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9 rolling backpacks to avoid back pain in 2023

Using expert advice, we rounded up rolling backpacks for students to distribute the weight evenly.
We rounded up some top-rated rolling backpacks from brands like Jansport, High Sierra and J World.
We rounded up some top-rated rolling backpacks from brands like Jansport, High Sierra and J World.Stockbyte / Getty Images

Backpacks are a key back-to-school item that every student needs. They keep supplies like textbooks, folders and stationery in one place so your child always knows where to find what they need. But various classes and extracurriculars can mean lots of textbooks and supplies — and the weight of these items may be overbearing.

A student’s backpack should not exceed 10% to 15% of their body weight due to concerns of discomfort and risk of injury to muscles and joints, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Our backs house some of the strongest muscles in our body. But add food, schoolbooks, electronics and an assortment of other items, and the weight can add up quickly,” says Shai Karpf, the owner and directing physician at North Broward Chiropractic & Wellness.

If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional backpacks with shoulder straps, rolling backpacks can quite literally take the weight off of your child’s back. We consulted experts on how heavy backpacks can impact children and whether rolling backpacks are a safer option.

SKIP AHEAD What are the health effects of carrying around a heavy backpack? | Are rolling backpacks a good alternative? | How to wear a backpack to avoid back pain 

Our top picks

Best rolling backpacks for students

We rounded up some highly rated rolling backpacks, all of which offer a main compartment and multiple pockets to help kids store their school supplies, a durable bottom to prevent damage from the floor and padded shoulder straps to use it as a traditional backpack when needed.How we picked the best rolling backpacks

When shopping for a kids’ rolling backpack, our experts recommend keeping the following factors in mind:

  • Size and storage: Rolling backpacks should offer a main compartment and multiple pockets to help kids store their school supplies, water bottles and smaller essentials like keys, pencils and more.
  • Comfort: Since rolling backpacks might be hard to take up and down the stairs or on uneven surfaces, consider a multifunctional option that your child can roll or wear on their shoulders, our experts say. Also, look for padded shoulder straps, padded backs and a grip handle for comfort, as well as an adjustable handle that can conform to your child’s size and height (though keep in mind the manufacturer’s age recommendations). 
  • Durability: Look for backpacks made from durable, water-resistant fabrics like polyester, canvas and nylon. And because kids are dragging around their rolling backpacks for hours each day, you should consider a rubber bottom that helps prevent it from getting tears, scratches or other damage.

Top-rated rolling backpacks for students

We rounded up highly rated rolling backpacks, all of which are in line with our experts’ guidance. We also note the dimensions, capacity in liters and the age recommendations for each option.

Top rolling backpack overall: J World

J World New York Sunrise Rolling Backpack

Designed for kids ages 8 and up, this J World rolling backpack is our overall pick thanks to its durable ​​ripstop polyester fabric and rubber bottom that can withstand being dragged on hard floors and pavement, according to the brand. It also comes with two mesh side pockets for water bottles and its front pocket organizer has a key clip, pen holders, card slots and an internal zip pocket to keep small items safe. The highly rated backpack, which has a 4.4-star average rating from over 8,000 reviews on Amazon, is available in 40 kid-friendly designs and patterns, including Safari, Garden Purple and Color Dots.

Dimensions: 18 in. H x 13 in. W x 9 in. D | Capacity: 34.5L | Age: 8 years and up

Top budget-friendly rolling backpack: Rockland

Rockland Double Handle Rolling Backpack

If you’re looking for a good-quality rolling backpack on a budget, this Rockland option is made from durable polyester and equips a heavy-duty plastic stand on the bottom to keep it upright. You can choose from several patterns and designs, including polka dots, pink chevron, multi-colored hearts and leopard prints. The backpack has a 4.2-star average rating from over 12,800 reviews on Amazon.

