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Best school bags for secondary school

Trying to find the right secondary school bag for your child can be a minefield. So we’re here with tried-and-tested recommendations from parents to help you in your back-to-school quest.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Oct 7, 2021

Selection of school backpacks

The leap from primary school to secondary school can seem like a gulf in so many ways and never more than when your child looks at their once-loved school bag in disgust and declares "I will literally die" if they have to carry it to the school gate.

A secondary bag not only needs to be cool, stylish and acceptable to their peers, but also big enough to carry the mountain of stuff they now need to lug to school and back. 

So we’ve trawled the Mumsnet forums and found some sound advice on sourcing the best secondary school bags from our trusted seven million-odd users, who’ve bought the best and the worst bags on the market and lived to tell the tale.

Between them, you’re sure to find the perfect bag for your secondary school child. If you’re really lucky, you might even get a smile as well as 'thank you.' You lucky duck.

Here are the best school bags for secondary school. 

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

Eastpak backpacks

Price: £30.39 | Buy now from Amazon

“Eastpak. So many different colours and patterns to choose from.” Sansucre

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

Made of 100% nylon, 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.

Reasons to buy

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

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

Kanken backpack

Price: From £48.98 | Buy now from Amazon

“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.” abitoflight

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. 

Reasons to buy

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

3. Best budget school bag for secondary school: Kalidi Backpack

kalidi backpack

Price: From £24.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“We like the Kalidi ones on Amazon. They look like similar brands that retail at around £80, but are much less expensive.” GrassIsntGreener

Let's address the elephant in the room: do these designs look a little, er, familiar? Yes. But these bags are very aesthetically pleasing for a fraction of the price of FJÄLLRÄVEN backpacks, which might come in handy when: “NO ONE'S wearing that brand to school anymore, Mum.”

On top of that, the Kalidi Backpack has a whole host of genuinely fantastic features. Composed of a lightweight, water-resistant fabric, it has a large capacity and comes with soft, adjustable shoulder straps that make it really comfy to wear.

As well as the large main compartment, there are two flat side compartments and a front pocket too. The zips are smooth and sturdy, and we like the top carry handle that lets you hold the backpack like a briefcase. We dare any style-conscious teen not to love it. 

Reasons to buy

  • Looks like the pricier FJÄLLRÄVEN backpacks
  • Lightweight
  • Water-resistant
  • Adjustable straps

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

Superdry backpacks

Price: From £35 | Buy now from Amazon

“My daughter got a Superdry backpack at the beginning of secondary school and it still looks brand new. The straps are thick with good shoulder support.” Nodressrehearsal

For a rucksack that really lasts, Superdry is a safe bet. Available in so many sporty designs, Superdry backpacks typically boast a 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.

Reasons to buy

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

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

Herschel backpack

Price: From £48 | Buy now from Amazon

“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.” Tedd Tess

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 stripy 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. 

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. 

Reasons to buy

  • Great craftsmanship
  • Includes laptop sleeve pocket
  • Longlasting and won’t be ‘outgrown'

6. Best hardwearing secondary school bag: Jansport Backpack

JanSport backpack

Price: From £74.59 | Buy now from Amazon

“Have had this bag over two years and my son carries EVERYTHING in it and takes it everywhere. Sent it away for free zip repair recently. About £10 postage to Germany. Back in two weeks.” MinorProphet

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 is pricey, 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 robust Cordura material for the rest. It features an internal 15-inch laptop sleeve, a front utility pocket with organiser for smaller bits and pieces, and a large main compartment. The padded shoulder straps make it really comfy to carry too. 

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

Reasons to buy

  • Lifetime guarantee
  • Internal laptop sleeve
  • Robust and longlasting

7. Best secondary school bag for design: Hype Backpack

Hype backpacks

Price: From £24 | Buy now from Amazon

“My daughter is on her second Hype. She used the first one every day for year 7. She wanted a different design for year 8 and it’s great – really roomy, waterproof and still going strong.” Wouldhavecouldhaveshouldhave

The name is apt. An extremely popular choice, Hype rucksacks are available in just about every design and there’s definitely more to them than just the, erm, hype.

Beyond the stylish designs beloved of teens, the Hype Backpack has a useful external front zip pocket, padded, adjustable shoulder straps, and a convenient grab handle. It also features a generously sized main compartment so it should comfortably fit everything your child needs for secondary school.

