Cheapism: Best rolling backpacks under $30

Aug. 24, 2011 at 7:33 AM ET

By Kara Reinhardt

A big stack of books can make any student’s shoulders dread the start of school. The American Academy of Pediatrics even offers backpack safety tips. These include considering a rolling backpack, with wheels and a retractable handle for transporting the bag like traditional luggage. Familiar brand names such as JanSport, Samsonite, and The North Face charge $60 or more for this convenience. We found rolling backpacks with comparable features and quality for less than $30, about the same price as many conventional backpacks.

Most any budget backpack comes with compartments for all your supplies, plus a pocket for a water bottle. Pricey backpacks come in a wider array of styles and colors, but budget models still offer some variety. More important than aesthetics, though, is durability. Some backpacks are made with ripstop fabric designed to withstand high stress. You may see specs that refer to a fabric’s denier, a measure of the weight of the material (the higher, the better). Self-repairing zippers also help handle the strain of overstuffing.

If possible, try out a rolling backpack before you buy it. The handle should expand, retract, and lock into place easily. It should be long enough to keep the bag from hitting your heels when you walk but not so long that it becomes unwieldy. Inline skate wheels help a rolling backpack glide smoothly. Don’t forget to take into account the weight of the backpack, which is usually about five pounds. That will come into play on stairs, slushy sidewalks, and other surfaces that don’t take kindly to wheels. Look for padding on the shoulder straps to help cushion the load when you carry it.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable rolling backpacks.

  • The Travelers Club Metropolitan (starting at $30) stands out with its separate, padded laptop compartment and two-year warranty, features you don’t often find in the budget category. Users also admire the roomy interior and quality construction, including heavy-duty, 600-denier fabric. The backpack has a T-shaped, single-rod telescoping handle, as opposed to the double-rod handles on our other selections (this is simply a matter of preference). (Where to buy)
  • The CalPak Awestruck (starting at $24) is well-equipped to handle heavy loads, with ripstop fabric, self-repairing zippers, and two compartments for keeping everything organized. The backpack itself is a touch on the heavy side, weighing in at seven pounds. Users praise the inline skate wheels for easily rolling over curbs and other obstacles. (Where to buy)
  • The Olympia 18-inch (starting at $27) boasts self-repairing zippers and “supreme polyester,” which reviewers deem durable enough for impetuous kids. Reviews also praise this rolling backpack’s maneuverability. (Where to buy)

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