How to pick out and adjust the proper backpack for your child

How to pick out and adjust the proper backpack for your child

All of our kids these days are wearing backpacks to school and are actually considered a fashion statement these days. You see some millennials wearing them at events that don’t even warrant a backpack, but are worn because they are perceived as a cool piece of apparel.  So, they’re being used a lot by kids these days. But, are you aware of the hidden dangers behind these backpacks, and the long term effects they have on our bodies?

This article is to educate both the children and the adults about buying the right backpack and how to adjust them correctly for the best fit and to reduce the stress they can put on our shoulders, neck, and back.

Have you noticed how heavy and big your kid’s backpacks have gotten over the years, even the young kids in elementary school? They’ve gone from holding 10-15 pounds to holding 35-45 pounds. Now add the frequency and duration that the kids are wearing them and now we have an overuse injury waiting to happen.  As a little side note; with today’s technology, I don’t know why we haven’t gone to electronic books that we can store on our computers or pads.  If the kids could have all of their school books stored on a computer, that would prevent them from carrying so much weight in their backpacks.  Schools, are you listening?

Long term use of wearing a heavy backpack can cause strain injuries to the muscles around our neck, shoulders, and mid to low back.  The compression on our spine from the weight cause the discs to compress, increased pressure on the vertebrae and can even cause scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

A backpack should never weigh more than 15% of your child’s normal body weight.  This does not hold true if your child is overweight.  Here’s an example. Lets say your child weighs 100 pounds, their backpack should not weigh more than 15 pounds.  If they weigh 125 pounds, the backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 19 pounds.  Encourage your child to only pack what the really need. Throwing a lot of unnecessary items in the backpack can lead to the backpack becoming overweight.  Ask for a duplicate book in some cases so that you have one at home and it doesn’t need to be carried back and fourth to school.  Keep the books in a locker and only carry the books that are needed for the next one or two classes.  We know that we want our kids to stay hydrated, but a large water bottle weighs a lot. Maybe keep it to 16 ounces and they could refill their bottle at school.

Buying the right backpack

The backpacks over the years have gone from small to very large, engulfing some of our little kids and simply just too large.

  • Look for a backpack that is light made from a lightweight canvas, rather than leather or suede.
  • Look for wide straps. The wider a strap is, the less pressure it puts on the neck and shoulder areas. A smaller strap increases pressure on these areas.  Also look to see if the straps are padded, this can help reduce pressure. Also, a little padding on the front side of the backpack will help add comfort and reduce some pressure on your child’s back, and can reduce the possibility from a pencil poking through the material into your child’s back.
  • Another thing to look for is a waste strap. This can help distribute the weight throughout the trunk and decrease some of the pressure on the shoulders and also keep the backpack from moving around too much.

Wearing it right

I see kids and adults wearing their backpacks over one shoulder. This is an easy and maybe cool way to wear it, but all of the weight is going onto one shoulder.  The weight should be evenly distributed over both shoulders to decrease the pressure and to help keep the pack balanced.  Here are several ways to adjust to your backpack.

  • Shoulder strap adjustment so that the top of the back pack is at the level of the shoulder blades with the bottom resting in the curve of the lower back. Some backpacks are so long, that this fitment wont’ be possible. Try your best to make it fit!
  • Wear the waist strap, which will help keep the backpack secure to your trunk and prevent the backpack from moving around causing weight shifting, and help with balancing the weight across the body.
  • Don’t forget to weigh the backpack loaded and keep it under 15% of your childs weight.


Enjoy your new backpack and make the weighing of the backpack a fun and learning experience.  Have your child weigh themselves on a scale and then put the loaded backpack on the scale and do the math.