How to Avoid a Heavy Backpack

Most students wear backpacks when attending school or college. While useful for toting around everything from books to a laptop, there is all too often a temptation to overfill them and make them too heavy for the wearer to carry comfortably. In some cases, prolonged wearing of overly heavy backpacks can lead to posture and muscle problems, which can cause injury and pain––indeed, the American Occupational Therapy Association considers that over 50 percent of students aged 9 to 20 have chronic back pain from overpacked or poorly packed backpacks. Knowing how to lighten your load and keep it that way is important for your health and comfort.


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  1. Choose a quality backpack from the outset. Not all backpacks are made alike and cheap ones are often lacking in proper support and durability. Look for a bag that costs at least over US$40.00 and comes with padded or ergonomic straps that are adjustable, padded back piece to protect the back from whatever is packed inside the bag and a contour that fits comfortably on your child’s back. Padded shoulder straps can also lessen the weight by distributing it evenly. In addition, a chest or sternum strap that clips across the front will help to steady the whole load.
    • Measure the backpack. A backpack for school or college shouldn’t extend 4 inches (10cm) below your or your child’s waistline.
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    • Note that many schools don’t allow rolling backpacks because the extendable handles can be a tripping hazard. Also, they’re often not considered to be very cool! If you do get a rolling backpack, opt for one that also has straps so that it can be worn when you don’t feel like pulling it.
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    • Most school/college day packs are lightweight on their own, but it probably pays to give it a weight test before buying, just to be sure it’s not adding too much to the weight and bulk.
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  2. Pack only what you can carry rather than what can fit into the bag. Just because the bag is big doesn’t mean you should shove everything into it. For children, it is recommended that a backpack only be packed to 15 percent of the child’s weight.[1]For many, this means finding lots of crafty solutions to carrying needed things, as will be explored in later steps

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  4. Pack the heaviest items at the bottom of the pack and the lightest items up the top. The reason for this is simple––the heavier items receive support from your back rather than causing you to sway if they sit away from your back up top.[1] Make good use of all the compartments on the pack to distribute things more evenly. While this doesn’t reduce the weight, it does spread it out across your back, making it feel like less.
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  5. Organize your subject material regularly, to avoid carrying what isn’t needed that day or week. Eliminating old papers and useless handouts can cut down on clutter in your bag, making it lighter. Also, it can cut down on clutter later caused by improperly stashed handouts and flyers; use thin binders or plastic sheets to hold things in one place instead of scrunched at the base of the bag, forgotten and building up!
    • Don’t let old work pile up. If you leave papers in your bag, it will add more weight, especially if they don’t need to be there. Always clean out your bag at least every three months.
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    • Don’t let spare clutter weigh your bag down. Keeping random scraps of paper in the bottom of your bag, broken pencils, and more garbage in your bag can add more weight. Clean it out.
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    • If you’re at school, give all school letters to your parents or guardians as soon as they’re received. Keeping them in the bag leads to disorganization and reprimands from parents!
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  6. Don’t put anything unnecessary in your bag. Adding unnecessary items will make the weight of your bag skyrocket. Don’t need textbooks in your bag? Don’t put them in.
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  7. Go as electronic as your school or college will let you. The more texts, papers and any other things that you’re allowed to use digitally and carry on your laptop, iPad or other digital device, the less you have to carry. Scan in chapters or papers as they’re needed rather than dragging around big books.
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  8. Try storing items in your locker. Excess weight can be avoided by putting nonessential items in your locker. This includes sporting gear, large texts, spare notebooks, extra stationery, etc.
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  9. Try not to procrastinate on homework. Uncompleted homework can add extra weight, and enough stress to make your shoulders really collapse!
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  10. Clean your bag out weekly. At the end of each week, go through your bag and remove anything that shouldn’t be in there (like moldy sandwiches) and anything not needed anymore (like the textbooks for a test now completed). This will help to ensure that you’re only carrying about what’s needed and not building up a supply of forgotten weighty things.


  • Only put lighter items in the outer pockets.
  • Only bring home the books needed for studying or homework.
  • Need to take in something extra for a special project? Put craft, science project, animation props and other such items into a cloth or plastic carrying tote that you can carry in your hands rather than shoving into the backpack as well. This will help maintain your balance and gives you the opportunity to put it down and rest when needed. Just don’t forget it’s with you though or you can accidentally leave it on the bus!
  • Many reputable sites do yearly reviews of commercially produced backpacks suitable for children, such as women’s and family magazines, newspapers and school sites. Check out their recommendations for options. The best places tend to be luggage and sporting goods stores, the luggage section of a quality department store or an outlet store specializing in bags. August tends to be a good time to purchase them, due to the back-to-school sales.
  • Ask your teacher or lecturer if there are any paperback books available for your courses, in order to reduce weight. Many teachers and professors are now producing more and more electronic materials and may even make coursework apps or pdfs that you can use rather than carting about heavy books.


  • Cheap bags won’t last more than a few months, let alone lacking adequate support features.
  • Don’t remove papers you need to turn in.

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