Strapping on a backpack is part of a student’s daily ritual but choosing the right one takes some careful consideration and possibly even some negotiation. It’s a challenge because you’ll want to find something your child is going to like but that’s also functional and will last the school year. Most importantly, though, is finding a backpack that’s well designed to avoid muscle strain and injuries.
The Perfect Fit
Ensuring the backpack is proportional to your child’s height and weight should be your top priority. Use your child’s back as a guide to size. In other words, no wider than his/her shoulders with length not extending above the shoulders or below the top of the hips. Once loaded, the lowest part of the backpack should not hang more than a few inches below the waistline. It is also recommended that a full backpack be no more than 10-15% of your child’s weight. An easy way to check is to use your bathroom scale. It may not be completely accurate but you’ll get a good idea of whether your child needs to lighten the load.
What To Look For
Pockets: Choose a backpack with several pockets rather than one large compartment and use them all!! Heavier items should be placed closer to the body and supporting back muscles while lighter objects should be divided between adjacent pockets in order to distribute weight evenly.
Mid-Size: A backpack that’s too small will extend out from the back when loaded and pull your child backwards. Bigger isn’t necessarily better though! The bigger the purse, suitcase or backpack the more stuff we put in it. Get a sense of what your child really needs to carry every day and choose a pack that suits just those things. On the occasions when there are a few extra things to carry there’s always his/her arms!
Comfortable: Select a backpack made of lightweight material with a padded back. Shoulder straps should be padded too, at least 2 inches wide and there should be two of them! A waist belt is a must for older children but may be optional in the younger ones depending on what they need to cart around.
Wheels (optional): There are some types of backpacks that have added wheels and handles that allow them to be pulled like suitcases. This can be immensely helpful if your child has lots of heavy items that they need with them on a daily basis or have long distances to travel (ie. campus to campus). However, these packs can easily be overloaded and if any obstacles get in the way (ie. snow) they can be more of a headache than a help.
Wear It Well
So now you know what to buy, how to pack it and how much a kid’s backpack should weigh. But does your child know how to wear it well? Here are a few tips to help lighten the load.
- Put the backpack on from a higher surface (ie. table or chair) rather than hauling it off the floor to minimize the chance of injury. Practice bending the knees and using the strong muscles of the legs to lift it up rather than the back.
- Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging the back over one shoulder can cause postural adaptations and muscle strain. And if there’s a waist belt, use it!
- Once on, tighten the straps so the pack sits close to the body but not so close that they pull on the shoulders. The length may need to be adjusted often depending on what’s in the pack.
- Limit the amount of time spent carrying a backpack as much as possible. Unload as much as is reasonable into lockers and encourage children to take only what they need.
Be prepared for the inevitable negotiation. Younger children, especially, will be more concerned about whether or not their favourite character is on the backpack than anything else but try not to fall into that trap. Choose a lunch bag or water bottle with their favourite character on it if you can but a poorly designed backpack won’t do you any favours in the long run.
Most importantly, listen to your child. If he/she regularly complains of pain, do not shrug it off. There are numerous adjustments possible to help alleviate their discomfort. If the steps you’ve taken aren’t helping, have them evaluated by a health care professional.