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10 best school bags to suit all ages from primary to secondary

Whether they're starting reception, or Year 7 these are our top picks to get them ready to face the challenge

Look for comfy straps and enough space for everything from laptops to PE kits ( iStock/ The Independent )

Whether a child is just four years old and fresh out of nursery, or in their teens thinking about college, their school bag is an important part of their daily routine. It carries so many important parts of their life around – from laptops to lunch and therefore needs to be up to the challenge.

Younger children might not have stacks of homework but having their own bag is so important in terms of their development. It encourages them to start taking responsibility for their things and this make them feel grown up, which in turn promotes confidence.

No matter what the age or stage of a child, the main thing we were looking for in their school bag was comfort. Did the bag feel good to wear? Did the strap/s feel sufficiently strong and sturdy? When filled, was the weight of the bag evenly spread about?

Then of course there were other considerations. Size, for one. What could it fit inside easily without a battle against zips and clips every day? Was it easy to access? Did all the fastenings work cleanly? 

We also took into account helpful things like hidden compartments for pens, water bottle holders and so on. 

Finally, we thought hard about how each bag might fare being used every single day. Was it built to last? From reception class newbies to teenagers with packed timetables, here’s our selection. 

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers , but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Fjallraven kanken backpack: £80, Fjallraven

These have become something of a cult product. We defy anyone to travel in a major city on any given day and not see at least one. But, unlike so many fashionable flights of fancy, the Kanken’s is a steady, assured popularity, which has roots not in its aesthetic (which is non-the-less pleasing) but because it is so comfortable. It was, as the inside label will tell you, launched in 1978 to prevent Swedish schoolchildren from developing back problems. The rear pocket contains a seat pad which stops the contents of the bag digging into the wearer’s back.

Smaller children could opt for the miniature version but we found that our eight-year-old tester was better off with the adult size. We managed to fit a laptop, three hardback books, a pair of trainers and a Tupperware sandwich box inside. It’s beautifully made, robust and cheering. The perfect school bag.

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Frugi adventurers backpack: £25, Frugi

With a capacity of 14l and measuring 28 x 34 x 11cm – this is a roomy bag, capable of holding A4 pads and folders as well as all the other accessories typical of a primary schooler.

You can also get matching lunch bag, pencil case and water bottles – the latter can be stored snugly in one of the two stretchy side pockets. We especially liked the reflective patches on the front pockets and along the straps for extra safety on darker evenings when the nights draw in.

Our little tester, who was six, enjoyed exploring the different compartments of the backpack and working out where to store all her stuff and reported that it was a “grown-ups bag” – which is high praise indeed. The straps were easily adjustable and with enough padding for comfort.

Made from 100 per cent recycled polyester, this bag is eco-friendly and can be personalised to boot. 

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Rex London dolly llama mini backpack: £12.95, Rex London

Llamas are rivalling the unicorn for motif of choice on the clothes and accessories of little ones across the land. Diminutive at 21 x 28 x 10 cm, this backpack is a simple design – a large primary compartment with a small zip pocket on the front. It is feather-light and boasts a carrying handle and adjustable shoulder straps.

As predicted, the pattern wowed our four-year-old tester, who made a beeline for the bag. It was easy for her to wear, the straps were wide, if not plump which made any weight accumulated inside the bag easily distributed.

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Personalised koala print backpack: £27, My 1st Years

While personalising is always special, it’s actually extremely practical when it comes to something like a schoolbag. There is much less scope for misplacement or confusion and your offspring’s teachers will be grateful. This koala print backpack can be personalised with embroidered letters across the front up for names up to nine letters long.

Not only is it really cute to look at, this backpack is brilliantly designed. There are three zipped compartments, including a coin pocket and pencil slots. There are two large sleeves on either side for bottles. It’s pretty big – 43 x 30 x 13cm – which means it will also work nicely as a weekend away bag or as hand luggage on holidays, and yet it’s still really light.

This was a hit with two different testers – one who was six and the other who was eight. The pattern was a major draw, as were all the “secret pockets”.

