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Little boy looking in his school backpack. Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

The Best Kids' Backpacks of 2022

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Little boy looking in his school backpack. Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

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Editor's Choice Product image of Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Backpack (Large)
Best Overall

Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Backpack (Large)

A well-constructed backpack that's sized just right and comes in an impressive selection of kid-friendly designs. Read More

Pros

  • Sturdy construction
  • Wide range of patterns
  • Ergonomic design

Cons

  • Flimsy tablet sleeve
2
Editor's Choice Product image of JanSport Superbreak Plus
Best Value

JanSport Superbreak Plus

Machine washable, with an unparalleled lifetime warranty and sophisticated textile designs, we love this bag for older kids. Read More

Pros

  • Sophisticated designs
  • Best warranty
  • Machine washable

Cons

  • Stiffer straps
  • Single water bottle pocket
3
Product image of L.L. Bean Discovery Backpack

L.L. Bean Discovery Backpack

This well-made bag could have been a winner, but a few poor design decisions made it lose points. Read More

Pros

  • High quality components
  • Machine washable
  • One-year warranty

Cons

  • Cavernous pockets
  • Few design choices
4
Product image of Lands' End Kids ClassMate Medium Backpack

Lands' End Kids ClassMate Medium Backpack

A well-priced, machine washable backpack in designs and colors that transition well from kid to teen. Read More

Pros

  • Ergonomic construction
  • Range of kid-approved designs
  • Machine washable

Cons

  • Short return policy
  • Too few pockets
5
Product image of Po Campo Zinger Backpack Pannier

Po Campo Zinger Backpack Pannier

This backpack is well-made, comfortable, and converts easily into a bike bag for long rides. Read More

Pros

  • Convertible construction
  • Ergonomic design
  • Well-made with thoughtful details

Cons

  • Very few design choices

The backpack is the unsung hero of the school years. A truly great kids' backpack needs to check a lot of boxes. First and foremost, it needs to be durable enough to last for years. It should be well organized to keep school supplies from getting lost or papers from getting crumpled. It should be well-structured so it's comfortable to wear—especially when carrying extra weight. And, of course, it needs to come in colors and styles that kids feel cool wearing.

After months of testing 11 top-rated kids’ backpacks, one rose to the top of the class: the Pottery Barn Kids MacKenzie Backpack (available at Pottery Barn Kids). Parents will love it because it’s durable and its design makes it just the right size for kids as young as 6 and as old as 12. Kids will like these backpacks for their fun range of colors and patterns that make them feel completely customized to each kid’s sense of style.

Coming in as our best value pick is the JanSport Superbreak Plus (available at JanSport). Not only are these bags well-made, they come in gorgeous colors and prints that slightly older kids will like. They are also completely machine washable and come with a lifetime warranty,

Here are the best kids backpacks for school we tested, ranked in order:

  1. MacKenzie by Pottery Barn (Large)
  2. L.L. Bean Discovery Kids Backpack
  3. JanSport Superbreak Plus
  4. Kids Lands' End ClassMate Medium Backpack
  5. Po Campo Zinger
  6. North Face Youth Recon
  7. L.L. Bean Original
  8. Herschel Kids’ Heritage 9L
  9. Wildkin 15-inch Backpack
Two backpacks. One in blue with dinosaurs and one with pastel unicorns.
Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

The Pottery Barn MacKenzie not only comes in a wide range of kid-friendly designs, it's thoughtfully made with just the right amount of bells and whistles.

Best Overall
Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Backpack (Large)

Many backpacks we tried felt like nothing but a shrunken-down version of an adult backpack. The MacKenzie by Pottery Barn Kids stood out as a kids’ backpack that was truly made with kids in mind.

The sturdy construction, playful designs, and kid-centric details make this bag a winner. It’s built to last through a child's evolving needs—making this a backpack that could easily take kids through their entire elementary school experience—while also being durable enough to stand up to the rigors that kids put their belongings through.

We appreciated thoughtful details like the front daisy chain (perfect for fun charms or for hanging hand sanitizer); a small top pocket that's just the right size for a smartphone; perfectly proportioned organizational pouches for school supplies; an interior label (for when the bag inevitably gets misplaced); and two sturdy pockets that can accommodate drink bottles of of all sizes.

The larger pockets are roomy—without being cavernous—and the bag is made with rugged 600-denier polyester—a high-density, water-resistant fabric that is often used for camp chairs. The fabric, while durable, isn’t overly heavy or itchy, and the bags come in dozens of fun and colorful styles that kids clamored for.

This bag also takes into account kids' proportions and body shapes. It fit well on kids ages 6 to 11—it didn't dwarf the smaller kids but it offered enough room to fit everything an incoming 4th or 5th grader might need. It also had nice comfort features like an adjustable sternum strap, contoured and padded shoulder straps, and a lined and cushioned back plate that has just the right amount of mesh covering to ensure that kids don't overheat while wearing it.

