The start of a new school year usually means something of a wardrobe and stationery update. The backpack falls somewhere in between – needing to be both practical and something children will be keen to wear.
A great backpack for school needs to have plenty of room – is there anything more annoying than any vessel that is always a little bit too small? You want things to fit neatly inside, but not so that it’s a strain to do the zip or buckle up.
Younger children will typically need to be able to pack a water bottle, their reading book and reading record, snacks and even a lunchbox, while older children in secondary school will need space for all the above plus laptop, A4 files, wallet and phone.
A backpack needs to be durable – younger children especially are prone to dragging their bags across tarmac, dumping them in puddles or allowing the contents of their lunch to spill over the insides. Its straps should be adjustable for growing bodies and all zippers and buckles should display strength and solidity.
Lastly, a backpack should be something a child wants to wear. It should be comfortable, of course, but it should be exciting and fun – instilling a sense of pride in the wearer. Some schools have a strict policy on bags and we’ve included options for such rules.
How we tested
We tested these backpacks over the course of two weeks – on children aged between three and 15-years-old. We considered how they felt to wear when full, what could fit inside, how easy they were to do up and how quickly things could be accessed.
The best kids backpacks for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Frugi adventurers backpack: £28, Welovefrugi.com
- Best personalised bag – Sophie Allport space kids backpack: £28.50, Sophieallport.com
- Best for comfort – Liewood allan backpack: £44, Kidly.co.uk
- Best for older children – Fjallraven tree-kanken: £120, Fjallraven.com
- Best investment piece – Cambridge Satchel Company portrait backpack: £215, Cambridgesatchel.com
- Best for machine washing – Minecraft water repellent school backpack: £24, Marksandspencer.com
- Best eco choice – Nobodinoz sunshine kids backpack: £39.95, Scandiborn.co.uk
- Best for small children – Rex London cookie the cat mini backpack: £19.95, Rexlondon.com
Frugi adventurers backpack
Frugi uses organic products and eco-friendly processes to create its items and this backpack is no exception; the quality is evident from the moment you have it in your hands. We love how lightweight this is and yet is strong and roomy. You can fit so much into this – big lunchbox, full water bottle, a hardback book, a pair or trainers, a raincoat and a large pencil case – and there’s still room left over. The straps are thick and well padded making it easy for little ones to carry. Our four-year-old tester managed this easily – the zip was light and loose which is really important for smaller children.
Sophie Allport space kids backpack
Best: Personalised bag
Sophie Allport’s designs are beautiful and fun – as evidenced by this backpack! Our five-year-old tester was immediately drawn to it, finding it easy to pack, zip up and put on his back all by himself. There’s plenty of room in this backpack while the joins and zips are carefully placed and feel strong and substantial. Best of all, this can be personalised in which case there is no danger of it getting lost.
Adidas black backpack
Best: For sporty teens
Ideal for older kids, this backpack manages to answer the trend for sports logos on everything while being roomy and comfortable (thanks to padded shoulder straps). You can fit a laptop in as well as a small lunchbox, a banana, and a big water bottle. Our 15-year-old tester was delighted with this and said he’ll even use it in the holidays, which is very high praise indeed.
Liewood allan backpack
Best: For comfort
Not only is this easy on the eye, but it also gets our vote where comfort is concerned too, thanks to its padded shoulder straps and a chest strap, which help to evenly distribute weight and hold the backpack in place. Our four-year-old tester loved this extra strap – not least for the process of doing it up which, she says, made her feel grown-up. It’s a really decent size too – it can fit a lunchbox, fruit, reading book and water bottle inside with room to spare. Ideal for younger children in their first years of primary school.
Best: For older children
The kanken has been around for over 40 years, having launched in Sweden in 1978 as a way of ensuring children didn’t develop back problems: the design is all about comfort and support. Since then it’s become extraordinarily popular with adults and children alike. The kanken, recognisable for its simple cuboid shape, thin straps and rounded logo, is everywhere.
This cult status anchored in health is why it could possibly be the best school backpack in the world. The tree version is brand new – the main difference is that the front pocket is hidden. At first, we worried about the thin, unpadded straps – but such is the positioning you don’t feel any strain no matter how much is in the bag. There is a main compartment which can hold a laptop, a pair of trainers, a sandwich, a pencil case, an A5 hardback notebook and a make-up bag. There is also an internal pocket that holds a thick pad which prevents the contents of the bag from digging into the wearer’s back. The tree comes in four shades – we liked the grey or blue for school and our 15-year-old tester who walks 20 minutes to school each day was delighted to see that this was both water-resistant and quick drying.
Cambridge Satchel Company portrait backpack
Best: Investment piece
School bags as investment pieces? Don’t roll your eyes yet – hear us out. The portrait is made using beautiful leather and perfect craftsmanship which means it will last way beyond the academic year – this is quite literally a bag for life. The leather will soften over time and, we’d wager, look better with age.
This will conform to any uniform policy without looking frumpy and can fit laptops and A4 pads easily inside. There are buckles, not zips, which gives it a delightfully retro feel. The portrait arrives in a dust bag and can be engraved which makes it a really special, sophisticated backpack – perfect for older students who like to make a good impression.
Minecraft water repellent school backpack
Best: For machine washing
Calling parents of all Minecraft fans! This backpack is what you’ve been waiting for. Aside from the design which is pretty awesome, it’s huge, fitting A4 pads and files, as well as a lunchbox and pencil case in the main compartment. and boasts other pockets and pouches too. Our 8-year-old tester couldn’t wait to fill this up with his stuff – it’s one of those items we think will soften the blow for any children who don’t love the prospect of returning to the classroom.
There’s a water-resistant finish on the exterior which is great for rainy days, but best of all the whole thing is machine washable, which is music to any parent’s ears.
Nobodinoz sunshine kids backpack
Best: Eco choice
This backpack is a brilliant eco pick, as it’s made from organic cotton processed without pesticides. It is light, with wide straps which makes it a breeze to carry – and we were mad about its simple aesthetic of block colour and clean lines.
The bag has a water-repellent coating – hurray! – and there is a smaller option available for pre-schoolers. It’s currently out of stock but we hope it’ll be back soon.
Rex London cookie the cat mini backpack
Best: For small children
What a bargain! This little backpack is bright, jolly, light, well made and comes in a larger size for older children. Our three-year-old pre-schooler looked unspeakably cute toting this about – she felt so grown up with her own bag. The shoulder straps are adjustable to there’s plenty of room for movement and growth and we were pleased to see they were padded too so can be worn comfortably with only a T-shirt on underneath.
Verdict: Kids’ backpacks
We love the Frugi – it ticks so many boxes including being eco-friendly and comfortable, and is lovely to look at to boot. For older kids, the tree-kanken is always a great shout while Rex London’s cookie the cat mini backpack is the perfect choice for small children who need a great first backpack.
For the latest discount on kids essentials, try the links below:
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