Providing thought-provoking leadership, workplace and community insights.

Choosing the Right Backpack for School and Work

  • Published
  • 14 August 2023
  • Category
  • General

It’s back-to-school time in most parts of the U.S. You may be shopping for a new backpack – it might be a child’s very first one, a replacement for a teenager’s thrashed pack or one for yourself.

Studies also indicate that the design of a backpack can make a difference in terms of balance, muscle activation and energy expenditure. Studies show there is a statistically significant relationship between wearing a backpack and the prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries and pain among adolescents. When comparing an ergonomically designed backpack with side pockets and extra straps to commercially available backpacks worn by college students, researchers found the ergonomic design reduced force on the shoulders and back.

We asked Kála Earley, a certified athletic trainer and regional Industrial Athlete Program manager at WorkCare, for some tips to select a backpack that support good posture and helps prevent musculoskeletal discomfort. The same principles apply to children and adults, including employees who routinely wear packs. Here’s what she advises:

  1. Choose an ergonomically designed model with the wearer’s height, weight and what they will be carrying in mind. The pack should be the same length as the person’s torso.
  2. A backpack full of books, lunch, a jacket and other stuff is heavy, especially for a smaller child. Have the user try different packs on in the store and walk around with some weight added. A rule of thumb for a loaded backpack is no more than 15 percent of a child’s body weight.
  3. The backpack should have:
    • A padded back to increase comfort and reduce the likelihood of being poked by objects in the pack.
    • Wide, padded shoulder straps that rest comfortably on the shoulders and can be adjusted for a comfortable fit against the back – neither too loose nor too tight.
    • A wide hip belt with an easy-to-use slide release buckle to shift weight from the shoulders to the hips and reduce strain on the back. Hips should carry most of the weight.
    • Chest strap with release buckle to prevent shoulder straps from sliding down, distribute weight across the upper body and improve overall stability.
  1. When loading the pack, put heavier objects at the bottom of the bag and toward the back. Put lighter items on top and toward the front. Select a pack with compartments and/or pockets with zippers.
  2. When putting on, wearing and taking off a full pack:
    • Bend the knees and lift with the legs; try to avoid bending or twisting at the waist.
    • Use both shoulder straps. Do not carry the pack on one shoulder.
    • Check to make sure the pack is centered and not sagging low or riding high. The bottom should rest in the curve of the lower back. If the fit is not right, adjust the straps. This also help prevent the load from swaying back and forth.
    • When taking off the pack to get into or exit a vehicle or toss it onto a seat or in the trunk, be aware of awkward movements.
  1. Over time, adjust the straps as the backpack stretches with use.

It’s important to take time to adjust a backpack to ensure the right fit for comfort and safety. If you’re unsure, it’s advisable to ask an authorized retailer or medical professional for guidance. WorkCare’s Industrial Injury Prevention Specialists are available to clients to advise them on all types of ergonomic solutions to reduce risk of injury and physical discomfort.