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Best kids backpacks for school, childcare or travel

From stingrays and Harry Potter to Disney Princess and Nike, here are the best kids backpacks starting from just £4.99

Best kids backpacks
Published: August 12, 2022 at 4:05 pm

From as early as the first days of nursery, but definitely from the beginning of their primary school journey, a good quality rucksack is essential for children. It may need to hold a change of clothes, P.E. kit, reading books, homework, a water bottle or lunch bag. Sometimes even all of the above!

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Rucksacks also prove useful at weekends and during school holidays. For a trip to the grandparents, summer play scheme or a sleepover. They may need to fit a favourite toy, a tablet, nightclothes or a very random collection of pebbles (don't ask!).

It's also important to consider your child's height and build. A bag that is bigger than necessary won't allow freedom of movement and is more likely to get filled with "stuff". The weight can then rest on their shoulders causing discomfort.

We asked parents which backpacks their kids love, why they were so popular and how well they lasted, and compiled a list of 10 of the best backpacks and rucksacks from here, taking into consideration fit, internal space, comfort, added extras and good ol' fashioned fun! For added information we also asked whether some schools have certain rules on which backpacks are allowed, and whether this affected choice.

Best kids backpacks at a glance

  • Best sustainable backpack: Littlelife Stingray Toddler Backpack with Rein, £19.99
  • Best backpack with attached pencil case: Nike Elemental Backpack with Pencil Case, £25
  • Best personalised backpack: Personalised Ditsy Print Mini Backpack, £21
  • Best backpack for storing snacks: Skip Hop Unicorn Backpack, £20
  • Best budget backpack: Child's Walking Backpack, £4.99
  • Best backpack for older kids: Hype Clouds Large Backpack, £34.99
  • Best backpack for fitting everything in: Kids' ClassMate Large Backpack, £35
  • Best backpack for DIY: Smiggle Backpack Let's Go, £31.99
  • Best water repellent backpack: M&S Harry Potter Water Repellent School Backpack, £22
  • Best backpack for Disney lovers: Disney Store Disney Princess Backpack, £22

What to consider when choosing a backpack for your child

Size – Family Chiropractic practice N8 Health explained to us how important it is to have the right size backpack. If you backpack is too big, it's going to damage your child's posture and they're going to end up filling it with more stuff than necessary making it unnecessarily heavy and uncomfortable. It's also vital that the backpack is not too wide or low on their back as this too could cause discomfort and back pain. However, there's also practicality to consider, the bag does need to fit all their everyday school essentials in.

Comfort – N8 Health also touched on how the shoulder straps of the bag should be padded and wide to distribute the weight. A waist strap can also come in handy to help disperse the weight of the backpack to other areas of the child's body, away from their shoulders.

Style – As well as comfort, you want to get a bag that your child loves and feels confident wearing. There are so many backpacks to choose from that there is sure to be one for your child, but do include them in the choice.

Ease of use – If your child is going to be using this backpack everyday, it's important that it's easy for them to find things at school. Compartments and pockets are particularly useful for storing valuables such as lunch money or phones for older kids. Compartments can also help separate and stabilise the load, making it more bearable

Washing – Considering the backpack is going to be used a lot, it's likely it will get dirty. Therefore, having a backpack that is easy to clean would be very useful.

School rules – It's important to find out which backpacks your child is allowed at school, especially if they're starting a new one. Our parent testers explained some of the different rules their schools have: some schools require black bags to match the school uniform, others specific a certain size so it doesn't take up too much space in the cloakroom. Make sure that you know any rules before purchasing.

Here's our pick of the best backpacks for kids for 2022:

1. LittleLife Stingray Toddler Backpack with Rein, £19.99

– Best for sustainability

Stingray Toddler Backpack with Rein

Size: 14cm x 18cm x 23cm | Padded straps: Yes | Chest strap: Yes

For a sustainably made and undeniably adorable backpack for toddlers then this Littlelife stingray bag is ideal. It has a gorgeous stingray print all over the front, complete with eyes, mouth and fins at the top, back and side of the backpack.

The backpack has a top grab handle to carry the bag around when not on your child's back, adjustable padded shoulder straps and a chest strap to help distribute the weight.

Inside the bag there's an internal name and address label which comes in very handy if your child has the same bag as someone else at school or nursery. With a 2 litre capacity, it's just right for younger children who don't need to carry as much stuff around with them and means it cannot be overloaded and made too heavy for them. The inside of the backpack has an easy zipped top entry so your toddler can get things in and out their backpack all by themselves.

An added benefit of this backpack – specifically for toddlers – is that it comes with safety reins too so you can keep your child close if walking around a crowded area. As for cleaning, it can just be wiped clean.

As for the sustainable aspect of this backpack, it's made from recycled bottles (approx. 7.9 bottles per backpack) and the brand donates 1% of the profits from this line to sea life conservation charities to help protect the oceans.

