How to Buy the Perfect Kids School Backpack

By Sue Kirchner

It’s getting to be that time of year, when our kids are done jumping into pools and beginning to jump into books. That means one thing – school supplies and backpacks. There are some questions that you need to ask yourself and your child before picking that backpack for school or even preschool.

How big do you need it?
Your child will go through three backpack size phases in their school years – preschool, elementary school, and middle/high school. While you may have more than one backpack during those times, the sizes will grow as your child grows. (I know, obvious.)

Preschool or Daycare: A preschool size bag should be small and simple, just big enough to carry those toddler essentials like a change of clothes, snack, BFF blankie, or a stuffed animal. So ask yourself, what do they need to bring every day and will this backpack hold it. Are you going to carry it or are they? If they are going to carry their own backpack to preschool then it needs to be smaller and very lightweight. You don’t want them looking like a deformed turtle as they walk down the driveway.
Elementary School: They say Niagara Falls is the 8th wonder of the world but I would argue that it’s my son’s backpack after a day at school. We’re talking a few books, folders, loose papers, a few Lego guys to play with on the bus, and of course pieces of priceless art like life cycles of a butterfly, macaroni necklaces and popsicle stick art. (I know these are going to be worth something on eBay one day.)

So, your child’s backpack needs to hold all that and a bag of chips. If your child takes lunch to school then you also need to fit a lunch bag and maybe a water bottle. Now, here’s the kicker. Does your child go directly to an afterschool activity or care location where they would need to add in sports gear, additional books, or toys? Most school size backpacks are sufficient for an elementary school child’s needs but if you are using the backpack for extra activities or to travel with on the weekends, go for the largest size you can find.
Do you want to embroider their name on the bag? If so, look for a design that has an open space on the front so you can add the name.
Middle or High School: For you, it’s all about durability because they carry some pretty heavy books. Look for durable material and a large size bag. For them, it’s all about the ‘tude. This bag will hold more than just books, it will hold a statement. Don’t be surprised to find their bag covered in hanging doodads or covered with pins and patches. Your child will want to express him or herself so let them go for it.

There are a variety of styles for older kids; standard backpacks or messenger bags are popular, so have fun with your tween or teen picking out what they feel comfortable carrying- because now they’re not just carrying a bag, but their heart on their sleeve, I mean back.


If you want the backpack to last a few years, look for tough material. Not only to take abuse but to stand up to a hazmat-type cleaning. Make sure it is machine washable. With my kids, we need to empty the bag and wash it every 2 months. They get skanky with food, left over glue, and various other substances that I can’t even identify! Remember, you only want one living thing attached to your kids backpack - your kid.

Last Notes about Design

When your kids are younger, backpacks make a great gift. You or the gift giver can choose a cute, hip, or even plain design and your child will be thrilled. Once your kids gets ready for school, just try and get them to like the same design you do. Avoid the arguments and let them pick.

Also, when your kids are younger they are going to gravitate towards the character designed backpacks – Spiderman, Dora, SpongeBob, Princesses, etc. However, these “fad” backpacks will probably only last you one year because your child will move on from that character quickly. “Oh Mom, Dora is so yesterday.” So, if you are going to buy a character backpack, don’t obsess over the quality and durability factors. And don’t pay too much for it because most likely it will go in the donation pile and be going to school with some other child.

Hope these tips helped you. The Chocolate Cake Club has a ton of Kids School Backpacks and Toddler Backpacks if you are looking for ideas and inspiration.