HomeHealth & BehaviorHealth & Nutrition

Tips for Buying a Backpack and Carrying It Safely

Back-to-School Shopping: Children can avoid muscle strains and posture problems if they buy the right backpacks and carry them correctly, health experts say.

By GreatSchools Staff

Your child may tell you that slinging that fully loaded backpack over one shoulder is cool, but it's an invitation to injury.

Here is what health professionals say you need to know to avoid the muscle pain and posture problems that can result from using a backpack incorrectly:

What to Buy

  • Select a backpack with well-padded shoulder straps to help protect the shoulders and neck. These straps should be adjusted so the pack fits snugly against your child's back. A pack hanging loosely from the back can pull a child backward and strain muscles.
  • Select a smaller backpack for your younger child. The backpack itself should be light in weight.
  • Consider a pack with a waist belt to help distribute the weight of the pack evenly.
  • Consider buying a pack on wheels, similar to the carry-on valise used by airplane travelers. Caution: These carriers are not for everyone, as they are difficult to maneuver in snow, and up and down stairs. Some schools don't allow them.

How to Carry It Safely

  • A loaded backpack should weigh between 10 and 15% of a child's body weight, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. For example, a child weighing 100 pounds shouldn't carry more than 15 pounds.
  • Help your child learn to carry the pack evenly weighted with straps over each shoulder. Place heavier items, like books, at the bottom and arrange other materials so they won't slide around in the backpack.
  • Encourage your child to check the contents daily and leave unnecessary items at home or at school.
  • Show your child how to bend at the knees when putting on a backpack. She shouldn't bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack.
  • Help your child learn back-strengthening exercises to build up the muscles required to carry a backpack. A pediatrician, health professional or athletic trainer can suggest some proper exercises.
  • Encourage your child or teenager to tell you if he's feeling back or neck pain, and get your pediatrician's advice if he does.

Lighten the Load

Here are some alternatives to help solve the overloaded backpack syndrome. For starters, ditch the pack altogether and try these creative approaches to saving your child's posture and back.

  • Help your parent organization raise money for a second set of books for each child, one to keep at home and the other to leave at school. Some schools are already doing this.
  • If your child is in middle school or high school, talk to other parents and school officials about the possibility of initiating block scheduling, a system in which classes meet for longer periods on alternating days. That means students take home fewer books.
  • Find out if your school is experimenting with an Internet-based curriculum or school materials on CD-ROMs, which can cut down on the use of textbooks. See if there are ways you or other tech-savvy parents can help.