Pros: Sustainably made, adjustable padded shoulder pads, chest strap, name label, toddler reins included
Cons: May not be able to carry enough for older kids, cannot be machine washed

Available from: Littlelife, Boots and John Lewis

2. Nike Elemental Backpack with Pencil Case, £25

– Best for an attached pencil case

Nike Elemental Backpack with Pencil Case

Size: 46cm x 30cm x 15cm | Padded straps: Yes| Chest strap: No

This Nike backpack has a pencil case attached, which parent tester Danielle, mum of Jay, 14, finds really useful. It clips onto the inside of the bag for quick and easy access. The bag also has 2 zip compartments and a mesh side pocket for your child to easily store their water bottle.

There's no hiding this bag is Nike with the big Nike Swoosh logo on the front. Danielle commented on the design: "We love that it's black so goes with his uniform without being an eyesore".

It's quite a large bag so there should be space to fit in all the school essentials. Our tester found that it is more than big enough to hold everything their child needs and likes the zip on the front for extra storage.

To ensure the backpack doesn't cause discomfort to your child's back, it has adjustable padded shoulder straps to help get the bag to sit in the right position and cushion your child's shoulders. As well as this, the back of the bag is padded so there is nothing hard poking into your child's back.

To keep the bag clean, it's recommended to spot wash rather than put it in the washing machine.

Pros: Pencil case attached, generous size, padded adjustable shoulder straps, padded back
Cons: No chest strap to distribute weight, cannot be machine washed

Available from: Schuh, Sports Direct and Foot Asylum

3. My 1st Years Personalised Ditsy Print Mini Backpack, £21

– Best for personalisation

Personalised Ditsy Print Mini Backpack being tested

Size: 28cm x 22cm x 8cm| Padded straps: Yes | Chest strap: No

Even with all the bags available to buy, chances are your child is going to have the same or similar bag to someone in their class. A personalised bag can make spotting your child's bag that bit easier when they are all hung up at nursery or school, unless of course you're unlucky enough that they have the same bag and name. Parent tester Jessica, mum of Emily (pictured above), aged 14 months said, "Emily is able to recognise her bag hanging up at nursery and knows this one is hers".

My 1st Years allows you to personalise it with up to 12 characters. Your child's name is embroidered on top of the cream ditsy print.

As for size, Jessica said, "her backpack is a great size for nursery because all she needs is a change of clothes, sun hat and her comforter teddy inside. She's only just starting to want to carry it herself but it's a perfect size for her to manage," says Jessica. However, it's important to consider whether the backpack is large enough for school where children may have to carry more – My 1st Years has a range of kids backpacks in larger sizes if you need more space.

Jessica also went on to say, "It's excellent quality and so far has been used for 6 months with no signs of wear and tear and is easily washed".

The backpack has a front pocket and adjustable padded shoulder straps with 2 reflective stripes.

Pros: Personalised and easy to identify, great size for nursery, good quality, easy to wash, adjustable padded shoulder straps and reflective striped
Cons: No chest strap and may be more suited to nursery rather than school due to size

Available from: My 1st Years

4. Skip Hop Unicorn Backpack, £20

– Best for storing snacks

Skip Hop Unicorn Backpack

Size: 27.94cm x 12.7cm x 30.48cm | Padded straps: Yes | Chest strap: No

This adorable unicorn backpack has a front insulated compartment to keep any snacks cool throughout the day. It also has a mesh side pocket to hold your child's drinks bottle and extra pockets to store little things such as pens or pencils. If you need to pack more food – say a full packed lunch – there's a matching lunch box available too.

The bag is big enough for both school and nursery and should fit in everything your child needs. It has padded adjustable straps and an easy to clean lining with an internal name tag to stop your child's bag getting lost.

The bag's fun unicorn design is complete with a stick out horn and ears. It even has little eyes, nostrils and a rainbow zipper charm.

Pros: Insulated compartment, adjustable padded straps, internal name tag, easy to clean lining, great size for school and nursery
Cons: No chest strap

Available from: JoJo Maman Bebe, Amazon and Vertbaudet

5. Child's Walking Backpack, £4.99

– Best budget-buy

Child's Walking Backpack

Size: 27cm x 19cm x 15cm | Padded straps: Yes | Chest strap: Yes

This backpack from Decathlon is under £5, making it an excellent budget option. The 5 litre backpack is especially designed for walking and hiking but is still a great backpack for school or nursery too, especially if you have to walk a little way to get there.

As it's created for hiking, this means it's lightweight, weighing just 150g. It has a foam back and adjustable padded S-shaped shoulder strap as well as a chest strap.

It has 1 zipped pocket, 1 mesh pocket and 1 bottle pocket to fit everything your child needs, and there are a few different colour to choose from.

It is recommended to hand wash this bag.

Pros: Excellent value, foam back, adjustable padded shoulder straps and chest strap
Cons: Have to wash by hand and due to shape may struggle to fit A4 books

Available from: Decathlon

6. Hype Clouds Large Backpack, £34.99

– Best for older kids

Hype Clouds large backpack being tested

Size: 44.5cm x 28cm x 13cm | Padded straps: Yes | Chest strap: No

"Hype is a popular brand in my daughter's year group," says parent tester Zoë, mum of 10 year old Amber. If your child cares about the current trends and wants a Hype backpack, we think this one is great.

