Backpack Recommendations, Please.

Updated on August 03, 2017
N.Z. asks from Los Angeles, CA
24 answers

I'm looking to buy a quality backpack that will last a few years, at least, for my 5 year old starting TK in the fall. Currently, she's using an LL Bean backpack that someone gifted us, but it doesn't seem big enough to fit a standard folder with pockets and it looks like she'll outgrow it quickly.

I've heard good things about LL Bean backpacks so I'm looking into their bigger backpacks. I've also looked at Pottery Barn Kids backpacks.

Where do you purchase backpacks for your elementary school aged children? Do you have a favorite? What should I look for other than the shoulder strap padding?

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answers from St. Louis on

This will sound insane but Northface. I divorced and went back to college in 2006 bought a Northface backpack. I graduated in 2010 and gave it to my 11 year old who was starting middle school. He is using it for college next year. Other than one plastic bit that got caught in the car door is is like new.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Thank you for getting a bigger bag than the little one she has. (From a former teacher of young ones.) It's so sad to see kids cram their precious art work into a cute, but too small bag.

Lots of good suggestions below. My suggestion is to go for as few zippers as possible. And then tie a little piece of contrasting yarn to the one she will use the most. Everything should go in this and be emptied everyday. Keeps things simple!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

The Original LL Bean backpack will be big enough until she's in middle school. What you probably have is the Junior size, which does not neatly fit a folder. My youngest used his Junior pack through 2nd grade and just jammed the folder in there so it can be done, but the Original size is great for elementary school kids and is reasonably priced (and they're 20% off now with free shipping). We then move to the Deluxe Plus and those have taken my kids from middle school to college.

With my oldest, we used to use other backpacks and found that we were replacing them almost every year. We get 5+ years of daily use out of the LL Bean bags, then when it's time for a bigger one, the retired one still gets used as a sleepover bag, gym bag, or other extra bag. We have some that are 10+ years old and still going strong.

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answers from Springfield on

I bought character backpacks at that age. They did wear out after a year or two, but my boys loved them. Target has great sales on backpacks this time of year. Toys R Us usually does a "buy a backpack, get a lunch box for free" deal this time of year.

My oldest wanted a different backpack when he was in 2nd grade (no more characters), but my youngest will be in 3rd grade and still loves his Minion backpack.

If you don't what a cheapo (and character backpacks usually are cheapo), Jansport is a great brand.

Honestly, I don't think the expensive backpacks are worth it at all. I've never paid more that $15 for a backpack, and most of them have lasted 3 or more years. I just can't justify paying $75 or more for something that MIGHT last 5 years.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

My girls loved going back to school shopping for a new backpack each year. Although the backpacks held up, they did get kind of dingy looking even after washing. If you don't want to spend too much check out Target or Staples. I also bought many backpacks at The Children's Place but I'm not sure they are still in business.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Our kids get to pick a new backpack each year with school supplies. They aren't that expensive and kids grow over a foot taller in elementary school. They will need different sizes almost every year.

Plus each year they'll want a different character or fabric or style.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

We never got more than a year out of most backpacks, but we got an average of 2 years out of LL Bean. They aren't cheap though, so plan ahead in case she decides in 6 months or a year that she hates the color and just HAS to have the latest character backpack. (I'm not saying to buy it, just to prepare for the argument!)

Re the size, it helps to find out what the teacher is going to expect in terms of materials coming home. Most K (and I assume TK) kids don't have homework (thank God!) and it's not all that likely that your 5 year old will take the time to put papers, notices, permission slips and so on in a folder with pockets. Unless she has developed this habit through preschool, I think you can expect to have papers shoved in the bottom of the backpack, which you will find after they are covered in spilled juice or clean but the day after the permission slip was due!

Mostly, I think it's more important to have room for a lunch box, their little projects that they bring home, and various articles of clothing that they don't want to wear during the day or on the way home, no matter how you sent them to school. I see your address as LA so you don't have as much of the hats/gloves/mittens/scarves that we have in New England, but still... So I'd go for a big opening and not a lot of compartments, since kids just shove stuff in there willy-nilly anyway. If there's one of those side pockets (sort of a net-mesh thing) that will hold a water bottle, that's good - keeps the liquid out of the main compartment. Get a carabiner so the loop on the bottle can be anchored to the backpack. Remember that kids' backpacks don't always remain upright - they get knocked over on the bus, stepped on while kids are jostling to line up, dropped on the floor of the car, and shoved sideways into a cubby.

