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How to Wear a Backpack the Right Way

Published: 2021-08-10T21:08:06+0000 Author: Abby Helgeson

With your kids likely headed back to school this fall, the inevitable need for backpacks is fast approaching. But backpacks can be relevant year round, from camping and hiking packs to carrying a picnic to the park.

And backpacks aren’t just for kids. Adults carry backpacks for a variety of reasons too, and those who are headed back to work or back on airplanes need to be aware of the right kind of pack to wear and how to wear it.

The wrong fit with your backpack, not enough padding, too much weight, and many other factors not only make you uncomfortable, but can cause back and shoulder pain, and even permanent damage. This is especially important in young people whose bones and muscles are still developing.

Here are some tips on wearing and buying the right backpack to prevent pain, injury, and discomfort.

The Types of Backpacks

There are a variety of types of backpacks from cheap and simple nylon packs used to carry flyers and swag around a conference to full on, external frame backpacks designed for the most extreme hiking adventures. The type of pack you will choose depends largely on the purpose for that pack.

  • School Packs: These are the packs your kids take to school. While often an afterthought, the right size and fit is really important for an item your child or teen will use every single day.
  • Sport or Day Packs: These packs are a little more rugged, may have built in hydration, and are designed for day hikes, trips to the park, and other short adventures.
  • Technology Packs: There are packs designed to carry laptops and other technology, whether on a flight to a meeting or back and forth from home to office. They usually have specific pockets for laptops, tablets, and the cords and devices that go with them.
  • Backpacking Packs: These can be internal or external frame packs, usually have special considerations and features to carry more weight in greater volume than most other packs. Ruggedness is especially vital in the design of these backpacks.

Unless you’re planning an adventure into the backcountry, it’s most likely that one of the first three types of packs will be what you are looking for. However, even if the logistics are slightly different for those who are backpacking, some of the same principles still apply.

So how do you wear a backpack properly, and why does it matter?

The Right Way to Wear a Backpack

One of the most common injuries chiropractors see in young people can be tied directly to the way they wear their backpack and what they put inside. It’s even important to understand how to arrange heavy items to ensure the best balance. Here are some common tips everyone can follow.

Use Both Straps

While it is quite common to see kids running around school carrying a pack slung over one shoulder, this is extremely hard on their bodies. Backpacks have two straps for a reason, and letting all that weight dangle off of one arm is a sure path to discomfort and pain. Be sure to wear both straps, and make sure they are properly adjusted (more on that in a moment).

Be Sure the Pack Fits

The other issue is to be sure the pack fits. Every body is different, and manufacturers make packs for people of all shapes and sizes. There are packs designed for women and children, big and tall men, and more. Be sure to purchase the right pack in the first place.

Also, if you are passing down a pack from child to child in your family as an older sibling outgrows it, be sure the fit is right before sending them off to school. As children experience growing spurts, it is important to monitor the fit of their pack even during the school year. When adjustments are not enough, it might even be a good idea to purchase a new one for them.

Here are some things to look for.

  • Width of the pack: The pack should sit well on the shoulders. Too wide of a pack and the straps will slip off and ride down the upper arm, almost as bad as carrying the bag over one shoulder. Too narrow of straps can put the wrong kind of pressure on the shoulders and neck, not to mention just being uncomfortable.
  • Length of Pack: Similar to width, the length of the pack should be about the length of the child’s back, and reach to just above the coxic bone (tailbone).Too long, and the pack will sit too low. Too short, and the pack will sit too high on the back no matter how well the straps are adjusted, and put pressure on the spine and shoulders in all the wrong places.
  • Type of straps: Straps should be wide, padded, and adjustable. Those little rope packs you get at conventions are fine for carrying swag and light items, but no good for heavy items.
  • Padding it all Together: You also want padding on the back of the pack, between you and the contents. How much padding depends on how heavy of items you will be carrying, and how far you will be carrying them. Padding keeps sharp edges from pens, pencils, rulers, and other items from stabbing into your back or shoulders.
  • Be Sure the Pack is Adjusted Properly: For a backpack to sit properly on your back, the straps will need to be adjusted correctly (more on this in a moment). Be sure the weight of the pack is situated properly on your back and shoulders.
  • Weight For It: How much weight is too much? A general rule is that weight should not exceed 15% of body weight, and some experts even recommend 10%. That means your sixty pound second grader should carry no more than 6-9 pounds on their back.