Dimensions: 20 in. H x 12 in. W x 8 in. D | Capacity: n/a | Age: 5 years and up

Top rolling backpack with laptop compartment: High Sierra

High Sierra Freewheel Pro Wheeled Backpack

For students who carry tech like laptops and tablets, this option from High Sierra comes with a padded laptop sleeve that can accommodate a 15-inch laptop, according to the brand. Kids can store supplies in the backpack’s organizer compartment that comes with multiple pockets, including a zippered mesh pocket, pen pockets, a media pocket with a USB port and a key fob hook. You can also tuck in the padded shoulder straps into a dedicated back compartment, and when they are in use, the handle can be fully zipped away and out of sight. The backpack has a 4.5-star average rating from over 2,000 reviews on Amazon.

Dimensions: 20.5 in. L x 13.5 in. W x 8 in. D | Capacity: 34.5L | Age: 13 years and up

Top durable rolling backpack: Everest

Everest Deluxe Wheeled Backpack

The backpack has a 4.3-star average rating from over 3,500 reviews on Amazon and is made from water- and mold-resistant canvas material that keeps it in good shape despite long days at school, according to the brand. Its spacious main compartment has a double zipper closure for extra security, as well as a double-zippered front pocket with a mesh pocket, a built-in organizer and keyring to keep smaller essentials in one place. For even more storage, the backpack has four additional pockets on the front and three side pockets. It’s available in eight colors, including navy, purple and black

Dimensions: 18.5 in. H x 13.5 in. W x 7 in. D | Capacity: 27.9L | Age: n/a

Top rolling backpack for elementary school: Twise

Twise Side-Kick Rolling Backpack

The Twise Side-Kick is designed for young children between the ages 3 and 9 and comes in several animal-inspired designs, including dinosaurs, penguins and unicorns. It has a padded grip handle, two side pockets for water bottles and a front pocket organizer with a pencil holder, key fob and zipper pocket. The backpack, which is made from water-resistant polyester, also equips a cushioned back for comfort when it’s being used as a traditional backpack, according to the brand.

Dimensions: 16 in. H x 16 in. W x 5 in. D | Capacity: 15.7L | Age: 3 years and up

Top rolling backpack for middle and high school: JanSport

JanSport Driver 8 Backpack

The JanSport Driver 8 is the brand’s classic backpack silhouette on wheels to help relieve some of the weight from your child’s back. It comes in several colors and patterns and has a padded grab handle, a padded back panel and shoulder straps that can be tucked away when not in use. It also has multiple compartments, including two main ones to store larger supplies, a laptop sleeve, a front utility pocket with an organizer for pens and pencils, a front stash pocket for smaller items and a side water bottle pocket.

Dimensions: 20 in. H x 14 in. W x 8 in. D | Capacity: 36L | Age: n/a

Top personalized rolling backpack: Pottery Barn Kids

Mackenzie PAC-MAN Glow-in-the-Dark Backpack

This rolling back from Pottery Barn Kids — which makes some of our favorite kids backpacks and weighted stuffed animals — can be personalized to display your child’s name, which can help teachers, school staff and other students identify them during the first few days of school and return their backpack if it gets lost. It’s made from a durable and water-resistant polyester material, which is designed to softly glow in the dark for approximately 3 to 4 hours, according to the brand. The Mackenzie collection comes with a variety of additional patterns like unicorns, dinosaurs and multi-colored hearts, and you can purchase matching items separately, including a lunch box and water bottle.

Dimensions: 18 in. H x 13 in. W x 7 in. D | Capacity: n/a | Age: Children over 48 in. tall

Top-rated rolling backpack with lunchbox: Tilami

Tilami Rolling Backpack 19 inch with Lunch Bag

This matching rolling backpack and lunch box set comes in 16 fun designs for kids — including Mermaid, Galaxy and Camouflage — and the lunch box features a handy strap by which it can attach to the backpack’s handle, the brand says. The backpack has multiple compartments, including a main pocket, a middle pocket, a front pocket to store stationary and a small top-front pocket for smaller items like glasses and headphones.

