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.
Mothering's Best Backpacks For Kids
Lone Cone Backpacks
LoneCone is our Editor's Pick for eco-friendly and non-toxic bookbags for kids. Founder Annalisa DeMarta is a busy mom of three in Boise, Idaho. She did a lot of shopping, and particularly online, but was tired of getting 'cookie-cutter' that just didn't work. So, she set out to solve that problem. She wanted to design something that would focus on meeting the needs of boys and girls who were 3- to 7-years old and in the process? She's created incredible bookbags, lunchboxes and boots for mamas and their kiddos, and she gives back in the process.
Annalisa thinks that kids' playtime shouldn't depend on what the weather is like, and that premium products that do a great job don't have to be all work and no play. LoneCone backpacks come in some absolutely adorable, comfortable prints that your littles will love every day they wear them.
What we love most about Annalisa and LoneCone products is she believes the wellbeing of humankind depends on the integrity of the natural world. Read that again… we're all in this together, folks, and it's up to us to take care of our earth and the people on it.
That's why LoneCone works to make a positive impact in the lives of children and their families in local communities. They support organizations that are purposed to help heal the world in which we all live and play, and they've already given thousands of rain boots, lunch boxes and bookbags to local charities in her community. LoneCone believes sharing is caring and service is a way of life, and we're all in.
Lone Cone backpacks are proof that your kids don't have to trade style for a great backpack that's made sustainably and from a company that gives to their local community. These are well-sized backpacks for elementary school kids and they come in so many fun colors and patterns. Lone Cone also donates kids' lunchboxes and backpacks to those in need in the community, and as a company, they encourage kids and families to be outdoors and make more memories together!
- Tons of adorable prints
- Charitable company
- Sustainable and non-toxic materials
- Mom-designed and owned company
Editor's Runner-Up Pick For Best Backpack For Kids
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.
The backpacks have three large compartments with lots of interior pockets, and they even have a laptop sleeve for older kids or to hold the books, binders and tablets elementary and middle schoolers may have. The deep mesh side pockets have a super-strong elastic opening (to keep those water bottles in place!) and the back panel is well-padded for your kiddo's comfort. The wide mesh shoulder straps are also comfy and they are designed with an adjustable sternum strap that will help reduce the strain on your child's back and shoulders and make carrying the bag more comfortable. And, as the days are getting shorter, we love that these bags have reflector strips that are strategically placed on the front and back for better visibility and safety for your child.
- Charitable giving
- Adjustable sternum strap
- Reflector Strips
- Fun patterns
Best For Tweens and Teens
OGIO Alpha Convoy 120 Backpack
The new Alpha Convoy 120 Backpack is designed with premium, sustainable and strong components like energy-reducing and durable Cordura EcoMade fabric. This is made from discarded and recycled plastic water bottles and recycled polyester yarns.
The Alpha Convoy 120 has a dedicated laptop sleeve and it's compact so you can be sure that your kids aren't going to be able to weigh it down too much and damage their back. It comes in several colors (the Glow Orange is really popular!).
Tweens and teens love this bag because it does everything they need it to do--internal key clip, a front pocket for easy access to valuables, a waterproof pocket that fits a 15" laptop and straps that are comfy, adjustable and durable.
Mostly, our tweens and teens are paying attention to how their things are made...what practices go into creating premium, sustainable products and the OGIO Alpha fits the bill.
- Waterproof zippered laptop pocket for 15" laptop
- Sustainable fabric
- Made from discarded and recycled plastic water bottles
Best Backpack With Grown-up Style
Perry Mackin Charlie Kids
These perfectly sized backpacks are available in eight awesome colors and again prove that style and function can be married well. They're made of water-resistant polyester with synthetic leather detailing and they have a nice front exterior zipper storage pocket with two additional interior pockets. Kids love the colors and the comfort of the shoulder straps when their carrying everything. They also love having their water bottles easily accessible and parents love that it's easy to keep clean with it's durable stain-resistance.
The top zipper has magnetic strap closures and even though it's just-the-right size for kids 6-11 years old, there's a generous interior for supplies. And, if your kiddos want to be uber-coordinated, Perry Mackin has matching lunch options available too.
- Durable and stain-resistant
- Perfect for 6-11 year-olds
- Eight different colors with coordinating lunch options
- Padded shoulder straps for comfort
Best Backpack For Toddlers and Preschoolers
SoYoung Wee Gallery Toddler Backpack
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!
- Space for shoes, change of clothes and shoe and tell
- Chest clip keeps bag secure
- Inner-mesh zippered pocket helps teachers get items from bag
- Machine washable
- Non-toxic materials
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.
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