We’ve taken a thorough look at the rolling backpack options for teens ages 13 and up (and we have a recommendation for elementary-age kids too).
Our main goal was to find the most durable and practical option to recommend for middle and high school use, as well as for short overnight trips.
We looked at the wheeled backpacks from both well-established and rather unknown brands. The key factor was the ability to withstand the trials and abuse of daily use, year after year, through all kinds of rough, wet, and bumpy environments.
There are many poorly built backpacks on the market, and we wanted to recommend only what would stand up well over time, protect schoolwork and even a laptop, and come with a guarantee from a company with a history of follow-up.
L.L. Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack
Other main features of note:
- Laptop sleeve
- Reflective trim on front and back for safety at night
- Pull handle that locks into place at two points, making it comfortable for 10-year-olds on up to looming high school kids
- Backpack straps that tuck away when not in use to avoid snagging when rolling
- Dual main compartments allowing for the separation of, say, gym socks from textbooks
- Dual side water-bottle pockets
- Interior tech pocket with a hole for a headphone cable or USB-C extra battery cable (for heavy power users on long days)
While we also have a few cheaper recommendations below, we think the wheeled option from L. L. Bean is well-worth the slightly higher upfront investment due to its likely longevity. Expect it to last through school years and beyond.
- The Benefits of Rolling Backpacks for Young People
- The Best Rolling Backpack for High School: L.L. Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack
- Other Kids Rolling Backpacks We Considered
- Solidly-Built, Laptop Sleeve Included, but Expensive: JanSport Wheeled Backpacks
- A Reasonably Priced Option: The High Sierra Freewheel Wheeled Backpack
- Decent, Quite Cheap: JWorld Sundance Laptop / Sunrise Rolling Backpacks
- Very Cheap, In Fact Worthless: The Rockland 17" Roadster Rolling Backpack
- Lightweight, Subdued Design: HollyHOME Wheeled Rolling Backpack
- Includes Matching Lunch Bag: Tilami Rolling Backpack
- Wrap-Up: The Best Rolling Backpack for High School
Update history of this article
The Benefits of Rolling Backpacks for Young People
With apologies for the obvious pun, teens have a lot on their shoulders. Schools pile on textbooks, workbooks, often a laptop, and take-home projects, and some teens also their share time between different households (with separated parents, grandparents, babysitters, etc.). And there are after-school activities with their accompanying equipment and personal, cosmetic, and leisure materials.
The load can build up —and it’s not healthy. There is excellent research showing that when young people carry heavy backpacks they often develop problems like low back pain, compressed lumbar discs, and asymmetry. Such back problems in youth can then lead to worse issues in adulthood. In addition, heavy backpacks harm joints and contribute to falls — over 6,000 child emergency room visits in 2016 were for backpack injuries. A study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests as a guideline carrying no more than 10% of one’s bodyweight in backpacks; rolling backpacks are thus an obvious solution.
All that said, rolling backpacks can be a tripping hazard in more-crowded school hallways. Those who use rolling backpacks should understand that there are situations where it’s necessary to use the backpack straps, and take advantage of them. This is why we recommend a backpack that gives students both rolling and comfortable back-carry options.
The Best Rolling Backpack for High School: L.L. Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack
We prioritized durability in our considerations, followed by features like reflective trim and organizational pockets. We found that the L.L. Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack had just about everything we could ask for.
L.L. Bean’s Lifeproof Construction and Materials
Most other school backpacks are made from polyester fabric, mainly 600D polyester, which has the advantage of being cheap, light, and easy to dye many colors. But this standard commercial backpack fabric is not as strong as the 420D nylon used for the body of L.L. Bean’s rolling backpack. (While D or “denier” is a measure of density of the fabric, it is only relevant as a measure of strength among the same types of fabric — and not when comparing different fabrics to each other.) As we mentioned, 420D nylon was originally designed for military parachutes. And the 1680D ballistic nylon that is used for the bag’s base is even tougher — in the pre-kevlar days it’s what soldiers wore to protect themselves from shrapnel. Do your worst — this fabric won’t rip.
All of this wouldn’t mean much if the stitching, zippers, handles, and wheels weren’t similarly built to last for the long haul, but they are. The range of other L.L. Bean backpacks have consistently topped durability tests from consumer organizations, reviewers, and customers. These have shown for instance that LL Bean zippers have held up over time and the handles didn’t tear in jerk tests.
The L.L. Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack’s fabric is treated to repel moisture, and zippers are protected with flaps, also improving water resistance. In sum, precious assignments and books should survive even when the bag is caught in a downpour or plopped down in a mud puddle.
Features of the L.L. Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack
L.L. Bean has covered all of the features that we find most useful:
- The bag’s 35L capacity is a wee bit larger than other rolling backpacks; it’s fair to assume that anyone wanting wheels may regularly have a bulkier load.
- There are two separated main compartments with an organizer panel and laptop sleeve.
- The 3M™ Scotchlite™ reflective trim on the bag’s front and back makes the bag highly visible from any angle at night.
- The pull handle can be tucked neatly into the unit or locked in place at two different heights, improving comfort.
- The well-padded backpack straps can be tucked into the back compartment so that they don’t snag when rolling.
- Two quite large water bottle pockets (also great for carrying a sandwich or fruit, or wet item).
