How to correctly wear a backpack?

Susan Fernandez February 02 2022

Many people use backpacks. Especially students, because they need to carry many books around to get homework done. However, young children aren't the only ones that could benefit from using them; adults also should use backpacks for time management purposes (e.g., packing their laptops). If you're not careful enough while wearing your backpack, you run the risk of injury without even realizing it!

The problem is this: People become so comfortable with walking or running while wearing a backpack that they start walking in faulty ways - because of the weight distribution of the pack! This puts pressure on muscles and joints in places where it doesn't belong. The worst part? You won't feel anything... until after's too late.

What are the possible problems with health?

In case you or your child wear the backpack wrongly, there may be a great number of problems, especially with the posture and back. Some examples are listed below.

  • You have problems with your spine due to the misalignment of the weight of the backpack with the upper body.
  • You have pains in your shoulders, neck or hips because these parts bear most of the load.
  • You strain lower back muscles that stabilize the spine against the pull of its upper part. This may lead to pain in this area as well.
  • The scapula (shoulder blade) is not centered anymore which causes a bad posture and may end up even in shoulder injury or rotator cuff syndrome.
  • You develop rounded shoulders, which makes you tilt forward when walking, thus stressing your lower back at all times...eventually leading to chronic lower back pain.
  • The muscles that hold the scapulae in position become overstretched and their ability to work is reduced, which can lead to neck pain.
  • You cause shoulder injuries such as arthritis or rotator cuff tendonitis.

Besides problems with the spine, there are possible risks for your skin. For example, if the straps of your backpack are not adjusted correctly, they may cause an indentation on your skin. This can be visible even after some time (e.g., during a day) but also while wearing it!

Moreover, if you wear a backpack with too much weight, your knees and hips bear most of it. This usually happens when the backpack has a weight of 15-20% of your body weight or even more. In the future, it can lead to problems with the knees, such as knee pain and osteoarthritis.

How to wear a backpack properly?

You may think that you're wearing your backpack correctly, but it's impossible to know without proper guidance. In order to avoid injuries and problems with spine alignment, shoulders, neck, and hips you must follow these steps:

Adjust the straps of your backpack (shoulder straps and hip belt) to fit your body well. When the backpack is tightened well enough, you should be able to put one or two fingers above each shoulder strap. As for the hip belt - adjust the tightness so it doesn't touch your belly button while standing still.

The center of gravity of the backpack should be positioned over your sacrum (the flat bone at the base of your spine), not under them or in front! To make sure this is so, tighten the hip belt well.

Place your heaviest stuff towards the center of your back as it will cause less stress on the spine and shoulders compared to placing them closer to the top/bottom of a pack.

Make sure you have even weight distribution all around your body, not just in one place/side! You can test how evenly distributed your backpack weight is by lifting each shoulder up - if it's equal then that means that balance is good. If not, fix the backpack till there's no difference between both sides. Also, make sure that hips are carrying 10-15% of the total load (more or less).

What type of backpack is for you?

There are different backpacks for waist-high and chest packs. The waist-high type (or internal frame) has light frames that are close to your back. This is the best choice for heavy loads as it's equally distributed around your body.

Another advantage is that this type doesn't irritate your skin as chest backpacks do, but it takes some time to put on/off the backpack (can be problematic in fast pace activities). For more information check out our article about how to choose a proper backpack.

Chest pack - this type of pack may cause problems with shoulder and neck pain due to too much weight being concentrated in one place. In addition, they're not good for people who have problems with their shoulders, necks or hips - these must be fixed by a therapist before using a chest pack.

There are also backpacks that remain on your body even when taken off (like Camelbak packs/hydration packs ). This type is good for people who have problems with spine alignment as it doesn't put unnecessary strain on their backbones.

How to choose a good backpack?

If you want to pick a durable and comfortable backpack that will last for years, you must consider:

Right backpack type (waist or chest pack) - check out our article about this. Adjustable shoulder straps and hip belt. This is especially important if you use your backpack often - it has to be comfortable!

Make sure the weight doesn't exceed 15-20% of your total body weight. You can also invest in a special vest/waist pack with a frame that distributes the load evenly around your pelvis. Lighter color backpacks reflect sunlight better than darker ones, which absorb more heat and may cause overheating.

If you want to see some examples of good-quality backpacks, feel free to check our article with reviews! If suffer from lower back pain or another type of pain (e.g. neck, shoulders) caused by your backpack - check out our article about how to choose a proper backpack!