Top-rated eco-friendly rolling backpack: Pottery Barn Teen

Pottery Barn Teen Gear-Up Quarry Recycled Backpack

This backpack from Pottery Barn Teen, which sells some of our favorite dorm room essentials and bean bag chairs, is made from water-resistant 100% recycled polyester for a more eco-friendly option. You can also personalize it with your teen’s name or initials. The rolling backpack has four exterior pockets, a laptop compartment, a cinch mesh pocket on the side to hold a water bottle and a durable plastic base to keep it from getting scratched and damaged, according to the brand. It comes in multiple designs and patterns, including interstellar, tie-dye and ombre.

Dimensions: 20.5 in. H x 13 in. W x 7.5 in. D | Capacity: 28L | Age: n/a

What are the potential health implications of carrying around a heavy backpack?

Heavy backpacks are all too common, and they can take a toll when students carry them around for eight or more hours at school every day. Carrying a heavy backpack can put strain on the spine and shoulders, potentially causing short-term effects like soreness and fatigue and long-term bad habits like slouching and poor posture.

Other health implications include lower and upper back pain as a result of wearing the backpack on one shoulder and thus trying to offset the weight by leaning to one side, according to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Traditional backpacks can also lead to bad posture, especially in girls and younger children who may be carrying heavier backpacks that aren’t proportional to their body weight.

However, the experts we spoke to say there’s limited evidence that suggests carrying a heavy backpack can cause significant back pain or have major long-term effects on children. In fact, in a systematic review of five prospective studies, backpack characteristics like weight and carrying method were not associated with increased risk of back pain in children and adolescents.

“The back will compensate for any load applied to it for an extended period of time,” says Dr. Jill Noble, the division director of general pediatrics at Michigan Medicine, and Dr. Ingrid Ichesco, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Michigan Medicine, in a joint email response. “There is no evidence that structural spinal deformity can result from backpack use. There is little chance a child or teen will be permanently injured by carrying a heavy backpack.”

A variety of factors can contribute to back pain that aren’t necessarily related to a heavy backpack. These include sports participation, soft bedding, back flexibility and psychosocial distress like depression and anxiety, according to Noble and Ichesco. Always check with a physician to assess the reason for any back pain.

Are rolling backpacks a good alternative to regular backpacks?

Rolling backpacks can be a great alternative to traditional backpacks since they “put the weight on the wheels instead of on your musculoskeletal system,” says Karpf. This is helpful for children experiencing discomfort from lugging their backpack at school every day. It can also be a good option for those who do extracurricular activities or walk home from school, which results in additional time carrying around extra weight.

However, there are some drawbacks to rolling backpacks that parents and students should consider. Not only are they difficult to carry up a flight of stairs, but some school policies also don’t permit them since they “may clutter hallways and be a tripping hazard to other students,” says Dr. Richard Lichenstein, adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. These backpacks can also twist, “causing wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries,” Noble and Ichesco say.

How to wear a backpack to avoid back pain

Back pain can be avoided if a backpack is used properly: It should be appropriately sized, feature multiple compartments to evenly distribute the weight and have a padded back and padded straps that are tightened so the bag sits two inches above the waist, according to Lichenstein. To spread out the weight in the backpack, place heavier items at the bottom of the bag right in the center and use a harness whenever possible, he says.

“Books should be only transported when needed and stored in lockers when possible,” Lichenstein says, adding that “digitized content [and] a light laptop are excellent alternatives for a student lugging a backpack.”

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Shai Karpf is a chiropractor and the owner and directing physician at North Broward Chiropractic & Wellness in Coconut Creek, Florida.
  • Dr. Jill Noble is a board-certified pediatrician and the division director of general pediatrics at Michigan Medicine.
  • Dr. Ingrid Ichesco is a board-certified pediatrician and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Michigan Medicine who specializes in sports medicine.
  • Dr. Richard Lichenstein is the medical director for child welfare in Maryland and adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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