With September upon us, it is time to send the kids back to school. One must-buy item on everyone's back-to-school list is a backpack. While backpacks are now constructed better and can multitask thanks to multiple compartments, an oversized or poorly-crafted backpack can cause back and neck issues for your child. Selecting the proper backpack for your child involves several factors. When purchasing, first decide what type would best suit your child's needs—either a standard backpack or a wheeled backpack (for children with heavy book loads). According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should also consider the following:

  • A backpack should never weigh more than 10–20 percent of the child's body weight. For example, a 50-pound child's backpack should not weigh more than 5–10 pounds.
  • The backpack you choose should have wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back compartment.
  • Use all compartments of the backpack to even out weight distribution and pack the heaviest items towards the back.

Some schools allow rolling or wheeled backpacks, which are great for heavy loads, but keep in mind that they can be heavy when carried up stairs, and can be difficult to roll if there is ice or snow on the ground. For college-aged students, messenger bags and sling backpacks that rest on the side of the body are popular and can last a long time, transitioning them into the working world. These types of bags, however, are not recommended for young children.

Here are some additional backpack tips on weight distribution:

  • Choose a backpack with thick, padded shoulder straps—narrow, thin and unpadded shoulder straps can dig into shoulders and cause pinched nerves and pain.
  • Backpacks with metal frames built in (similar to hiker's backpack) offer more back support to the user.
  • Consider a backpack with a waist belt already attached—this helps distribute the weight more evenly across the body.
  • Adjust straps so the backpack sits as close as possible to the back—if the backpack bumps along the back or buttocks when walking, the straps are too long.

A properly-fitting backpack should be no bigger than your child's back. You can find the ideal size by taking two simple and quick measurements. First, find the maximum height by measuring from shoulder line to waistline, and then add two inches. The shoulder line is the spot where the backpack straps will rest on the body—usually the halfway mark between your child's shoulder joint and neck. The waistline is at the belly button.

Next, you will measure the width of the back. Although the width of the back can be measured in several ways, this specific measurement allows the backpack to be carried by your child's core and hip muscles. Measure from the ridge of one shoulder blade to the ridge of the other shoulder blade. You can increase this measurement up to an inch, which will still keep the backpack secured and centered between the shoulder blades.

If for some reason you cannot measure your child, here is an approximation chart with weight and height measurements by age:

No matter what age your child is, here are some well-reviewed, multi-featured backpacks to consider:

1. Preschool and elementary

The Skip Hop Zoo Monkey Backpack for "Little Kids" is available at Target for $19.99 and comes with thick, padded straps, interior name tag, large main compartment, insulated pouch for snacks and an easy-to-clean lining.

2. Middle school

The Fat Boy Backpack from High Sierra is a great option for middle school and high school students. The multi-compartment design comes with angled, adjustable compression padded straps, a monster hook for attaching extra gear, a premium organizer compartment, and zippered-front accessory area. Available in 30 patterns for $24, there’s a style for everyone's taste!

3. High school and beyond

The High Sierra Loop Backpack is the perfect option for those with heavy book loads and more. This multi-compartment design comes with a dedicated MP3 player pocket with headphone port, adjustable side compression straps, two mesh beverage compartments, comfortable padded core-back panel, and more. For $26.42, you get all the bells and whistles for a great price!

How to Choose the Safest Backpack for Your Child