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How to choose the best preschool backpack for your toddler

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Written by Vera C. Last updated on .

Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this page. This helps keep this site running.

preschool girl looking in her backpack

Preschool is an exciting and fun start to your child's education. However, picking out the perfect preschool backpack can be tricky, since many backpacks out there are geared to older children and would simply be too big for a preschooler. Rest assured there are plenty of backpacks that work well for toddlers and can still fit everything your child needs.

Here are all the tips and tricks you need to choose the best preschool backpack.

1. Try the backpack on your child

The only way to be certain you are picking the best toddler backpack is to try it on your child.

Yes, this means shopping in-store with a potentially cranky child who may not want to co-operate with trying on preschool backpacks. Rest assured that trying on the backpack can make all the difference between selecting a great bag and a terrible one. Remember, it’s your child who’ll have to put up with any problems with it – so send your little one off with the right backpack. It needn’t cost a fortune but it does have to fit your child.

2. The right size of backpack

It may surprise you to know that there is no standard size of backpack, whether for a toddler, preschooler or older child. Different companies make them in slightly different sizes. Regardless, your strategy is to get the smallest size of school bag that can still fit all of your child’s school gear.

Does the school send home a communication folder that needs to fit? Will cold-weather gear, a packed lunch or a change of clothes be stored there? If you have a special needs child, do you need to supply any extras such as diapers or pull-ups, wipes, certain foods or drink, etc? Take these things into account when selecting the size of preschool backpack. Remember, backpacks can look very different on the store shelf than on your child! Two school bags that appear the same size on the shelf may fit very differently on your preschooler.

If your child is younger than age 3 - for example, you're looking for a backpack for a 2 year old - then you'll most likely be looking for the mini size of backpack, but in that case be aware it won't work out beyond the preschool years.

3. Features of a great preschool or toddler backpack

Here's what to look for in a backpack for toddlers or preschoolers:

  • Good strap fitting – either get a small toddler backpack or make sure it has S-shaped shoulder straps that come in toward your child’s chest. This way the backpack won't just fall off your child's shoulders.
  • Least complexity of main pockets – one main section and one or two smaller pockets in front is an ideal configuration for most preschoolers. Avoid bags with multiple pockets of similar sizes – these might be great for older children but not the preschooler. In the case of a special needs child, it’s even more important to keep things simple so the teacher can get to your child’s things quickly without having to hunt in different pockets.
  • Waterproof – Luckily, most school backpacks sold in stores are waterproof. Unless you happen to live in a very dry climate, resist the temptation to get a canvas or quilted cotton preschool backpack because these will let water into your child’s belongings.
  • Overall look – It helps if your child’s school bag is in a color that is easy to distinguish from the rest in the class. All other factors being equal, select the one which you think other kids are least likely to have.
  • Reflective strips (only if your child's preschool starts early or finishes late) - If any of the preschool pickups or dropoffs might happen in the dark (for example in winter mornings), then you'll want the backpack to have a reflective strip to keep your child safe and visible to other drivers in the car line. This isn't necessary for most half-day preschool programs which go from 9am to 12pm since it'll be daylight the whole time. But if your child is at an all-day preschool or one that starts early enough to be dark in the morning, a backpack with a reflective strip is a must.

Recommendations of places to buy a great preschool backpack

As mentioned, in store is best. My 2 favorite stores for backpacks are The Children's Place - take a look at their backpacks here (yes they're not just all about clothes!) and L.L. Bean. Both stores have online shopping available as well. Their backpacks are well designed and well constructed, giving years of wear.

Our Children's Place backpacks lasted my kids all the way from preschool to the end of elementary school, which was pretty impressive! The backpacks from The Children's Place are very affordable. They run a little large, but because they work well for elementary school also, I purposely wanted to get a larger one. It was pretty big on the kids when they were in preschool, but the adjustable straps helped a lot.

L.L. Bean has a junior book pack which is especially designed for younger kids. It's designed around young elementary school kids rather than preschoolers, but again if you want a backpack that is big enough to serve your child's needs for more than just the preschool years, it's the perfect choice.

Other than that, your local "big box" stores such as Target, Walmart, etc are good places to go as well, especially if you're looking for little mini backpacks for toddlers. The only downside is that other kids at your preschool might wind up with the same backpack, especially if there's not a ton of cute toddler backpacks at your local big box retailer.

Features that are not important

You don't actually need a matching preschool backpack and lunchbox set. These are available and they look cute, but it's not a must-have. If you like this style, by all means get it, but it's not a critical feature.

This is because often the matching sets are quite small, so the lunchbox set won't always fit in the backpack easily with your child's other things. This means your child then has to carry his or her lunchbox separately, which can be frustrating for him or her. It also can make it easy for the lunchbox to get left behind at school if it can't easily be packed up in the backpack.

Ultimately though this is your decision. If your child falls in love with a matching set, by all means go ahead and get it - it'll definitely get your child off to a happy start at preschool!

4. Personalize the school bag cheaply with a backpack tag

This step is where you get to have fun! It’s helpful to personalize your child’s preschool backpack with the name on a bag tag. This assumes stranger danger is not an issue and that your child is having hand-to-hand transfer from home to preschool.

You’ll want it to be clear to the teaching staff as to to whom the school bag belongs. This is especially true of a very shy or special needs child.

You can either make your own tag, re-purpose an existing luggage tag, or purchase a custom made personalized bag tag. If you'd like a custom personalized one, I highly recommend the backpack tags for kids at Etsy.com.

If your child has any learning difficulties, you may want to choose just one or two tag colors and a big bold font. This will aid toward the aim of making it easier for your special needs child to eventually recognize the tag and name by him or her self.

I much prefer using a bag tag than monogramming the bag itself. Why? Because when your child is done with the bag, the tag can simply be removed and the bag can be handed down to a younger sibling or given away to charity. It's so much more environmentally conscious than a monogrammed bag.


There are a lot of preschool backpacks out there. Selecting the best one for your normal or special needs child is easy when you follow these tips. Fortunately, you needn’t spend a lot of money to get a great fitting backpack for your preschooler. Happy shopping!

Is your toddler or preschooler a picky eater? Take a look at my school lunch ideas for picky eaters! It'll make the transition to preschool easier when you're packing lunches that they love.

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