School backpacks buying guide

An ergonomic backpack can reduce back and neck pain, but only if carried correctly.
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  • Updated:11 Nov 2005

02.What to look for

A good school backpack should:
  • Be appropriately sized for the child. It should neither extend past their shoulders when sitting down with it, nor be wider than their chest.
  • Be comparatively lightweight. Fully packed it shouldn’t weigh more than 10% of the child’s body weight (that’s the lean body weight, so it’s even less for overweight children).
  • Be sturdy and reasonably water-resistant (or have a rain cover). The material should be firm to prevent sagging. The base should be abrasive-resistant and/or reinforced.
  • Have a moulded frame and/or an adjustable hip or waist strap, so most of the weight rests on the hips and pelvis, not on the shoulders and spine. The waist/hip belt is particularly important to secure the load when walking, running or cycling.
  • Have adjustable, broad, padded shoulder straps that help distribute the weight evenly and don’t dig into the wearer.
  • Have a padded or quilted back for comfortable wear.
  • Have compression straps at the sides to draw the load together and bring it close to the child’s back. They’ll also help stabilise the contents of a partially filled pack.
  • Have a sternum (chest) strap to help stabilise the load and prevent the straps slipping off the shoulders. It should sit about 10 cm down from the Adam’s apple. (Look for a detachable strap if you’re not sure your child will wear it.)
  • Have several pockets to help with even weight distribution and organisation inside. A drink bottle holder on the side keeps potential spillages outside the pack.

Using it properly

While a pack with a limited capacity and the ‘less than 10% of body weight’ benchmark are attempts to tackle the problem, what can you do if kids can’t avoid carrying more sometimes? That’s where using a backpack properly comes in.

  • Backpacks are designed to carry a load safely — symmetrical, stable and close to the spine — but not if they’re worn casually slung over just one shoulder.
  • If necessary, show your child how to put the backpack on properly: lift it up by the loop with both hands and bent knees, facing the straps and pushing up with the legs. Place one strap over the shoulder, then the other, or put it on the edge of a desk and loop both arms through together.
  • A backpack should be worn so the waist strap (or hip belt) sits firmly where intended.
  • Shoulder straps should be adjusted so the child doesn’t have to lean forward and the base of the pack rests on their hips, not on the bum, as many like to wear it.
  • Before your child heads off to school, make sure they’ve packed their backpack properly. Items shouldn’t be able to move around; the heaviest ones should be packed closest to their back to reduce stress on the spine, lighter items away from the spine.
  • Encourage them to repack their bag daily, only take what they need that day and make use of lockers at school, if available.

Choosing a bag

Many schools don’t give you much of a choice: the backpack is part of the uniform — it’s in the school colours and probably emblazoned with its logo. If you’d prefer your child to use a different bag from the official one, perhaps a more ergonomically designed one, ask the appropriate body at the school to justify its choice of bag. Your suggestions might well be taken up in the future, or it might kindle debate on the topic — and in the meantime they might agree to let your child use a better bag.

Children use a school backpack five days a week, 40 weeks a year. It’s thrown on the ground, used as a seat and often treated with little care and attention. To withstand such rough treatment, a school backpack must be designed to last.

A major supplier of school backpacks, bags and accessories, Spartan School Supplies, says it aims to provide a wide choice of strong and durable bags at an affordable price. They also offer endorsed bags.

Spartan bags are primarily available through and priced by schools (usually with the school’s logo), but you can also buy directly from the supplier or phone (03) 9874 8955, or 1800 815 557 from outside metropolitan Melbourne.

Brands and trends

At schools that don’t recommend a particular backpack, students may choose surf brands such as Billabong or Ripcurl. Some of the features of these backpacks that might help posture include ergonomic shoulder straps and a padded back, and some other features include a laptop compartment, reinforced base piping and oversized zips.

Some surf or mountain packs come with things like a curved back section and sternum, waist or compression straps. Your child, though, is probably more attracted to the brand-name graphics and features such as skateboard straps and loads of customised pockets for things like an MP3 player.


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