How to pick a backpack for your child

Consumer Reports

Getting a proper fit outweighs getting the right look.

How to choose the proper backpack for your child
Stores are bursting with back-to-school backpack options in every shape and size. But a favorite color or character shouldn’t be your only deciding factor.

The fact is, a heavy backpack load can cause low-back pain that lasts into adulthood, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). That’s why it’s important to find a well-fitting pack that will best distribute the load on your child’s body. Our guidelines, for kids of all ages, will help your child get a good backpack fit.

When shopping, pay attention to:

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Shoulder straps

Look for wide, padded, contoured shoulder straps that distribute the pack's load over a large area of the shoulders. The shoulder-strap anchor points should rest 1 to 2 inches below the top of the shoulders.

(See also: The best deals in August)

Abdominal strap

An abdominal strap can help distribute the pack's weight evenly on the back, waist, and hips.

Bottom of the bag

The bottom of the backpack ideally should rest in the curve of the lower back, or at least no more than 4 inches below the waistline.

Covered zippers

In our past backpack rain test, zippers that were not protected by flaps of fabric allowed water to seep in.

Safety features

Reflectors or reflective fabrics on the pack add visibility, important if your child heads to school at dawn or home at dusk or in darkness.


Sloppy stitching or loose threads can indicate poor manufacturing. Raw, exposed fabric edges can fray and weaken the fabric, and possibly get stuck in the zipper.

How to wear the backpack

The correct way to carry the load may help your child avoid discomfort. Encourage your child to do the following:

  • Always wear the shoulder straps on both shoulders so the weight is evenly balanced.

  • Distribute weight evenly. Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back and balance materials so the child can easily stand up straight.

  • Wear the hip belt if the backpack has one, to improve balance and take some strain off sensitive neck and shoulder muscles.

Carry a lighter load

To prevent injury, the AOTA recommends that your child’s backpack weigh no more than 10 percent of his or her body weight. If it weighs more, try to keep some supplies at home or school to lighten it up. The less your child carries, the better for her back. (See the Consumer Reports backpack weigh-in video.)

Backpack Ratings Chart

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Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.

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