If there is a universal back-to-school accessory that spans ages and grades, it is the backpack. For little ones, it's pretty much about fun graphics. But as kids get older, their load gets heavier (too heavy, argue many), and the backpack needs to combine form and function.
But boring bags be gone! Playful designs are everywhere, and even bland old standbys exude flair this season (the basic Jansport bag is roaring in animal print). And many bags are designed for the age of technology, with spaces for laptops and other electronics.
Jenna Berman, a buyer for kids' accessories at Lester's, says backpacks do serve as style statements. "A child can wear a basic outfit, but their backpack brings out their personality," she says, noting that designs with sequins, peace signs, skulls and feathers are a sort of "badge of cool" for tweens.
At e-tailer eBags, there are a whopping 1,765 styles of backpacks. "Obviously the functionality part is critical," says director of marketing Jonathan Fox. "But at the end of the day, first and foremost it's about expressing your individuality." Trending right now, Fox says, are bags inspired by the surf and skate scene, and this season, sales of patterns are surpassing solids.
Graphic backpack from 77kids by American Eagle, $29.50 at 77kids.com.
Clockwise from top center, plaid backpack, $12.71, at The Children's Place; camo print by Wildkin, $29.99, at ebags.com; Caliber Corpo by Electric, $44, at ebags.com; robot backpack by Beatrix Little, $42, at Lester's; women's Surge pack by North Face, $115, at ebags.com; multimedia Ninja pack, $48, at sprayground.net and Nordstrom.
The incredible heaviness of books is sometimes a weighty issue for kids, particularly high schoolers.
Dr. Terry Eagle, director of chiropractic at ProHEALTH in Lake Success, warns against kids slinging the backpack over just one shoulder instead of wearing both straps." To avoid back pain, she says, both straps must be worn -- and adjusted properly so weight is evenly distributed.
"How they pack them is really important," says Dr. Lyn D. Weiss, of the Nassau University Medical Center department of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Heavier items, Weiss says, should lay closest to the back, while lighter things should be furthest away. And keeping it light is a must (no more than 20 percent of the student's body weight). "Don't use the backpack as a mobile locker," she says.
If the bag's too full, Eagle suggests carrying a couple of books by hand. As to roller bags, kids generally think they're nerdy. And, Weiss says, "some schools ban them because they're a tripping hazard."