Buying the Best Backpack for Your Back and Your Budget

by Debra Karplus

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The National Safety Council wants to promote legislation limiting the weight of what schools expect children to carry in their backpacks. The American Occupational Therapy Association promotes Backpack Awareness each September. Why is there so much fuss about backpacks? Because a backpack that's too heavy or is carried improperly can contribute to short- or long-term back trouble and musculoskeletal system for children and adults and might require physical therapy, chiropractic, or other medical intervention to alleviate pain and other symptoms from improper backpack use.

Backpacks for children

Whether your child's in pre-kindergarten or high school, parents flock to discount stores for bargains on backpacks, as essential for students regardless of age, grade, or physical size. How else can kids transport essentials like pencils, calculator, textbooks, and loose-leaf binders? Backpacks found their way onto the school supply list circa 1980. Small, lightweight items went to and from school in those backpacks and lunch boxes were carried separately. These backpacks were typically not heavy enough to cause any bodily injury.

But today, school kids of all ages are carrying major amounts of "stuff" to and from school. For a short ride on the school bus or in the family car, that is not such a big deal. However, the middle school and high school kids, who have classes in different places around the often very large school building or buildings, carry their extremely full backpack from classroom to classroom all day long.

According to, the recommended ratio of backpack weight to body weight is about 10% to 15%, meaning that a 100-pound middle school student should carry a backpack weighing no more than 15 pounds. But some of the statistics found online claim that an average sixth grade student might be carrying around 18 to even 30 pounds of stuff on a given day. Ouch! Is it any wonder that some children develop terrible body posture at a young age!

Since children grow and tire of things (remember when The Smurfs were all the rage!), don't be surprised if you end up buying a new backpack every year. At under $20, that is not unreasonable. Also, you might be able to buy a backpack used at a yard sale or resale shop. But, like buying used shoes, it may be another case of penny-wise and pound-foolish because you might end up with a backpack with weak straps or seams or faulty zippers or something that may cause physical discomfort to your child. It may be best to watch for sales and buy a backpack that is new rather than pre-owned.

Backpacks for adults

There are several reasons that adults might use a backpack. Perhaps you commute to work or do daily errands to the grocery, library, or bank, for example, via bicycle or on foot or possibly via public transportation. If your shop wisely, expect to spend about $50, but this backpack may be the only one you will ever need to buy. Pick a color that doesn't easily show dirt, such as dark blue. Carefully examine all seams and zippers. Make sure there are enough different storage compartments for all the things you will be carrying, such as a bottle of water. Most importantly, try it on. Adjust the straps to your body and throw in something like a 10-pound sack of potatoes or a bunch of books and walk around the store before purchasing. Though you can buy a backpack online for cheaper, you will not have the opportunity to try it on. On this purchase, you should spend the amount in the store. Remember that you don't need to go to an outdoor or sporting goods shop; most discount stores should have the backpack you are seeking.

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Some backpacks, costing about $50, are specifically designed to carry laptop computers. If you travel with your laptop, be sure to learn the baggage allowance for carry-ons, especially how many and what size, before buying a backpack for your laptop computer.

For most backpacks for children and adults, there are some that come on wheels. That's not a bad option for protecting your back, but your children might claim that that is really not cool!

For those outdoorsy folks who need a backpack for hiking, well, that's a completely different type of purchase. Head to the outdoor shop and have an expert help you select a backpack for your specific purpose, and shop carefully.

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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