How to properly choose, pack and lift heavy backpacks

September 29, 2017 Providence Health Team

Now that school is back in session, it’s crucial for your child to be equipped with the right backpack.

Backpacks come in many shapes and sizes and are handy for hauling necessary items to and from school. The right backpack can be very helpful, although, when chosen incorrectly for your child’s height and weight, can lead to a host of health issues. Oversized backpacks could lead to bad posture, back injury and knee problems. Even the way you and your child stack items within the pack can affect their health throughout the school week.

Ensure you’re sending your kids off to school with the right packs—and healthy backs—by following these safety tips:

Choosing a backpack

  • Padding: Choose a backpack with padded shoulder straps for comfort and to help alleviate some of the pressure from the weight of textbooks, lunch, notepads, etc.
  • Straps: Never use a pack with one shoulder strap for extended periods of time. When carrying a backpack, opt for a backpack with two shoulder straps and straps across the chest and waist. This will help distribute the weight evenly across the upper body. Always tighten the straps so the pack doesn’t sag.
  • Size: Your kid’s backpack should sit between the base of the neck and the lower back. Ideally, the pack should lie a couple of inches below the shoulders and four inches below the waist. Use this handy guide for determining the precise size of backpack your child needs.


  • Don’t overload: Carrying a pack that’s too heavy could put your child at risk of falling. Choose a lightweight backpack that won’t add any extra weight, and be sure the pack has compartments that will securely hold items such as notebooks, pencils, rulers, etc. A backpack should never weigh more than 10 percent of your child’s weight, so use a bathroom scale to double-check before sending him or her off to school.
  • Distribute weight: Lightweight items such as sweaters should be placed at the bottom of the pack first, followed by medium-weight items such as notebooks and pencil cases. Store heavy items, including textbooks, laptops or tablets closest to the center of your child’s back to lessen uneven back pressure. It may help to choose a backpack with easy-access zippers and compartments to avoid mixing up the packing order.


  • Start low: Encourage your child to bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands before slowly standing up. If the pack is especially heavy, it may help to place the pack on a table or chair before turning around to grab the shoulder straps.
  • Never twist: Jerking a heavy pack on or off could lead to shoulder injury and back strain. When taking off a backpack, teach your child to back up to a low table and slide the pack off, or remove one shoulder from the strap and use their free hand to hold the bottom of the pack while removing the opposite strap with the other hand.

A useful alternative to reduce back pain and other backpack-related injuries is to use a locker to store heavy items. If your child doesn’t need a certain textbook until the end of the day, she or he can leave it in the locker until then. Also, encouraging your children to use paper supplies and leave unnecessary items at home will go a long way in helping preserve their back, spine and knee health throughout the school year.

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About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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