The only place these bags didn’t perform well was with their flimsy laptop sleeve. Sized to fit a Chromebook, it's made of thin nylon and doesn't really offer anything in the way of support to keep a laptop or tablet in place, beyond a tiny strip of velcro. We predict that the pocket will rip after a couple years of use. That being said, it’s an inside pocket, so items won’t get damaged or lost should it end up tearing.

This bag also isn't technically machine washable (it's advised that you spot clean). We’ve been able to test this backpack for a full year and, while it may not be manufacturer recommended, we can attest it has stood up beautifully during periodic machine washings. That being said, if a bag says it’s not machine washable, we advise that you play at your own risk.

The pros of this bag, however, greatly outweigh those small cons. We tested the bag in the large size, which is best for kids 1st grade and up. At $60, it’s not a budget buy, but it’s an investment piece that will likely last them for years.

Pros

  • Sturdy construction

  • Wide range of patterns

  • Ergonomic design

Cons

  • Flimsy tablet sleeve

A tie-dye style school backpack being worn by a girl.
Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

The JanSport SuperBreak Plus has an unbeatable warranty and is machine washable—two things that the parents polled said were important to them when shopping for a backpack.

Best Value
JanSport Superbreak Plus

Sturdy, rugged, and with an unparalleled lifetime warranty, the JanSport SuperBreak Plus is the best value backpack you can buy.

This backpack is quality from top to bottom. Super strong zippers on all of the pouches are protected with storm flaps, and the well-padded internal laptop sleeve showed no sign of tear, even when we pulled and prodded in our testing. Even though the lifetime warranty is a big bonus when purchasing this workhorse of a backpack, it’s so well-made that we aren’t sure you’ll ever need to actually use it.

While you can certainly get away with this backpack with younger kids, we recommend it for 3rd grade and up. The JanSport SuperBreak Plus's size is a bit bulky for smaller kids and the styles tend to the more sophisticated (some are just gorgeous) and better suited to the tween set and older.

It also has a more basic design that lacks a lot of bells and whistles of bags that are made with kids in mind. It has one main compartment and a small front pouch with barebones internal organizer pockets. It also doesn't have any special comfort details, which we think are necessary for younger kids. If you are looking for a straightforward, simple bag, however, this is one that will take them right through high school—providing their taste and style doesn't change.

Pros

  • Sophisticated designs

  • Best warranty

  • Machine washable

Cons

  • Stiffer straps

  • Single water bottle pocket

How We Tested Backpacks for Kids

The Tester

Hi, I’m Janelle Randazza, Parenting staff writer at Reviewed, where I test, review, and write about all things kid- and parent-related. I am also guilty of destroying more backpacks than anyone would have thought humanly possible in my childhood. I’m fairly certain my child is my clone (at least in regard to his flair for unintentional destruction), so I have a vested interest in finding a rugged backpack that will last him for years. With the school year approaching, and with my son entering 3rd grade, it’s time to upgrade his backpack to one that will last the next few years of elementary school.

He’s a picky kid, and I’m a picky mom. This was our quest to find the perfect backpack that appealed to my desire for durability and his hopes for finding a bag that looks cool and feels good while wearing it.

The Tests

Our tests focused on durability, capacity, fit, comfort, and potential to grow with the child.

Our durability tests looked at strength and abrasion resistance. We tested both by filling each backpack to a reasonable weight and an excessive capacity and tossed each—multiple times—down a flight of nine stairs that landed on a rough, concrete walkway. The test was meant to mimic a bag being thrown on playgrounds and dropped off the side of chairs repeatedly throughout the school year.

We also tested for fit and comfort on kids ages 5 to 12, analyzing the amount of padding in the straps and on the back, as well as ergonomic features like contouring, adjustability options, and the effectiveness of chest straps where applicable.

Finally, we tested our top-performing packs on real kids! We had elementary school students ages 5 to 10 test these packs for a full school year, then we collected them back and analyzed them for wear and tear.

What to Consider When Buying Kids’ Backpacks

As it turns out, there's a lot to consider when buying a kids' backpack—particularly if you want it to last for more than one school year. We asked a group of about 20 parents of kids ages 5 to 12 what they look for when buying a kids' school backpack—and what ends up being a source of frustration once they have time to sit with them a while. Here is what they told us to look out for:

Construction

Not all kids' backpacks are created equal. Many are just smaller versions of adult backpacks, and they don't take into account a child's body and how kids will be able to manage the weight of a full backpack. Our top winner, the Pottery Barn MacKenzie, has an ergonomic design that is made with a child in mind.

