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Best school bags for primary and secondary school: Eastpak, Superdry, Smiggle and more

Trying to find the best school bag for your child can be a minefield. So we’re here with tried-and-tested recommendations from parents to highlight 12 must-have practical and stylish buys. 

By Laura Cooke | Last updated Apr 13, 2023

Best school bags

Remember waving your little one off at the gates in their early school days, as they proudly clutched an oversized backpack emblazoned with gaudy unicorns or space rockets?

Although a primary school bag can be bright and cheerful, a secondary school bag not only needs to be cool, stylish and acceptable to their peers, but also big enough to carry the mountain of stuff they will need to lug to school and back. And trust us - there’s a huge increase in what they need to carry about with them. 

Additionally, you'll want to ensure that the school bag is comfortable to carry and doesn't cause backache or damage posture when your child throws it over their shoulder on the school run. It also has to be robust enough to be kicked around the classroom floor for six hours a day without falling apart or spilling its contents everywhere. Oh - and it helps if it’s also waterproof for drinks bottle spillages, and has several separate compartments to keep essays away from egg sandwiches. Just a list of must-haves as long as your arm, then. 

With all that in mind, we’ve trawled the Mumsnet forums to find sound advice on sourcing the best primary and secondary school bags from our trusted seven million-odd users, who’ve bought the best and the worst bags on the market and have plenty of information to share on the subject. We also consulted experts, scoured online stores and scrolled through hundreds of reviews to help us put together a list that represents the best of the best. 

Once you've tracked down the best school bag, we've got handy guides to the best kids' luggage, the best laptop backpacks and the best backpacks for women, all featuring top recommendations from Mumsnetters.  

Here’s our pick of the best school bags for primary and secondary school in 2023.

Best school bags: Editor's picks

1. Best overall school bag: Eastpak Padded Pack’r 24L Backpack

Eastpak school bag

Price: RRP from £27 - £55 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Padded, adjustable shoulder straps
  • Spacious main compartment
  • Available in a range of colours and patterns

What to know

  • Some colours and patterns are considerably more expensive than others

What Mumsnet users say

“Eastpak. So many different colours and patterns to choose from.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user Sansucre)

Our verdict

Perfectly practical in every way, this bag comes complete with padded and adjustable shoulder straps, a roomy interior that’s big enough for both books and lunch, and a spacious front pocket, both of which zip closed.

Made of 100% ballistic-grade nylon, with taped seams and double-locked stitching it's extremely sturdy (and vegan to boot) and is really easy to wipe clean when it gets mucky. A great option if you're looking for a simple and inoffensive black bag for secondary school, but it's also available in a whole host of colours and designs.

Read next: The best kids' water bottles to buy, according to parents

2. Best budget school bag: Dakine 365 Backpack

Dakine 365 school bag

Price: RRP from £10 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Specially designed to house a laptop
  • Lots of storage space
  • Easy to clean

What to know

  • A budget-friendly option, but pricier if you want one with a particular pattern

What Mumsnet users say

"I recommend Dakine which just do backpacks. They are sturdy and light weight and include things like padded computer pockets just off the bottom of the pack since children drop bags, they have special pockets for phones/money and you can get them with insulated lunch pockets in the pack. Amazon and surf stores sell them - my son's 22L was £30 on Amazon." ItTakesTwo

Our verdict

With endless pockets and storage space for a laptop and a tablet, this backpack makes organisation easy.

The bag is specially designed to carry a laptop thanks to the integrated sleeve, and the back of the bag is heavily padded for extra comfort. It also has a padded bottom panel to protect your stuff when you put the bag down. We like the large front pocket which unzips easily to stow away smaller items such as a wallet and a phone. 

The durable polyester fabric wipes down and washes easily and is robust enough for cloakroom and classroom floors. Plus, the Dakine comes in a huge range of colours and patterns, so there’s definitely a bag for everyone here. 

