How to pick a backpack for your child

By Dr. Dina M. Kulik on August 18, 2015


With school right around the corner many parents are now facing the task of buying backpacks for their children. I remember well the pain in my shoulders and back when I carried home my backpack each day from school, filled to the brim with too many heavy books, my leftovers from lunch, water bottle and sporting equipment. I'm not sure there were as many backpack choices in the ’80s.

This past week my husband, two older sons and I ventured to a sporting store to pick out their backpacks as they enter Senior Kindergarten and Nursery. They are so small, and likely won't be bringing too much back and forth, but we want to make sure they are comfortable and fit well. We gave them a few choices of packs that suited their size and weight. They were so excited and wore them out of the store and around the house all day!

Ill-fitting backpacks can cause backache and neck and shoulder pain. To avoid this, I suggest following these recommendations:

  • Buy the lightest pack you can find for the appropriate size.
  • Consider a backpack on wheels if your older child routinely has heavier loads.
  • Make sure there are padded shoulders and backs.
  • Wider shoulders straps make a backpack more comfortable.
  • Multiple compartments allow weight to be evenly distributed.
  • Compression straps in the sides minimizes low back pain.
  • Chest and hip straps allow for a tighter fit, minimizing heavy loads by distributing the weight. 

To minimize strain and pain:

  • Packs should not be loaded with more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s weight (i.e. my 40 lbs kids should not carry more than 5 lbs. of weight).
  • Encourage your child to stand up straight and use both shoulder straps to distribute the weight evenly.
  • Adjust the straps so that the pack sits above the hips to minimize lower back pain.
  • Encourage your child to carry the pack only when absolutely necessary. Otherwise hang it in the locker or cubby.
  • Encourage your child to tell you if they feel back, neck or leg pain when carrying the pack. This may be due to improper fit or size.

Check out for lots more no-nonsense kids health advice.

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