advocates. Let administrations know if there is too much expected of your children in a backpack.
- If your backpack has a waist strap, encourage your children to wear it. Doing so allows them to have another pressure point relieved and it distributes the weight better. It’s not about looks; it’s about good back health.
- Tell your children to wear their backpacks with both straps. Yes, we know. It’s cool to nonchalantly throw it over one shoulder. But when they’re in their 20s with back problems because they wanted to wear it with one strap, it won’t be so cool. Stress both straps.
- Speaking of straps, teach your child how to readjust them because they need to be based on the different thicknesses of clothing they may wear. If they’re wearing a bulky sweater in winter and adjust for that but don’t readjust for thinner clothing in the spring, the backpacks will slide and not wear appropriately. It’s a hassle, but make sure the straps fit correctly. This means they shouldn’t sway back and forth and rub as your children walk. Ouch!
- When shopping, pay attention to fit. A well-fitted backpack should fit high on the back and the shoulder straps should be comfortable. It should sit above your children’s hips and not go past their waist. Yes, we know that your child may be itty bitty and beg you for JoJo Siwa’s humongous (but cool) backpack. Resist. It’s for her back and spine health!
- Tell your children to take advantage of times they can relax from wearing their backpacks. If they can set them down on the floor or in their lockers, have them do so. It gives their backs a break.
What To Look For (And To Avoid) When Looking For The Best Backpacks For Kids
We’re pretty sure we’re going to break the hearts of a lot of children when we write this, but mamas–we mean it. Avoid that shiny, smelly plastic that gives you a headache just thinking about it. It’s typically the main component of many inexpensive bags, but that’s for a reason. It’s because it’s most likely made of PVC and is a toxic plastic for your children and the environment. You don’t want them walking around day in and day out with phthalates floating by their little noses and mouths every day do you? No. Phthalates have been found to be endocrine disrupting and not good for anyone. Many of those plastics also contain PCBs and some even have lead–which is a proven neurotoxin for children.
Instead, try to find backpacks that are made of fabric or canvas or even recycled cardboard. Even polyester or recycled polyester is better because you’re not exposing your children to those chemicals. Some backpacks are now touting themselves as PVC free, and that’s great except their replacement is PEVA. It’s not considered quite as toxic as PVC, but there is recent research that suggests it still gives off VOCs.
Read labels. Look into companies. There are actually quite a few companies out there making backpacks who are working for families and the earth. Companies that are transparent in their materials are more likely to be safer and the best backpacks for kids, and really, they’re the ones you want to patronize anyway. Yes, non-toxic and eco-friendly backpacks may cost more, but they’re better for your children and the earth and in the long run? They tend to last longer too.
On that note, consider the quality and durability of backpacks for kids. A backpack’s main job is to be functional and carry stuff, so odds are it’s going to be toted around like a bag full of stuff. That means that it will be subject to elements and in the case of most of our children? They’ll be subject to the whims of every toss, fling and tear. Look for backpacks with good reviews and quality products. The more sustainable, the better.
Yes, it’s important to look for sustainably sourced materials in backpacks for kids. Lots of backpacks these days are made from recycled materials and that’s fantastic. We need to teach our children to take care of their backs and the earth at the same time, so we’re in favor of backpacks made with non-toxic, biodegradable, renewable and sustainably sourced materials. Companies that do so and give back to the earth and their communities? Even better–buy all the backpacks!
Consider less as more. If you’re going to be putting a ton of money into a good, quality backpack, then you may want to consider your child’s tastes will most likely change. Yes, he may love Minecraft now, but in a year or two, it may be something totally different. If you’ve bought basic, functional, comfortable backpacks, well-done! Your kids can jazz them up with pins and chains and flair that is easily swapped out, and you can consider that backpack a quality investment and not a fad you need to address each year. Seriously–they’ll survive, we promise.
Mothering’s Best Backpacks For Kids
“Travel well, do good,” is the mantra for the couple behind the Adventurist backpack and we love it! We love this bag for tweens/teens (and they are currently rocking university bookstores in California, Oregon, Colorado and more) because it’s classic and still ‘cool’ but younger kids love it too because they feel ‘grown up’ as well.
Kelli Bellnap and his wife Matilda were backpacking around the world when they realized that there was so much hunger and poverty. They’d known about it, but witnessing it brought it to a whole new level and so while traveling, they’d fill their backpacks up with prepared meals they handed out to people in need they saw through the day.
When they returned home, they knew that they could help those in their communities like they had when traveling and Adventurist Backpack Co. was born. They’d been able to fit about 25 meals into each of their backpacks when traveling and that’s sort of what they had in mind when creating the Adventurist. They wanted high quality, weather-proof fabric with a minimalist style as a clean and simple design can do the trick so often when it comes to fashionability.
The bags are 100% vegan–synthetic leather that uses no animal byproducts. ALL their bags have a lifetime guarantee and they’ll fix or replace it free of charge if it breaks or tears. Yes, even if your 2nd grader figures out how to tear it apart, they will cover you because their motivation is to reduce fabric waste by being the only backpack you’ll need to buy.
But what we love most is that for every bag that’s purchased, the couple donate 25 meals to communities in need, and they’re committed to feeding hungry families to fuel their abilities to learn, create and grow. They believe a little kindness goes a long way, and when companies integrate giving into their business plan, real problems start getting solved. Sold!
These comfortable, roomy and sturdy backpacks from Fenrici are not just awesomely designed, but they’re super durable too. And, how great is it that you can let your kiddo pick out a pattern they love, knowing that they can choose lunch boxes, bento boxes, pencil cases and stainless thermoses that match while they ALSO are making a difference in the lives of other children?
That’s right–5% of net proceeds from every sale of Fenrici bags is donated to Global Genes, a non-profit that funds research and educational awareness for childhood rare diseases. Your child gets to pick out fun patterns and help other kids not so different from themselves in the process. And, you can even take it a step further and visit Fenrici’s site, where you and your children can actually read the stories of ‘heroes’ they admire and are raising funds for in the selling of their products. An easy but impactful way for your kids to make a difference with dollars.
Wee ones go to Mom’s Morning Out and preschool too, so we love the SoYoung Toddler backpack just for them. It’s perfect for littles with the smaller dimensions, but big enough for all they may need–changes of clothes and a snack and maybe some special trinkets along the way. It has a chest clip so if your toddler or preschooler likes to run and jump while wearing it, they’ll be covered and it’s machine washable, though you’ll want to keep it away from the dryer. It is made without PVC, phthalates, lead and BPA and it comes in the cutest designs and patterns! They also have bigger kids’ backpacks too and we love them!
United By Blue is a B Corp certified company, so you know it meets high standards of environmental and social performance. They’re transparent and work to be non-toxic and eco-friendly in design and spread. The backpacks have padded interior sleeves and for every backpack sold, United By Blue removes a pound of trash from the world’s oceans and waterways. Perfect for upper elementary and tweens.
We’re pretty sure every Lego fan out there would love this ergonomically padded Lego backpack. It has soft poly tricot on the shoulder straps and a padded haul handle to help with comfort. The front sternum strap is easily adjustable to help balance the weight appropriately.