The only problem with LL Bean and similar bags is that they only come in a few colors, and many kids will have them. Although these bigger stores provide an option for personalization, there are often cautions (by safety experts) against putting a child's first name on a backpack, and not all kids recognize their initials. So you'll want to find a way to individualize it. There was a fad some years ago involving those stuffed animal key rings and so on, but some schools vetoed them because they got caught on things (playground equipment, more). So you need to find a way to help her identify her bag in a crowd - same problem we all have at baggage claim when all the black wheeled bags come off the airplane at the same time. It might be as simple as a bright ribbon, but keep that in mind when you are ordering a color/style that will be popular.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

LL Bean Original (not Junior) is a good full size pack that will last through elementary school. It's a little big on most kindy kids, but that's not really a bad thing. They look like cute little turtles.

When my kids started Jr High, I got the Deluxe model which has more space for the bigger/more stuff they had to haul. The backpacks they have now will last through college, barring some unusual disaster. They still use the original packs from elementary school as an overnight bag or to carry stuff while biking.

They are having 20% off sale with code KIDS20 but it ends tonight (July 30) I'd suggest staying away from the pastel colors. They are super durable in structure but once dirt is ground in it is difficult to get the bottom to look clean again on light colors.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

I let my son choose his own backpack because it helped him get excited about school.

I would probably just get a standard sized backpack. The direction that we were given was that it had to big enough for a large library book. (Like a large hard cover picture book). He had a take-home folder that he took each day. (Part of their daily routine.) And then his lunchbox went in there because it was the only way I could ensure that it made it to school. A 'junior' sized backpack wouldn't have been large enough.

He also brought a snack and drink every day, and that went in a separate front pocket of the backpack so it was easy to find.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I second the larger Jansport backpacks. They hold up year after year. My girls wouldn't need a new backpack but after a few years they would want a new one. They come in a multitude of prints.

If you can hold off, places like Kohls will clearance them off after school starts and you can truly pick one up for under $10.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Our son used a single compartment LL Bean backpack from kindergarten through 5th grade.
It's still in great shape.
Really - the younger kids shouldn't be carrying a lot - and a smaller backpack helps keep this reasonable.
In 6th grade (middle school where we are) we got him a larger back pack with multiple compartments (not LL Bean - just something from Target) - he basically wore these out one per year - but he wanted something different every year - so that was alright.
Then for 11th grade he got the biggest backpack we could find for him and it lasted him through his senior year.
High school is brutal on backpacks - the lockers are too small to hold anything and almost everybody carries everything with them all day every day.
There were times his backpack weighed more than 50lbs but he's a big guy and could carry it easily.
I'm hoping his college backpack won't get so heavy - they all carry their laptops with them everywhere.
I'd stick with the backpack she has for now.
Those LL Bean backpacks are great.
When she's older, she might want to change her fashion tastes every year and the cheaper backpacks will be fine for that.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Both of mine carried LLBean.
They are both in their 20's and still carry the last LLBeans they got in high school. (They used them only for travel purposes during college because they weren't allowed to use them for books - military college.)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

More important than the brand, I think, is to first really think about what "style" you want, along the lines of Diane B's response below. What qualities do you need in her backpack - what size (what size is the stuff she will be carrying), how many pockets, etc.

In TK, a small backpack basically like a lunchbag on her back, might be enough. You mention a "standard folder" - does she really need to carry folders in TK? Can her papers be neatly rolled/folded and inserted into a smaller backpack? (Any TK teacher who wants to "give her a bad grade" for folding papers would seem nuts to me...keeping TK papers flat in a folder seems like an unnecessary reason to buy a too-big backpack.)

I do not think you need to "plan ahead" to buy a backpack that will work for future years - each year will bring a new set of stuff to be carried; the needed size of backpack can vary accordingly.

(If you are really concerned about folders, a lightweight shoulder tote bag might be a good of those thin fabric totes, sometimes even given as free giveaways, those are often big enough to hold a small folder. Would be much lighter weight for her to carry than a heavy-duty backpack.)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Our kids all had the LL Bean original size with their name embroidered on it. We still have all of them :) They last forever, wash up great, and never really go out of style. We also have the embroidered lunch boxes - and have all of those as well, still.

