Backpack Safety

Key Facts
  • Carrying a backpack that’s too heavy can cause pain.
  • Your backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 5-10% of your body weight.
  • Pack light, use both shoulder straps, and if possible, wear a waist belt.
  • Young men's version of this guide

backpack safety

Most students look forward to picking out their backpacks because there are so many different colors and designs to choose from. Your backpack may express your style, but does it do its job? Besides being stylish, what else should you be concerned about when choosing and wearing a backpack?

Did you know?

According to experts, heavy backpacks (more than 10% of a person’s body weight) can cause back pain and strains that can last through adulthood. However, studies have also shown that simply changing the way you load your backpack and carry it will lower your chance of straining your shoulders, back, and neck.

What’s the best way to carry my books?

Although there are many types of school bags (purses, one-shoulder bags, etc.) a backpack over both shoulders is the best way to carry books. It helps distribute weight evenly so that one part of your body isn’t carrying more weight than the other. Purses and one-shoulder bags may be stylish, but they tend to put more weight on one shoulder. This may lead to back and shoulder strains which can result in mild to severe pain.

How do I know if my backpack is too heavy?

As a rule, students tend to put too many books, notebooks, and other items in their backpacks, which make them very heavy to carry. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association Inc., backpacks should not weigh more than 10% of your weight. For example, if you weigh 100 pounds, your backpack should not weigh more than 10 pounds. If you absolutely need to carry all of your books with you, carry one of the heavier ones in your hands.

What can happen if I carry a backpack that’s too heavy?

Carrying a heavy backpack has consequences. When backpacks are too heavy they can cause you to stand in an awkward position. This affects your posture, and over time, causes pain. Tight straps can actually cause tingling and/or weakness in your arms and hands if a nerve is pinched. If you have any tingling or weaknesses, make an appointment with your health care provider.

How can I pack a lighter backpack?

There are many ways to pack a lighter backpack. Start by taking out everything that can be left either at home or in your locker. If your teachers ask you to keep binders, a good idea might be to leave the binders in your locker and just carry the loose leaf sheets in a folder instead. At the end of the day, you can reinsert the sheets of paper into your binders.

Is there a right way to wear a backpack?

Yes, there is a right way to wear a backpack and it’s important to wear it correctly. Don’t use one strap over one shoulder to carry your backpack. Be sure to use both shoulder straps and adjust them so they are even. The waist belt also helps to keep the contents of your backpack evenly distributed, which in turn helps prevent pain.

Choose a backpack with a:

  • Well-padded back so that sharp objects inside the bag won’t poke you
  • Waist belt
  • Well-padded shoulder straps

Helpful tips:

  • Select the right size – don’t choose a backpack that is too small
  • Remember, the bottom of your bag should rest at the curve of your lower back
  • Select a backpack that’s made out of a light material
  • Look for a backpack with multiple compartments – it distributes the weight more evenly

Packing your backpack:

  • Place the heaviest books closest to your back
  • Carry only what you absolutely need and no more
  • Arrange your books, papers, pencils and other items so they won’t slide around

Picking up your backpack:

  • Bend your knees and lift your pack using both hands


Wearing your backpack:

  • Use both straps rather than slinging the pack over one shoulder so that you distribute the weight of your pack evenly
  • Adjust the straps so they are secure and they feel comfortable
  • Use the waist belt if your pack has one
While backpacks on wheels may be easier to use and less of strain on your back, they can cause injuries to others from tripping and falling, especially in crowded places such as schools. If you have back pain that lasts more than a few days and it’s not relieved after you lighten your back pack load, talk to your health care provider.