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Kids' Backpacks 101

Which backpacks are safest for kids? Plus, how to wear backpacks to avoid aches and pains.

Buy a Better Backpack

There are dozens of kids' backpack brands available to choose from, starting at about $10 and running upwards of $25 or more. When you're shopping for the new school year, here are some backpack basics to follow:

  • Two is better than one. While your child might beg for this because it's what all the "cool kids" are carrying, avoid the sling-style backpack, which has one strap that crosses the chest. "Using a backpack with one strap, not two, puts all the pressure on one shoulder," says Hennrikus, who is a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Children's Hospital in California. "It pulls the shoulder down and can cause back, neck, and shoulder pain." Look for a backpack with two straps instead, which splits the weight of the backpack across the shoulders.
  • The thicker the shoulder pads, the better. "Padded shoulder straps help prevent the straps from digging into your child's shoulders, back, and neck," says Hennrikus.
  • Wheels optional. "Backpacks with wheels definitely ease the burden of your child having to carry a lot of weight around all day," says Karol. "But many schools have stairs, which can be difficult for wheeled bags, and they might not fit in a locker." And they're pretty tough to roll in the snow. Weather permitting, check with your child's school before you buy a backpack with wheels.

The next trick is to pack the backpack properly.

Pack for Maximum Comfort

A backpack loaded with a day's worth of books and gear can be a heavy burden for your child. Before you start packing, experts recommend a simple set of guidelines to follow that will help you measure the weight of your kid's backpack against his or her body weight.

"The AAOS recommends that a child shouldn't carry a backpack that exceeds 15%-20% of their body weight," says Karol.

An easy way to test how much your kid's backpack actually weighs is to place it on your bathroom scale. While it might not be exact, it'll tell you if you're creeping into the red zone and putting your child at risk of developing back pain. But err on the side of caution, explains Hennrikus.

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