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Backpack buying guide: From sporty to fashionable (and packs for mom, too)

Kids often agonize over this must-have accessory that should last an entire school year of tough treatment. Here's what to look for.
/ Source: TODAY

Backpacks take a beating. They are stuffed full of textbooks, slung into lockers, thrown in the backseat and left on the nasty school bus and locker room floors. Gross. And yet kids often agonize over this must-have accessory that should last an entire school year of tough treatment.

Sept. 16 also marks the American Occupational Therapy Association’s School Backpack Awareness Day. The goal of the day is to raise awareness about overloaded and ill-fitting backpacks. Before you click buy, make sure the pack has a highly visible reflective strip, internal clip or carabiner-type ring for keys and zippered internal pouch for electronics.

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Backs of schoolkids with colorful rucksacks moving in the street; Shutterstock ID 219008878; PO: TODAY.comPressmaster / Shutterstock

Here are some other pack-picking tips:

  1. Make sure the height of the backpack extends from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level, or slightly above the waist.
  2. Distribute weight evenly. Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back and balance materials so the child can easily stand up straight.
  3. Wear the hip belt if the backpack has one, to improve balance and take some strain off sensitive neck and shoulder muscles.
  4. The backpack should not weigh more than 10 percent of a child’s body weight.

Oh, and mommy backpacks are back in vogue too. That’s right, designers like Rebecca Minkoff, Marc Jacobs, Moschino and Burberry Prorsum all have chic designer backpacks in their fall lines. Keep in mind that fashion is cyclical and often strange. Fur and fringe are also in this year too.

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Here’s our buying guide for one of the more expensive back-to-school obligatory purchases:

Messenger Bags

They're all the rage among pint-sized commuters. They’re perfect for laptop or tablet-toting teens and tweens. Typically having one large pouch with a zippered section in the flap, messenger bags often hold as much as a backpack but with a different, more hipster look than the typical double-strapper. $19.99-$99

Lands' End Solid FeatherLight Messenger Bag


L.L. Bean

Budding Fashionistas

All sorts of funky prints, chic looking totes and patterned packs are available. You’ll have to shell out upwards of $40 for the haute carriers, but it’s a grand chance to showcase personality. One startup called Bold Face lets you upload a photo or your own design and they’ll print it on a knapsack. $32-$85

Herschel Supply Co. "City - Mid Volume" Backpack

Bold Face



To kit out the sporty kids, there are packs and bags designed to carry the maximum amount of gear and even a few books. And some have a bottom compartment for dirty cleats or other stinky gear. $35-$65

Nike Hayward Futura M 2.0 Backpack

Classic SuperBreak Backpack


For anyone who camps or travels, it might be smart to spend a few extra bucks to own a high-quality, versatile backpack. Use it for school and then dump out the books for weekend hikes or outdoor adventures.

The Patagonia’s Refugio 28L Backpack comes in solid colors and features a cool whistle on the sternum strap.