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Loaded bags are tumbled in a giant hexagonal spinning drum, soaked in simulated rainstorms, and lifted and lowered thousands of times. They're then graded on how well they hold up.
Alex Willen from Consumer Reports shows how one $16 Bakugan backpack didn't do very well at all, with material separation from the seam. The $15 Hannah Montana backpack didn't fare so well, either. During one test, the strap failed. And in another, the backpack had a buckle sewn onto the wrong side of the shoulder strap.
"One way you can size up how well a bag is made is by turning it inside out," explains Gayle Williams from Consumer Reports. "If it doesn't have sloppy stitching or loose threads, that's one good indicator of quality."
Consumer Reports found several backpacks held up very well, including the top-rated Jester by North Face that goes for $55, and the $40 Jansport Big Student.
Besides quality, a good fit is essential.
"The top of the shoulder strap should be about one-to-two-inches below the shoulder line," said Willen. "The bottom of the bag should be no more than four inches below the waistline."
With the help of Consumer Reports, getting a good backpack that's the right fit is one assignment every student can ace.