In the spring before school has even let out, the next school year is already on our minds. Many organizations are already planning their annual back-to-school events. It’s a ton of work collecting the right supplies, fundraising to purchase supplies and backpacks, and to coordinate these large events. To help with the planning, we decided to analyze backpack and school supply kits under $20. Hopefully, this will give you a sense for what your dollar can get. We selected 4 wholesale vendors that sell their products in various configurations:
- Wholesale backpacks separately
- Pre-assembled school supply kits separately
- Prefilled backpacks where the backpacks and school supplies are bundled together
Not all vendors present their offerings on their websites in these 3 ways. In an effort to make this an apples to apples comparison, we compared bundles of backpacks AND school supply kits, adding a comparable backpack from that vendor when the kits were sold standalone. This is what you’ll find in our comparison tables below.
Note that we focused on a specific range of products – namely, kits with at least 10 items that priced under $20 (for the backpack and kit). Note that these are all wholesale vendors who sell in cases and/or have minimum order amounts. The prices in the table below do not include shipping, since we were not able to obtain that information and actual shipping costs can vary based on volume ordered.
Because prices and kit contents can change without notice, we are not disclosing the names of the vendors or products. Also, note that this analysis was mostly completed by reviewing online descriptions of kits – we have some kit samples, but not all the items from each of these vendors. Our goal in this analysis is therefore to provide you with a view of the breadth and depth of offerings out there – and a sense of what you can get at various price points – and lastly, to provide some suggestions based on what we’ve found.
We reviewed 3 starter kits – each had 10 items not including the backpack. They were all about $8 for the backpack and supplies.
- The supplies were very similar – namely, #2 pencils, pens, an eraser, a pen sharpener, ruler, glue stick, pack of crayons, a single two pocket folder, a pencil pouch, and a notebook. None of the contents were name brand products.
- There were some slight differences in the kits. For example, one vendor provided a 100-sheet composition notebook while another provided a spiral notebook. The number of items in a pack also differed – such as a 16 count vs 24 count pack of crayons, or a set of 3 pens versus 6 pens.
- Given that the actual contents of the school supply kits are very similar, the quality of the backpacks and relative prices are the key tie breakers. The sizes of backpacks differed, with the largest backpack (16″x12″x7″) being the most compelling reason for selection.
|Package 1||Package 2||Package 3|
|# of items||10||10||10|
|#2 Pencils||6 pk||6 pk||6 pk|
|Pens||3 Black or Blue||6 Black||6 Black|
|Eraser||1 large pink wedge||1 Pink Bevel||1 Pink Bevel|
|Sharpener||Sharpener with Dome Cover||Dual Blade||Dual Blade|
|Ruler||12″ Plastic (Inches & Metric||12″ Plastic (Inches & Metric)||12″ Plastic (Inches & Metric)|
|Glue stick||1 8 gr||1 8 gr||1 8 gr|
|Composition Book||100 Sheets||No||No|
|Pocket folder||1 Two Pocket||1 Two Pocket||1 Two Pocket|
|Crayons||16 ct||24 ct||24 ct|
|Spiral notebook||No||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule|
Primary and Elementary Backpacks and Kits:
We evaluated 10 kits priced between $11.50 and $15.75. There was a wide range in the number of school supplies, from 10 to 19 items.
- There were 3 primary kits, with items tailored to this age group including 3 glue sticks each, blunt tip scissors, and broad tip markers. The most generous kit included a pack of construction paper, a writing tablet, and a coloring book, but was also the most expensive at $15.50 for the supplies and backpack.
- There were 7 elementary kits, with 11 to 19 items in each kit. Many of the core basic supplies are the same – #2 pencils, pens, erasers, pencil sharpeners, etc. However, the quantities of each item differed. The “packs” of #2 pencils ranged from 3 to 12 pencils. The two pocket folders ranged from 4 down to just one. The most generous (and most costly) kit also included a 1″ binder and index tabs to go with it.