Read next: The best books for starting school 

3. Best durable school bag for secondary school: FJÄLLRÄVEN Kanken Backpack

Fjallraven school bag

Price: RRP From £65 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Weather and dirt-resistant and hardwearing
  • Square shape is great for books
  • Foam seat provides back protection as well as something to sit on

What to know

  • Pricey for a school bag - but many Mumsnettes would argue that it is well worth the investment

What Mumsnet users say

“FJÄLLRÄVEN Kanken was best bag I bought for school. Not inexpensive but lasted four years now, used for school and holidays (swimming, aeroplane etc) and still looks great. Keep the grey foam in though - it helps to keep the square shape.” (Recommended by Mumsnetter abitoflight)

Our verdict

Chances are, you've seen this rucksack before – be that on the school drop-off or on your morning commute. It's ubiquitous with good reason though, combining stylish design and cool colours with handy, practical features.

The bag can be carried on your back or simply picked up with the carry handles. As well as the main compartment, there are two flat pockets on the side and an additional one at the front.

The straps are adjustable, the vinyl fabric is lightweight and durable, and the foam seat in the inner back pocket makes it comfortable to carry (and gives teens something to park their bottom on at lunchtimes or when out and about). 

The Vinylon F fabric it’s made from is both water and dirt-resistant, helping it retain its good looks for years. There’s also a rain flap which extends over the zip to ensure none of the bag’s contents get damp in a sudden shower. 

What makes it really great for secondary school is its smart, square shape which means the edges of their books and folders don’t get dogeared and caught in the zip. 

Read next: The best school uniform to buy, as tested by families 

4. Best stylish school bag for secondary school: Superdry Montana Rucksack

Superdry Montana backpack

Price: From £23 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Wipe-clean exterior
  • Brand appeals to teens and tweens
  • Robust and well made

What to know

  • A lot of variations - make sure you get the right one!

What Mumsnet users say

“Most of the Y7/8/9s girls at DD’s high school have Superdry backpacks." (Approved by Mumsnetter Howshouldibehave)

Our verdict

For a rucksack that really lasts, Superdry is a safe bet. Available in so many sporty designs, Superdry backpacks typically boast cotton fabrics, padded back and shoulder straps, lots of room inside, handy zip fastenings, and multiple pockets.

While not the cheapest on the market, they tend to go down a storm with most teens and tweens, look attractive and are really well made, too, so you won’t be replacing yours every couple of years.

Read next: The best school shoes to buy, as tested by parents

5. Best secondary school bag for laptops: Herschel Retreat Backpack

Herschel Retreat Backpack

Price: From £51 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Great craftsmanship
  • Includes laptop sleeve pocket
  • Long-lasting and won’t be ‘outgrown'

What to know

  • Some colours and designs can cost almost £200

What Mumsnet users say

“Herschel backpacks are great – especially the ones with a padded laptop area. My son keeps his workbooks etc in there, safely removed from his water bottle and nicely compartmentalised. It's more expensive than other rucksacks but the straps are super padded and strong.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user TeddTess)

Our verdict

With a preppy yet professional appearance, the Herschel Retreat is a backpack that your child can carry from school to university, and maybe even to work after that. 

The polyester exterior wipes clean with a damp cloth if the bag falls victim to any marks, though with the darker colourways this shouldn’t be a problem, and we’d recommend you go with one of those right off the bat. 

Inside, there’s the signature Herschel striped fabric. The traditional-style leather-look straps just snap to the bag to close it (no buckles to contend with) and there’s an easy drawstring closure under the rain flap that gives you a bit more flexibility with the amount of stuff you can cram in it. 

On the front is a small pocket for bus passes or IDs, and inside is a padded, fleece-lined 15-inch sleeve for laptops. The bag is available in several sizes and a huge range of colours, patterns and trims, so they can pick one they really love.

All in all, this is a sound buy and Herschel’s stylish designs mean that, if it ever gets discarded by your teen, this is one bag you’ll be happy to fumigate and take for your own.

6. Best comfortable school bag for secondary school: Unicol Backcare Backpack

Unicol Backcare Backpack

Price: RRP £30 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Ergonomic and protects back and shoulders
  • Compact
  • Lightweight

What to know

  • No colour options

What Mumsnet users say

“Mine have Backcare backpacks. A wee bit pricey but really well designed and comfortable to carry all the crap they need.” (Tried by Mumsnetter IdentityFraud)

Our verdict

If the thought of a heavy rucksack makes you and your child grimace, this might be the bag of choice for the upcoming school year.

