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Back to school time means new shoes, uniforms and a new school bag. Backpacks can be tricky. Many schools allow only certain bags, but when the choice is left up to students looks is often more important than function.

Finding a school bag that’s the right size, durable and meets your kid’s taste can be difficult. Now add “won’t cause a sore back” to that list as well! With students expected to tote more stuff to and from school each day, the type of bag you select is more important than ever.

What to look for in a school bag

Children will want to “look cool” and choose the trendiest bag, but parents should urge function over looks. A standard two-strap backpack is better than shoulder or messenger bags. Two straps help distribute the weight of the bag evenly, instead of placing it entirely on one shoulder.

Straps should be padded for comfort, but also as wide as possible. Thin straps can dig into little ones’ shoulders and cause nerve pain. If possible, choose a backpack with waist or chest straps that secure in front. These will help distribute the weight of the bag even more.

Finally, the bag should be the appropriate size for your child. It can be tempting to buy a bigger bag that your kid can “grow into,” but oversized backpacks can cause more trouble than their worth. Your child will be unable to wear the bag correctly, and may be tempted to over pack it, making it heavier and more difficult to carry. A backpack should be no wider than the wearer’s chest, and no longer than their torso (from the shoulders to the lower back).

How to properly wear a backpack

Adjusting the straps on a school bag to the correct length can make a world of difference. The top of the straps should sit no more than 5cm below the shoulders, and the bottom of the pack should rest at the small of the back. If the bag hits your child’s buttocks when they walk, the straps are probably too long. 

Children should always carry their backpack using both shoulders. Slinging a single strap over one shoulder puts too much stress on one side of the body. It may be an uphill battle getting older kids and teens to use both straps, but parents should discourage wearing a backpack this way. If you can get your kids on board with this first step, encourage them to use waist or chest straps as well.

Packing tips

Doctors recommend that no one should carry more than 10 to 15 per cent of their body weight1. For children, it may be advisable to keep the total weight of their packed bag to less than 10 per cent.

Pack your child’s backpack with all their school gear and weigh it on the bathroom scale. You may be shocked at how heavy it is! Whist some items are needed every day, some may on be necessary a few times a week. Encourage your child to take advantage of desk tray or locker space made available to them at school to store books, notebooks or sport shoes. They may also need to plan their study schedule throughout the week to avoid bringing everything home on the weekend.

If the pared down pack is still too heavy, some items can be removed and carried in child’s arms. The overall weight will be the same, but it will be better balanced to help avoid back pain. Books and lunchboxes are good choices as they are easy to carry.

Finally, pack your child’s bag with the heaviest items—books, notebooks, laptop—closest to their back. This allows for the best weight distribution, and places less strain on the shoulders. 

Talk to their teachers

The health and wellbeing of your children is important, and if they’re weighed down by hefty backpacks, chances are their peers are too. It may be worthwhile to talk with other parents and bring any concerns you may have to their teachers or the school principal. Assigning less homework, or less requiring textbooks, may help.

For more back-to-school tips, learn how to pack a lunchbox sure to please even the pickiest eaters!


1., Back to school – backpacks carry risks.



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