Choosing a Backpack That Makes the Grade

There comes that point in the summer when you dig your kids’ backpacks out from the closet or wherever they were stashed after the last day of school and realize it’s time to go shopping. Backpacks take a lot of abuse over the course of the school year. They are shoved in lockers and under bus seats, stuffed to the point of bursting with lunches, books and sweatshirts, and occasionally used as a pillow or umbrella. 

When it comes to picking out a new backpack, your kids likely want something that represents their personality or style. You want something that won’t break the bank or just plain break before Thanksgiving. Whatever you compromise on, it’s important that the backpack is the appropriate fit and size, and offers the right features.

The backpack should be no wider than your child’s chest and made of a lightweight material. Straps should be wide and padded. The back of the bag should also be padded. Bags with several compartments allow for better distribution of materials, and a reflector or reflective material add a layer of protection during those early morning walks to school or the bus stop.

Once you find the right backpack, it is important that your child wears it properly. That means the bag should be no higher than the base of the neck, and hang no lower than two to four inches below the waist.  A snug fit will reduce strain on the neck, shoulders and back. Both shoulder straps should be used and if the bag is extra heavy, use the waist or chest strap for added support.

To reduce any potential strain, items should be distributed evenly throughout the bag’s compartments, with the heaviest items closest to your child’s back. Extra heavy books should be carried by hand. To prevent the backpack from becoming a storage closet, clean it out every night.

As the school year rolls on, the work stacks up. All that homework can result in some heavy backpacks. How heavy is too heavy? The backpack should not exceed 15 percent of your child’s weight. For a 50 pound child, the bag should be no more than 7.7 lbs. For a 100 pound child, the bag can weigh up to 15 lbs. If you’re concerned your child is carrying too much weight, consider purchasing a backpack on wheels.

A backpack that fits properly and that is worn properly can help prevent poor posture, muscle fatigue, pain in the neck, shoulders and back, as well as reduce the likelihood of falls. Good backpack habits are just one more way to set your child up to succeed this coming school year.


Katie Hartigan is a licensed occupational therapist at Shriners Hospitals for Children – Boston. Elizabeth Fisher is the hospital’s public relations manager.

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21 Jun 2016

By Katie Hartigan and Elizabeth Fisher