A complete 2021 back-to-school supply list for K-12, including remote and in-classroom learning essentials

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students need school supplies like notebooks, backpacks and more
  • We've compiled a school supply list full of everything students need for a successful school year.
  • From elementary through high school, here are the best backpacks, remote learning supplies, and more.
  • We also included essential hygiene products for kids, including face masks and hand sanitizer.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Every year, kids get a school supply list filled with all the gear they need to make it through the year. While your kids may take this as an excuse to get new clothes, shoes, and gadgets, you need to get all the basic school supplies for them, too.

Since the back-to-school season can be pricey, we've worked hard to create the very best school supply list, while still saving you some money. We included general supplies that often appear on kids' lists, whether they're starting kindergarten or heading into their last year of high school.

Read on to find our top picks for backpacks, lunch boxes, pens, pencils, highlighters, notebooks, planners, paper, folders, binders, art supplies, calculators, and so much more.

Here is the ultimate school supply list for grades K-12:

The best backpack for elementary school
L.L.Bean Junior Original Book Pack

The L.L.Bean Junior Original Book Pack comes in fun patterns, including dinosaurs, outer space, and daisies.

L.L.Beans makes high-quality backpacks that are both fun and practical. The Junior Original Book Pack backpack is sturdy, just the right size, and includes a pocket for a water bottle and reflective strips for safety. You can read our guide to the best student backpacks here.

The best middle school backpack
jansport superbreak backpack

The JanSport Superbreak backpack comes in tons of fun colors and patterns.

JanSport is still the go-to backpack brand for tons of school kids. The Superbreak backpack is sturdy, simple, and it comes in tons of colors and patterns. The list of options on Amazon is epic. You can read our guide to the best student backpacks here.

Superbreak Backpack (small, Preferred: JanSport) The best high school backpacks
North Face recon backpack

The North Face Recon and the Fjallraven Kanken Big Backpack are the best backpacks you can bring to high school.

In high school, a backpack serves two purposes. It's a practical place to toss your books, pens, laptop, phone, and lunch; but it's also a fashion statement. If you just want a practical sporty look, the North Face Recon is the best backpack for you. Those of you who are more interested in style than pure function will like the Fjallraven Kanken Big Backpack.

Recon Backpack (small, Preferred: The North Face) The best preschool lunch box
Bentgo kids lunch box

The Bentgo Kids Bento Box is divided into small compartments to match your child's appetite.

The Bentgo Kids Bento Box is made from sturdy plastic with rubber edges, so it won't crack if dropped, and the two clasps are easy for little hands to open and close. The inner tray is portioned into five compartments just the right size for the appetites of the pre-school crowd. Best of all? The foods won't touch. You can read our full guide to the best kids lunchboxes here.

The best elementary school lunch box
A sparkly blue Wildkin Luncbox

The Wildkin Lunch Box is insulated and comes in over 30 patterns. 

The Wildkin Lunch Box is insulated, so you can pack hot or cold lunches. It zips shut all the way around and has a convenient carry handle. It comes in tons of fun colors to make every kid happy, and the square size fits most bento boxes.

Lunch Box (small) The best middle school lunch box
Mackenzie Dual Lunch Box

The Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Dual Lunch Box is divided into two compartments, allowing for greater lunch food diversity. 

The Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Dual Lunch Box comes in a ton of patterns so your middle-schooler can have their choice. It has two main compartments so you can separate hot and cold foods. It also comes with a shoulder strap, carrying handle, and interior mesh pocket. 

Mackenzie Dual Lunch Box (small) The best high school lunch box
Rubbermaid

The Rubbermaid LunchBlox is perfect for high-schoolers to pack everything they need for a sandwich or to separate food for snacking throughout the day.

The Rubbermaid LunchBlox is well-designed with four different containers that snap together so your high schooler student can pack sandwiches, chips, or other goodies that might otherwise be easily smashed. The containers snap onto an ice pack, helping to keep food at a safe temperature. These containers can be carried in a simple lunch bag or you can purchase the LunchBlox bag separately.

The best ballpoint pens
uni ball pens

The uni-ball Jetstream RT Ballpoint Pens write smoothly without smearing, and they come in a three-pack.

If you love ballpoint pens and hate the way gel pens smear, you'll love the Uni-Ball Jetstream RT Pens. The ink is a school-approved black, and it dries almost instantly to avoid any smudges as you frantically take notes in science class. The anti-smudge property makes them ideal for lefties. These pens come in a three-pack on Amazon for a reasonable price, so parents will love them, too, though you'll probably need more than three to get through the school year.

The best gel pens
Pilot G2 pens

The Pilot G2 Retractable Premium Gel Ink Roller Ball Pens write smoothly and help color code all your notes.

