Backpack Safety

Last Updated July 2023 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Kyle Bradford Jones, MD, FAAFP

Kids carry a lot in their backpacks: homework, books, lunch, jackets, sports equipment. But fully loaded backpacks come with risks. Backpacks not worn correctly or that are too heavy can hurt your child. Damage to their spine as well as sore backs and shoulders, headaches, and even a change in the way they walk can be because of heavy backpacks.

Many children carry more than they should in their backpacks. They should not carry more than 10% of their own body weight. For example, if your child weighs 80 pounds, their backpack should not weigh more than 8 pounds. Use your bathroom scale to weigh your child’s backpack when it is fully packed.

Path to improved health

When shopping for a backpack for your child, take them with you. Let your child try on backpacks. Make sure the backpack isn’t any wider than your child’s body. Also make sure it doesn’t hang more than 4 inches below their waist. These guidelines will help make sure the backpack isn’t too big.

Also look for a backpack with these elements:

  • Two wide, padded shoulder straps
  • Padded back
  • Strap that fastens around the waist
  • Multiple compartments to spread out the weight
  • Made of lightweight material

Once your child starts using the backpack, there are many steps you can take to make sure they aren’t carrying too much in it.

  • Always make sure your child is carrying their backpack with a strap over both shoulders, instead of just carrying it on one shoulder. This ensures that the weight is evenly distributed, putting less strain on muscles and joints.
  • Tighten the shoulder and waist straps so that they are snug against the body.
  • Make sure the backpack rests in the middle of your child’s back. This puts the backpack over the strongest muscles in the back and abdomen. Encourage your child to only carry what is necessary for school.
  • Position the heaviest items in the bottom of the bag.
  • Teach your child how to safely pick up a heavy backpack. Your child should bend at the knees and lift with the legs. This protects the back and shoulders.

Things to consider

Keep a close eye on your child and how they carry a backpack. The backpack may be too heavy if:

  • Your child complains about pain or numbness in the back or shoulders
  • You see red marks on the shoulders
  • You notice your child is slouching or leaning

If the backpack is too heavy, take everything out of it to see what’s in it. Consider whether any of the items can be left at home or school and not carried in the backpack. Encourage your child to make frequent stops at their locker at school.

Questions for your doctor

  • How can I treat my child’s pain already caused by a heavy backpack?
  • Are rolling backpacks a good idea?


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Backpack safety

National Safety Council: Backpack Safety: It’s Time to Lighten the Load


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