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Back to School...Selecting, Packing and Wearing a Backpack

August 13, 2012 by Marc Faktor, Certified Exercise Physiologist

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When I was a kid gearing up for school, I was very picky about my clothes as well as my backpack. I guess it was extra important to me to fit in as I was usually the smallest kid in school up until grade 11 when my hormones decided to kick in :p

Today there’s even more pressure placed on children to ensure a cool appearance. This can guide the majority of the back to school purchases. As parents, it’s exceptionally hard to say no to something your child loves and thinks is the coolest. However, I urge you to take a stronger stance in ensuring your child selects a quality backpack. Why focus on proper backpack selection and use?

The body is a very sensitive and complex organism that adapts to the stressors we place on it. If we continue to place undue and uneven stress on one of the most important parts of our body, the spinal column, we could end up in trouble later on in life! Examples of poor backpack use can include but are not limited to: muscle strain, headaches, back, neck and arm pain, improper growth and development and even nerve damage.

This being said, it's imperative that we understand how to properly select and use backpacks in a way that they don't place negative and uneven stress on the spine in an attempt to promote healthy growth and development!

Here are some great tips:

Choosing:

  • Don’t cheap out!
    • You will end up having to replace it halfway through the year or at least the next year.
    • Get one that lasts and has a warranty
  • Durability is key!
    • Expect kids to give their packs a beating.
    • Some highly durable fabrics are packcloth or Cordura®
    • Look for strong beefy zippers plus extra stitching at stress and wear points.
  • Storage abilities are a plus
    • Lots of pockets and areas to store things will make the load seem lighter and allow your child to stay organized!
  • Straps
    • Well cushioned shoulder straps make a difference as they reduce the stress on the body.
    • Adjustable shoulder straps and a hip strap are also something to ensure as this also helps stabilize the load and reduce negative forces on the spine.

Packing & Wearing

  • Lighten up the backpack by ensuring your child has the essentials for the day.
    • Things like shoes, old lunch boxes, old clothes and books for other courses don't need to be carried around endlessly throughout the week.
  • If your child is carrying more than 15% of their body weight, lighten the load!
    • For young and small children, 10% of their body weight should be the upper limit!
  • Pack the heaviest items closest to the body and USE the waist strap!
  • When loading the backpack, do it on a table or a ledge that is at least waist height.
  • When putting a backpack on, keep it on the table and place BOTH straps on one at a time.
    • Using both straps is essential to evenly distribute the weight being carried.
      • Uneven weight distribution could lead to unwanted curvatures and abnormalities in the developing spine and musculature, respectively.
    • When correctly adjusted, the bottom of the pack should rest near the hipbone or top of the pelvis.

This all being said,

SELECT A DURABLE ONE, PACK IT LIGHT & WEAR IT RIGHT!


References and Resources:
MEC Kids Packs
BC Chiropractic Association Backpack Safety Program
Pack it Light handout for Children
Pack it Light brochure for Parents

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