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Health Notes from Dartmouth-Hitchcock: Which backpack is best for my child?

September 25. 2017 11:50PM

Parents often wonder what type of backpack is best for their child. Each year, tens of millions of students in the U.S. wear backpacks, but how do you know if your child’s backpack is safe?

Jim Esdon, program manager of the Injury Prevention Center, Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD), talks about backpack safety and gives tips and advice for your children.

Esdon suggests the following American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for choosing a backpack:

Wide, padded shoulder straps: Narrow straps can dig into shoulders. This can cause pain and restrict circulation.

Two shoulder straps: Backpacks with one shoulder strap that runs across the body cannot distribute weight evenly.

Padded back: A padded back protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort.

Waist strap: A waist strap can distribute the weight of a heavy load more evenly.

Lightweight backpack: The backpack itself should not add much weight to the load.

Rolling backpack: This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks still must be carried up stairs. They may be difficult to roll in snow.

“Falling seems to be how kids get injured while wearing a backpack. That’s why a lower weight backpack can help prevent your child being hurt,” Esdon says. “It’s easy for a backpack to throw a child’s balance off, especially when around stairs. Also, too much weight can injure muscles.”

Esdon also points to these additional guidelines from The American Academy of Pediatrics to prevent injury when using a backpack:

Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles. Wearing a backpack on one shoulder may increase curvature of the spine.

Tighten the straps so that the pack is close to the body. The straps should hold the pack two inches above the waist.

Pack light. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s total body weight.

Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.

Stop often at school lockers, if possible. Do not carry all of the books needed for the day.

Bend using both knees, when you bend down. Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack.

Learn back-strengthening exercises to build up the muscles used to carry a backpack.

“While backpacks are a fantastic way for a child to keep everything organized they should never be worn on a playground, especially when climbing structures as they can become entangled or cause entrapment.”

Instead, Esdon suggests they should be left in the classroom or with a responsible adult.

Learn more about the Injury Prevention Center at CHaD at


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