- Most of the backpacks in this group were either 15″ or 16″ tall, and the depth varied from 5″ to 7.5″. We did not complete a deep dive into the backpacks (stay tuned for a future edition), but we believe the backpack quality and size should be an important factor in your decision making.
Due to number of kits evaluated for this age group, we divided the itemization of the supplies into two tables, first for the primary kits:
|Kit||Package 1||Package 2||Package 3|
|# of items||19||10||10|
|#2 Pencils||10 pk||12 pk||12 pk|
|Eraser||3 Pink Wedge||1 Pink Wedge||1 Pink Wedge|
|Sharpener||Domed Cover||Dual Blade||Dual Blade|
|Ruler||12″ Plastic (Inches & Metric)||No||No|
|Glue stick||3 8 gr||3 8 gr||3 8 gr|
|Composition Book||100 sheets||No||No|
|Pocket folder||3 Two Pocket||2 Two Pocket||2 Two Pocket|
|Crayons||16 ct||24 ct||24 ct|
|Broad tip marker||16 ct||8 ct||8 ct|
|Scissors||5″ Blunt Tip||5″ Blunt Tip||5″ Blunt Tip|
|Filler paper||Wide Rule 100 sheets||No||No|
|Cap erasers||10 ct||No||No|
|Spiral notebook||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule|
|Coloring book||96 page||No||No|
|White school glue||4 oz||4 oz||4 oz|
|Construction paper||48 sheets 9″x12″||No||No|
|Dry erase marker||Yes||No||No|
|Other||Flash cards or paint set||No||No|
And these are the kits for the older elementary school students:
|# of items||19||13||13||11||11||11||11|
|#2 Pencils||10 pk||12 pk||12 pk||12 pk||4 pk||6 pk||3 pk|
|Pens||3 Red, 3 Black or Blue||1 Black, Blue, Red 8pk||8-pack of Black, Blue, Red pens||3 Blue||3 Black||2 Blue,
|Eraser||2 Pink Wedge||1 Pink Wedge||1 Pink Wedge||1 Pink Wedge||3 Pink Wedge||2 Pink Wedge||2 Pink Wedge|
|Sharpener||Domed Cover||Dual Blade||Dual Blade||Round||Domed||Yes||Yes|
|Ruler||12″ Plastic||12″ Plastic||12″ Plastic||12″ Plastic||12″ Plastic||12″ Plastic||12″ Plastic|
|Glue stick||2 8 gr||1 8 gr||1 8 gr||1 8 gr||2 8 gr||2 8 gr||2 8 gr|
|Compo-sition Book||100 sheets||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Pocket folder||4 Two Pocket||3 Two Pocket||3 Two Pocket||1 Two Pocket||3 Two Pocket||2 Two Pocket||1 Two Pocket|
|Crayons||24 ct||24 ct||24 ct||8 ct||8 ct||16 ct||8 ct|
|Broad tip marker||8 ct||8 ct||8 ct||No||No||No||No|
|Scissors||5″ Blunt Tip||5″ Precision Tip||5″ Precision Tip||5-1/4′ Pointed||No||Safety Scissors||No|
|Filler paper||Wide Rule 100 sheets||Wide Rule 100 sheets||Wide Rule 100 sheets||No||No||No||No|
|Cap erasers||10 ct||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Spiral note-book||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule||2 70-Sheet Wide Rule||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule||1 70-Sheet Wide Rule|
|White school glue||No||4 oz||4 oz||No||No||No||No|
|Dry erase marker||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Other||No||No||No||No||16 Color Water Color Tray||Storage box||No|
Middle/High School Backpacks and Kits:
There were 4 kits reviewed, with 11 to 20 school supplies in each kit. Prices ranged from $12 to $16.25 each. Some vendors provide a combined middle/high school kit, while others have different kits for middle/junior high and high school.
