Backpack Safety Tips to Protect Your Child This Back-to-School Season

Safety Team
Updated May 3, 2021
5 min read
Back to school is an exciting time for you and your kids. It’s also one of the most important times to think about safety, especially when it comes to choosing the right backpack. The style and weight of a backpack, as well as how it’s packed and worn, are key components of back to school safety.

Why is backpack safety important?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that heavy or improperly-worn backpacks cause over 14,000 injuries annually, with close to half of those injuries resulting in a trip to the emergency room.

Muscle strains are one of the most common injuries related to backpacks, explains Dr. Charles Shubin, Director of Pediatrics at Mercy FamilyCare and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. These injuries can cause pain and inflammation for your children, or even more serious injuries. Dr. Shubin recommends that a backpack weigh no more than 10% to 15% of your child’s body weight.

In addition, wearing heavy backpacks over one shoulder can lead to spine curvature and pain for your child over time, explains the American Occupational Therapy Association.

To help prevent backpack-related injuries for your child. You and your child should keep these three things in mind when choosing and wearing a backpack:

  • Choose the right backpack
  • Avoid over-packing and unequal weight distribution
  • Wear the backpack properly

Read on to learn how you help your child reduce the risk of backpack-related injuries this school year with proper backpack safety.

How to choose the right backpack

Backpack safety starts with choosing the best backpack for your child. There are many styles and sizes available, so it’s important to know what to look for. Here are some criteria for in a safe backpack:

  • Soft, lightweight material: Backpacks made of polyester, nylon or canvas are soft, durable and lightweight. Make sure there aren’t any rigid edges that could cause discomfort and lead to wearing the backpack improperly.
  • Thick adjustable straps: Thick, wide straps provide better support and weight distribution. Choose a backpack with straps that rest comfortably on the shoulders without rubbing your child’s neck or underarms.
  • Proportionate sizing for your child: The backpack should be no wider than your child’s torso. With the top of the backpack at your child’s shoulders, the bottom of the backpack should extend no more than two inches below the waist. Avoid backpacks that your child can “grow into” and go with a backpack that is the proper size.

You can find many backpacks online or at your local retail stores that fit the criteria for a safe, comfortable fit. Here are five popular backpacks, available in a variety of colors, that can help reduce the risk of injury when packed and worn properly.

5 lightweight backpacks designed for comfort and support

jansport superbreak backpack

JanSport Superbreak Backpack

Specifications and features:

  • Material: Polyester
  • Dimensions: 15.5” high, 12” wide
  • Shoulder strap: Padded, 13.5”
  • Weight: 12 ounces
  • Bonus feature: padded back panel for extra comfort
  • Check price on Amazon


herschel supply co heritage youth backpack

Herschel Supply Co. Heritage Youth

Specifications and features:

  • Material: Polyester
  • Dimensions: 15.5” high, 11.25” wide
  • Shoulder strap: Padded, 16”
  • Weight: 12 ounces
  • Bonus features: connecting strap provides extra support and promotes the use of both shoulder straps; reflective surface.
  • Check price on Amazon


dakine 365 backpack

Dakine® 365 Backpack

Specifications and features:

  • Material: Polyester
  • Dimensions: 17.5” high, 12” wide
  • Shoulder strap: Padded, 34.5”
  • Weight: 11 ounces
  • Bonus feature: fully-padded back and long, wide straps make this pack ideal for teenagers.
  • Check price on Amazon



north face recon squash youth backpackNorth Face Recon Squash Youth Backpack

Specifications and features:

  • Material: Polyester
  • Dimensions: 17” high, 12.5” wide
  • Shoulder strap: Padded, n/a
  • Weight: 14.5 ounces
  • Bonus feature: stitched-foam back and connecting strap provides extra support and promotes wearing both shoulder straps.
  • Check price on Amazon


high sierra curve backpackHigh Sierra Curve Backpack

Specifications and features:

  • Material: Polyester
  • Dimensions: 18.5” high, 12.5” wide
  • Shoulder strap: Padded,
  • Weight: 15 ounces
  • Bonus feature: curved shoulder straps contour to the natural shape of the body, providing a more comfortable, secure fit.
  • Check price on Amazon



Backpack styles to avoid

While shopping for a backpack, your child may come across trendy backpacks and prefer those over a safe, conventional style pack. It’s important to remember that book bags, like many products designed for style are not always designed for safety. Here are some bags you may want to avoid when shopping for the best backpack for your child:

  • Leather bags – Leather looks nice, but the material is heavier than polyester or canvas. Also, leather bags typically have bulky metal connectors and accessories, which add to the overall weight.
  • Messenger bags – The single-strap design of the messenger bag displaces all the weight to one side, heightening the risk of neck, shoulder and back strains.
  • “Cinch” or drawstring bags – Though lightweight, these bags have thin, non-padded shoulder straps, which can cause discomfort and pain when packed too heavy.
  • Rolling backpacks – The added components in rolling backpacks can add 3 to 4 pounds to the overall weight. While your child may not carry the pack as much, there will be times, such as getting on and off the bus, when your child will need to lift it. Also, rolling backpacks pose a trip hazard in busy school hallways.

Choosing the right backpack, and avoiding potentially unsafe ones, is the first step to backpack safety. The next is making sure to pack the bag properly and avoid overloading it.


Backpack safety tips for kids and parents

While you want to send your child off to school as prepared as possible, keep in mind that the backpack’s weight can add up quickly. Dr. Barbara Bergin, Orthopedic Surgeon at Texas Orthopedics, Sports and Rehabilitation, offers these expert tips to keep backpack weight in check:

  • Stay organized: When your child knows what classes/homework assignments are coming up, they’ll be better prepared to pack what they need and, more importantly, leave out what they don’t.
  • Omit food and water bottles: A 16 oz. bottle of water adds 1 pound to the pack. Dr. Bergin points out that, with the abundance of breaks and water fountains throughout the school, the added weight of food and water bottles is unnecessary.
  • Partner with the school: Find out if books are available online or if there are class sets available so your child does not have to tote more books than necessary back and forth.
  • Encourage good habits early: Make it a weekly practice to go through the backpack with your child to identify and discard clutter they’ve accumulated throughout the week.
  • Make sure they wear the bag properly: Adjust straps for the most comfortable and supportive fit, and encourage your child to avoid carrying the backpack on one shoulder.
  • Watch for warning signs: If you child grunts or winces when picking up the backpack, it may be too heavy for them, regardless if it falls under the recommended weight.

Promote safety in and out of the classroom this back to school season with the right backpack safety habits. Check out additional family safety articles below.


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