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5 Best Toddler Backpacks for Preschool and Beyond, Tested by Kids

Whether for trips, daytime adventures or school, these mini packs, tested by real kids, are perfect for pint-size backs.
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Updated April 2, 2024
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In a nutshell:

Based on my family’s experience testing each of these backpacks, the STATE Bags Kane Kids Mini Travel Backpack is the overall best backpack for toddlers. It was a big hit with me and my kids due to its comfortable, padded straps, spacious interior and style-conscious design.

Your little one may not be slinging a bag full of textbooks over their shoulders just yet, but a top-notch backpack for preschool (and other adventures) is still a must-have accessory. I first bought a toddler backpack when my third child was tiny, after noticing she wanted her own, like her big brothers. I now have four children and a mudroom crowded with everything from big kids’ backpacks to preschool bookbags and toddler backpacks.

I know from experience that the best toddler backpacks are multi-purpose vehicles for snacks, toys, books and more. Many will get daily use at daycare, preschool and other activities, making durability a crucial element in these bags. To help you find the best toddler backpacks, I had my family put popular options to the test. Luckily, there are plenty of kids’ backpacks out there for you and your child to choose from, and each one is cuter than the next. Shop our top picks for every style, budget and need—then, read on to learn what to look for in a toddler backpack and safety tips.

How We Tested and Chose the Toddler Backpacks

Image: Courtesy Korin M.

A toddler backpack is an important accessory for your little one, making this a purchase you want to get right from the start. To streamline your search, we took the following steps to test and choose the best toddler backpacks:

  • We gave a one-year-old and 4-year-old several backpacks to test out. Each product was used for two full days and traveled to the playground, preschool and beach, among other places. Backpacks were zipped and unzipped at least 30 times to ensure the zipper’s durability. Each backpack was also handed to our kid testers, who got to choose how they used them at home to create a natural testing experience.
  • We consulted with the safety recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to ensure we only highlighted products that are safe and effective.
  • To see how these toddler backpacks have worked for kids, we conducted exhaustive market research, scouring external forums and message boards and reading user reviews to find out what brands and styles families across the country commonly used.

Editorial integrity is at the heart of everything we publish. Read about how The Bump develops and reviews all articles, including product reviews.

The Best Toddler Backpacks

Overall best toddler backpack

What We Love
  • Organizational pockets, inside and out
  • Comfortable straps
  • Travel-friendly features
  • Customizable design
Things To Consider
  • Chest strap available for additional fee
  • High price point

The best toddler backpacks give you a range of uses—easily transitioning from playtime to school or daycare—just like the Kane Kids Mini Travel Backpack from STATE Bags. It’s roomy enough to hold numerous items, including a folder, without being so big that younger toddlers can’t safely carry it. This bag features an impressive level of comfort thanks to thick straps with ample padding; my daughter even forgot she was wearing it at one point. The zippers are thick and sturdy, and glide around the backpack seamlessly. STATE Bags offers a mix of bright, fun colorways my daughter was drawn to, but it isn't overly cutesy, which style-conscious parents will appreciate.

Unlike most toddler backpacks, the Kane Kids Mini has an interior water bottle pocket to prevent spills. It kept my daughter’s water bottle from slipping out of the pocket when she bent over, and also left the top of her bottle free of dirt and other gunk it normally picks up. The only downside of this internal pocket is that it takes up some room on the inside of the bag—but the large exterior pocket helps make up the difference. This kids’ backpack is even travel-friendly, with a luggage band to slip over a suitcase for no added cost. However, it comes at a higher price if you want a detachable chest strap. You also have the option to customize the bag with initials, symptoms, pins and patches. While this isn’t the cheapest toddler backpack out there, it has plenty of uses to give busy families lots of mileage out of the bag.

Dimensions: 3.54” (L) x 9.45” (W) x 12.6” (H) | Capacity: 6.9 L | Weight: 12.3 oz. | Materials: 100% polyester | Age rating: 2 to 4 years

Our product tester says:

There's no flap surrounding the zipper exterior, making this the easiest back to secure and go.

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Best toddler backpack for preschool

Herschel Heritage Backpack Kids 15L
Image: Zappos
What We Love
  • Large enough to fit a folder
  • Plenty of padding
  • Fun, toddler-approved prints
Things To Consider
  • No interior pocket
  • Not ideal for kids under three

Preschool backpacks need to be able to fit a lunchbox, water bottle, folder and usually a change of clothes—they’ll need to have a decent capacity. Herschel’s 15-liter Heritage Backpack for kids fits the bill. It has the roominess preschoolers need with large zipper teeth and pulls that are easy to fasten and unfasten independently. The backpack is designed for kiddos who are three years or older, which seems accurate—while it fit my 4-year-old, it came down to my one-year-old’s knees. The straps adjust seamlessly and have a band to keep excess fabric from flapping around when your child walks. There is also a chest clip that can be pushed up or down for quick adjustments. This kids’ backpack is durable, too: It survived a tug of war between my daughters just fine, to say nothing of being repeatedly being tossed around in the car and playground.

