Many kids are carrying backpacks that far exceed the weight limits experts say they should be carrying, and many parents aren't checking to make sure their child's backpack isn't too heavy. At least 14,000 kids are treated for backpack-related injuries each year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. Most experts agree that a backpack should not weigh more than 10-15 percent of a child's body weight.
How much is too much? Well, if the average kindergartener, at 6 years old, weighs about 50 pounds, their backpack shouldn't weigh more than 7.5 pounds.
The correct fit is much more important than the look of the backpack as well, Consumer Reports wrote in a May 2016 guide. And you should also take into account when buying a backpack that what fits one child best may not fit other kids (so hand-me-down backpacks might not be the best idea).
Shoulder strap anchor points should rest 1-2 inches below the top of the shoulders, and the bottom of the backpack should align with the curve of the lower back, Consumer Reports points out. The bottom of the backpack should not rest more than 2-4 inches below the waistline, depending on whose advice you follow.
The correct fit of the backpack isn’t the only thing that matters, either. How you load it can also put your child at risk for injury. Straps should be comfortable, but remember that they help distribute the weight of the backpack to not put stress on shoulders, back and hips. Straps that are wide, padded or contoured can help better distribute the weight. For older children who may be carrying heavier textbooks, a chest strap or waist strap can also help distribute weight better and prevent injuries.
Heavy items should be closer to the back and lighter items should go closer to the outside of the bag or in outside pockets or compartments.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends rolling backpacks if your child carries a heavier load and their school allows them. If your child doesn’t use a rolling backpack, be sure they’re always using both straps because slinging the bag over one shoulder can strain muscles and put them at risk for more serious injuries.
Packing as lightly as possible is key, too. Backpacks that have lots of organizational compartments can help with weight distribution. The AAP recommends that parents go through backpacks every week to remove items that don't need to be carried back and forth (if they're not constantly in use), in order to keep the bag light.