The only bag officially endorsed by the Backcare Charity, it features a curved underside to help your child carry the load, and side-bracing straps to allow them to pull the bag closer to their body. 

It’s a smaller version of a larger model, so you’ll need to check the dimensions carefully to ensure it will hold all your child's back-to-school supplies. It will take A4 files but lots of big, bulky folders might be beyond its capacity. That said, its size makes it much easier to handle and helps protect the wearer’s back. 

As well as being an ergonomic dream, for every Unicol Backpack sold a donation is made to Backcare.

7. Best school bag for primary school: Smiggle Goal Kids Backpack

Smiggle Goal Kids Backpack

Price: RRP £38 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Great design for a football fan
  • Padded 15” laptop compartment

What to know

  • Pricey for a primary school bag - but Smiggle bags are pretty sturdy

What Mumsnet users say

“Loads on smiggle and it was the first bag that actually lasted my daughter the whole year without getting completely trashed. They always have sales too” Scoose

“Also came on to say smiggle. They are way more sturdy and long lasting than any others we've bought, but the main selling point had been the zip which really opens up the top of the bag, rather than just going side to side. It makes it so much easier for them getting all their things in and out by themselves” FortofPud

Our verdict

If you have a primary school aged child, you can’t have failed to notice the cult of Smiggle that pervades the playground. But this is for good reason - the bold, quirky designs make Smiggle bags a popular choice with children, while parents love their durability, which makes paying out a higher price easier to bear.

We love this football-themed backpack which comes with a 15-inch laptop compartment and lined media device pocket with headphone access. There’s four zipped compartments to store all the school day essentials, plus dual drink bottle sleeves. A padded carry handle and padded adjustable shoulder straps make it easy to ferry the bag to and from school. The striking football design makes this bag a great buy for all the mini Harry Kane’s and Jill Scott’s out there.

8. Best hardwearing school bag for primary school: JanSport Unisex Cool Student Classic

JanSport Unisex Cool Student Classic backpack

Price: RRP £49 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Lifetime guarantee
  • Internal laptop sleeve
  • Robust and long-lasting

What to know

  • Investment price tag

What Mumsnet users say

“I have found Jansport backpacks to be very hardwearing. They are a small bit pricier than some of the other brands, but I was so tired of bags falling apart and these don't. My youngest got one when he started school and five years later it's still going strong. His sibling also has one for the same length of time.” LizzieAnt

Our verdict

A firm favourite among Mumsnetters who have admired firsthand the JanSport hardiness, JanSport backpacks last for decades.

The German brand has been turning them out since 1967 and, while the JanSport Backpack can be expensive, it's a true ‘buy best, buy once’ product. In fact, if the bag is damaged in any way you can simply send it to JanSport for repair.

The design is great, with a suede bottom and is really robust. It features an internal 15-inch laptop sleeve, a front utility pocket with organiser for smaller bits and pieces, a large main compartment and a water bottle holder. The ergonomic S-curve shoulder straps and padded back panel make it really comfy to carry, too. 

Jansport bags are available in a huge range of colours so your tween is sure to find the perfect backpack to suit their style.

9. Best superhero school bag: Kids' Water Repellent Marvel Avengers™ School Backpack

Marvel Avengers backpack

Price: RRP £22 | Buy now from M&S

What we love

  • Budget-friendly price
  • Perfect for Marvel fans
  • Water-resistant

What to know

  • Not as sturdy as other bags on the list

What Mumsnet users say

 “My kids have these style from M&S, they’re a good size and waterproof.” Marymary987

Our verdict

Whether your child is a fan of Spiderman, Iron Man or X-Men, then this multi-coloured Marvel bag is the one for you.

This super bag is big enough to fit A4 folders, has a front zipped pocket to keep all the essentials easily accessible and a side water bottle holder to help keep your little superhero hydrated through the day. Wide, padded straps and a padded back panel means the bag can be carried comfortably from A to B. 

The water-repellent Stormwear™ finish will help to keep everything inside the bag nice and dry. And just in case the bag needs a freshen up during the school holidays, it can be popped in the washing machine. Now that’s super.

Related: School morning hacks to help you nail a pre-school routine

10. Best school bag for younger children: Frugi Explorers Backpack

Frugi Explorers backpack

Price: RRP £28 | Buy now from Frugi

What we love

  • Available in a range of beautiful designs
  • Made from recycled polyester

What to know

  • Older children may find the designs a little childish (but we love them)

What Mumsnet users say

“Frugi. They have a sale on at moment. I actually use one as well as they're comfortable, practical and have hidden rain protector.” Honoraryuce

Our verdict

Send your child off on their next adventure with one of the gorgeous Explorer backpacks from Frugi. Whether your little one is into ponies, whales or fantastic florals, these pretty bags are bound to win them some serious playground points.

This backpack has a large main pocket with a two-way zip fastening that's big enough to hold A4 books and folders and an adjustable chest strap, adjustable and padded shoulder straps and a padded back ensure this bag is as comfortable as it is stylish. There’s two stretchy side pockets to accommodate water bottles and a handy internal clip provides somewhere to attach wallets or purses. 

11. Best primary school bag for boys: Vans Unisex Kids New Skool Backpack

Vans New Skool Backpack

Price: RRP From £25 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • No nonsense design
  • Good value

What to know

  • The bag is unisex, but the designs may not appeal to all girls
  • A little on the small side

What Mumsnet users say

“My 8 year old has picked a Vans backpack and pencil case.” Atla

Our verdict

If your child is too cool for school, then they will love the Vans Unisex Kids New Skool Backpack.

With a funky checkerboard front pocket, one large main compartment and an absence of any other fiddly pockets or compartments, this bag is for those who favour the sling-it-all-in approach. However, although the Vans New Skool Backpack is a durable, budget-friendly buy, reviewers say the bag is a bit on the small size, so if your child has a lot to take into school on a day-to-day basis, you may want to seek out something a bit bigger.

12. Best primary school bag for girls: Mountain Warehouse Bookworm 20L Backpack

Mountain Warehouse Bookworm 20L Backpack

Price: RRP From £18 | Buy now from Amazon

What we love

  • Available in cool designs including pegasus ponies and space
  • Affordable

What to know

  • May not be ‘cool’ enough for older kids

What Mumsnet users say

“This is the one my daughter has but she has a different pattern. It’s definitely big enough for an A4 book and a change of clothes.”  SBAM 

Our verdict

School, camping, festivals….whatever your little one gets up to, this hardy little backpack is perfect for all occasions. With a detachable pencil case, mesh bottle pocket and an elasticated inner pocket, the Mountain Warehouse Bookworm Backpack will make sure they are ready for anything the school day has to throw at them.

The Bookworm comes in a range of pretty patterns, including pegasus ponies, space, camo and pink brushstrokes, and with padded straps, there is no compromising comfort. With prices starting from less than £20, we think this is a great bargain buy, whatever your child is into.

How do I choose the right school bag?

Other than style and brand (which your child will no doubt tell you ALL about), there are a few important things to consider before buying a school bag for secondary school.

Type of bag

A backpack is the best option for a child's back and posture. But if backpacks are not ‘the thing’ at their school then look for a decent messenger or tote bag.


If they’re not at the school yet, ask around to find out what items your child is expected to bring in each day, and whether they have lockers in school or not, so you know how much stuff they’re likely to need to fit in their school bag. Take into account whether they need to be able to squeeze in a PE kit or lunch box too.


Something lightweight is best, but also look out for a school bag with breathable mesh that will stop your child from getting too hot on the walk to school. Back padding will also stop corners of folders and laptops from digging in. Some school bags are even made from insulated fabric to keep lunches cool. 


School bags are absolute filth magnets. Go for one you can wash or at least give a thorough wipe down.


Bags with lights or reflective strips on are useful for keeping children seen in the dark, and are particularly important if they are cycling to school. It’s worth thinking about security too and whether they need something they can padlock if their bag isn’t staying with them all day and they need to carry a phone or cash in it. 


Does it have enough pockets for them? Many school bags have special pockets for a laptop, water bottle etc, and even key attachments.

