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Back-to-school backpacks

From pre-school to college, every kid needs a backpack. “Today” contributor Paul Hochman reviews the latest models.
/ Source: TODAY

Millions of schoolchildren, teens and even college kids go to school every day carrying backpacks laden with everything they need. ‘Today’ show gear guy Paul Hochman checked out the latest backpacks to see which deserve a passing grade.

The problem: Many kids pressure their parents to get them stylish, licensed backpacks — Sponge Bob, Spiderman, and the like. But while the cost may be low, the quality is not always terribly high. Why? They’re designed by marketers, not camping experts.

Here’s the solution: A select number of pack makers better known for their camping or messenger lines, are getting into back-to-school gear. Packs now have padded shoulders and waist belts that distribute that heavy weight over the hips. The result: A pack with the necessary books and gear that won’t hurt your child’s back. And in a few cases, will get him or her noticed in low light.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a loaded backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of a child’s total weight. The pack should be worn about two inches above the waist and with both shoulder straps, close to the body. Slinging a pack over one shoulder isn’t ideal, but a recent University of Michigan study indicates that doing so may not be as damaging as once thought, if the bag isn’t overloaded and a student isn’t carrying it on a long trek to the bus stop.

The most important element is the fit. The backpack should fit snugly between the child’s neck and low back area. Straps should be padded and contoured, so that arms can swing freely. Multiple compartments and compression straps on the sides will keep packed items stable.

Here’s a look at the best of the new breed of backpacks:

ORTLIEB “Velocity” — $95.00 (street price around $70) — Rubber-coated canvas makes this backpack infinitely durable, totally waterproof, and therefore perfect for kids who drop their packs in deep water or slush or snow or mud. Tough, beautifully designed, and a great keep for your kids’ books, as well as being brightly colored enough to keep them visible, even in low light.

REI “Singular” - $69.00 — Great for teens. Padded single-shoulder design actually allows access to the pack without taking it off. Waterproof zippers, removable padded computer sleeve with accessory pockets, and fleece-lined waist pocket has a key-keeper and room for small stuff. Slightly lower capacity makes this the perfect pack for on-campus travels.

LL BEAN “Critter Tracks Pack” — $35 — Top-loading design provides easy access to large main compartment. Three outside pockets with mesh panels keep school supplies (or rock collections) organized. All zippers are easy to grab, thanks to large, colored zipper pulls. 3M Scotchlite Reflective Material on front is highly visible to motorists at night. Highly water resistant.

BURTON “Youth Day Hiker” — $49.95 — Full-sized style and features in a kid-sized pack. Scaled specifically for the future podium-winners of tomorrow, the Day Hiker is slightly smaller so kids can walk (and ride!) without getting dragged down by an oversized bag. The Day Hiker has plenty of room for lunch, liquid, cameras and more. Features such as a sound pocket and a removable CD sleeve get. Internal organizer pockets help kids keep their stuff dialed.

KELTY “Grommet” — $20 — Made out of the same material as Kelty’s famous adult packs and tents (which have summited Everest) called Kordra, the “Grommet” is perhaps the ultimate pre-school backpack. Looks cool (satisfying the pre-schooler) and will hold up to enormous amounts of car-door/pet-licking/sudden tantrum abuse. Has fully taped seams (for waterproofing) unlike virtually all packs at this price point. And padded shoulder straps are great for comfort.

BAKODA “Com-Pak” — $95 — Compartments for folders and printouts, plus room for a day’s worth of clothes. A sunglass “hard-case” built in, plus a spot for cards. A hole for headphones. Expansion zipper, for extra stuff, adds an extra 33% more volume. One year warrantee. This pack has everything for the college kid. And if you want to tote your computer, now you don’t have to look like you work in an office.

PLATYPUS “Watts Up” (from Cascade Designs) — $49.95 — This pack is unlike any other for safety. Has a super-bright LED light on back of the pack, powered by a watch battery, which has a 150 hour continuous use life. It’s perfect for low light days or early morning walks to the bus stop. The ultimate in visibility and safety. Includes a body-hugging suspension system. An Anti-choke Velcro® sternum strap keeps the pack secure.

EASTPACK “Roller Pack” — $35 — Made of durable Dupont nylon, has a center area for books, polyurethane wheels, a telescoping handle, and can be worn as a backpack.