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How to Choose a Backpack for School

Updated 2023

Does your student need a new backpack? Before you buy, take some time to think about factors like comfort, storage, and style. Here’s how to choose a backpack for school!

1. Comfort.

Students will find themselves walking around school throughout the day, so it’s important to invest in a backpack that feels comfortable to wear for extended periods. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Wide and padded shoulder straps are ideal for distributing the weight of the backpack comfortably on the wearer’s shoulders. Although narrow straps may be lower profile, they can dig into your child’s shoulders while carrying a full load.
  • Lightweight and breathable materials are best. The bag itself shouldn’t add too much weight. Although leather bags might look sleek, a lightweight and durable material like canvas is a much better option for students.
  • Padding and back support. A well-made backpack should have ample padding in the back area. Not only does this provide comfort for the wearer, but it also prevents any sharp objects from pushing through the material.
  • A waist clip/belt is a common feature on many backpacks. Waist clips also help to evenly distribute weight across the body, which helps to prevent repeated strain on specific areas.

2. Storage.

Make sure the backpack has enough compartments to meet your child’s storage needs. For younger students, a single zipper compartment may be adequate. Older students may prefer a backpack with multiple storage areas, separators, and zipper compartments. Having the right backpack for your student’s academic needs is an excellent way to help keep class materials organized.

3. Style.

Backpacks can be a great way to show individuality! Depending on the school’s dress code, students often have a wide variety of styles and colors to choose from. Many students even personalize their backpacks with fabric markers, iron-on patches, or button pins! This also makes your backpack stand out – easy to spot, and helpful for avoiding mix-ups at school!

Tutor Doctor’s Expert Tips!

  • Doctors recommend that kids do not carry more than 10-20% of their body weight in a backpack. Here are a few tips to help follow these guidelines:
  • Use both shoulder straps. Although it can seem comfortable to wear a backpack over one side, this puts uneven strain on the load-bearing shoulder at any given time. By wearing both straps, the weight will be easier to manage and won’t pinpoint specific muscle groups.
  • Tighten the straps. Some students like to wear their backpacks sagging down, but this causes unnecessary stress on the lower back and other muscles. Tighten the straps to ensure the fit is snug. Ideally, your child’s backpack should sit close to the body, resting evenly in the middle of the back.

Have a backpack question? We’ve got the answer below!

How are school bags sized?
Most companies specify the storage space inside their backpacks using liters.

Is there a backpack size guide?
This is debatable. In general, elementary school children should only need a maximum of 20L. Middle and high school students should be fine with any bag larger than 25L. Some websites recommend 35L for high school students, but we think this is a bit excessive (more on this below).

How big does my backpack really need to be?
Well, let’s put it this way. JanSport is the world’s largest backpack maker, and if you attended school in the last 50 years you’ve probably seen (or owned) one! JanSport’s classic SuperBreak model is “only” 26L, but can be commonly found on college campuses around the globe (and has been since the 1980s). JanSport’s Right Pack model dates back to the 1970s and is also a student favorite – it’s a little bit bigger (28L) and has a leather bottom for added durability.

What if I need a big bag?
No problem! Some students have lots of materials to carry or may just like having extra space. There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting a larger backpack! Most school bags tend to “max out” around 35L.

What features do I need?
Look for backpacks that have additional features you will use on a daily basis. The most common is a small water bottle pocket – but even then, students who like to carry larger “flask” type bottles may want a backpack with a dedicated thermos holder. In addition, make sure to look for a bag with a laptop/tablet sleeve if you carry a device to school. Many of the classic bags mentioned above are available in “plus” versions with dedicated device storage!

How can I make my backpack lighter?
Many students have the benefit of staggered schedules (not having all their subjects every day). In this case, simply pack what you need! For students who do require all their materials on a daily basis, using school lockers should be your first option.

With so many textbooks being online now, students aren’t as weighed down as they used to be (literally). In many cases, extra weight can come from old, jumbled materials – homework assignments, handouts, etc. Just one old spiral notebook can add more than a pound, so make sure to keep your backpack organized.

Our best general advice? Pack light! Encourage your child to prepare only what they need. There’s no need to bring extra materials that won’t be used during the school day. We always recommend packing the night before to plan out and prepare your bag for the next day!

Want to make sure your new backpack is ready to go? Click here for exclusive organizational tips!

Choosing the Right Backpack for Your Child