The Washington Post

Back-to-school cool: Find the best gear

We don’t want to burst your bubble. It’s summer. There’s still time for a beach trip or art camp. But your parents are probably looking ahead and asking a few questions: Is your old lunchbox in good shape? Is your backpack big enough for middle school? Where’s that list of supplies your school sent out in June?

It’s almost back-to-school time, and there are lots of decisions to be made. KidsPost did some early shopping to see what’s new. With the help of kids from Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, we’ll show you our picks for lunch, locker and study. They’re colorful, fun and even practical (something Mom and Dad appreciate), and they may get you geared up for the new school year.

Younger kids

Backpacks are a way to show off your style. This year there are lots of colorful themes and patterns for kids who l ike animals, sports, polka dots or camouflage. But style isn’t everything. Backpacks also need to be sturdy and have room for your books and pencils.

Pottery Barn Kids’ Mackenzie packs ($45.50 for large; $7 for initials or name) will satisfy kids and parents. They come in eight patterns for boys and 15 for girls. (Our favorites: gray soccer or any of the owl prints.) The fabric is thick, and the shoulder straps are well padded. There are pockets for pencils, drinks and lunch money. There’s an inside clip for keys and two large outside clips to hold your lunch box. You can have your name or initials sewn onto the bag so it doesn’t get mixed up with someone else’s. It comes in four sizes, but large would be the best pick for most elementary school students.

At (free shipping). A smaller selection is at Pottery Barn Kids stores.

For keeping those pencils, erasers and markers organized at home and in the classroom, a pencil case is a big help. If you want something cute that won’t fall apart, Pottery Barn Kids has pencil cases ($9.50) that match its backpacks. But if you have a lot of supplies, you will need something larger. American Studio’s Tech Gear line offers a big pencil pouch for a little price ($2.97). The case has a main pocket that expands if you undo a zipper along the bottom. It has two other zippered sections and comes in four colors, including a bright pink and royal blue. It’s made to fit in a three-ring binder, which makes this good for middle schoolers too.

At (free shipping). Tech Gear case at Wal-Mart stores through August.

Some kids hate sitting at a desk to do homework. A lap desk can make things easier. Vera Bradley’s new one ($28), which comes in three flowery patterns, is lightweight, comfortable and colorful. It’s big enough to hold a laptop computer. Its bottom features a pillow and its top wipes clean.

At Vera Bradley stores and

→Older kids

When you’re juggling seven or eight classes (and all those books), you have to keep organized. It might be time to retire the backpack you’ve had since third grade. Our choice for middle schoolers is L.L. Bean’s North Ridge backpack ($59.95). The new design features a main compartment large enough for several notebooks and a binder; a padded laptop compartment; a front pocket with an organizer for school supplies, cellphone and keys; mesh drink holders; bungee cords to hold a jacket; a fleece-lined small pocket for a music player; and a waist clip for the days you lug home all those heavy textbooks. It comes in seven colors.

At L.L. Bean stores in Tysons Corner and Columbia and at (free shipping).

A paper organizer can keep your math homework from getting lost among your science handouts. American Studio’s Mega Binder ($12.99) has a three-ring binder, a five-pocket file folder, a removable pencil pouch, a class schedule and pockets for pens, coins, flash drives and a calculator. It comes in six colors, including blue/black and gray/black combinations, black with peace sign or lavender with a flower. PB Teen’s Homework Holder ($25.50) has an outside pocket for easy access to pens and pencils. Unzip the main compartment to find a three-ring binder, a clear pocket for a schedule, pouches for pens and a calculator, and a removable pencil case. There are colors and patterns for boys and girls.

Mega Binder at Costco through August. Homework Holder at (with free shipping).

Your locker is your room away from home, so why not decorate it while you organize it? Magnetic message boards ($19.50) are nothing new, but PB Teen has a colorful one with a pocket for markers. (Try Crayola’s new washable, low-odor dry-erase markers — $8.49 — and crayons — $4.99.) The back is magnetic, so it won’t come off. Everyone could use the class schedule magnet ($15.50) so you have no doubts about where you need to be.

If you can’t find something in your locker, maybe it’s because that metal box is so dark. Light it up with the Container Store’s sticky-backed Drawer/Locker Light ($9.99 for two). Future decorators might go for Staples’ Locker Chandelier ($16.99). The battery-powered magnetic light — which comes in pink, purple, white, blue and black — has six LED lights that flash in a rainbow of colors.

And just for fun, how about a rug? Staples’ Diva Locker Rug ($5.99) comes in a variety of colors. It fits a standard locker and has a no-skid bottom. These last two are not necessities, so you might score points with your parents by offering to use allowance to pay for them.

Dry-erase board and class schedule magnet at (free shipping). Crayola markers and crayons available at most area retailers. Drawer/Locker Light available at Container Store locations and at Locker Chandelier and Diva Locker Rug at Staples stores.


Part of the fun of bringing your lunch to school is the packaging. One company decided that kids knew a lot about what made a good lunchbox . Lands’ End’s new kid-designed lunchbox, called the MadBox ($35), was dreamed up by five Wisconsin kids. Their design keeps food cold with a bendable cold pack that attaches to the side of the box. It comes in six patterns, including one with wolves and one with large squares of blue, white, pink and brown. It has an outside pocket for your spoon and napkin and includes a clip to attach to your backpack.

Two other good options are Lands’ End’s ClassMate EZ-Wipe Lunch Box ($25) and Pottery Barn Kids’ Mackenzie Lunch Bag ($22.50). They come in lots of patterns and feature a molded inside. Why should you care? Nothing in it will get smushed. Why will your parents care? It’s super easy to clean.

If you’re all about colors and patterns, other options include PB Teen’s Lunch Tote ($19.50), which looks more like a sleek purse than a lunchbox. It comes in equally fashionable animal patterns, peace signs and polka dots. Vera Bradley’s new Va Va Bloom and Indigo Pop patterns are fun choices for a square Lunch Break or rounded Lunch Bunch bags ($34).

Lands’ End lunch boxes at; some patterns at Lands’ End shops at Sears. Pottery Barn Mackenzie Lunch Bags at (free shipping) ; some patterns available at Pottery Barn Kids stores. Tote Lunch Bag at (free shipping). Vera Bradley Lunch Break and Lunch Bunch bags available at Vera Bradley stores and at

What you put inside that bag is worth thinking about, too. Skip the throwaway plastic sandwich baggie and paper napkin; go for reusable items. The Container Store’s Klip-It food containers ($3.99) are colorful and easy to open, and they don’t drip. There’s one for your sandwich and two sizes for snacks ($7.99 for three). If you don’t want to break your pretzel sticks or carrots to fit in a container, try Aladdin’s Expandable Snack Containers ($5.99-$6.99). You can stretch them to fit bigger snacks and squish them when you’re done. (Note to parents: All of these containers can go in the dishwasher.) Klean Kanteen stainless-steel water bottles ($19-$25) are colorful and have an easy-to-use spout. What they don’t have are chemicals that some plastic bottles carry.

Klip-It containers at the Container Store and Aladdin containers at Target and and Klean Kanteen water bottles at and, with free shipping at and

Christina Barron



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.