THE BEST BACKPACKS
The shopping ends here.
It may be back to school time, but that's no reason to spend summer days in the mall.
We scoured the market for little kids backpacks and rigorously tested the best of the bunch.
Want to learn about our methods? Read here about why you should trust us. Then cross one more thing off your shopping list.
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Pottery Barn Kids
A standout in every category.
Front clasp occasionally sticks
With its well-padded shoulder straps and back area, the Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie is a true standout when it comes to comfort. It's also one of only two little kid packs we reviewed that includes a chest strap to distribute some weight off the child's back and shoulders. Great organizational features plus a huge variety of patterns.
Read full review here.
Comfort and quality.
Strong on comfort
Fantastic comfort, excellent quality, solid front strap. A great fit for the taller end of our height spectrum. (child around 48"? We're looking at you.)
Read full review here.
High quality, good price.
Nice fit for smaller set
Large reflective strip
Padding could be softer
The Junior Original does well on comfort and organization (and has a great reflective strip) but has a list price nearly $15 less than our top pick.
Read full review here.
The Best of the Rest
It's tough to beat our top overall picks, the Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie and the Lands' End Small Classmate when it comes to comfort and organization. Our budget pick, the L.L.Bean Junior Original, gave those two a run for their money at a significantly lower cost, though the stiffness of some of the Junior Original's padding and its lack of a chest strap kept it from meeting the top comfort threshold.
The Stephen Joseph All Over Print and the Wildkin Olive Kids Sidekick both had some level of shoulder and back padding, though neither was as comfortable as our favorites and both lacked a chest strap. The All Over Print had an excellent capacity, though, and the Sidekick had the most spacious front pocket of any pack we reviewed (though it lost some points for not having a side water bottle pocket).
There was a lot to love about the Crocodile Creek backpack as well, particularly the cut. This bag had relatively small dimensions, making it a great fit for our smaller testers, but it maintained its height nearly to the top of the bag (rather than narrowing at the top), giving it a greater-than-expected capacity. The shoulder straps had some padding, but the lack of back padding was a big negative if the pack is going to be used for school.
Why You Should Trust Us
We conducted the world's most thorough tests of little kids backpacks.
OUR MISSION: Your time is valuable. We want to help you focus on the important stuff. We won't waste your time with product recommendations until we're confident in our research and analysis.
We spent 20+ hours analyzing backpacks.
Before we chose which backpacks to test in person, we did our homework. We scouted backpacks at toy conventions, examined the holdings at retail stores, and plunged into the deepest depths of online reviews. We carefully considered 41 backpack models across 17 different brands before boiling down the list. Our focus was on finding the best little kids backpack for the pre-K through first grade crowd. As a size proxy, we assessed each pack's usability for kids between 42" and 48" tall. We ultimately selected six backpacks of varying price and design to test. We selected an additional, larger version of one of these packs for size comparison purposes.
We paid retail for all seven models, just like you.
Upon arrival, we inspected the backpacks. We looked for flaws in coloring or stitching and tears in the material. We carefully examined the interior and exterior of the bags for padding, pockets, compartments, and straps. We compared the sizes of the packs and their capacity to hold a range of objects. (We also let our littlest testers, ranging in age from 4 to 6, try the backpacks on and give their own assessments of fit and feel.)
When we rated the backpacks, our assessment criteria included:
At this age, most kids don't need to cart large textbooks around. At the younger end of our age range, we wanted the bag to comfortably fit a change of clothes, a blanket, and a water bottle. At the older end of our age range, we wanted the bag to fit a full-sized folder, a small notebook, and a couple library books.
We considered the number of pockets, whether those pockets were broken up into additional compartments, the accessibility of those pockets and compartments, and whether the pockets and compartments were closable. We of course also took note of the all-important water bottle side pocket (or lack thereof).
Features: Points awarded for having a chalkboard; dry erase board; magnetized surface; paper holder or clips; and a felt board.
How Well it Works: Points awarded based on chalk and marker visibility; how cleanly the surfaces erased; ease of using a paper canvas; and the size of the workspace surface.
This is the key metric for us. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child's backpack should have padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Pockets can help distribute the weight of the pack, and a chest strap can take some of that weight off the shoulders and back.
A backpack should never weigh more than 10-20% of a child's body weight, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. For this reason (and to avoid the temptation to stuff more into the backpack), we focused on packs that would fit children in our 42" to 48" size range now, rather than packs that they could "grow into."
We examined the overall appearance of the pack, the quality of materials used, how well the zippers and other closing mechanisms functioned, stitching, and whether pockets and compartments were lined.