Watch your back: Finding the perfect backpack for your kid

The school year is approaching, but finding the perfect backpack can be hard. Here's how you can you help your kid pick the best bag out there.

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That burden of books, binders and bottled water your child dons every school day can cause back and neck pain if it’s borne in an overloaded, ill-fitting or poorly designed bag. So how do you find the perfect backpack?

Donna Conran, a spokesperson for the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, and Denise Wagner, an occupational therapy consultant for the Edmonton Public School Board, recommend the following features:

Finding the fit
A backpack should be properly proportioned to your child. “It’s almost like buying a pair of shoes,” Wagner explains—your kid should come along to try on different bags so you can find one that’s sized appropriately. (Bring along a few books, and load up your prospective purchase to ensure your child can still carry it comfortably.)

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Adjust the shoulder straps: The top of the pack shouldn’t extend up past your child’s shoulder, and the bottom shouldn’t dip below the top of the hip bone.

Backpack basics
-Wide, padded straps: Look for cushiony straps measuring at least five centimetres across — the narrower the straps, the deeper they’ll dig.
-A padded back prevents pointy objects inside from poking ribs and shoulders.
-A loop or handle for hefting the bag off the floor and hanging on hooks saves wear on straps.
-Durable, lightweight, water-resistant material like coated, rip-resistant nylon resists cracking and won’t soak up moisture (and weight!).
-Sturdy construction: Look for heavy-duty zippers and reinforced stitching at stress points (for example, where straps attach).
-Multiple compartments keep contents secure (sudden shifts can throw kids off balance) and evenly distributed.
-A waist or hip belt eases stress on the shoulders and back by letting the legs bear more of the load.
-Reflective strips are a terrific safety feature for dark winter days.

Options for larger loads
-Compression straps let you tighten the pack around contents to create a stable load.
-Internal frame.
-Wheels enable you to pull, rather than carry, the bag.

Dont…
-Overstress one side. Encourage your child to use both straps, instead of slinging the knapsack over one shoulder.
-Carry too much weight. Limit the load to less than 10 percent of body weight for kids below grade eight, and no more than 15 percent for teens (try telling their teachers that!). Monitor what’s in the bag by helping to sort through contents every evening and removing unnecessary items — such as the textbooks for last week’s homework.
-Bend with the back. Teach your child the proper technique for lifting heavy loads: Keep the spine straight, bend at the knees, hold the load close and lift with the legs.
-Slouch or slump. Even the priciest pack is only as good as your kid’s posture. A crooked foundation “places that much more strain on the back,” says Conran.

Read more:
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84 adorable lunch bags and accessories

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