Most of the supplies were pretty straightforward – #2 pencils, pens, wearers, pencil sharpeners, college ruled spiral notebooks. However, one of the kits confused us – they provided a college rule notebook along with safety scissors and crayons, which is not typical for most middle/high school needs. The most generous package in this group had 20 items and included items such as a 1″ binder, coloring pencils, index cards, and pocket folders with prongs.
Many of the backpacks we reviewed in this group were 17″ backpacks. For this age group, we highly recommend focusing on the quality of the backpacks so the bundled backpack + school supply kits may not be the best option. These vendors all sell backpacks separately, so pick a good quality, sizable backpack and then evaluate the kits separately.
Note that there are many middle/high school kits priced over $20 with more supplies targeted at this age group – but our goal was to understand what could be purchased for under $20 so we did not complete a thorough analysis over $20.
|Package 1||Package 2||Package 3||Package 4|
|Target Age||Junior High||Middle and High School||Middle and High School||N/A|
|# of items||11||10||20||12|
|#2 Pencils||12 pk||12 pk||10 pk||6 pk|
|Pens||3 Blue, 3 Red||1 Black, Blue, Red 8pk||3 Red and 3 Black or Blue||2 Blue, 3 Black|
|Eraser||1 Pink Wedge||1 Pink Wedge||2 Pink Wedge||3 Pink Wedge|
|Ruler||12″ Plastic (Inches & Metric)||No||12″ Plastic (Inches & Metric)||12″ Plastic (Inches & Metric)|
|Glue stick||1 8 gr||No||2 8 gr||2 8 gr|
|Pocket folder||1 Two Pocket||4 Two Pocket w/Prongs||4 Two Pocket w/Prongs||3 Two Pocket|
|Scissors||No||7″ Pointed Tip||No||Safety Scissors|
|Filler paper||No||College rule 100 sheets||College rule 100 sheets||No|
|Cap erasers||No||No||10 ct||No|
|Spiral notebook||1 70-Sheet College Rule||2 70-Sheet College Rule||1 70-Sheet College Rule||1 70-Sheet College Rule|
|White school glue||No||4 oz||No||No|
|Dry erase marker||No||No||Yes||No|
|Coloring pencils||1 box||No||12 pk||No|
|Lined index cards||No||No||100 ct 3″x5″||No|
As you can see, there is a wide range of price points and contents for the packaged backpacks and prepacked school supply kits. Below are our recommendations and thoughts as you make your decisions for back-to-school:
We focus a lot on the quality and size of the backpacks. In many prepacked bundles, the backpacks are often on the smaller side and the quality may not be as high. For this reason, we recommend evaluating backpacks separately from the kits and making sure that you find a backpack that meets your needs. Most vendors provide school supply kits as a separate assembled option, so you can always purchase these separately with the wholesale backpacks that you want. Quality is most important for the older students (middle and high) who are carrying much more than the younger students.
The low cost kits we reviewed had many similarities – the inclusion of off-brand items (no name brands), and the actual list of items. Some of the differences were the quantities of each item (e.g., the number of pencils in a “pack”), and there was one vendor that included quite a bit more items but was also slightly more expensive. For the school supply kits, it all comes down to what you an afford – the more comprehensive kits do seem to meet the needs of the students better if you can afford them.
Don’t see exactly what you’re looking for? Many vendors offer the option to create custom school kits for your specific needs. This option is often available only on larger projects and usually require an up-front commitment because of the time and labor involved in putting custom kits together. Of course, you can also just order bulk supplies and recruit volunteers to stuff the backpacks the way you like them in-house. If you like a specific kit but would like to pack them yourself, you can also look into the option of ordering unassembled kits as loose supplies.
Every situation is a little different, so it’s difficult to make specific recommendations that applies to everyone. Nevertheless, we hope that this review provided you with a basic understanding of what’s available in the marketplace. For specific questions, or suggestions for your scenario, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy shopping!