Five Tips for Choosing the Right Backpack for Children

Keep your child's back safe with suggestions from an occupational therapist.

Kids with backpacks image via shutterstock

Kids with backpacks image via shutterstock

Back to school shopping season is upon us, but the most important thing on your list shouldn’t be clothes or notebooks—instead, focus on finding a properly fitting backpack for your child.

“It’s very important to choose a proper backpack, because you want to ensure that the weight of the backpack is not causing pain in the neck, back, and shoulders,” says Katie Hartigan, an occupational therapist at Shriner’s Hospital for Children. “You want to prevent muscle fatigue during the day for the kids. You want to prevent them from developing any sort of poor posture.”

Before you hit the mall and your child hits the school hallways, see Hartigan’s tips for backpack safety.

1. Choose the right one. The three most important things to look for, Hartigan says, are size, straps, and material. She says a bag should be no wider than your child’s chest; have wide, padded straps to distribute weight; and be made from a lightweight material that won’t add excess pounds.

2. Keep the straps tight. “Probably the most relevant recommendation is not allowing the child to wear their backpack low-slung,” Hartigan says. “It’s much more comfortable for putting on and taking off the backpack if the straps are longer, but that actually can put an increased pull on the shoulders.” Make sure the pack is high, but no higher than the base of the neck, and extends no further than four inches below the waist.

3. Pack it back to front. Heaviest items should go closest to the body, Hartigan says. “By putting the weight as close to their body as possible, you’re giving them a better chance to carry the weight with better body ergonomics.”

4. Carry as little as possible. Hartigan says a backpack should weigh no more than 15 percent of a child’s body weight. If it’s consistently heavier than that, consider investing in a backpack on wheels or telling your child to hand-carry his or her heaviest textbooks.

5. Give your child a say. Pick out a few that would work and then let your child decide, Hartigan recommends. “A backpack that is more child-directed or child-chosen, they’ll be more likely to wear it,” she says.