The weight and fit of your backpack can be exactly what you need, but unless you wear it properly, that won’t matter. So how do you wear a backpack properly so it sits on the right part of your back?

Where Should a Backpack Sit on Your Back?

Ideally a backpack should sit so most of the weight of the contents are spread over your back. If it is too high, the straps will pull on your shoulders rather than evenly distributing the load. If it is too low, this can result in a forward lean, causing low back pain.

Your pack should be worn so it sits approximately two inches from your shoulders, and should ride around an inch above your hips. Higher is better than lower if you must wear it on one side or the other, so be sure to adjust the straps whenever you put on the pack, as they can loosen when you remove it.

If your pack has a waist strap, a chest strap, or both, you should use them. The waist strap helps keep the weight on your back and hips rather than on your shoulders, and the chest strap can keep the shoulder straps from slipping or the backpack from swaying. These straps also help keep the pack properly positioned on your back.

Common don'ts:

  • Don’t carry your backpack with only one strap, even for short trips.
  • Don’t wear the pack too low on your back, as this can cause serious problems and even injury.
  • Don’t overload your pack. Only carry the weight you need to, never more than 15% of your body weight.
  • Don’t put heavy items away from your body. Keeping them close to your back helps keep the weight distributed properly.

Follow these steps and your experience wearing your pack will be a much more positive one. What kind of backpack should you buy, and what features should you look for?

Tips on Buying a Backpack

You will always get better results if you buy the right pack in the first place. But what makes the right pack for you? Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Purpose: There is a big difference between a hiking pack and a school pack, although fitting tips are similar. However, a hiking pack won’t always be easy to carry around school, as it may be too large. A school pack may not work well for a hike, as it may be too small. And a technology geared pack will have the wrong kind of pockets to work well with hiking and camping supplies.
  • Length: Many packs will have a size guide, but you can take measurements for yourself to determine fit. Measure from two inches below your shoulders to about one inch above your waist. This will give you an “ideal length” for your pack, and definitely give you a length you should not go over.
  • Width: An ideal pack will fit comfortably between your shoulders. It won’t be too narrow at the top, so it doesn’t pull on your shoulders, but it should not be wider than your shoulders either. If you have exceptionally narrow or broad shoulders, you may want to get a pack with a lot of adjustment in the straps, or you may have to look at a different sized pack than you usually would.
  • Adjustment: That brings us to flexibility. You want a pack with a lot of adjustments, and enough length in the chest and waist straps. Even if a pack says it is “your size” in a store, always try it on whenever possible. When ordering online, use size charts and take your measurements carefully.
  • Pockets and Compartments: The right pockets and compartments can be a vital part of a good pack. A school pack or tech bag should have large pockets near your back for things like books and computers, and smaller pockets on the outside for miscellaneous lighter items. Hydration bladders should also fit close to your body, keeping the weight of the water from impacting your shoulders.
  • Material: The material a pack is made of can make a huge difference to comfort and usability. Different materials suit different purposes. For example, leather does not make a good hiking pack, but it does make a good looking, durable tech bag. If you can get a bag made with recycled materials, that is definitely a plus.
  • Durability: Strong zippers, straps, and even solid stitching all mean your backpack will last longer. For hiking packs, you may want to look at how the zippers are protected from dust and moisture, and if you know you will be on a river or a lake, you may want to try a dry bag or waterproof bag with alternative closures and no zipper at all. Reinforced fabric on the bottom and the corners will ensure your pack will not wear out prematurely.

There are a lot of options out there, and if you want to reward your employees, show your team spirit, or even offer a unique gift for your family, a custom backpack with your logo or message printed on it can be very thoughtful. There are a lot of choices out there, so when ordering custom backpacks, consider all the factors listed here when making your selection.

Check out the custom backpacks offered by Promoleaf here, and if you don’t see something you want or you have questions, always feel free to reach out. We’re here to make sure you get exactly what you need.


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