Young girl wearing her new backpack for back to school.

How to Find the Best Backpack for Your Kids

Updated August 3, 2021 . AmFam Team

Back to school means making smart purchases. When new backpacks are on your list, you’ll need to know how to find the best backpack for your kids, and our tips on the topic can help you make the right choice.

With the school year approaching, it’s time to evaluate if your kid’s backpack has ran its course. Whether your child is in e-school, home school or in-person, keeping all their schoolwork and utensils in one, central location can help keep your kid — and home — organized.

Backpacks are especially helpful when you have multiple kids learning from home. A backpack for each can help keep their schoolwork from getting mixed up and allows each kid to have storage space that’s 100% theirs.

If your child has outgrown their backpack, or it didn’t survive last year’s antics, we’re here to help! We’ll help you figure out which backpacks are durable enough to survive this school year, and who knows, maybe next year too!

How to Size Your Kids for a Backpack

Finding a backpack is all about getting one that will be comfortable enough to carry when it’s full and heavy. To get the right fit, grab a tape measure. You need to get a few numbers (in inches) off of your child:

Measure their back’s width. Measure the length between their arm pits (try not to tickle them too much when getting this number).

Measure their back’s height. Measure the distance from their belly button to the top of the sternum (where the neck meets the chest). Add two inches to this number to get the hip line number, and that’s your kid’s back height.

Now that you have those numbers, you know the area that their back can comfortably manage. Suppose you kid’s back width is 12 inches and their back height, including the two inches for the hip line, is 16 inches. Their optimal backpack will have a width of 10 inches and a height of 16 inches.

Finding the Perfect Backpack

Kids will wear out or outgrow almost anything placed onto or next to them — and backpacks are no different. Here are some key suggestions for selecting a backpack as they head back to school:

Start with the shoulder straps. Well padded, adjustable and thick shoulder straps are features your kid will need to ergonomically carry the load of a full backpack. Avoid single strap messenger bags and tell them to always use both shoulder straps to keep the load balanced. This will also help their back and core to bear the load more evenly.

Watch the weight limits. Although it’s unlikely that you’ll know ahead of time what’s going to be in the backpack day in and day out, it’s a good idea to pick up a pack that’s rated for more than your kids will need. Doing so helps to ensure that the seams, zippers and straps won’t fail.

Look at the liters. Although this info is usually reserved for framed backpacks and hiking backpacks, one size does not fit all. Break out that tape measure and compare the backpack’s back-facing area against your kids’ dimensions.

Verify the tech will fit and be protected. If your kid’s lugging a laptop or Chromebook back and forth from school every day, you’ll want a backpack designed to safely transport one. Look for padded and water resistant, zippered options that can help protect their high-tech cargo.

Weatherproof backpacks may last longer. Although these are more expensive, weatherproof backpacks are typically made with higher quality materials. And kids who’ll be walking to school the whole year through may be more likely to find their homework in-tact.

Go for breathable, padded backs. With a thick shield between the contents of the pack and your kid’s back, they’re likely to be more comfortable carrying what they need. And when the padding’s backed up with breathable materials, the hot days can be more bearable.

Waist, hip belts help and sternum straps stabilize heavy loads. If you know that your kid’s going to be lugging big books back and forth, pick a backpack fortified with these features.

Compression straps may be useful. If the kids will be walking long distances, use these straps to tighten the pack around the contents to lock the load in and keep it from bouncing around while commuting.

How to Care for Your Kid’s Backpack

Once you’ve selected the backpack that’s right for your kiddo, there are a few things you need to know about taking care of it. Here’s how you should care for their new backpack.

Hand wash only. Many weatherproof packs are coated with a sealant that can be lost after a few cycles in the laundry. Instead, fill up your utility tub with warm soapy water and gently hand wash the bag with a soft-bristled brush.

Clean it out regularly. Set aside time every weekend and have the kids take everything out of the backpack. Getting into a routine can prevent them from needlessly transporting bulky or heavy items back and forth. Use a damp sponge or baby wipes to clean off the whole pack inside and out.

Important Tips on Purchasing the Right Backpack

Anticipating how your kids will use the backpack and thinking about what they’ll be transporting can help you figure out what’s going to work best.

Make sure your kids like it before you buy it. As much as you think you’ve found the perfectly-appointed backpack with all the features they’ll need to succeed, you may be wrong. Shop with your kids and test fit the backpack in person. They may not like the color or design.

Make a checklist for the kids to review when shopping. By working with a checklist, you’ll be able to ensure that the backpack they select will also meet everybody’s needs. Print out this article and bring it with, if that’s easier.

Think about future uses. If another sibling will likely inherit the backpack as a hand-me-down, consider whether the pack you’re buying will work for them too. Selecting a more gender-neutral color like green or yellow may buy the backpack another life.

Look at water bottle storage carefully. Most kids will be bringing a reusable water bottle with them. Examine at the stitching of the water bottle pocket carefully. It should be deep, with an elastic rim to lock the bottle in. Bring the bottle they use along when shopping and be sure it fits well.

And there you go! Just like that you’re a backpack-buying pro. Pack it with healthy snacks, secret notes they’ll find at school and of course, lots of love.

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