Backpack Safety101: Pack it Light, Wear it Right

Kids and backpacks go together. Whether you’re sending them off to school or heading out on a family vacation, your kids will likely be packing a backpack. If they don’t practise backpack safety or know how to choose, load, lift and wear a pack properly, it can be a pain in the back.

Teach your child how to properly use their backpacks and help them avoid an injury.

Backpack safety protects your child

Carrying a heavy load that is unevenly or improperly distributed can result in poor posture and even distort your spinal column. This impact can throw your spine out of alignment, causing muscle strain, headaches, back, neck and arm pain and even nerve damage.

Prevention is key

Choose the right backpack: Forget leather! It looks great, but it’s far too heavy. Go for vinyl or canvas. Pick a pack that has two wide, adjustable, padded shoulder straps, along with a hip or waist strap, padded back and plenty of pockets.  Make sure the pack fits properly, is not too snug around the arms and under the armpits, and that its size is proportionate to the wearer’s body.

Packing it properly: They’re not moving out! Make sure your children’s packs contain only what is needed for that day, and that the weight is distributed evenly. It’s a good idea to know roughly what each item weighs.  The total weight of the filled pack should be no more than 10 to 15 per cent of the wearer’s own body weight. Pack heaviest objects close to the body, and place bumpy or oddshaped ones on the outside, away from the back.

Putting the backpack on: It’s a good idea to help young children with this, at least the first few times. Put the pack on a flat surface, at waist height. Slip on the pack, one shoulder at a time, then adjust the straps to fit comfortably.  Remember when lifting a backpack, or anything, to lift using the arms and legs and to bend at the knees.

The right way to wear a backpack: Both shoulder straps should be used, and adjusted so that the pack fits snugly to the body, without dangling to the side. Backpacks should never be worn over just one shoulder. You should be able to slide your hand between the backpack and your child’s back. The waist strap should also be worn for added stability.

Backpacks can affect your children’s health

Carrying a heavy load that is unevenly or improperly distributed can result in poor posture; and even distort the spinal column, throwing it out of alignment.  This can cause muscle strain, headaches, back, neck and arm pain, and even nerve damage.


More than 50 per cent of young people
experience at least one episode of lower
back pain by their teenage years. Research
indicates that this could be caused, to a
great extent, by improper use of backpacks.
If your child does complain of back pain,
numbness or weakness in his or her
arms and legs, get help to prevent future


Information from the Ontario Chiropractic Association