Pay attention to the material. It should be durable, breathable, and light. For more information check out our article about backpack materials.

Make sure you take care of your backpack as well as you can to make it last for years! It's also a good idea to ask for help from a therapist if have problems with spine or hips alignment. Read this guide on how to maintain backpacks properly!

And finally - pack smartly! The smartest way is to use a checklist for what stuff do you need in a certain place/time. This will prevent overloading and causing unnecessary stress on your back muscles. Another important thing is proper weight distribution - try not to put all weight at the bottom of the backpack, since most of the weight should be towards the shoulders. If not sure how much weight it should be, check out our article about backpack weight.

What is the difference between backpacks for kids and adults?

The main difference between backpacks for kids and adults is their size - obviously! Kids' backpacks are smaller. If you're an adult who's still using the same backpack as you did several years ago when you were a kid, that means it's time to update!

Your muscles have grown since then, so your pack should be too. Another important thing is the weight of the backpack - light loads are good for kids, while older people can experience pain with them because of bad posture. Make sure there are no bulky items in your child's backpack (e.g.. pillows, toys, etc).

Also, there are difficulties in choosing proper backpacks for children. For kids to wear the backpack properly and make its usage comfortable, the backpack itself must be comfortable. The shoulder straps MUST be adjustable (the adult ones are) both for height and width - children's shoulders grow fast!

Make sure that your child doesn't wear the backpack too tight - it should fit snuggly but still allow room for breathing. It can also help to treat back pain if you put a pillow/stuffed animal in the backpack to make it more comfortable.

If you have problems with spine health, check out our article about how to choose a proper backpack.

How can you test whether your kid wears the backpack in the right way?

Try to pull up the backpack straps - if you can grab them easily, it means they're too loose. If your child's shoulders are red because of backpack usage, that means he/she is wearing it in the wrong way.

Also, you can make an easy test with the wall in front of you - if your child can learn in full body length on the wall because of his/her backpack, that means it's too heavy (the best result is when he/she can touch the wall with forehead ONLY). If this doesn't help - read our article about how to choose a proper backpack for more information.

How can you fix the posture?

If you, your relatives or children wear a backpack or any other bag in the wrong way, there may be some problems with your spine, shoulders, or neck. To fix it, there are several exercises that can help:

First, try to push out your chest and pull up your shoulders back. Second, slightly tilt your head backward and lay the central part of your palm on your lower back - it will make your spine longer. You can also put both hands on each shoulder blade, pressing them down towards your hips. These three simple exercises will relax your body from backpack usage!

Also, you need to seat properly while wearing a backpack. Your hips should be higher than your knees, feet pressing the floor (you can try it with all shoes off to see what's the best). Hip bones shouldn't be pressed against a hard surface (like the edge of the table). If the backpack is too heavy for you - don't force yourself! Use luggage cart instead.

How much weight should be in the backpack?

Wearing the backpack properly is not only about the posture and two straps on the shoulders. You also have to choose the right backpack, so it's also lightweight. Try weighing all items you take with you when going out to buy a new pack - not many people actually do it, but it makes a big difference!

If there are bulky objects in your back, they can hurt your shoulders and lower back. Also, if the backpack is too heavy for you (most of the load should be on hips!) try choosing a lighter one or using a luggage cart instead.

For children's backpacks, the max weight of contents should be 10% of the child's body weight. If he/she weighs 50 lbs that means no more than 5 lbs should be in the bag.

Also keep that the width of straps fit snugly to the shoulder - if they slip off, the child can't properly distribute the weight of the backpack.

In most cases, you won't have to worry about good posture when wearing a backpack if everything is done properly. If there is a problem - it's better to solve it as soon as possible so there will be no more problems!

Don't wait until spine health gets worse or pain appears in the neck or back - these things usually take some time and then fixing them is harder. Use a luggage cart whenever possible, choose a lighter item for your backpack and adjust posture while wearing a pack - these simple tips will help you with future problems!

Final words

To sum up, wearing a backpack properly is not as difficult as it seems - you just have to remember about some simple things. If you follow these tips, the backpack will be something you can trust for your whole life! And don't forget that any problems should be solved as soon as possible to avoid future spine health issues!

It's also a good idea to look at choosing the right backpack and proper posture exercises. For even more great information, make sure you check out our site today and get all of your questions answered!