Momsense: How to choose a properly fitting backpack

By Andrea Howick & Lianne Castelino on July 23, 2013
It’s a shock-absorber. Protector of nerves. Connector of limbs. Facilitator of fl exibility. The spine plays an important role in almost everything our bodies do. So when a child lugs around a heavy backpack, or carries that backpack incorrectly, it can have an impact on the health of the spine.

“A lot of studies have been done looking at the alignment of the spine and at the fact that if you put a heavy weight on the spine it could actually cause the spine to become crooked,” says Dr. Kishore Mulpuri, orthopedic surgeon at B.C. Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Orthopedics at the University of British Columbia.

Excessive weight of the backpack is not the only issue. An unevenly distributed load can have ill effects, and many children tend to carry their backpacks on only one shoulder.

“Either you need to forcibly lift the shoulder carrying the weight or lean the whole body weight to one side to keep you balanced. Both of these choices create abnormal stresses,” says Dr. Mulpuri.

What does this mean for parents? Now that back-to-school season is upon us and many parents are shopping for a new backpack for their child, there are some factors to consider.

Dr. Mulpuri has some suggestions to lighten up on kids’ backs when homework gears up this school year.
  • Consider having two sets of certain school supplies, even if it means duplication of some items. Some stay at home, others at school. This way these items don’t have to add to the daily load.
  • Try a backpack with wheels. For older students who walk or commute to school over long distances, this allows them to wheel the backpack for part of the trip.

Tyrone Brett, product manager at Mountain Equipment Co-op, suggests looking for a backpack that will last for multiple purposes over many years. “Kids are travelling with more electronics and heavier loads, so look for design and durability.”

Tips for choosing a backpack

Pockets: If your child is going to be carrying electronics, look for inner sleeves that don’t go all the way to the bottom of the bag so when the backpack is tossed, the tablet or laptop doesn’t strike the ground. Extra features like pockets for water bottles or pens and pencils, or even lunch, come in handy, too.

Size: A basic guideline is that kids should carry no more than 10 percent of their body weight on their backs. Translation: if your child weighs 80 pounds (36 kg), the loaded backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 8 pounds (3.6 kg). Load up the bag and see how it feels!

Fit: Look for padded backs and adjustable straps for kids’ narrower shoulders and hips. A waist buckle can also reduce the load on the lower back.

Exterior: Go for gender neutral colours, like green and beige (ideal for hand-me-downs), and refl ective panels for nightime safety.

Durability:
Look for sturdy, solid zippers, as they tend to take the most abuse. Also look for tightly stitched seams and washable fabric.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2013.

By Andrea Howick & Lianne Castelino| July 23, 2013

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