The stresses of back-to-school time are enough to make many kids (and parents) feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders, and carrying a heavy, poorly fitting backpack certainly doesn’t help. Whether you’re buying a new one or dusting off last year’s model, follow these important tips to make sure the pain and strain they get from those heavy textbooks is limited to their brains and not their backs.
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Make sure it’s a good fit
Kids can easily outgrow their old bag, and a new one can be too big. Check to make sure the bottom of the backpack aligns properly with the curve of the lower back; it should be no more than four inches below the waistline. The shoulder-strap anchor points should rest 1 to 2 inches below the top of the shoulders.
Inspect before you invest, reuse, or take hand-me-downs
Make sure the stitching of any old or new backpack is strong and there aren’t any loose threads or raw or frayed fabric. Also, look for flaps of fabric covering the zippers; our tests show that rain can penetrate some uncovered zippers.
Look for these important features and make sure kids use them:
- wide, padded, contoured shoulder straps that distribute the pack's load over a large area of the shoulder
- an abdominal strap, which can help distribute the pack's weight evenly on the back, waist, and hips
- reflectors or reflective fabrics on the pack to add visibility when kids travel to and from school at dusk or dawn.
Prevent injury with a lighter load
Experts differ on exactly what the upper limit backpack load should be. The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends carrying no more than 15 percent of your body weight in a backpack, and the American Academy of Pediatrics puts it at between 10 and 20 percent. We think keeping the weight toward the lower end of that range is best.
Uh-oh. My backpack doesn't have an abdominal strap, reflectors, or the recommended type of shoulder straps. No wonder I woke up this morning with aching shoulders... :(
There's a new type of backpack that lets you distribute weight on the front and back of your body now.