Back-to-school shopping lesson: Choosing the perfect backpack

08/20/2014 8:00 PM

08/20/2014 8:24 PM

At the top of many back-to-school shopping lists is an item that might be a bit pricier than a pair of jeans or a new skirt. But unlike those articles of clothing, this is something that your child – whether a preschooler or a teen – will wear every school day.

The mighty backpack has come a long way, says Russell Fine, product manager for REI. He suggests parents do research before choosing a pack.

“REI looks for a lot of features in what we’re considering in a great back-to-school backpack,” he says. “First and foremost, it has to be comfortable and versatile. We also know that students are looking for compact packs with flexible organization, and something that will accommodate and protect their electronics.”

Kids and teens look for bright colors and intricate patterns, and those packs are offered by many higher-end sporting goods stores. But if you think only high-schoolers – who often seem to tote their body weight in books – need a sturdy pack, consider all the wear and tear a younger child can inflict on a pack, dragging it through mud and swinging it by its straps.

Pam R. Jones, senior designer for backpacks at L.L.Bean, says even the company’s backpacks for the younger set are made to last.

“The investment upfront far outweighs the embarrassment, inconvenience and cost of pack failure,” Jones says. L.L.Bean’s customers have shared stories of book and backpacks that have lasted from grade school to grad school, Jones says.

Jones suggests looking for luggage-grade fabrics – think nylon, polyester and canvas – with reinforced bottoms when looking at packs. Avoid plastic at all cost – no matter how low that cost may be. Also, take a good look at those zippers, which fail on many of the less expensive packs, and look for self-repairing nylon coil zippers. Details, like bound-seam construction inside the pack, secure shoulder-strap connections, reflective material for good visibility and PVC and lead-free materials are important, as well. Another wise move? Look for positive customer reviews online.

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