I am not a fan of cheapy Target/WalMart backpacks that don't even last the year.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I still have a few Jansport backpacks from when my boys were in middle and high school. One is still actively in use today and one kid is graduated from college and the other is a senior in college. I found they held up well for school stuff and sports stuff. They are still in great shape. Check out their warranty, too. It is super easy to get repair or replacement from them. They are one of the few companies serious about their warranties and customer service.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My son has used a Lands End backpack for the past two years and it's still in excellent condition. He will use it again for the coming year (5th grade). I just bought my daughter (1st grade) a Pottery Barn Kids backpack (the small size, but not the preschool size). We haven't had one before but it seems like really good quality. We have had great luck with the PBK lunch boxes, so I'm hoping the backpack is just as good.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

We also purchased the ones from LL Bean. I had them growing up. Can't say enough good things about them.

They do come in a variety of sizes as they grow. The smallest size we used for daycare/preschool. They outgrew that one pretty quickly. I think we ended up just going larger (so they looked very large to start) then on. You can really cinch those straps so that's what did to get the most use. They do not wear those backpacks out. Trust me.

We had a Lands End very small backpack for one of our kids for preschool - just because it was super cute, and that lasted very well too. I think we have one of their lunch boxes too and it's lasted better than our LL Bean ones. I prefer Lands End boxes to the LL Bean ones, just because the LL Bean lunch boxes have creases in the corner (whereas our Lands End one does not) so much easier to keep clean and wash. It was far sturdier. I find the most years I've gotten out of LL Bean lunch boxes was maybe 2.

Our kids as they've gotten older have tried more fashionable or trendy backpacks. We've gone through two in quick succession, and they were far more expensive than the LL Bean ones.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Eddie Bauer backpacks have a life time warranty, even the ones from the outlet store... and they're good quality, cost a bit more, but you only buy once.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I'm a bit of a freak about fitting backpacks. It bugs me when i see kids with the backpacks on long straps, too big, the weight pulling on their shoulders. I regularly use a backpack myself so I know what that can feel like.I am also short and deal with back pain as it is, so I use one which would likely suit for 'tween from LL Bean. Had it forever.

LLBean does make 'junior' sized packs. You'll have to look at the exact measurements, but my son used his for kindergarten and first grade and it held folders just fine. At ten, he now uses it as a light pack for day outings but has a larger one for when he was going to public school/traveling. So, you still get the use out of it and can pass it along. I prefer to get something which fits correctly and to pay a little extra not to have the pain/size issues. My own LL Bean pack is ages old and works well still after 15 years. Not like you are going to wear it out!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Rochester on

We have done LL Bean backpacks we bought for travel. They have been good. But honestly the Trans brand backpacks that we have gotten at Target have been the best. They have lasted 2+ years with very little wear. I don't particularly like buying online when I can't see exactly how they are going to fit and what the fabric, etc are like. Although the LL Bean ones we bought are fine the pockets do not open that wide and aren't as easy to load as we had hoped. Maybe it was the style we bought.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

My daughter's backpack on sale at Lands End has lasted a long time. My son's backpack was from Kohl's and it also has lasted a very long time. You know, LL Bean and Lands End both make smaller and larger sized backpacks for younger vs. older kids so you can always get another LL Bean just in a larger size. I wait for the sales bc they cost too much new.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

We've used many backpacks over the years...

LL Bean - used the smaller and "original" - I know the strap ripped and they replaced it.
Lands End - it was a messenger style
North Face - I believe it was called "RECON" and my boys used it for about 4 years
Columbia - this was a good one.
Kenneth Cole (3rd year my son is using this one), youngest one LOVES This one.

We've been using back packs since my kids went to Kindercare, they are now a sophomore and a senior.

Hope this helps!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

My kids both have Land End backpacks right now and I used LL Bean throughout high school, college, and grad school. There are always sales so the price is not that bad especially for the quality and the guarantee.

Both of those companies will replace the backpack when it wears out - forever guarantee. The LL Bean backpack that I used through high school and college eventually had a problem with the zipper and the inside lining was starting to wear out. Not surprising since it was 10 years old and used daily.

When I needed a backpack for grad school I took it back to the store (happened to be in Maine for vacation) and they gave me a new one. I felt a little funny returning a 10 year old backpack, but honestly there was a whole line of people returning well used things. They say guaranteed forever and they mean it.



answers from New York on

Just get the bigger one LL Bean sells.

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