If you're worried about weight, look for bags with contoured and padded shoulder straps, chest straps, and that have an element of back padding. We noted when bags have ergonomic designs that are truly kid-specific in the pros and cons sections of each review.

Water Bottle Holders

Time and time again, the parents polled voiced frustrations with water bottle pockets. First and foremost, these holders should accommodate bottles of all sizes. Restrictive bottle pockets that only accommodated 8-ounce bottles are a constant source of frustration and—for many parents—this ends up being an insurmountable issue as kids get into 2nd or 3rd grade. If you want your kid's bag to grow with them, they need to be able to carry a bottle that fits their growing needs.

The parents also cautioned to look for bottle holders that won't rip over time, as is the case with many full mesh bottle holders. In scoring, we favored bottle holders that were either canvas or had a canvas-and-mesh combo that appeared to thoughtfully support bottles without ripping.

A teal green L.L. Bean backpack on a bench.
Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

The L.L. Bean Original backpack has been around since 1982. There's a reason it's been considered a classic for over 30 years.

Ease of Cleaning

Astonishingly, there are very few kids’ backpacks on the market that are made to be machine washable. That being said, most of the backpacks we tried, which specified that they only be spot cleaned, actually held up fine in the wash.

Manufacturers, however, informed us that while many of their backpacks can stand up to a gentle wash cycle, their colors are not guaranteed not to bleed, and protective weather-proof coating may wear off. If you need a backpack that will stand up to monthly (or weekly) machine washings, be sure to keep an eye out for top picks that are noted as "machine washable" listed as a “pro” in each review.

Organization

Teaching a young child how to be organized is no small feat. When scoring, we favored bags that had smart organizational features including internal pouches or easy-to-access smaller pockets. Likewise, we looked for bags that knew not to overdo it in the pockets department.

As far as pockets are concerned, we found that more and bigger definitely doesn't mean better. Keep in mind that too many pockets—particularly when some are too deep—can result in lost papers, permission slips, and sometimes lost food items. We looked for backpacks that had a logical number of pockets and pouches that could help a kid stay organized, and not defeat them by having too many places for important items to disappear.


Other Backpacks for Kids We Tested

Product image of L.L. Bean Discovery Backpack
L.L. Bean Discovery Backpack

This new spin on the classic L.L. Bean backpack has soft, contoured straps and substantial, ergonomic back padding, with a focus on comfort in the lower back area where a heavy book bag may cause strain, making this a comfortable, wearable backpack with a well-designed fit for kids. Internal pockets are secured with heavy-duty Velcro, there is a well-made laptop sleeve, and two mesh water bottle holders.

Where this bag took the biggest hits were for its lack of style choices (at press time there are only two), and for its cavernous pockets. What looks to be a perfectly positioned, small front pocket is actually a huge pocket that went up to my son’s shoulder, but with a narrow opening.

Likewise the middle pocket is equally deep. While this may not seem like a problem, three deep pockets caused lost school notices, a half-eaten apple was forgotten for at least three days, and my son felt less organized than he did with almost any other we tried. Sadly, this is a near-perfect bag in many ways, but the frustration from the overly deep pockets pushed it down in our scoring.

Pros

  • High quality components

  • Machine washable

  • One-year warranty

Cons

  • Cavernous pockets

  • Few design choices

Product image of Lands' End Kids ClassMate Medium Backpack
Lands' End Kids ClassMate Medium Backpack

The Lands' End ClassMate Medium Backpack was one of the most lightweight of all the backpacks we tested and had a real focus on comfort with padding on the back, contoured mesh straps, and an adjustable sternum strap. Additional daisy chains across the main pocket make for lots of extra places to hang necessities.

This bag comes in kid-approved, grow-with-you designs that are just as good for 1st graders as they are for 5th graders. It also featured well-placed reflective strips, making it a good choice for twilight walks or bike rides home. This bag is also machine washable.

Priced at just under $40, this bag came close to winning our Best Value badge and still stands as a strong contender. If the Jansport isn’t to your liking and you want a well-priced backpack, check this one out.

Pros

  • Ergonomic construction

  • Range of kid-approved designs

  • Machine washable

Cons

  • Short return policy

  • Too few pockets

Product image of Po Campo Zinger Backpack Pannier
Po Campo Zinger Backpack Pannier

For sportier kids, this is a quality bag with really innovative features. The Po Campo is a backpack and bike bag combo that easily transitions between the two with a few flips of the straps and a couple of well-placed snaps. It’s an ingenious design that’s a smart choice for kids who bike to school.