If you prefer gel pens and you don't mind the occasional smudge, the Pilot G2 gel pens are the best ones you can buy. Although your teacher will skin you if you turn in homework in colorful ink instead of blue or black, having multiple colors for note-taking can be very helpful. Take it from a serial color coder — it helps. I've been using these pens for the past few years to keep my editorial assignments in order (and color coded!), and I'll never go back to normal pens.

The best pencils
Ticonderoga pencils

The Dixon Ticonderoga Wood-Cased 2HB Pencils write well, sharpen easily, and pass every test.

Dixon's Ticonderoga wood pencils might as well represent the word "pencil" in the dictionary. These pencils are iconic for a reason: They write well, last long, and satisfy that "number two" pencil requirement for scantron tests (do they still have those?).

Pencils (small) The best mechanical pencils
uni ball mechanical pencil

The uni-ball KuruToga Mechanical Pencil lasts long and writes well.

If you hate sharpening your pencils, you'll love the Uni-Ball KuruToga mechanical pencil. It's not your average mechanical pencil, either. It has stronger lead for less breakage and it's very comfortable to hold. You will need to buy more lead and possibly some erasers after a while, but that's the case with all mechanical pencils.

For kids who are learning to write, Papermate's Handwriting Mechanical Pencils are ideal. These pencils are shaped to be flatter and easier to grip for young kids.

The best highlighters
Sharpie highlighters

The Sharpie Clear View Highlighters come in both wide and narrow sizes, and you get four different colors.

When it comes to highlighters, Sharpie is probably among the best-known brands. These Clear View highlighters come in narrow and wide sizes so you can choose which kind you need. The highlighters will last you a long time even if you're a highlighting fiend, and you get four different colors in a pack for color-coding.

The best composition book
AmazonBasics Composition Notebook

The Amazon Basics Composition Books are inexpensive and sturdy.

Elementary school supply lists always include a composition notebook, but if you like to have one for high school or college, you can get the college-ruled version instead of the traditional wide-ruled option. Amazon makes great composition notebooks with sturdy covers, sewn bindings, and good quality paper, so you can't go wrong here — especially if you get the four-pack.

Composition Books (small) The best wide-ruled notebook
Mead wide ruled journal

The Five Star Spiral Notebooks are the ones every kid wants.

If you were a cool kid in school, you probably had Five Star notebooks. These are great notebooks, even though they're pricier than some. They're durable enough to last through a school year, and come with holes ready to snap into a three-ring binder. Check out our guide to the best notebooks here.

Wirebound 1 Subject Notebook (small) The best college-ruled notebook
Five star notebooks

The Five Star Spiral Notebooks will get you through all your subjects in style.

Once you hit high school, you need a notebook for each subject. Five Star notebooks are a great deal at less than $3 each. The notebooks are sturdy, the paper is crisp, and the covers come in different colors to help you color code your subjects if that's your jam.

The best planner for high school
Mead Five Star Planner

The Mead Student Academic Planner will help you remember all your homework assignments.

The Mead Student Academic Planner is designed specifically for students. In addition to weekly and monthly planners, it also gives you space to write your schedule.

Five Star 2021-2022 Planner (small) The best notebook paper
Mead paper

The Mead Filler Paper is strong and doesn't let ink bleed through.

You'll go through a lot of paper, so grab a few packs of the Mead Filler Paper in either wide-or-college-rule. It's sturdy and doesn't let ink bleed through.

The best folders
Folders

The STEMSFX Heavy Duty Plastic 2 Pocket Folders come in a six pack and they're durable.

No matter how much mom harps on about taking good care of your school supplies, some of you won't pay her any mind. To make your folders last longer, get these heavy duty plastic ones from STEMSFX. You even get six different colored ones in a pack, so you can color code your subjects.

The best binders
Staples binder

The Staples Better Binder is durable, sturdy, and long-lasting.

You can buy the Staples Better Binder in a variety of sizes to suit your teacher's preferences. These binders are known to be fairly durable and the rings are well made unlike the dollar store versions that always fall apart. Check out our guide to the best binders here.

The best dividers
Avery dividers

The Avery Insertable Dividers keep your subjects apart in your binder.

If you have a ton of subjects or you just like being organized, the Avery Insertable Dividers will do a great job of corralling your subjects into sections in your binder. These tabs are sturdy, so they shouldn't rip like flimsier versions.

The best art set
Art set

The Crayola Core Pack for Back to School — Grades 3-5 comes with almost every art supply you need.

If you need markers, crayons, and colored pencils for your kid, look no further than the Crayola Core Back to School — Grades 3-5 kit. It comes with pretty much everything your kid needs for art time in elementary school, and its $12.99 price tag is decent.