Downsides to the L.L. Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack
- It’s a bit larger than the other options. While most high school kids who want a rolling backpack are by definition carrying a lot of stuff, there are also slightly smaller options below.
- It’s a bit expensive; for a small step down in price (but also quality and likely durability), check out the other options below. We think L.L. Bean’s durability is well worth it, however.
The Rolling Deluxe Book Pack is sold directly from L.L. Bean and is available in black, dark plum, and navy. It measures 19 x 14 x 9.5 inches (48.3 x 35.6 x 24.1 cm), has a 35L / 2,124 cubic-inch capacity, and weighs 5 lbs. 3 oz. (2.35 kg).
Other Kids Rolling Backpacks We Considered
L.L. Bean’s rolling backpack hits the sweet spot in terms of features students will use and a reasonable price for a level of contruction quality that will likely last years.
There are, however, a few good options that are more expensive, larger, and more ready for large laptops or other gear, as well as some decent cheaper options. The problem with some of the bags made from cheaper materials however is that they are more likely to wear out with rough daily use. But for those students who more likely to lose rather than abuse their backpack, a cheaper option might well be worth considering, as it’s not such a big deal to replace.
Solidly-Built, Laptop Sleeve Included, but Expensive: JanSport Wheeled BackpacksJanSport Driver 8 Backpack is a rolling, tech-ready pack that is suitable for high schoolers. It is solidly built from 600D polyester (though not the tougher 420D nylon employed for our main pick above). This is the top-selling American brand for school bags and its other, non-rolling backpacks got great (if not top) marks from the French consumer testing organization and reviewers. The JanSport lifetime warranty is excellent.
This bag did not win out over our main pick because it is in the same price category but uses slightly less durable material. That said, we would still expect the JanSport Driver 8 to hold up quite well over time.
The rolling backpack has a padded sleeve for up to 15″ laptops. The handle has two locking stages so it can be comfortable to pull for teens of various heights. The backpack straps tuck away when not in use. There are two large main compartments, a front organizer pocket, and a water bottle pocket. It measures 21 x 14 x 10 inches (53.3 x 35.6 x 25.4 cm) and has a 36 L capacity. It is also available directly from JanSport.
A Reasonably Priced Option: The High Sierra Freewheel Wheeled BackpackHigh Sierra Freewheel Wheeled Backpack has a large main compartment, a middle pocket, and a sleeve for laptops of up to 15″, making it relatively easy to stay organized with a lot of stuff.
The shoulder straps tuck away when not in use as of course does the slide out handle. There is a side waterbottle pocket and front zippered pocket for small items and pencils, as well as reflective accents.
The packpack uses ripstop polyester with a 600D Duralite coating for water resistance, though we note there are no flaps over the zippers, which are often a key weak point for water to enter. The 34L pack weighs 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) and has internal dimensions of 19.5 x 13.5 x 8 inches (50 x 34 x 20 cm).
Decent, Quite Cheap: JWorld Sundance Laptop / Sunrise Rolling Backpacks
JWorld New York offers two very reasonably priced rolling backpack options that are suitable for high school. They have reflective strips for visibility and are made of 600D polyester, offering reasonable water resistance. They’ve garnered a few positive web and Amazon reviews, although some users note problems with durability and the construction quality certainly does not approach that of our top pick. There are in particular complaints of pieces such as wheels breaking. Backpacks do get heavy daily use in high school, but if you have another main backpack and just use a rolling backpack on occasion, these are cheap options.
The J World New York Sundance Laptop Rolling Backpack is the slightly larger of the two and can old a laptop in its padded sleeve. It measures 20 x 13 x 9 inches (50.8 x 33 x 22.9 cm) with the 38.3L capacity. It is also available for purchase at Walmart.
The J World New York Sunrise Rolling Backpack is just a bit shorter and is cheaper and lacks the laptop sleeve. It measures 18 x 13 x 9 inches (45.7 x 33 x 22.9 cm), and has a 34.5L capacity. It is also available at Walmart.
Very Cheap, In Fact Worthless: The Rockland 17″ Roadster Rolling Backpack
Rockland 17″ Roadster Rolling Backpack was the cheapest option we found, but many of its customers complained of the bag’s wheels and handles giving out after just a few weeks. Given that risk, we might just opt for a non-wheeled backpack at this price point, and save the trouble.
It is available in a huge range of colors and printed designs.
The backpack measures 13 x 10 x 17 inches (33 x 25.4 x 43.2 cm).
Lightweight, Subdued Design: HollyHOME Wheeled Rolling BackpackHollyHome 19-inch Wheeled Backpack comes in quite relaxing plain colors. There were some reports of parts breaking on a previous smaller version of this bag, but there are good customer reviews on this version. The company promises to refund for problems within only 60 days, which is a far cry from the lifetime guarantee of our top pick. It measures 18.9 x 7.5 x 13.8 inches (48 x 19 x 35.1 cm).
Includes Matching Lunch Bag: Tilami Rolling BackpackTilami Rolling Backpack is available in a wide range of wild printed designs. It measures 19.2 x 13.6 x 9.8 inches (48.8 x 34.5 x 24.9 cm) and is available at Walmart.
Wrap-Up: The Best Rolling Backpack for High School
Overall, the best rolling backpack is the incredibly durable L.L. Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack. We expect it to hold up throughout high school and beyond. It has thoughtful organizational pockets and a reasonable degree of waterproofing to keep books and a laptop safe.
But there are other options: