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How To Find The Best Backpacks For School

How To Find The Best Backpacks For School

Before we began carrying wallets, purses and briefcases, we wore backpacks to school. It’s usually a child’s first iconic, major tangible step into independence and responsibility. And just like that first day of school outfit they spend hours picking out, a backpack is a great way for kids to express their personal style. As you shop for back-to-school items this summer, learn how to find the right size backpack (yes, it’s a thing!), how to get the right fit, which essentials you’ll need inside, and, most of all, how to help your kids make their backpack their own.

What To Look for in School Backpacks

Every year, there are more and more back-to-school backpack options for girls and boys with plenty of attractive styles and smart features to choose from. Whether you’re buying a brand new one for the upcoming school year or replacing one mid-season, consider the following as you click through your options:

  • Size: Is the backpack the correct size and does it have the right support and weight distribution for your child to wear it comfortably?
  • Capacity: Does it have enough room to hold the bulk of what your child will need throughout the school week for their classes, lunchtime and after-school programs?
  • Sections: Are there enough sections, pockets, sleeves and containers for everything that will need to be packed up?
  • Quality & durability: Will it hold up for at least one year? Is it rugged enough to withstand daily (ab)use and harsher local weather?
  • Style & design: And finally, yes, does your child like the way the backpack looks and will they enjoy carrying it and being seen wearing it throughout the year?

How To Get the Best Backpack for Kids

There’s nothing more adorable than seeing a flock of kindergarteners toddle off the school bus — especially when most of them have backpacks bigger than their own bodies. But it’s best to get a backpack that matches your child’s size (and strength!) And, of course, get one that fulfills any school requirements (some districts may expect clear backpacks, for example).

Unicorn and Colorblock Backpack
Unicorn Backpack with Lunchbox Bentgo and Drink Box

1. Determine Your Child’s Measurements:

  1. Measure the distance from your child’s belly button to the top of their shoulders.
  2. Add two inches to this measurement to determine your child’s ideal backpack height.
  3. Then, measure the width between your child’s shoulder blades. This measurement plus up to two inches is their ideal backpack width.
  4. Finally, check the sizing guide below to see which backpack dimensions work for your child.

Note: Chiropractors recommend that a backpack not be wider than your child’s torso. It also shouldn’t hang more than four inches below their waist.

Standard Backpack Sizes

Grade/Age Child Height Backpack Dimensions



36″–42″ / 3’–3′ 6″ tall 12″ high x 8″–12″ wide x 4″ deep



42″–46″ / 3′ 6″–3′ 10″ tall 14″ high x 12″–14″ wide x 4″ deep



46″–48″ / 4′ tall 16″ high x 14″–16″ wide x 8″ deep

Middle school and beyond

(13 years+)

over 48″ / over 4′ tall 16″ high x 14″–16″ wide or bigger

Note: Adult size backpacks are about 18″ high.

2. Pick Out a Style

Your child will be excited to choose a new backpack, especially if it’s presented as an opportunity for self-expression and a chance to be a bit more independent.

A backpack is often a powerful statement about your kid’s style and interests. Perhaps they’re really into a specific Marvel superhero, LEGO toys, or Barbie dolls. Maybe they love the camo or athletic look or a specific, favorite solid color. Perhaps your child prefers a cute backpack theme, featuring florals, unicorns, tie-dye pastels or butterflies. Backpacks can offer lots of fun details, too, such as glitter or sparkle, bold statements and theatrical touches.

If you can’t find everything you want in a backpack your kid loves, you can always get additional components to keep items organized (pencil cases, zippered containers, waterproof bags, etc.)

Backpack Brands

Explore options with your child to decide on what strikes the best balance between form and function.

For kids who want the whole look, many brands also offer apparel and accessories that match the backpack. “The Stephen Joseph and OMG Accessories brand backpacks offer full matching set lines, including duffels, lunch coolers, hair ties, crossbody bags, hairbrushes, wallets and blankets,” says Nicole Silva, senior buyer of children’s merchandise at Zulily. “These tend to be popular and get snapped up quickly.”

Here are some of the most popular backpack brands featured on Zulily that you can browse through. You’ll discover so many colorful choices!:

Plus, you’ll find lots of themed backpacks, such as Jurassic World, LEGO, Marvel, Spiderman and more.

3. Consider the Bells and Whistles

Your child might prefer a simpler, basic backpack with fewer pockets and compartments, or a more structured configuration with “a place for everything.” Consider these extra features when you’re shopping:

Bodhi Pink Camouflage Backpack

Strong, durable material

Easily accessible front pockets

Different carrying options

Elastic side pockets for big bottles

Padded shoulder straps

Laptop sleeve

Lash tabs or rings to clip dirty sneakers  outside the pack

Reflective details for visibility

Fuel Blue High-Capacity Lifestyle Backpack
Fuel Gray City Explorer Backpack

Compression straps to adjust capacity

Washable or water-resistant material

Multiple exterior and interior compartments

Easily accessible closures, like magnetic snaps

Look for these must-haves and extra features too:

  • Tight double-stitching on fabrics
  • Detachable components (pencil pouches, etc.)
  • Gear loops to attach keys or hand sanitizer, for easy access
  • Lockable closures


  • Trolley sleeve (a horizontal strap that fits over the handles of a rolling suitcase)
  • Ribboned elastic sewn onto the front of a backpack to hold pencils or other items (like drumsticks for band!)
  • Criss-crossed external elastic to hold rolled-up jackets or other items

