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Published: Sunday, 8/17/2003

Pack it in with style

Backpacks are as necessary to today's students as book straps were to their grandparents. Packs make it possible not only to handle textbooks, folders, and notebooks with ease, but also papers, pens, and permission slips.

But it is important to get a backpack that's built for a person's size. Just as camping suppliers have recognized that men and women are built differently and are adjusting adult packs accordingly, makers of packs for youngsters are designing models for various size kids.

Another consideration is pockets. Too many pockets can be overwhelming, not to mention exasperating when one is in a hurry and can't remember which pocket contains what. But separate pockets for pencils and pens, lunch money, calculator, and loose papers can be a big help in fostering organizational skills.

Construction also matters. Padded straps lessen shoulder strain, while stout stitching can handle whatever a creative young mind can think to do to it. Reflective piping or straps make youngsters more visible to drivers.

You can buy a basic backpack for less than $10 at bargain stores, or pay $50 or more for fancier versions, including those with wheels. (If your child has a lot of books, the wheels make transporting heavy loads much easier.)

An option for fashion-savvy teens is the messenger bag, which has been popular on the east coast for a couple of years. They're about the size of a laptop case, have a long shoulder strap that crosses the chest, and come in all kinds of colors and designs. Prices vary, but start around $25 for a cloth version and $50 for a leather bag.

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