Is a new backpack at the top of your back-to-school shopping list? Do you have concerns about the burden a backpack may place on your child’s growing body? These National Safety Council tips may help prevent pain in the back, neck and shoulders and the poor posture children can experience from a heavy load.

1. What should we look for when choosing a backpack?

  • Size – The appropriately sized backpack should not be wider than the child’s torso or hang more than four inches below the waist.
  • Straps
    • Padded, adjustable shoulder straps help distribute the weight on children’s backs without digging into their shoulders.
    • Chest and waist straps help distribute the backpack’s weight more evenly.
    • Compression straps stabilize the backpack’s contents.
  • Padding – A padded back panel can keep backpack contents like pencils and books from poking into the child’s back.
  • Compartments – Multiple compartments help position weight more effectively within the backpack.
  • Reflective material – This is very important in allowing children to be seen when walking to and from school or the bus stop.
  • No wheels – Rolling backpacks can create a tripping hazard in crowded school hallways and should be limited to use by students who are not able to physically carry a backpack.

2. How much should my child’s backpack weigh?

  • The weight of the backpack and contents should be no more than 5% to 10% of your child’s body weight.

3. How can we keep the weight of the backpack low?

  • Your child may need frequent reminders to fill the backpack with only the most necessary items.
  • A backpack should be loaded with the heaviest items first, closest to the bottom and the center of the back of the backpack.
  • The compartments in many backpacks can help distribute the load.

4. What about all those straps?

  • Children should use both straps when carrying their backpacks; using one strap shifts the weight to one side and causes muscle pain and posture problems.
  • Shoulder straps should be tightened so the backpack is fitted to the child’s back; a dangling backpack can cause spinal misalignment and pain.
  • Encourage children to use the chest, waist and compression straps and to adjust them to the load to help distribute the backpack’s weight more evenly.