Backpack Safety

Backpacking for fun and the upcoming school year

With school starting back up, families are thinking about books, supplies, and backpacks. With so many textbooks and technology being brought home, those bags can get heavy, which can mean back problems.. Also with temperatures may start cooling off soon and also some of you may be headed to the forest for fun, or hunting. Getting the family involved in backpacking can be a lot of fun. It is a great form of exercise and a great way to spend time together as a family. Without distractions from things like friends and television you can really enjoy the time together. Backpacking is for everyone, even the little ones among us. Parents who love backpacking are sure to want to introduce their children to the joys and adventure. Children bring a special challenge even to the most experienced backpacker. They have some special needs, but they also can bring a newfound sense of excitement to a backpacking trip.

Part of the reason children can be so enjoyable on a backpacking trip is that they are full of wonder. They will appreciate even the littlest thing. If they see a butterfly they may want to spend time just watching it. They may be content to sit by a stream and splash in the water. They can experience lots of new things in the outdoors of America



Children can make a backpacking trip a while new experience. Even if you have traveled the particular area numerous times you will be amazed at how different a child can make the experience. They will see things you never noticed and teach you a little something along the way. They may require extra work to bring along, but it is well worth it. A family backpacking trip is something you will surely treasure.

When you backpack by yourself you have much more freedom than when you take children. A child will not be able to do everything an adult can. If you backpack with small children you need to consider things like:

  • They will not be able to handle a rigorous trip, so plan small.
  • They also can’t carry as much, so you may end up carrying some of their load.
  • Kids will burn through food easily if you let them. Try to eat a series of smaller meals throughout the day to ensure they stay filled up.
  • They may not be as content to simply sit around the fire watching it burn as you might do, so bring some toys and plan activities for when you are not hiking.

Backpacking for school

While backpacks are considered the most efficient way to carry books and other items kids need for school, it’s important they weigh less than 15-20 percent of a child’s body weight. Otherwise, over time, a child can experience back pain and soreness that can lead to problems that may require medical treatment. Compared to satchels or briefcases, backpacks are considered safer because they distribute weight evenly across the body and are supported by the back and abdominal muscles. Children and teens also prefer them because they are fashionable, hold more items, and come with multiple compartments that help them to stay organized.

But despite their usefulness, a major study recently reported by the American Physical Therapy Association has found that more than 50 percent of children surveyed carry backpacks that are too heavy. “When a backpack is filled with heavy books and incorrectly positioned, the weight’s force can pull your child backward. To compensate, your child may bend forward at the hips or arch his or her back, causing the spine to compress unnaturally, “said Hunt.”This can lead to shoulder, neck and back pain.”

Wearing a backpack on one shoulder can also cause the child to lean to one side to compensate for the extra weight and can also lead to pain. In severe cases, children can develop a condition called “scapular winging,” which occurs when the nerve that supplies the shoulder muscle becomes pinched, causing the muscle to not function properly. Girls and younger children may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they are smaller and often carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight. “If your child complains of pain, or if you notice that one of your child’s shoulder blades is not moving or not symmetrical, a doctor should be consulted,” says Hunt.

To help your child wear a backpack safely American Physical Therapy Assoc. recommends the following:


1. Keep backpack use limited to necessities only. See that your child cleans out his or her backpack daily by removing any items that can be left at home or in a locker.
2. Distribute weight evenly. Encourage your child to wear both straps of the backpack whenever he or she carries it. This will help distribute the weight of the backpack evenly across the back and promote good posture.
3. Recognize signs that the backpack is too heavy. Pay attention to whether your child is slouched or leaning to one side when wearing a backpack or is experiencing any type of back pain, tingling or numbness in the shoulders or arms

4. Select the proper backpack. Enhance comfort and safety by purchasing a backpack with multiple compartments, so that weight is more evenly distributed. Padded straps can also help prevent straps from cutting into shoulders. Newer backpacks with wheels are also an option, provided that the handle extends long enough to allow children to stand upright while pulling it. The backpack and wheels must also be sturdy enough so that it does not topple over.
5. Pick up the backpack properly. Teach your child how to pick up his or her backpack by demonstrating how to bend at the knees and grasp the pack with both hands before putting it on.

6. Lastly, following these general safety tips for safe backpack use:

  • Wear both straps to distribute the weight evenly.
  • Put on and remove backpacks carefully. Avoid excessive twisting.
  • Wear the backpack resting evenly over the middle of the back. The backpack should not extend below the low back.
  • Adjust the straps so they are not too loose but still allow for free arm movement and ease in putting on and taking off the backpack.
  • Keep the load at 10-15 percent or less of your child’s body weight.
  • Carry only those items needed for the day with the heaviest items closest to the back.

When selecting a backpack, APTA recommends selecting one with:

  • A padded back,
  • Hip and chest belts,
  • Multiple compartments and a Reflective material to enhance visibility at night.

Backpacks are a convenient way to carry books and other school supplies, but wearing them improperly or overloaded can put children at risk for spinal injury. Have a safe yet fun backpacking adventure.

Information Source: National Safety Council, CPSC, American Physical Therapy Association,, WebMD, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Ken Oswald, Safety and Security for Plateau


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