Nothing says back-to-school more than shopping for a new backpack, but it’s hard to find one that checks off all the boxes for both parents and kids. You’ll need it to be durable so you won’t have to replace it and organized so it can hold all of the schoolwork and school supplies, all while having a fun and inviting appearance so students actually want to wear it.
The Good Housekeeping Institute Textiles Lab tests backpacks for durability features like tear strength, strap strength and abrasion resistance as well as comfort aspects like the amount of padding in the straps and weight when it's empty. We also look at the overall design and organizational components and make sure that the material is water-resistant. Lastly, we have standard packing loads for different age groups to make sure it’ll hold everything they need.
The picks ahead are winners from our test along with some new styles with unique features and rave reviews. Here are the best kids backpacks for the 2021 school year:
- Durable fabric
- Padded straps and back panel
- Available in solid colors and prints
- No straps at the waist or chest
L.L.Bean's backpacks are consistently top performers in our test and stand out in particular for being durable, functional and kid-friendly thanks to the variety of fun prints. The fabric holds up to our abrasion and water repellency tests, so you can expect it to last for years. This version in particular is the brand's most popular (and most basic) style with one main compartment plus front pockets for organization.
There's also good padding in the back and on the shoulder straps, plus reflective strips for safety. The one callout is that there aren't straps at the waist and chest for added support. For even more space, the Deluxe Book Pack version has two large compartments.
- Available in a variety of colors
- Fewer organizational compartments
If you're looking to save, this basic backpack has over 2,000 five-star reviews ranging from toddler parents to college students.It's incredibly lightweight at just over half a pound, and though it's not as spacious as others, it also comes in a larger version for older kids and adults that's still under $15.
There’s one roomy main compartment with a small pocket in front, and the straps are both padded and adjustable. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles you'll get with pricier backpacks (like water bottle holders on the side or padding at the back), but the price can’t be beat.
- Designs and sizes for every kid's preference
- Strong materials and good support
- Larger sizes are pricier than others
The fun designs from PBK – from ballerinas to space themes to Disney prints – let any young kid’s personality shine through and make wearing the backpack that much more exciting. Each one can also be monogrammed for $10 to make it extra personal.
On top of looking cute, the bag is made to be fully functional thanks to the strong, water-resistant fabric, padded straps and back and organizing pockets and straps on the outside. Plus, it comes in lots of variations, including multiple sizes and matching lunch bags.
- Durable, water-repellent fabric
- Good storage, including laptop sleeve
- Comfortable padding
- No straps at the waist or chest
This style from Columbia earned the highest score for 13- to 18-year-olds in our Lab's test and it has features that make it versatile to use from middle school and high school through college and beyond.
It held our packing load with room to spare, uses fabric that’s both durable and water-repellent and has excellent padding in the straps. Plus, it has lots of compartments to keep students organized, including a padded sleeve for laptops. And besides this green, it's available in other colors like black, blue and pink. The only downside is that it's missing extra support straps around the chest and waist.
- Sized well for young kids
- Plenty of character options
- Not as spacious
Designed for toddlers to kindergarteners, this themed backpack comes in tons of animal and character options. It’s smaller than other backpacks so it’ll fit little bodies, yet still has compartments for snacks and supplies, plus a loop on top so kids can hang it on their hooks.
Some of our product experts use this one at home with their young children and see just how much the toddlers love showing off the characters at school or on outings.
- Laptop compartment with built-in USB port
- Plenty of organizational compartments
- Not as kid-friendly
Whether they’re heading to class, traveling on break, or going on job interviews, this versatile college backpack has everything a student needs: tons of pockets to stay organized (including a separate laptop compartment), a built-in USB port to add a battery and charge devices on the go, and lots of padding to make it comfortable.
It also has a zippered pocket against the back for valuables and waterproof materials to help the contents stay safe. It’s an Amazon bestseller with over 42,000 reviews from users who swear it’s both useful and professional.
Whether your kid loves metallics, colorful sparkles, camo prints, sport designs or more, State stands out for having a wide assortment of truly unique styles for any preference. Besides the fun factor, it's also well-made with a large compartment for supplies, organizational pockets and padded straps for comfort. The brand has a give-back model and donates money to charities supporting children for every bag sold.
- Popular for high school and college
- Durable materials for long-term use
- Pricier than others
- Not for younger kids
This super popular style from The North Face was a top performer in our tests over 10 years ago and still continues to impress both our experts and real users. It stood out especially for holding up during our Lab’s abrasion, water-resistance and durability drop testing. It also has tons of padding for comfort, a separate laptop compartment and reflective features for safety. Plus, it comes in tons of colors.
- Light and spacious
- Plenty of size and print options
- Material wasn't as abrasion- or water-resistant in tests
A backpack’s load can get heavy enough, so students don’t need the bag itself weighing them down. This one from Lands’ End was among the lightest in our test, but it still held our entire load for 7 to 12-year-olds with room to spare. It comes in other colors and prints as well as larger sizes. Plus, you can choose to personalize it for an extra $8.
- Popular with great reviews
- Lightweight and versatile
- The brand isn't among the most durable in our tests
It's an Amazon's bestseller and one of the most searched for kids backpack brands on the Internet. Though it's a more basic design with one main compartment and no chest strap, users love that it's roomy, lightweight and lasts for years. It comes in a variety of prints and solid colors for boys, girls and gender neutral styles.
- Three sizes to find the best fit
- Ideal for those who prefer minimal designs
- Less organization for older kids
If you're looking for a simple design, Herschel's popular backpack for kids has one main roomy compartment with a smaller section in the front. It comes in three youth sizes to fit children of all ages, plus lots of prints to keep it kid-friendly. We also love that it has a durable material to protect the base of the bag, a chest clip for added support and a side bottle holder for convenience.
- Reversible sequin design
- Rave reviews
- May be too flashy for some kids
If you’ve got a kid who loves to stand out, you need to check out this sparkly backpack. It comes several color combos and the sequins are all reversible so kids can create their own designs every day. On top of that, it also has some functional features: the large main compartment has a padded laptop sleeve, and there are smaller pockets on the outside. It has a near-perfect rating on Amazon from parents who say their girls are obsessed.