The straps on this toddler backpack are thick—with plenty of padding—and my 4-year-old wore this to preschool and the playground with no issues. She said it felt smooth and comfortable against her back, and nothing in her backpack poked her. The design isn't fussy—there's just a main pocket and exterior pocket, along with a large water bottle pocket—but my 4-year-old appreciated that. While I liked the function of this preschool bookbag, my daughter was drawn to the style the most. It comes in an array of color options, ranging from a bold floral print to basic black, so you’re sure to find a fit for even the most discerning of kiddos.

Dimensions: 5” (L) x 10.5” (W) x 14” (H) | Capacity: 15 L | Weight: 13.7 oz. | Materials: 100% polyester | Age rating: 3 to 7 years

Our product tester says:

It has thoughtful details I appreciate, like a mesh lining on the inside of the straps to lower the risk of sweat marks. I have an adult Herschel backpack and this feels very similar, but with larger zipper teeth and zipper pulls.

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Best high-quality construction toddler backpack

L.L.Bean Junior Original Book Pack
Image: Zappos
What We Love
  • Durable construction
  • Plenty of pockets
  • Low price point
Things To Consider
  • Not suitable for kids under 4
  • No chest strap

L.L.Bean is an icon in the backpack world, and the brand’s Junior Original Book Pack doesn’t disappoint. This children’s backpack received a perfect score during our testing: The only reason it wasn’t the best overall toddler backpack is that it’s designed for kids aged 4 and up, so it’s not suitable for a large portion of the younger toddler age group, or even the youngest preschoolers. The sturdy bag is complete with a number of high-quality details, from the well-sewn zipper tags to the strong seams. It's made from polyester, with a 3M Scotchlite reflective strip on the front that reflects car headlights. My daughter took this to preschool and it held up just fine to being tossed around. It even survived being grabbed by our Labrador puppy—further demonstrating its impressive durability.

L.L.Bean’s Junior Original has plenty of room for everything a preschooler, kindergartener and younger elementary school student will need to put inside. For instance, my daughter shoved in a stuffed animal for show and tell, along with her usual lunchbox, folder and change of clothes, and there was room to spare. The backpack also encourages organization, thanks to plenty of pockets, including a spot for pencils, small loose objects and other essentials in the large exterior pocket. While many toddler backpacks only have one zipper on the exterior pocket, this option has two, allowing you to access the space from different angles. Plus, it’s available in several fun colors and patterns. One potential downside: The main backpack zipper is covered with a protective material to extend its life, but kids run the risk of catching the zipper on this fabric if they try to move it too fast.

Dimensions: 6” (L) x 11” (W) x 14.5” (H) | Capacity: 16 L | Weight: 13 oz. | Materials: 100% polyester | Age rating: 4+ years

Our product tester says:

I had L.L.Bean backpacks growing up, and they were always incredibly durable—this one is more of the same high quality.

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Cutest toddler backpack

Skip Hop Zoo Little Kid Toddler Backpack
Image: Skip Hop
What We Love
  • Durable; used by two of my kids over three years
  • Surprisingly spacious
  • Several sweet designs
Things To Consider
  • Water bottle pocket isn’t deep
  • Lighter exterior may show stains

All Skip Hop Zoo products feature distinct designs that showcase the brand’s cute animals. I originally purchased the narwhal version of this backpack when my now-4-year-old was a one-year-old, based purely on its aesthetic. I had no idea it would hold up as well as it has. This bag now gets regular use from her little sister who’s now a one-year-old, and there are no rips or tears in the fabric. My daughter will sometimes play with it like a stuffed animal, and we've never had any issues getting her to wear it. Skip Hop went the extra mile by sticking with the theme. Both zippers have a coordinating seashell keychain that's large enough for little hands to grip, and there's a narwhal "horn" sticking out from the back—how cute!

This toddler backpack isn't big enough to hold a folder, but it can house a decent amount of stuff for everyday use. I sometimes toss toys and snacks in it when I'm taking my kids out and can sling it over my shoulder when I need to. The only thing worth noting is that it doesn't have a chest clip, which could be a problem for younger or more petite toddlers. (Skip Hop makes a Mini version of this bag that has a chest clip, though.) There’s no interior pocket, but I've never missed it. The inside offers enough space for several books, coloring supplies and a few additional toys. Moreover, the exterior pocket is generous and has organizational elements, so you can separate snacks or wipes and extra diapers. There's also a beverage pocket on the side that's the perfect size for toddler water bottles. I've already purchased this backpack as a gift for family and friends. It offers a nice wow factor that's a great talking point at the playground, too.