Comments from readers

"love it"
"getting a backpack"
"umm well for me rolling bookbags are 4 youger children not for older kids 4th grade ane up should not have rooling backpacks and this is a good article becuz last year i had a backpack that was killing me and really having a overfull back pack is seruiously not cool at all. all u kids out there make the right choice"
"rolling backpaks are so uncool plus my school is 3 stories tall and their are many flights of stairs to go up and down, not to mention all the kids around and the itsy bitsy space you have to walk also, all of my textbooks are online and FREE so it helps me carry less and if I ever forget my textbook I can always access it online"
"This is a good article, but most kids wouldn't wear chest strap backpacks in middle and high school, I think most kids would see it as 'uncool'. "
"Okay, this article is true and all, but i really hope that the parents and the writer of this article understand how us kids feel about backpacks. If a teen have a ugly backpack, people will laugh and now a days, at least where i go to school. I highly doubt that a teen will actually wear the chest strap, do u know how embrassing that will be for someone in the teens department? no one uses backpacks anymore, they bring a backpack, stuff it in their lockers and just carry the books they need for each class and go back to their lockers to get their other books for the next one, at least that what they do in our school...."
"i'm going to 9th grade this year...really its a very helpful tip..."
"I never new that your backpack should weigh 10-15% of your body weight only!!! If you are in highschool like i am, you will know how much just 2 textbooks can add to your backpack weight. My school doesnt have lockers so like middle school, we need to carry everything. I found that just bringing a couple pencils and pens instead of the whole box that it comes in saves you space and weight along with having a binder with everything in it or, having one of those sectioned notebooks that have dividers in it, yes, that saves you space. My advice for kids that are reading this is to not get side bags like the girls usually get , because they look cute & fashionable ( purse-ish looking) because your shoulder will hurt SOOOO much, you will regret it. the good old fashioned BACK-pack, is the best choice. Of course buy one with a lot of pockets. Also, kids might think that they can leave their books inside a class room witha teacher and it wont get stolen. Sadly for some odd reason, they do. More than you think. So dont leave your stuff with a teacher because they have better things to do than watch your stuff so they wont get stolen. Then you end up paying anyways. in Conclusion, talk to your school. Dont be afraid to have your children talk to your schools Assosiated Student Body (ASB) and find a plan on getting lockers or some kind of cubby system. :) "
" I think this article is really helpful because I am going into middle school and my new school doesn't have lockers except for gym class. That means that I am going to have to carry all my supplies and textbooks around all day every day and that is even worse now that I am switching classes. Anyways, I am so glad thaat they have these kinds of articles so parents and kids like me can finally know about these things and don't have to be curious anymore."
"I'm a sophmore in high school and my shoulder is hurting and its only the first week of school. I use a huge tote bag and I only have a couple of thing in it. We are getting another huge textbook next week!! There really is no solution. My locker is all the way downstairs and my classes are upstairs. You can try storing books in a teachers class but most teachers don't want the hassle. "
"This helped a lot! I'm going into 8th grade and i need a new backpack. My bag from last year fell apart. My shoulders and back hurt so much i was tempted to just bring two totes and switch them out between classes."
"I wish that my school would have books for school and books for home,it would make it so much easier but my school would never do that.It is a great idea.And if schools made more time for homework,we would carry even less books"
"I'm all for hauling around less books in backpacks. However, so many spelling mistakes in these posts actually support potential arguments for adding even *more* learning materials, like an extra eighth-grade spelling book."
"thats good"
"This is an important article. The biggest challenge is to get the students to carry the bookbag correctly. As some comments have mentioned - a two strap backpack on both shoulders is not 'cool'. The back strengthening exercises are a great idea too - and not only due to backpacks. There are a lot of things we do in life (even as youngsters) that strain our backs, and prevention is 100 X better than treatment! As for too much HW, I agree and disagree. I agree that there should not be too much HW. However, sometimes it is not the amount of HW that is the problem. Even if a math teacher only assigns 10 problems (a reasonable amount) that still requires the student to carry the book home. Even if the math teacher assigns a worksheet, a studious student will carry the book home in case he / she needs help undesrtanding. Also, if the science teacher assigns just 3 review questions or 10 pages of reading (very reasonable amounts) that same student will now be carrying home another text. Which of these teachers was unreasonable? Neither. So, you can't simply blame the teachers for giving too much HW. Online textbooks are becoming more and more available. However, I would be hesitant to encourage a student to rely on using one. What if your internet is down or your printer isn't working one evening? That would not be a valid excuse for not finishing an assignment. "
"Ireally think that that article wasted a few minutes of my time"
"I like this article. It has many facts that ore very believable and true. I am going to 8th grade in middle school and need a new backpack so this helps a lot. I used to wear my backpack on one shoulder and always came home with tired shoulders!! And now I know why."
"This is very helpful."
"This year, my son is in the 8th grade. I found a backpack at Wal-Mart with an airpack located in the lumbar (lower back) and a chest strap."
"This has been real helpful for the most part"
"i dont agree. a backpack cant hurt people!!"
"I think they are right that children need the right kind of backpacks so we should choose wisely!Children need comfy things, just because its 'cool' doesnt mean its comfy! I had a purse type of backpack once and it hurt cause i didnt have anything on the other shoulder!!(especially on the last day of school:( )"
"great ideas"
"Hello, I am a sophmore, and this is a great article but the suggestions are kinda far fetched. Most highschools like ours rather focus on sports no the cruiculum so we have no cds or new books for that matter. Also teachers show no sympathy for those kids hauling books home. They tell us we should pay attention and we could have got things done in class and we do pay attention, but they just dont understand. Also the block squedual thing is out of question. In middle school we had a block squedual that everyone loved, but now in highschool we had a 6 period day and now we have to go 7 periods a day 7 classes!!! Us kids are under to much stress right now, and alot of my friends and I are suffering from back problems as it is, but this article is very good."
"I think the idea of using CD ROMs are good. I already use 30Gb flash drives, and they can hold a ton of reports and power point presentations. I will probably use them for a couple years"
"mt daughter is about to start middle school in about 2 weeks and i've read all ur little tips. how do i find out which backpack is better for her books and one that fits well in her locker. She a wants a bag one like the kind you find in old navy but its more like a beach bag for her books. she says her friends had then last year but they didnt have lockers then and their books will be heavier. she i go with my own instinks and tell her to get a backback for her heavy books or a shoulder beach bag for her heavy books. PS: im not sure how big the lockers are because the school is new and no one has gone in yet so im not sure if the beach bag will even fit correcty. What do i do?"
"i used a jansport backpack its the best"
"When I was in college, I bought my text books. Then I cut the large books into sections so that I only had to carry a few chapters at a time. I used heavy paper to make covers for each section, and kept them in great condition. I road my bicycle about 10 miles to school and did not want the extra weight. We didn't have lockers on campus either, so storing th books wasn't an option. This only worked in classes where we worked through the book in order. If you can buy the text book or just copy the chapters that you need, then you could do this too. It might be pricey and untraditional, but it worked out very well for me. I kept the books for years and continued to use them, so it wasn't as wasteful as it seems. I'm sure that another student would be interested in using a book in sections as well, so maybe it could be passed on."
"i agree with all of this information! i'm 15 and going into 10th grade. i already have pretty severe back and neck pain from my completely overloaded backpack. i'm carrying much more then 15% of my body weight(and i'm definitely not considered in the 'thin' category)! I went to both a physical therapist and my pediatrician to discuss my back pains and they both gave me the same advice: use a two strapped backpack and leave as much in your locker as possible. I have always used a two strapped backpack so that wasn't a problem at all, but when it came to the second piece of advice i was stuck. I was assigned a locker that was NOWHERE near any of my classes. even if i tried to take a roundabout route to my classes so i could pass my locker i wouldnt have enough time to stop and load/unload my books. as if this wasnt enough my teachers just kept loading on the books. i had one for spanish, one for gym(although i have no clue why...) one for english, one for algebra II, one for h! istory, and TWO enormous textbooks for biology. yes, i did say not one but TWO for biology. This brought me to a grand total of SEVEN textbooks. i would usaully need to bring around 2-3 to and from school everday. and lets not forget a binder for 5 out of the 6 classes a day. and paper. and my pencil case. and folders and notebooks. and in the winter a heavy coat.. and on occasion large projects..needless to say my school took VERY LITTLE consideration for the health of the students. Sorry for the long message, but i feel pretty strongly about this topic and would like to share my story to let parents know of this issue. If something like this is happening to your child i would recommend calling the school and getting written note from your childs doctor stating a change necessary too protect the health of the students!..i wish it worked at my school..."