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Between classes, jobs, extracurricular activities and everything else, high school students need backpacks that won't let them down. And that hold a ton of stuff — think laptops, textbooks, gym clothes, water bottles, uniforms and so much more.
All that stuff can get heavy, so you'll also want to consider how supportive a backpack is. Dr. Neel Anand, a professor of orthopedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles, says to look for a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps, a padded back panel and sternum or waist straps for even weight distribution.
Dr. Anand adds that bags with multiple compartments are better at distributing said weight, and that those made with lightweight material is best, so as not to add to the load. Ideally, the backpack shouldn't weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of the student's body weight.
Keep your ears out, says Dr. Anand. "Pay close attention to...complaints of back pain or numbness or weakness in the arms or legs so you can be sure to address these concerns with a doctor," he advises.
Trying to address practical considerations can make shopping for a backpack tricky, since most high school students just want a backpack that's stylish. Thankfully, there are plenty of styles that combine both function and fashion — they look good, and won't break any backs, either.
Here are our picks:
Best Budget: Jansport Superbreak
Jansport has been creating versions of its classic backpack for over 50 years, so this icon absolutely needed to be included. The standard Superbreak features two zippered pockets: One large main compartment, one small front pocket and a side pouch for a water bottle. It's lightweight, too: It only weighs 12 ounces when empty. Plus, you'll be in good company: It's Amazon's No. 1 bestselling kids' backpack.
"I've had this backpack since the beginning of the semester (it is now finals week) and I love it!" a shopper shared. "It has shown absolutely zero signs of wear, and has carried my load of books, notebooks, folders, lunches, and a laptop since the beginning. It is easy to wash if you ever spill anything on it and has been super convenient to have. I also love the lifetime warranty! I haven't had to use it yet but it definitely puts me at ease to know that if I ever did break the backpack, I could have it fixed or have a new one sent to me!"
Shop it: Jansport Superbreak, starting at $33, amazon.com
Best Convertible: Carhartt Legacy Convertible Backpack
Carhartt products are built to withstand an incredible amount of abuse. This beauty, made of polyester treated with a powerful water repellant, isn't just durable, it's versatile: You can use it as a backpack, a tote or a purse. The padded laptop sleeve protects your precious cargo, while two zippered pockets and three exterior pouches offer easy access to pens, pencils, ID cards, wallets and more.
"Bought this for my daughter and now I want one!" writes a happy parent. "LOVE this bag. Roomier than we thought. Durable as well. Simple but very handy."
Shop it: Carhartt Legacy Convertible Backpack, $60 (was $67), amazon.com
Best Rugged: North Face Jester
North Face isn’t just for adventurous types: It's great for kids who have to carry a ton of textbooks or athletic gear. It has two zippered compartments for tablets and laptops, two water bottle pockets and the front lacing can hold jackets, hats or a sweater. Its FlexVent suspension system, padded mesh back panel and sternum strap balances weight well enough to earn it an endorsement from the American Chiropractic Association.
Shop it: North Face Jester, $69, amazon.com
Best for On the Go: Osprey Farpoint
If you travel a lot — or spend all day on the go — Osprey’s Farpoint is designed for you. Capable of holding up to 40 pounds of gear, it opens in a duffel bag U shape to provide easy access to the bag’s contents. Constructed from 210 Denier ripstop nylon, it has a dedicated, lockable tablet and a 15" laptop pocket as well as a scratch-proof pocket for sunglasses or other knickknacks.
This guy can fly — it meets restrictions for most airlines. And the sternum strap and hip belt distribute weight evenly. If you’d rather carry it like a duffel, just zip up the back panel.
Shop it: Osprey Farpoint, $100 (was $160), amazon.com
Best Classic: Fjallraven Kanken
A classic becomes a classic for a reason.
The 18L Fjallraven Kanken was developed in 1977 for Swedish school children who were developing back problems from carrying other backpacks. Square and simple, the Kanken is available in 11 colors. Constructed from dirt-resistant, water-resistant and easy-to-clean material, it's designed to last years. This updated version features a 15" laptop pocket, a zippered main compartment and small zippered accessories bag — and padded shoulder straps for extra comfort.
"We bought these bags for our kids for our recent trip to Paris," shared a shopper. "We have LOVED the bags and have used them so far for our trip to Paris and for overnight stuff. They hold a LOT more than it looks like it would. Love that the bag zips all the way down both sides so you can load the entire bag instead of having to dig in the whole bag like you would a regular backpack."
Shop it: Fjallraven Kanken, starting at $112, amazon.com
Best for Sports Enthusiasts: Lululemon City Adventurer
Lululemon’s 17L City Adventurer is making a lot of waves lately and it’s easy to see why — the sleekly designed satchel is simple, elegant and soft enough to stuff a whole lot of gear inside.
Designed for exercise buffs (or kids with after-school sports), it has a built-in zippered pocket for damp gear as well so it's the best backpack for wet weather or wet clothes. And the water-repellent nylon fabric is easy to clean. The exterior pocket can hold laptops up to 15” and the straps are padded.
"Love it! We already had one and loved it so much we got another one," a shopper noted. "Great pockets for computer, clothes, shoes... great bag!!"
Shop it: Lululemon City Adventurer, $148, amazon.com
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