The best colored pencils
Prismacolo pencils

The Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils are excellent for budding artists.

If you want some colored pencils that are more high-end and suitable for real art, the Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils are wonderful. You get 12 colors for less than $7 — you can't beat that.

The best glue sticks
Elmers glue stick

The Elmer's Washable All-Purpose School Glue Sticks work well and they're way less messy than glue bottles.

Who wants sticky glue bottles when you can have glue sticks? Elmer's Glue Sticks are better quality than the cheapo ones you'll find elsewhere. The glue is stickier and longer lasting than other brands' glue sticks. You can get them for a good price, too.

The best scissors
Fiskars scissors

The Fiskars 5-inch Blunt Kids Scissors cut well, last long, and they won't poke you.

Scissors are one of those things that you shouldn't skimp on. Dollar-store scissors don't last long, they break, and they're dull. Fiskars' scissors may be pricey at $10.50, but they are great. These scissors are sturdy, strong, sharp, and safe for kids with their blunt tips. You can also get them with the pointy ends if you're not worried your kid will poke themselves (or a classmate) with them.

The best sketchbooks
Strathmore sketch book

The Strathmore Sketch Spiral Sketchbook is perfect for inspiring creativity.

If your budding artist needs a real sketchbook, you can't go wrong with Strathmore's wares. The paper quality is excellent, and these sketchbooks are even made with recycled paper. I've used these sketchbooks exclusively for more than a decade, and they are top notch.

The best printer
Epson printer

The Canon Pixma TR4520 has a built-in scanner and easy-to-use interface, but best of all, it costs less than $100.

The Canon Pixma TR4520 is an inkjet printer that has all the features you need for an incredible price. It has a built-in scanner and copier, so you won't need to buy those separately. It's also compatible with Amazon Alexa voice assistant and wireless, so you can print from anywhere nearby, as long as you're connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the printer. 

The best USB drive
PNY turbo flash drive

The PNY Turbo is an affordable USB drive for students who need to transport files between home and school.

Students may need to bring documents back and forth with them for sharing or printing, so they'll want to have a flash drive on hand. The PNY Turbo has good read and write speeds (180MB/s and up to 80MB/s) for basic everyday use, and that's why we named it the best budget option in our guide to the best USB drives.

The best calculator
TI36X scientific calculator

The Texas Instruments TI-36X Pro Engineering/Scientific Calculator will do the math for you and help you pass algebra.

If you hate math as much as I did, you'll love the Texas Instruments TI-36X Pro Engineering/Scientific Calculator. It'll do the math for you and help you pass those math classes with flying colors.

The best index cards
Oxford index cards

The Oxford Ruled Index Cards make great flashcards for study time.

If you're a flashcard person and a color coder, you'll love these colorful Oxford Ruled Index Cards. You can easily make flashcards for studying or take notes on them, and the different colors in each pack help you color code by subject or topic.

The best ruler
Westcott ruler

The Westcott Stainless Steel Office Ruler won't break or slide when you need to measure or draw a straight line.

Some school supply lists include a good ruler, and the Westcott Stainless Steel Office Ruler is a good bet with its sturdy metal design and non-slip cork base. It's also 15-inches long, so you get a few extra inches.

The best sticky notes
Post it notes

Post-it Notes are amazing for note-takers, color coders, and organization freaks who cannot live without lists.

Take it from a sticky note addict: Post-it Notes are great. They come in fun colors for color coding, they're stickier than imitators, and they'll help you be more organized.

The best pencil case
Zipit Pencil Case

The Zipit Pencil Case is the perfect place to store pencils, glue, and other school supplies. 

The  Zipit Pencil Case comes in three fun patterns. It has a hard outer shell to protect all the supplies inside. The case also zips shut, so you won't find your supplies scattered all over the floor if it gets knocked off your desk. 

Include medium product card. Copy can be:  The Zipit Pencil Case has a hard outer shell to protect all the supplies inside.

Pencil Case (small) The best hand sanitizer
Purell sanitizer

Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer contains moisturizing ingredients and is 99.9% effective in killing germs. 

Hand sanitizer will be a must this school year, so be sure to stock up. Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer has a high concentration of ethyl alcohol (70%), making it very effective at killing germs.

Advanced Hand Sanitizer Soothing Gel (8 oz) (small) The best face masks
Cubcoats face mask

Cubcoats makes adorable cloth masks that kids might actually want to wear. 

While not all schools are requiring masks this year, some families are choosing to continue to wear them as a precaution. Cubcoats' reusable masks are made of two layers of fabric. Older kids might gravitate toward the simple design of Vida masks.

Kids Face Mask 2-Pack - Kali the Kitty & Bori the Bear Mask (small)Protective Mask (5 Pack) (small)
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