Great Backpacks for Back to School

It’s the first day of school, and your child comes home and hates his or her backpack because “it’s not what everyone else has.”

Before you spend another penny, check out our best bets on backpacks for all ages.

Best All-Around

The North Face Backpacks
This year, the American Chiropractic Association awarded North Face backpacks their seal of approval. Each backpack is lightweight and durable, and comes in a variety of colors.

The Jester ($55), perfect for elementary school, has one large main compartment that is able to fit a couple of folders and notebooks. By the time your child hits 6th grade, he’s going to need a bigger backpack.

The Borealis ($79) is perfect for this age.

For high school, the Recon ($89) will fit the bill. The bag has a bigger size and more space for books, as well as a sleeve for laptops (up to 15”) and tons of pockets. Both of these packs have special injection-molded shoulder straps with padded back panels, so you won’t have to worry about the backpack straining your child’s neck.

These packs are available at Uncle Dan’s in Evanston and Highland Park.

Dr. Gerry Gardner, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on injury, violence and poison prevention, recommends that backpacks should have two wide, padded shoulder straps, a waist strap, a padded back, and be lightweight. The Academy also recommends that the pack should not weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the student’s total body weight.

Best for High School and College-Aged Kids

The Messenger

Your kids will feel too cool for school with a messenger bag. For girls, the messenger bags from Vera Bradley ($68) feature a front flap with a magnetic closure, two large pockets for binders and folders, plus a large back zippered compartment and adjustable straps with laminated shoulder pads. There’s even a wide slip compartment pocket for iPods or mp3 players.

For boys, the Timbuk2 is a classic messenger bag ($80) with massive upgrades. It’s waterproof and has three-zip front organizer pockets.

Yellow Bird in Wilmette carries Vera Bradley bags. Timbuk2 can be found at Uncle Dan’s and REI and also online at

Best for Fashion-Forward Girls

The Tote

For girls, especially in high school, a tote works fashion and function at the same time. The Vera tote ($78) from Vera Bradley comes in a variety of whimsical designs, and has side and front pockets, perfect for phones, iPods and calculators.

Available at New Prospects in Park Ridge and Vignettes of Arlington in Arlington Heights.

Best for Elementary and Middle Schoolers

The Wheelie

With a backpack on wheels, your child won’t have to worry about back pains or complain about how her backpack is too heavy. However, it is not recommended for kids in high school (serious dork alert). We like the Lands’ End’s ClassMate StudyHaul Backpack ($59.50). Purchase at

The One-Shoulder

These backpacks are comfortable and cool—more structured than totes and less bulky than a traditional backpack. Patagonia has lightweight and durable one-shouldered bags in a variety of colors. The Atom bag’s ($59) teardrop shape positions weight behind the shoulder, easing stress on the neck and back, it also has pockets for books and small pockets for essentials and mp3 players. Perfect for elementary school kids.  Patagonia is available at Uncle Dan’s, REI and

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