Aug. 24, 2011 at 7:33 AM ET
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.