9 best school bags
Whether kids are just starting Reception or their first year of Secondary, these are our top back to school bags to get them ready to face the challenge
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What do you need to think about when buying a back to school bag for your child? First up, they need to be comfortable wearing it, especially when it’s full – which makes backpacks the most sensible option to avoid back aches.
Younger children are often drawn to bright colours, but luckily these days there are plenty of school bags that tick both the fun design and comfort boxes.
Another factor to consider is how old your children are. If they’re just starting Reception they won’t have much to carry beyond extra layers, a waterproof and a lunch box, if they have packed lunch, that is.
But as they rise up through the Infants and Juniors and onto Secondary School, they’ll have more and more work to carry, plus a sports kit – so the demands on their school bag will inevitably get bigger.
What features should you look for? Having seen what a leaking water bottle can do to a piece of homework, we would always look for external water bottle pockets.
Padded straps make sense, and with younger kids we recommend for easy-to-use zips, so they can get things in and out without fuss. Some of our testers like extra pockets for letters they shouldn’t lose or snacks. And we liked the bags with reflective features on them.
Most kids won’t be taking a laptop to school, but we like bags with media pockets as they’re a good way to keep school work flat and separate from sweaty sports kits or packed lunch bags.
Look out for waterproof fabric and hard-wearing bags as they’ll get chucked around a lot, but a good bag could still last them for years, though don’t forget to label your kids’ bag on the inside in case they lose it.
Our pick of back to school bags was tested by a group of kids aged between four and thirteen.
Smiggle Now You See Me Access Backpack: £33.50, Smiggle
All the testers loved this backpack from Aussie stationery brand Smiggle. They adored the design, found it comfy to wear and they really liked that it had three separate compartments – one at the front for pens and snacks, a secret one behind that to stash valuables, and the main one which you could stuff a lot into.
The main section also had a separate laptop compartment which we found useful for keeping school books straight. It’s made of a durable waterproof fabric and has two external water bottle pockets. Also available in purple, pink and navy.
Fjallraven Kanken Backpack: £80, Fjallraven
The Fjallraven Kanken is the most expensive backpack on test, but it’s also an iconic piece – originally launched in Sweden in 1978 to help stop children from getting back pain while carrying heavy books to school.
It continues to be popular with older kids, including our thirteen-year-old testers. They liked that you could use it as a backpack or regular bag thanks to the convertible straps.
We liked the durable waterproof fabric, reflective logo and the fact you can open it up completely when getting stuff in and out. Available in a choice of 45 colours.
Kikki.K Superheroes Backpack: £30, Kikki.K
The Superheroes backpack from Swedish-inspired brand Kikki.K is the smallest bag in our roundup, but is a good choice for children starting Reception who shouldn’t need to fit much in their bag.
Our youngest tester grinned broadly while wearing it and said it felt nice on their back. It has two small external drink pockets and is also available in royal blue.
Quechua Children’s Junior Arpenaz 15l Hiking Backpack: £5.99, Decathlon
The Junior Arpenaz backpack from Decathlon’s Quechua brand went down well with the eight to ten year old testers who liked its bright colours and the way it felt on, even when full of school stuff.
Originally designed for hiking, it has no media pocket or fancy frills, but it’s quite roomy inside, with two external water pockets and a front pouch, It felt to us incredible value for money.
Roxy Shadow Swell 24l Medium Backpack: £45, Roxy
Our thirteen year old testers liked the style and shape of the Shadow Swell backpack from surf brand Roxy.
One of the most spacious bags on test, they also liked the fact it had two main compartments, so they could separate their sports kit from work, one of which included space for a laptop.
It also has two external mesh pockets for water bottles and is available in two other designs.
Osprey Koby 20 Youth Backpack: £45, Osprey
The Koby from outdoors brand Osprey is intended for kids to use while hiking, but we thought it worked well as a comfortable, compact school bag.
It doesn’t weigh much but feels hard-wearing – with external mesh pockets for water bottles and a front mesh pocket, which we found useful to stuff a waterproof into.
The zips have loops, so our young testers found them very easy to use, there’s also a loop to attach keys to and the chest strap has an emergency whistle, which we wished we hadn’t shown our six-year-old tester but could be useful nonetheless.
Littlelife Big Unicorn Kids Backpack: £19.99, Littlelife
Unicorns continue to be popular with younger kids, to the extent that all the testers under eight cheered when they saw this backpack from Littlelife.
It’s a small pack but would work well for kids starting school. The straps are adjustable and padded and it also has a grab handle in case your little unicorn is a bit of a freespirit on the way to and from school.
John Lewis Children’s Shark Print Backpack: £20, John Lewis
Our six-year-old testers loved the bold shark design of this John Lewis own brand backpack and said it was comfy to wear.
There was plenty of room inside for PE kit and extra layers, and we found the internal media pocket a good place to keep school books away from smelly sports clothes.
We also liked the external water bottle pocket, the reflective piping on the straps and found it good value for money.
Tog 24 Norton Knapsack: £30, Tog 24
Our older testers liked the muted colours and front clip design on this Tog 24 bag, and said it was one of the most comfortable out of all the bags tested.
The fabric is waterproof and designed not to rip. It has a secret pocket for valuables at the back and was quite roomy inside, but had no separate compartments or external place for a water bottle. It's also available in grey and dark khaki.