Before kids head back to school, here are 7 tips about buying and using backpacks

  • Fit, straps and weight are among the key factors in picking the right backpack for your child.

    Fit, straps and weight are among the key factors in picking the right backpack for your child. Daily Herald file photo

  • Dr. Kristina Walick

    Dr. Kristina Walick

Updated 8/5/2022 8:08 AM

The back-to-school aisles at the store are beckoning -- a reminder that summer is nearing an end and students will return to class in a few short weeks. For those shopping for all the back-to-school must-haves, experts warn to pay close attention when picking out that backpack.

Selecting the right one can help prevent injury later in the school year.


From 2017 to 2019, an estimated 7,500 children under the age of 19 visited the emergency room each year for backpack-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"If you're not carrying it properly, it can cause back pain," said Dr. Kristina Walick, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Advocate Children's Hospital, adding that backpacks can also cause neck strain and other injuries.

Picking the right backpack -- and knowing how to use it properly -- can help prevent injuries.

Walick offers some tips for back-to-school shopping and using that backpack throughout the year.

Check for size. When shopping for a backpack, see how it measures up to your child. It should be no wider than your child's torso. Also, check to see how long the backpack is. It should not sit below your child's buttocks.

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Comfy straps. Look for straps that are not wider than your child's shoulders. Extra points if the straps, or the back, are padded for your child's comfort.

Both those straps are your friend. Using both straps will better distribute the weight of the backpack and help prevent injuries. It might look cool to sling the backpack over one shoulder, but that puts most of the backpack weight on one side of the body and could lead to injury. Walick said. Be sure to properly adjust the straps so the backpack does not sag and it fits close to the back.

Pack smart. Put the heaviest items in the center and closest to part of the backpack that lies against the back. Distribute lighter items across the top, sides or other compartments of the backpack.

Keep it light. The weight of a packed backpack should not exceed 10% to 20% of your child's weight. Unpacking it regularly to get rid of any unnecessary items, like the forgotten sweatshirt in there, can help lighten the load.


Remember to bend at the knee. Talk to your child about how grabbing the backpack off the floor, encouraging your child to bend at the knee, not the hip, to pick it up. Your child may also consider setting the backpack on the desk first before sliding it on the back, especially if the backpack is particularly heavy.

Use those lockers. Encourage your child to use the locker during the day rather than lug around an entire schedule's worth of books or other supplies.

If your child is complaining of back pain, recheck the backpack to make sure the straps are adjusted properly and clean it out to get rid of any extra weight. If the pain does not go away, or if your child is complaining of numbness in the legs or arms when using a backpack, seek medical attention.

Generally, Walick does not recommend rolling backpacks, noting that many schools prohibit them, and they pose a safety hazard in crowded hallways. But if your child is suffering back pain from a heavy load, she recommends checking with your child's school to see if any accommodations -- such as a rolling backpack or an extra set of books to keep at home -- can be made.

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