Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Choosing the best school backpack

8/9/2021 by Nusheen Ameenuddin, M.D.


As parents and kids hit the stores for back-to-school shopping, a new backpack often tops the list. But there's more to look for in a backpack than fun graphics or trendy colors. 

Keep these tips in mind to minimize stress and strain on your child's body: 

Consider backpack basics. 

Choose a backpack that is lightweight and has:

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps can dig into shoulders, causing pain and restricting circulation. 
  • Two shoulder straps. Single, cross-body straps can't distribute the weight evenly. 
  • A padded back to protect against sharp edges of objects inside the pack and increase comfort. 
  • A waist strap to distribute the weight of a heavy load more evenly. 

Bigger is not better. 

The upside of a big backpack is that there's lots of room for stuff. The downside is there's lots of room for stuff. And that stuff can overload a child. 

Everyone has seen tiny kids bent forward under the weight of a backpack that's too large. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says that ideally a filled backpack should not exceed 15%–20% of a child's body weight. In addition to causing back and shoulder pain, a backpack that's too heavy can put a child off balance, such as when going up or down stairs. 

Check the fit.

Adjust shoulder straps and tighten the waist strap so the backpack lies close to the body and holds the pack 2 inches above the waist. 

Wear it correctly.

Always use both shoulder straps, since slinging it over one shoulder can cause muscle strain. 


Use all the compartments to distribute weight and make things easier to find. Put heavier items, such as books and water bottles, close to the center of the child's back. 

Other good ideas. 

Kids should stop at their school locker often, if possible, so they don't have to carry all the books needed for a day. When bending down, kids should use their knees and not bend at the waist. Consider a rolling backpack, if the school allows them, but be aware this could present a tripping hazard for your child or others. 

Don't ignore symptoms.

Parents, don't ignore your child's complaints about back or shoulder pain, which may be caused by a backpack that's too heavy or improper form in carrying it. For questions about backpack safety, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics' Healthy Children website or ask your child's primary care provider. 

Nusheen Ameenuddin, M.D., is a pediatrician in the Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in Rochester. She has a strong interest in child advocacy and media effects on children. She is vice chair of the national American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Communications and Media and on the board of the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She also is director of the Pediatric Resident Continuity Clinic.