Back-to-School: Backpacks vs. Messenger Bags

Posted on August 13, 2012 by Nicole Nuss

back to school, back-to-school shopping, backpacks, messenger bags, school supplies

Yes, believe it or not, it’s that time of year again. Sorry kids, but in a few short weeks, your days will begin with the sound of an alarm clock, and end with your nose buried in a textbook. Well, in theory anyway.

The one bright spot that always helped ease the back-to-school depression I often found myself immersed in was the need for some serious back-to-school shopping. And according to statistics, many families are gonna be doing a boatload of said shopping again this year.

The Huntington Backpack Index estimates, on average, back-to-school costs will increase 6% in 2012. Here’s a breakdown of average cost per student, by grade level:

Back to School
From Comparison Shopping website Nextag.


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♦  Elementary school student — $548

♦  Middle school student — $724

♦ High school student — $1,117

With kids lugging around $500+ worth of supplies, they need a solid means in which to carry it all. And that’s where the whole backpack/messenger bag debate comes into play.

Deciding between the two carriers can be a tough one. And a number of factors affect the decision: age of student, weight of carrying load, transportation means to and from school, etc. And although I’d love to decisively say which bag is right for you – or your kiddo – I can’t. That final decision weighs on the student.

But what I can do is break down the two options in an attempt to make the decision a bit easier for you. So here ya go:


Best for Carrying
Most will argue backpacks are the better choice for carrying heavier loads. And medical professionals are big time advocates of backpacks with thick, padded straps, which should be worn over both shoulders. The double strap feature of a backpack allows you to distribute weight evenly, not putting an overabundance of strain on one side of the body or the other.

Comfort Card
Backpack fans will also contend a double-shoulder carrier is more comfortable than its sling counterpart. Backpacks are easier to carry long distances, and thanks to their secure makeup, when worn properly, they have the ability to stay put while you’re on the go. So for kids who walk to school, backpacks are probably the better bet.

Let’s face it, backpacks are probably the more practical solution for a lot of kids, especially elementary and middle school students who are transporting books, notebooks, folders, lunches, gym clothes, musical instruments, etc., etc. Depending on the size, backpacks tend to be a bit roomier, so kids can pack more necessities in them. (Note: cramming a backpack full of supplies is seriously frowned upon by experts!)

Retro Effect
Although the messenger bag is likely seen as more fashion-forward, the old-school backpack could very well be described as iconic.  Right now, the retro effect of the backpack might just make it the more trendy of the two carriers.


Best for Accessing
Where a backpack is more handy for carrying supplies, the messenger bag makes accessing those supplies a much easier task. Due to the bag’s position against the body and its basic, easy-to-remove cover flap, grabbing a notebook, pen, or your keys can take mere seconds.

In conjunction with being able to quickly access your belongings, a messenger bag typically allows for better organization thanks to its inner layout. Unlike the main compartment of a backpack, which can act like a black hole when searching for something as simple as a writing utensil, the numerous dividers in a messenger bag are a neat freak’s dream.

Although it can be argued a backpack is a multipurpose piece of equipment, which can be used for hiking and other outdoor activities, a messenger bag is likely even more versatile. Obviously it can be used for school, but due to its more compact size, it can double as a laptop bag, a carry-on bag when traveling, or even an everyday, errand bag.

Chic Effect
The messenger bag is likely to be viewed as more chic than its bulky, old-fashioned counterpart. This reason alone might make it the more desired option, at least for high school and college students. But its fashionable trait also means the messenger bag might be the better investment. A student is less likely to get bored with its modern style, which means they may be inclined to hang onto it for multiple years.

So what are you? Team Messenger Bag or Team Backpack?

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