Reasons to buy

  • Available in a variety of designs and patterns
  • Generous in size
  • Waterproof

8. Best sporty school bag for secondary school: Adidas Print Backpack

Adidas print backpack

Price: £25.93 | Buy now from Amazon

“Adidas is the current cool brand at my daughter"s school.” BillyRaywasapreachersson

Combining a pretty floral print with Adidas' classically sporty aesthetic, this is one stylish rucksack that will appeal to both sporty types and fans of the prettier things in life. 

It’s a good, practical choice too, with a main zipped compartment, a spacious internal section and a zip-up front pocket. The curved straps are adjustable and the bag has a carry handle on top to make it easier to pick up and go.

Reasons to buy

  • Adjustable straps
  • Teen-friendly sports brand

9. Best quality school bag for secondary school: The North Face Vault Backpack

the north face vault backpack

Price: From £60.60 | Buy now from Amazon

“My son is using his North Face for the third year running - he’s going into year 10. He was offered a new one last year and this year, but he's happy to keep his bag.” IsobelRae23

Truly excellent quality, The North Face Vault Backpack comes with a whole host of useful features that make it well worth its price tag. Be that water bottle pockets, a winged hip belt, a laptop sleeve or a reflective bike-light loop, your child will be prepared for secondary school with a capital P. It also comes with plenty of room inside for books and binders.

On this model, we like the Flex Vent suspension system, which makes the ‘yoke’ and shoulder pads soft and flexible, and it also includes a padded mesh back panel and breathable lumbar area to keep the wearer cool and well ventilated at all times. 

The main compartment is roomy enough for lots of books and folders, and there’s also a padded laptop sleeve. Plus, you'll find internal organisation pockets to keep bits and bobs from getting lost. On the sides, there are two large mesh bottle pockets that will also take an umbrella or wet-weather gear. 

Reasons to buy

  • Good reflective safety features
  • Breathable fabrics
  • Useful internal organisation and pockets

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

Backcare backpack

Price: From £28.97 | Buy now from Amazon

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

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.

Reasons to buy

  • Ergonomic and protects back and shoulders
  • Compact
  • Lightweight

11. Best lightweight school bag for secondary school: Nike Heritage Backpack

NIKE backpack

Price: From £22.97 | Buy now from Amazon

“I use the Nike one for shopping and it's sturdy, roomy, comfortable and things feel light in it. I'm not suggesting your daughter should emulate a middle-aged woman's shopping bag, but I've seen a boy at school using one.” Cordyline1

With a reputation like Nike's, you know you're getting a sturdy, comfortable rucksack. You get a lot of bang for your buck with this bag too, with multiple pockets, a spacious interior, and – in the case of many models – adjustable, padded shoulder straps and a back panel.

It works well as a sports bag, with plenty of room for kit in the interior, but would do just as well for general school use. 

The Nike brand doesn’t tend to go out of fashion either, so hopefully you won’t be dealing with complaints next September. If you are, you can simply relegate it to their sports bag. Problem solved. 

Reasons to buy

  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy
  • Doubles as a sports bag

12. Best secondary school bag for organisation: Dakine 365 Backpack

Dakine backpack

Price: From £19.99 | Buy now from Amazon

“Dakine backpacks are good and some have sleeves for laptops if needed.” 2rebecca

With endless pockets and storage space for a laptop and a tablet, this backpack makes organisation easy. There's even a fleece-lined compartment for your child's sunglasses and an insulated cool bag for their lunch box if you buy the 18-litre or 30-litre versions. 

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. 

Reasons to buy

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

13. Best messenger bag for secondary school: Paul Frank Messenger Bag

paul frank messager bag

Price: £20 | Buy now from Amazon

“DD has got a Paul Frank messenger bag for starting year 7 tomorrow as she told me EVERYONE has one.” ExitPursuedByATroll

In some schools, backpacks are a no-no. Ask not why. We have no idea either, but it’s a fact and you’ll know about it if your school has an unspoken ‘backpacks are for nerds’ rule because your child will tell you. Loudly. And repeatedly.

That’s where a messenger bag comes in, and this Paul Frank version looks pretty cool and is well made too. The retro school style should appeal to teens, and it has an adjustable cross-body strap to allow them to walk home hands-free. The large interior has more than enough room for their books, lunch and school jumper too. 

Reasons to buy  

  • Stylish brand at a good price
  • Generous size but easy to manage
  • Good for ‘going out’ as well as taking to school

How to choose a bag for secondary school

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.

Volume

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. 

Material

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. 

Washability

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

Safety

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. 

Organisation

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 I put in my school bag for secondary school? 

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 text books 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 brand of school bag is best?

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. 

How we chose our recommendations 

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

First 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 duff reviews.

We then looked up customer reviews for our shortlisted bags and compared our list 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 everyone 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.