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Zatchels leather city backpack: £58, Zatchels

Handmade using beautiful leather, this is such a gorgeous bag. It’s so pretty and smart, befitting a grown-up student who wants to dress for success.

This backpack comes in two sizes, but we recommend the city plus, as it’s the perfect size to easily accommodate laptops and files. The leather straps are detachable, should you just want to carry it like a briefcase or as a shoulder bag. And if baby blue isn’t your most favourite colour, there are plenty of others to choose from.

Our tester, aged 14, loved the grown up look of this bag, but noted that the straps felt hard – something that goes with the territory when it comes to new leather, but time will soften them into comfort. Plus, it’s in the sale so this is a proper bargain.

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Jojo Maman Bebe fox backpack: £16, Jojo Maman Bebe

At 26 x 21 x 9cm this small backpack with a friendly fox face – complete with ears and a tail – on the front is the perfect first bag for any child. There is room enough for snacks, a fresh set of clothes and even a favoured toy. The straps are not padded, but they are adjustable and strong.

This was adored by our tester, who is just about to turn four – the “secret face pocket” was perhaps the standout feature for him, while we noted that the fit was snug and comfortable.

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Hunter original kids backpack: £40, Hunter

A mini version of the adult backpack, this retains all of the benefits and qualities. It is water resistant with strong, substantial zips with big teeth, in the traditional Hunter colours. Measuring 32cm x 10.5cm x 24.5cm and with a capacity of just over 10 litres, this bag can easily accommodate fresh clothes, a pencil case and a few seasonal accoutrements from wellies, gloves and hats to sunscreen and shades.

Our six-year-old tester looked so smart with this on his back. The straps were easy to adjust and abundantly padded so that there was no digging or pressure even when worn over a thin t-shirt. The texture was lovely too – almost silky to the touch. 

There are other colours to choose from including pink, red, black and even multi-coloured featuring Peppa Pig thanks to a collaboration with everyone’s favourite happy little hog.

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Herschel retreat backpack: £80, Herschel Supply Co

This is big (43 x 30.5 x 15cm) and extremely practical for athletic secondary schoolers who need to tote their sports kit about, as well as the usual stack of books and other paraphernalia required by teenagers.

Our 14-year-old tester gave this two massive thumbs up for a number of reasons. Firstly, for the padded laptop sleeve that is integral to the inside of the backpack which can hold a device measuring up to 15 inches.

The drawstring closure underneath the main cover flap is a really important and appreciated feature mainly in terms of security as children travelling on public transport can be especially vulnerable to pickpockets. On the flipside the hidden magnet fastening allows for easy access while retaining the traditional buckled look. The best part of this big bag is how light it is.

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Next animal face rucksack: £16, Next

We were totally charmed by the awesome animal faces print on this backpack, which has a glossy PVC coating – always handy when it comes to cleaning or protection from light rain.

This is a simple piece of kit – no hidden compartment except for a smaller front pocket. Our testers, a handful of girls and boys aged between three and 10 all loved this bag. Measuring 33 x 23 x 13 cm – there is plenty of space in here for a pencil case, snacks and of course, homework!

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Cambridge Satchel Company classic leather batchel: £175, Cambridge Satchel Company

This batchel (a satchel with a handle) the most traditional of scholarly accessories. It might seem silly to describe school bags for children as investment pieces, but this – which is by far the priciest of our round up – will last all through secondary school and beyond. The leather is luxurious quality, the craftsmanship beautiful and, if there’s a formal uniform policy you could never get into hot water with this on your shoulder.

We plumped for the 15-inch version because it could hold a small laptop. It comes in its own cloth bag which is a grown up, sophisticated touch.

Our 13-year-old tester was especially enamoured with the idea that this could be engraved with one’s initials… This suits smart, organised pupils – and will last a lifetime if well looked after.

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The verdict: School bags

The Kanken by Fjallraven has everything you could possibly ask for in a schoolbag – and it’s good for growing backs. For younger children the Rex London dolly llama backpack is light, simple, fun – and inexpensive.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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