Ergonomic back padding and shoulder straps keep this bag comfortable, and the high-quality mesh covering of both keep sweating at bay. The water bottle pockets are made from a smart mesh and canvas combo that accommodates bottles of all sizes, but will prevent rips when bags are dragged or dropped on the ground. The laptop sleeve is well-padded, and there are high-quality reflective strips all around in strategic places.

Made with super-rugged fabrics that are both vegan and waterproof, it also has protective storm flaps over the zippers to keep all your kid's belongings safe and dry.

Pros

  • Convertible construction

  • Ergonomic design

  • Well-made with thoughtful details

Cons

  • Very few design choices

Product image of The North Face Youth Recon Squash Backpack
The North Face Youth Recon Squash Backpack

We are huge fans of North Face products overall. Their no-strings-attached lifetime warranty and the overall construction of all of their products is consistently impressive. This bag is no different. It’s made with quality materials that were built to last and thoughtful design considerations that make this backpack well-sized and well-suited for smaller kids.

Standout features include a reflective bike light loop and fine mesh water bottle pockets that can easily double as quick-access treasure keepers. This bag stood up astonishingly well to a year of testing and looks as new today as the day we got it.

This bag, however, comes in very few design choices that kids can get excited about, and there weren't any components that truly set it apart from the pack. It is comfortable and durable and kids liked it overall, but nothing about this bag make it a “must buy.”

Pros

  • Small-mesh side pockets

  • Ergonomic design

  • Excellent warranty

Cons

  • Very few design options

  • Few standout features

Product image of L.L. Bean Original Book Pack
L.L. Bean Original Book Pack

You can’t beat a classic. The L.L. Bean Original is virtually unchanged since it’s 1982 debut, and that consistency is mainly due to the fact that they’ve done a lot of things right.

This well-priced bag is sturdy, simple, and comes with a generous one-year warranty.

As you may expect from L.L. Bean, this pack has plenty of quality finishes. The bag and pouches are made from a seemingly indestructible nylon, the zipper to the main pouch is covered with a storm flap for protection against drops, a 3M Scotchlite reflective strip is well-placed on the front for any kids that get to school on foot or bike, and it has well-constructed zipper pouches to keep smaller items organized. It’s also machine washable, which is the holy grail of kids’ backpacks.

Where it didn't fare as well was with comfort. While it does have minimal padding, there are no ergonomic elements and it lacks features like contoured straps and a chest strap. Smaller kids felt uncomfortable wearing this and it lacked a laptop sleeve to keep older kids' devices well-protected.

In spite of all of that, this bag held up great after a year of testing and we can personally vouch that these backpacks can last for well over a decade of continued use. If you're looking for a well-priced backpack that's a confirmed classic, you could definitely do worse than the L.L. Bean Original.

Pros

  • Machine washable

  • One-year warranty

  • Quality details

Cons

  • Single water bottle pocket

  • No laptop sleeve

  • Uncomfortable straps

Product image of Herschel Kids' Heritage Backpack
Herschel Kids' Heritage Backpack

Structurally, this is probably the most well-made of the bunch. Every part of this pack is made with the highest quality and craftsmanship, so we actually really wanted to love it. In the end, however, it just doesn’t feel like a pack that was actually created with kids in mind.

The design choices are limited and too sophisticated for younger kids. The water bottle holder is restrictive and we struggled to fit most bottle sizes.

While the fabric of this bag feels indestructible, it was so stiff that kids struggled to actually get their things in and out of the bag. What's more, kids just didn't like wearing this. They said it was stiff and uncomfortable and voiced preferences for other backpacks.

These are definitely well-made bags that will last a long time, but there’s little point to that durability if your kids don't like wearing it.

Pros

  • Quality construction

  • Sturdy laptop sleeve

  • Lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Too expensive to justify need

  • Restrictive water bottle pocket

Product image of Wildkin 15-Inch Backpack
Wildkin 15-Inch Backpack

This really isn’t a bad little bag, but it's also nothing special. It’s comfortable for kids and affordable but, for the price, there are better options on our list. If you’re looking to save money on a first bag, this isn’t a bad choice, it just didn’t manage to keep up with the bells, whistles, and thoughtful design of other bags. This Wildkins model only has one bottle pocket and that pocket only allowed for the smallest bottle we had. It also could have done better with regard to organizational pockets.

That being said, preschoolers don’t require everything older kids need. This bag probably won’t grow with them but, for a first bag, it’s affordable and a solid choice.

Pros

  • Lots of cute designs

  • Well-priced

Cons

  • Restrictive water bottle pocket

  • No notable features

Meet the tester

Janelle Randazza

Janelle Randazza

Staff Writer, Parenting

@JanelleRandazza

Janelle Randazza is a writer/mother hybrid and taco enthusiast based out of Los Angeles, California.

See all of Janelle Randazza's reviews

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