Intermountain Health logo
Set location
Get care nowMake an appointmentSign in

LiVe Well

Back to School How to Choose the Right Backpack

By Jillesa Anderson

Aug 24, 2016

Back to School: How to Choose the Right Backpack

Wearing a backpack incorrectly or carrying one that's too heavy can quickly lead to discomfort, fatigue, muscle soreness, and musculoskeletal pain, especially in the lower back. It can also cause shoulder pain, as well as poor posture. To help prevent this, let’s cover some tips on backpack safety for you and your children.

Backpacks and back pain

Understanding how the back works can help you see things a little more clearly. The spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae, and between the vertebrae are discs that act as natural shock absorbers. When a heavy backpack is incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight's force can pull you backward. To compensate, you may bend forward at the hips or arch the back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally. The heavy weight may quickly lead to shoulder, neck, and back pain.

RELATED: Backpacks: Are Your Kids Overloaded?

How to Choose the Right Backpack

  • Find the correct size. The backpack shouldn't be wider or longer than your child's torso. When they wear the pack, the weight should never be lower than their waistline.
  • Padded back and shoulder straps. The straps should be adjusted so the pack fits high on the shoulders, and be sure to use both straps. Using only one strap shifts the weight to one side and may cause muscle pain and posture problems.
  • Hip and chest belts. Some backpacks have additional belts to help transfer some of the weight to the hips and torso. When the weight is distributed evenly over more body area, you're less likely to compensate or slouch. Wear the hip belt if the backpack has one and it'll improve balance and take some strain off sensitive neck and shoulder muscles.

TIP: Load the heaviest items closest to the child’s back and balance materials so the child can easily stand up straight.

How much should the backpack weigh?

While it's common these days to see kids carrying around as much as a quarter of their body weight, it's recommended that a backpack weigh no more than 10-15 percent of their total weight. An easy way to reduce the weight in the backpack is help your child determine what is absolutely necessary to carry. If it's not essential, leave it at home.

VIDEO: How to Choose the Right Backpack

You might also like