Their commute to school

It might sound obvious but if your child is biking to school, a backpack is a must. For those walking, you’ll want something comfy with a padded strap. And if they’re going to be on packed trains or buses they might want something with a top handle so they can carry it in their hands in front of them. 

What should be in a secondary school bag?

Your school may give your child a checklist of what they need to bring or there might be one on their website worth consulting first, but here’s a basic list of things your child is likely to need in their school bag for secondary school:

  • Laptop (if they use one)
  • Pencil case
  • Geometry set
  • 30cm ruler
  • Phone (if they have one)
  • House keys on a retractable string
  • Money or card to pay for school dinners etc
  • Bus pass, train ticket or anything else they need for the journey
  • Water bottle
  • Lunch
  • Any textbooks or exercise books for each day
  • A map of the school for the early days
  • Timetable of classes
  • Hat, gloves etc in cold weather

Which bag is best for secondary school?

Parents think the Eastpak Padded Pak’r Backpack is the best school bag for secondary school. It represents the best value for money in terms of how robust and long-lasting it is, and the features it includes. 

Best school bag Eastpak
“Eastpak. So many different colours and patterns to choose from.”


Eastpak Padded Pack'r Backpack


Buy now

Which brand is best for school bags?

Eastpak, Jansport and Herschel are all robust brands you can rely on to be well-made and stand up to anything your child throws at them. 

In terms of which brands are ‘acceptable’ at school, Nike and Adidas are usually a fair bet but what’s ‘cool for school’ and what’s social death differs wildly from one school to the next so it’s always worth asking parents of kids already at the school yours is going to. If in doubt go for something plain, black and not too flashy. 

Which bag size is best for school?

You need to consider both size and volume. The bag needs to at a minimum take an A4 folder but possibly also a laptop. A bag that takes a 15-inch laptop is usually fine but do make sure you’ve measured and ensured it’s the correct size in case your child has a 17.5-inch screen. 

In terms of volume it carries, usually bags will tell you how many litres they carry. A 25-litre bag should be adequate but 30 litres will give you plenty of space. 

What is the cost of a school bag?

Obviously you’ll have a budget to consider, and that may be informed by how careful your child is and how likely it seems they will lose or somehow destroy the bag in the first half term.

While you can buy pretty basic rucksacks for less than a tenner, it’s worth spending a bit more to get something robust and with some good support for their back and shoulders.

If you can spend somewhere in the £20-£40 region you should be able to get something very decent that your child will like the look of, too. 

How we chose our recommendations 

To ensure we only ever show you the best of the best products, we always do our research thoroughly and make sure every product comes carefully vetted, tested, evaluated and with a clutch of honest reviews to recommend it. 

Recommendations from real parents

We picked all these recommendations straight from the Mumsnet forums, as we think this is an area where experience really does speak volumes.

So to begin, we trawled the back-to-school threads for recommendations of the school bags that Mumsnetters had been most impressed with. We also kept a list of any brands that received not-so-glowing reviews.

Expert advice

We always ensure our information represents the latest recommendations from experts so you can rely on it, and we research each product thoroughly to ensure it follows the latest expert advice and stands up to scrutiny. We also looked for expert advice on posture and back pain prevention from the charity BackCare, which supports people with back pain and offers advice on how to avoid it. 

Consumer feedback

Having scoured Mumsnet for real and honest feedback, we also always check out real customer reviews across the internet from parents who have bought the products themselves, and given both positive and negative feedback to ensure every product we recommend comes with a clutch of good reviews from a cross-section of parents. 

Celebrated best products

Finally, we always check to see which products have won consumer awards and industry accolades or received recognition from trusted sources and feed this into our analysis, too. We compared our shortlist with consumer review sites and publications to see which had won awards and accolades.

We then whittled the list down by collating all that information, and picked a selection of school bags from those that we thought represented something for every student. 

Why you should trust us

The bags we picked all come recommended by real parents, who took the time to post about their finds on the Mumsnet Talk boards, so all the reviews are honest and unpaid for. We write about products that we feel offer the best value to most parents – the ones that our users would recommend to their own friends and family.