Mackenzie large backpack. Photo courtesy Pottery Barn
Top pick: Pottery Barn Mackenzie large backpack
For pre-K, a mini-backpack works just fine because all your preschooler totes around is a snack. Skip Hop makes adorable animal packs and Wildkin backpacks hold up great, too.
Once the kids start elementary school, their stuff multiplies: lunch bag, snack, water bottles, library books, art projects … They’ll need a real backpack. Pottery Barn backpacks are durable and come in cute (if cloyingly gender-specific) patterns. There’s sure to be something to appeal to your kid’s passions. Tips: Buy a darker color to hide stains, and never pay retail. At the very least, sign up for the email list to get a discount.
If your kid isn’t picky about looks, the High Sierra backpack has outlasted our much pricier North Face and Marmot backpacks. It’s the roomiest and most rugged backpack we’ve found yet.
Parents also swear by L.L. Bean and Lands’ End backpacks, which they say still look good as new after several years of use. Both companies often send out coupons, so find a code before you order to bring the price down to something palatable.
But there’s something to be said for that cheapie backpack. Part of the thrill of starting school is picking out new gear, and it’s fun to shop for a new one every year. Buy a backup during the back-to-school sales, just in case someone drags their new backpack on the ground and it busts a hole the first week of school. (Don’t say we didn’t warn you.)