There are lots of Hype bags available, all with different patterns. Amber's (pictured above) is the shiny metallic pink one. She loves the bag and how it has "different compartments and a space for her drink, as well as the wide padded straps making it comfortable for her to carry on her back".

The backpack has a 28 litre capacity, the ideal size for older kids to take to school and fit workbooks and textbooks in. It also comes with a fluffy pom-pom keyring on the zip.

The bag does not need to go in the washing machine, it can just be wiped clean.

Pros: Great size for school, wide padded adjustable straps and lots of designs to choose from
Cons: No chest strap

Available from: WHSmith and Justhype

7. Kids' ClassMate Large Backpack, £35

– Best for fitting everything in

Kids' ClassMate Large Backpack

Size: 45.5cm x 31.5cm x 23cm| Padded straps: Yes | Chest strap: Yes

This backpack is by far the largest on the list. If your child needs to take a lot into school then this is the bag that will fit it all. As the bag is so big, it's important to mention, more than ever, that it has padded adjustable straps, a chest strap and a padded back to ensure your child is comfortable whilst carrying such a heavy load.

There are 2 exterior zip pockets and an interior fold pocket for anything valuable. On the side there is 2 mesh pockets to store a drink or anything you might need to quickly grab. It also has a reflective trim to help your child be seen in the dark.

Unfortunately, as with most of the other bags, it's recommended that spot cleaning rather than putting it in the washing machine. However, on the bright side – quite literally – there are lots of colourful designs from galaxy space to glitter ombre and sunburst multi ombre (pictured above).

Pros: Big to fit everything in, padded adjustable straps, chest strap, padded back reflective trim, lots of designs
Cons: Cannot be machine washed, may be too big for smaller children

Available from: Lands' End

8. Smiggle Backpack Let's Go, £31.99

– Best for DIY

Smiggle Backpack Let's Go

Size: 30cm x 42cm x 13cm | Padded straps: Yes | Chest strap: No

This is a really fun option for children who love to be a bit creative. The Smiggle bag comes with 6 coloured pens to colour in the backpack however you like. No bag will look the same as every child will colour it slightly differently.

The backpack has adjustable padded straps and dual drink bottle sleeves. The main section of the bag also has a padded computer pocket which fits a 15 inch laptop. At the front there are 3 zip compartments, including an access point for headphones.

Much like the Hype and ClassMate backpack, this too is the perfect size for school kids.

Pros: Show off creativity, adjustable padded straps, lots of helpful compartments
Cons: No chest strap

Available from: Amazon

9. M&S Harry Potter Water Repellent School Backpack, £22

– Best water repellent backpack

Harry Potter Water Repellent School Backpack

Size: 40cm x 13cm x 28cm | Padded straps: Yes | Chest strap: No

This large Harry Potter themed backpack has wide adjustable padded straps and a back panel to help your child carry everything around comfortably. It has a front zip pocket, a water bottle holder and the large main section will easily fit A4 books or folders.

One of the best things about this bag that sets it apart from the others is that its water repellent, so there's no need to worry about books getting soaked in the rain. Inside, there is a name and class label to make sure the bag does not get mistaken for as somebody else's.

If it does get dirty, it's super easy to clean, you can just pop it in the washing machine.

Pros: Water repellent, machine washable, adjustable padded straps and back panel, fits A4 items
Cons: No chest strap

Available from: Marks & Spencer

10. Disney Store Disney Princess Backpack, £22

– Best for Disney lovers

Disney Store Disney Princess Backpack

Size: 28cm x 23cm x 10cm | Padded straps: Yes | Chest strap: No

This Disney Princess backpack features all the iconic princesses with a coloured front pocket with a zip fastening, underneath which there are 2 extra pockets. Inside there is a pocket designed to fit a laptop or tablet.

To carry, it has a top carry handle and adjustable padded straps. It is the perfect size for just starting school as it's not too big and not too small.

To clean, just wipe it down. There is also a matching lunch box and water bottle to go with it.

Pros: Lots of extra pockets, adjustable padded straps, great size for smaller kids
Cons: No chest strap and not machine washable

Available from: Shop Disney

How did we choose our 10 of the Best?

When testing and selecting the best kids backpacks, we considered important features such as comfort, size, convenience, style and ease of cleaning.

Our 10 of the Best lists are compiled by qualified and experienced parenting journalists. They rely on a number of sources, including our independent reviews, testing undertaken during the MadeForMums Awards, and feedback from our home testing panel and Top Testers Club. Each year thousands of products are put through their paces by hundreds of parents across the country on behalf of MadeForMums, to ensure we’re bringing you honest and true reviews and recommendations.

Our list is not an ordered ranking from 1-10, instead it is a carefully selected group of tried-and-tested products, each of which we believe is best for a different situation or requirement. We don't just tell you what is best, we help you discover what is best for your family.

About the author

Chloe is a Digital Reviews Writer and Coordinator for Immediate Media's Parenting team. She researches and writes articles, recommending the best products for parents, ranging from best sleep aids to best playpens. She has a First-Class Honours Psychology degree where she developed a strong interest in child development.

Picture credits: Site website/MFM tester pics

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