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Backpack Safety

Used correctly, backpacks can be a good way to carry all the books, supplies and personal items needed for a child’s typical school day.

Backpacks are designed to distribute the weight of the load among some of the body’s strongest muscles. However, backpacks that are too heavy or carried incorrectly can injure muscles or joints and contribute to back pain and other problems.

The Proper Backpack Is:

  • No wider than the user’s chest
  • Worn no higher than the base of the neck
  • Worn no lower than 2 to 4 inches below the waist
  • Supported by a waist or a chest strap
  • Made of lightweight material

A Good Backpack Has:

  • A padded back
  • Several compartments
  • Side compression straps
  • A waist or chest strap
  • Reflectors
  • Two wide, padded shoulder straps
female student wearing backpack


How to Use and Pack a Backpack

To Wear It

male student wearing backpack
  • Facing the backpack, bend your knees, hold the backpack with both hands, and straighten your knees to lift it to waist height.
  • Apply one shoulder strap at a time.
  • Be sure to always use both shoulder straps.
  • Snugly adjust it between your neck and the curve of your lower back using the shoulder straps (the closer the backpack is to your body, the less strain it will cause).

To Load It

female student walking
  • Keep it light – pack only what is needed for the day.
  • Place the heaviest objects so they will be closest to your back.
  • Use compartments to distribute the weight and keep things from sliding.
  • Hand-carry heavy books to avoid excessive weight in the backpack.
  • Clean it out daily.

Don't Overpack

male student with heavy backpack

If a backpack forces the wearer to lean forward, it’s overloaded and some items should be removed. Carrying an overloaded backpack can cause discomfort and, over time, lead to back injuries and other problems.

If the backpack weighs more than 15% of the carrier’s weight, it’s too heavy. To determine the proper maximum weight for a backpack, multiply the user’s body weight by 0.15. If a heavier load is unavoidable, consider using a backpack with wheels.

Carrying too much weight or wearing a backpack the wrong way can lead to:

  • Muscle fatigue.
  • Poor posture.
  • Painful shoulders.
  • Back and neck pain.
  • Injuries from tripping and falling.

Key Safety Tips

Using a backpack correctly is very important to prevent pain and injuries.

three students wearing backpacks

A proper backpack is worn correctly and snugly on the back, using two shoulder straps.

female student wearing backpack

A backpack used properly is not overloaded and has weight distributed evenly.

overpacked backpack

A good backpack is not too heavy, and does not weigh more than 15% of the carrier's weight.

Backpack Basics for Healthier Kids Card

Visit our online ordering system to order cards that include all of the tips to protect children’s backs and bodies from backpack misuse. Or, download a PDF file of the card to print your own materials.