August 20, 2009 in Washington Voices

Right backpack can ease load

Consider construction, and use both straps
By The Spokesman-Review

Backpack pointers

Pack light. A backpack should never weigh more than 10 percent to 20 percent of the student’s total body weight. Use a scale – it’s surprising how heavy school backpacks can get.

Construction is key. Lightweight material is best because it doesn’t add weight, but make sure it’s sturdy so it doesn’t sag. A padded back increases comfort and helps distribute weight. A good backpack has two wide, padded shoulder straps and a waist strap. Messenger-style bags with one strap across the body do not distribute weight evenly.

Wear it well. Don’t carry the backpack using just one strap. Adjust the straps on a new backpack so it’s carried close to the body. Put heavier items close to the center of the backpack and use smaller pockets for supplies and accessories.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics


Backpack pointers: The American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips for proper packing. Page 6

The backpack is the preferred way to transport books, science projects, gym shoes and lunches to school. Packs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, and their prices vary as well.

Not all backpacks are created equal. Even more important: If they aren’t carried correctly, they can cause shoulder and back pain, even in the littlest students.

And backpacks tend to get very heavy, very quickly.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says a pack shouldn’t weigh more than 20 percent of the kid toting it.

But that “seems a little high to me,” said Sarah Griffith, a nurse for Spokane Public Schools. “Think of a 100-pound child caring a 20-pound backpack – that’s a lot of weight.” Griffith said she has seen literature recommending no more than 10 percent of the child’s weight as safe.

The most important thing is to carry the backpack correctly.

“Use two shoulder straps,” Griffith said. “If you have a sling-style bag, the strap shouldn’t be around your neck, it should be all the way across your body.”

It’s important to take the time to find a backpack that not only appeals to the student, but also fits correctly and can handle the load of books and projects that will be hauled between school and home.

For younger students, backpacks with cartoon characters are appealing but not always the best, as they sometimes have narrower straps and are meant as overnight bags – not to hold heavy loads. “And sometimes the cartoon character is out of style tomorrow,” said Griffith.

With older students who carry more books and walk between classrooms at larger schools, Griffith said it may be worth investing in a more expensive hiking-style backpack.

“Especially if it gets you better compliance with the student wearing it right, it’s worth it,” she said. “But who am I to talk? I wrestle with my two boys about that over and over again.”

Families should also take the daily commute into consideration when picking a backpack.

“Many students walk to school, and we like that, we want to encourage that,” Griffith said. “Having a backpack that’s too heavy or not the right fit may impact whether a student wants to walk or not.”

If a student leans forward to carry the backpack it’s definitely too heavy, Griffith said.

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