Our 9 Favorite Back to School Essentials

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We don’t tend to buy a ton of new things each year for our kids’ back to school items. Instead, I prefer to purchase a few necessities, and also get items that will hopefully last through multiple seasons, years, and even kids. These are some of our favorite items that have been versatile, durable, and served our family well over many years.

Best School Backpack

All of my kids have some version of an L.L.Bean backpack and we absolutely love them. They’re practically indestructible and last forever. We got my oldest, who is just entering middle school, the Junior version when he started 1st grade and it still looks practically new after 5 years of daily use. He needed a bigger backpack this year, so I got him this one and we’ll hold onto the old one for a sibling.

Favorite School Lunchbox + Ice Packs

I searched for years for a stainless steel lunchbox that was also leakproof not just on the outside, but also between compartments. I much prefer stainless steel for school lunches as it’s better for the environment, doesn’t stain, cleans easily, and is very safe for food. But it was tricky to find one that didn’t leak.

I was thrilled when this one came out a couple years ago. It actually seals between compartments so liquids don’t seep through, and everything stays contained inside. We love them and I just got another one for my 4th kiddo who is starting a longer day of school this year.

We also love these slim ice packs that easily fit in a bag with lunches. The penguins are my favorite!

Kid School Sneakers & Socks

There are SO many different kid sneakers out there for lots of different occasions. My oldest prefers lighter weight shoes so has had these a couple of times. They’re comfortable and not heavy, but we’ve found they tend to wear out very quickly.

A couple of my other kiddos have used these as their everyday school shoes. They’re just slightly heavier since they’re technically hiking shoes, but the low cut makes them great as everyday sneakers, as well. Plus, because they’re built for hiking, they have fantastic traction for playing, climbing trees, and all the daily adventures my kids love. They’re also waterproof, which is fantastic, and they’ve been SO durable. My 7 year old has had his pair for almost a year and they still look almost new!

And, of course, with sneakers, we need some socks. It almost feels silly to have strong sock opinions, but these are my very favorites for both kids and adults. They’re wool, which means they’re great for warm or cool weather since they wick well. Plus, they’re a family-owned business that supports the community, and they have a lifetime warranty on their socks. Though they’re a bit pricier, they’re amazing for travel (can be reworn when aired out) and we’ve never had a single pair get a hole even after up to 4 years of use. Amazing. We love these crew length socks and my older kids sometimes wear the small adult size of the no-show tab socks.

Kids Underwear

Speaking of funny things about which to have strong opinions, kid underwear is one of them for me. My older daughter strongly prefers boy short cut undies. The H&M girls boxer briefs are her favorites (and I agree) since the waistband is covered in soft fabric instead of having exposed elastic. I really love these soft Uniqlo boys boxer briefs undies for my younger boys. Again, the waistband is covered in fabric that is soft and comfy, which I love, and they last forever. My oldest prefers thinner, lighter weight undies, and likes these basic ones from Target.

Best Kids School Water Bottle

We’ve purchased a LOT of water bottles in our school time. We’ve found that we tend to really prefer stainless steel insulated bottles, especially since it can get quite hot in California where we live. These water bottles have been my kids’ favorites – they keep drinks cold for forever and even the ice stays intact through the day. I also like that they have different size and lid options, from straws to spouts and smaller and bigger. It makes them great for a variety of ages.

You can find their full selection of colors, styles, and sizes here.

Kids KN95 Masks

Especially with a new baby coming, our kids are still wearing masks at school. To better protect them, we chose kids’ KN95 masks. We tend to like and trust these and this brand, and it is generally well-reviewed by outside sources. I like that the ear straps are adjustable so they fit my kids of a variety of ages well. They also come in some cute patterns.

Bike + Helmet

My elementary age kiddos occasionally bike to school, which we love. But my current youngest there doesn’t ride yet, and it does take some coordination to make sure everyone locks their bikes properly, so we’ll probably mostly walk to and from school this year.

However, my oldest is starting middle school and will be biking daily. We LOVE our Guardian bikes; all three of our kids who ride currently have them. They’re the safest kid bikes (they have a special braking system) around and so well made.

These are my personal favorite kid helmets (and I also love the adult version for me!) because they’re really well made and so darn attractive. But my oldest prefers this style (also here) and it’s been an absolutely fantastic helmet for him for over a year. Both of those styles include MIPS protection integrated into the helmet, which is really important in a bike helmet.

Best Kids Jacket for School

Since we live in the Bay Area, my kids don’t ever need a heavy jacket for school. Instead, we love these lightweight puffy jackets that come in a number of cute, solid colors, are washable, and last (we’ve passed them down multiple times). I love that they’re lightweight enough to throw on for a slightly cool day over a t-shirt, but can also be layered for colder weather when we travel.

We also really love these kids rain jackets that they can either wear alone on warmer days or layer over their warmer jackets on cooler days.

Gabb Phone & Watch

My kids definitely won’t be getting smartphones anytime soon, but having a Gabb phone just for texting/calling has been really helpful (though it always remains off during school hours). I love that it’s super basic but has those main functions so we can contact each other if needed (but isn’t really appealing to play with at all).

Especially with my oldest going to middle school, it will be nice to be able to coordinate if it’s raining or if he wants to hang out with a friend after school. Plus, we really love that our two oldest can use it to contact us (and us them) when they’re babysitting.

They’re currently 50% off with the code PASSPORT for Back to School!

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