4. Make Sure You Have the Right Fit

Every child is different, so be sure to have yours try on the backpack before you load it up, to determine if it fits properly and will be comfortable and safe to wear. Making sure your child has the right-sized backpack and wears it correctly can prevent shoulder, back and posture problems. Follow these additional tips for a safe, healthy, pain-free school year:

  • Double shoulder straps allow weight to be spread out evenly. Make sure the backpack has wide, padded and adjustable shoulder straps that won’t dig into the shoulders. Straps between two and three inches are ideal.
  • Chiropractors recommend always using any available waist and chest straps to help distribute the backpack’s weight more evenly across your child’s back.
  • Don’t carry a backpack on one shoulder, as it can cause strains and shoulder pain. Read more tips about wearing backpacks safely.
  • Make sure the backpack has multiple compartments, so that weight can be distributed more evenly.
  • Look for a padded back to increase comfort (no one wants to be jabbed by a rogue ruler!)
  • Check for compression straps, which can stabilize and secure the contents better.
  • No matter how well-crafted a backpack may be, you don’t want to overload it. Use a scale to check that the filled backpack is only between 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight. For example, an 80-pound child should only carry a backpack that weighs about 8 to 16 pounds, maximum.
  • Adjust the contents and straps for maximum comfort. Keep heavier items at the bottom, to avoid imbalance.
  • For children with special needs or for added accessibility, there are rolling backpacks (similar to the rolling luggage many adults use when traveling), as well as packs that can be strapped onto walkers or wheelchairs. There are even backpacks designed to address sensory issues, with special straps to secure extra pressure for reassurance, tactile fabrics and added pockets for fidget tools.

Backpack weight rule of thumb:
What’s in a backpack should only weigh 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight. For example, an 80-pound child should only carry 8 to 16 pounds.

Little girl on floor with backpack and school supplies
Glitterati Backpack and Back To School Supplies

5. Make It Personal

Whether your child’s backpack is purple paisley, glow-in-the-dark star-covered or mad about plaid, they’ll probably still want to decorate it to personalize it even more. There are many ways to add some flair and fun. Just be sure that any add-ons won’t damage the backpack or cause any hazards or restrictions. Here are a few ideas:

  • Decorative pins
  • Sew-on and glue-on patches
  • Stickers
  • School pride decorations
  • Fabric and puff paints
  • DIY Sharpie/permanent marker/fabric marker designs
  • Zipper pulls, carabiners and keychains
  • Charms (pom-poms, plush toys and clip-ons)
  • Reflective tape (also a great safety feature; especially for bike-riders)

The 2023 Back-to-School Planner

Get a perfect grade this year with back-to-school outfit ideas, organizing tips and more

Backpack Essentials

Now that you’ve chosen a backpack, it’s time to put stuff in it! Here are some of the basics (plus a few extras) to pack into your kid’s new backpack for their typical school day and after-school activities:

  • Lunchbox or bento box, cutlery and snacks
  • Water bottle or thermos
  • Pencil case: pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, markers, etc.
  • School tools: calculator, ruler, protractor, compass, etc.
  • Personal and grooming items (tissues, hand sanitizer, glasses, masks, brush, etc.)
  • Notebooks and folders
  • Books (including a fun book to read, and textbooks)
  • Tech
    • Laptop, tablet and/or cell phone
    • Earbuds or headphones
    • Peripherals (mouse, charging cords, etc.)
    • Special needs communication aids
  • Change of clothing
  • Seasonal items: Hats, gloves, scarves & sunglasses
  • Items for activities: Music, dance class, sports, etc.
  • Key fob or lanyard (for home/bike/lockers, etc.)
  • Wallet with student ID, bus pass, library card, vaccine card, etc.
  • Safety items: Flashlight, headlamp, whistle, etc.

Backpack Maintenance Tips

Keeping your kid’s backpack in tip-top shape means more than just avoiding stains, tears or damage. If you prepare your child’s backpack for the year ahead and take care of it well together, it should last a long time.

  • Check the backpack over carefully prior to first use: test zippers, empty pockets, etc.
  • Remove desiccants, packaging and labels and trim threads/rough edges, etc. (such as sharp Velcro corners)
  • Mark the backpack with your child’s last name and a cell number using a laundry or permanent marker, or attach a label (Note: Don’t put your child’s first name or your address anywhere!)
  • Wax or oil all the zippers so they don’t catch or de-rail. A candle or Chapstick works well.
  • Use a weatherproof spray or treatment (especially if the backpack isn’t waterproof or has a leather bottom).
  • Stash some paper towels, wipes and sealable plastic bags (for messes, wet items, markers, and anything that could melt or leak).
  • Check backpack contents daily – many important parent communication documents get sent home via “kid mail” or “backpack mail” – and you’ll be surprised what your kiddos might be collecting (hello, old bananas!)
  • Empty and wipe out or wash backpacks every month or so. (Be sure to check manufacturer’s washing instructions first.)
  • Don’t store delicate, breakable, irreplaceable or high-value items in backpacks.
  • Teach your children to never leave their backpacks unattended or agree to carry things for others.
  • You might consider tagging backpacks with GPS trackers to avoid losing them.

No matter which backpack your child ends up getting for school, it will be their constant companion, helping them learn, play and grow throughout the year. Have fun back-to-school shopping!

About The Author

Natasha McClain

Natasha McClain, a marketing copywriter and editor for Zulily, has written for a wide variety of industries and has been published by Kitchenware News, Washington Travel & Life, Dining Out Magazine, Bastyr, Blue Nile, McCauley Sound and New York Press. She's originally an East coaster now living in Seattle.

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