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Kids' Backpacks 101

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

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.

"A reasonable recommendation is a 10% cutoff weight for bodyweight," he says. "This will help reduce the risk of injury related to falls and relieve pain that comes from wearing giant backpacks loaded with school supplies."

With 10% as the more conservative target, here's a breakdown by body weight for measuring how much your child should be lugging around in his backpack:

Child's Weight Backpack Weight

50 pounds 5 pounds

75 pounds 7.5 pounds

100 pounds 10 pounds

125 pounds 12.5 pounds

150 pounds 15 pounds

Wear It Well

So now you know what to buy, how to pack it, and how much your kid's backpack should weigh. But does your child know how to wear it well? Experts offer backpack tips to help kids lighten the load:

  • Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging the backpack over one shoulder can cause muscle pain in the neck, back, and shoulder.
  • Let kids figure out where it fits most comfortably, but try to tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body. Still, don't go overboard. The straps should be not so tight that they pull on the shoulders.
  • Backpacks are teeming with pockets, and you should use them all! Distribute the load throughout all the different compartments to even out the weight, and avoid putting all of your child's books in one area so that the backpack becomes top- or bottom-heavy.
  • If your child has a locker, encourage him to drop his stuff off for the day so he isn't forced to carry around extra weight.
  • Remember that your kids' arms work, too. "Just because you have a backpack doesn't mean everything has to go in it," says Karol. "They can take one or two books out of their bags and carry them in their arms."

What does your child carry in his school backpack? Talk about it on WebMD's Parenting: Preschoolers and Grade Schoolers message board.

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Reviewed on August 25, 2008

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