Dimensions: 5” (L) x 11” (W) x 12” (H) | Capacity: 11 L | Weight: 6.4 oz. | Materials: 100% polyester | Age rating: 3+ years

Our product tester says:

This backpack has survived two of my daughters, which is really saying a lot! We initially bought it for my now-4-year-old when she was a year old and it's been passed down to her one-year-old sister.

Buy Now

Best backpack with a safety harness

Yodo Kids Insulated Toddler Backpack with Safety Harness
Image: Amazon
Buying Options
Amazon|$23.88
What We Love
  • Detachable safety harness
  • Insulated interior
  • Several cute styles
Things To Consider
  • Small capacity
  • Water bottle holders are snug

Setting boundaries with busy toddlers can be tough, and it’s understandable to at least wonder if your energetic little one might benefit from a safety harness. The Yodo Kids Insulated Toddler Backpack comes with a removable lead that you can use when you want and unclip when you don’t. The attachment secures at the bottom, which could cause your child to tip forward if they took off at a sprint. However, it worked well and kept my active toddler near me; she just looked annoyed when she couldn't wander.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Yodo backpack. It has light stuffing all around the exterior for a slightly squishy feel my daughter was excited about. The inside of this kids’ backpack doubles as an insulated lunch box, making it great for taking drinks and snacks to the park. The petite design would probably be too small for older toddlers but works great for younger kids. What’s more, the zipper is fluid and easy for both me and my daughter to use. While the capacity isn't huge, you shouldn't run into any issues if you're using it to carry lunch to the park.

This toddler backpack is adorable, thanks to a sweet dog face print and 3D elements, like floppy ears. All of the colors fit the theme, making this bag look almost like a stuffed animal; my daughter hugged it when I first showed it to her. The only drawback is that the side water bottle pockets are pretty tight. You need to stretch them to shove a drink inside, and bottles with a larger circumference won't fit. But that snugness means you can toss something smaller, like a pack of crayons, in without worrying about them slipping out. If you want a bag to carry your child's lunch, snacks, a water bottle (in the main pocket) and a few toys, this can handle it.

Dimensions: 4.5” (D) x 8.5” (W) x 10.6” (H) | Capacity: N/A | Weight: 6.4 oz. | Materials: 100% polyester | Age rating: 18 months to 3 years

Our product tester says:

This is more of an insulated lunchbox than a standard backpack, although you can fit crayons, books, and a small drawing pad in here just fine.

Buy Now

What to Look for in Toddler Backpacks

Being adorable isn’t the only criteria to consider when searching for the best toddler backpack. Here are some other factors to think about as you shop:

  • Size. Toddler backpacks need to be compact enough for a little kid to carry, but roomy enough to hold all the essentials. Check to see if your child’s daycare or preschool has any specific size requirements for bookbags; some ask that bags be able to hold a standard letter-size sheet of paper. A good range is anywhere between 10 to 15 inches tall. If you’re looking for a teeny tiny option, opt for a mini toddler backpack.

  • Ease of care. Spills, stains and messes are inevitable, so a toddler backpack that’s machine-washable—or at least easy to wipe down—is a must. Choose a bookbag made from a durable material, so it’ll last for many school days (and maybe years) to come. Some are even made from water-resistant fabrics for added convenience.

  • Lifestyle. Will your preschooler be carrying their bag themselves? Or, are you looking for a daycare backpack you can send in with your child that’s large enough to hold a change of clothes, snacks, meals and other essentials? Maybe you’re on the hunt for a tot-friendly travel bag. If your toddler tends to dart around, a backpack with a safety harness is worth considering. Whatever the case, be sure to consider what your child will be using their bookbag for to find a match that has all the features and accessories they need.

Toddler Backpack Safety Tips

Of course, toddler backpacks are cute, but there are also safety considerations to keep in mind before your child uses them. The AAP calls attention to several features that help make the best kids’ backpacks safe for young children to carry. When shopping, look for a preschool bookbag with two wide shoulder straps, a padded back and a chest strap, if possible.

Moreover, note where the bag’s name label is located. Ideally, it should be placed on the interior of the backpack so your child’s personal information isn’t on display to strangers. The same goes for monogrammed backpacks for toddlers: It’s safer to stick to initials instead of your child’s first name.

About the writer:

Korin Miller is a journalist with experience writing dozens of health features for The Bump. Korin’s specialties include commerce, wellness and lifestyle trends, and her work has appeared in Women’s Health, Forbes, WSJ, SELF, Prevention and more. Korin is a mom to four kids, ranging in age from 1 to 10 years old. She has a master’s degree from American University and lives by the beach.

Sources

Healthy Children (AAP), Backpack Safety, August 2023

Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial process.

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