Check out our video below for details and then read afterward for the summary and the reasoning behind our recommendations. The main takeaway is that matching your child’s backpack weight to their actual strength is the best method!
Proper Backpack Fit
- Top of backpack at top of shoulder blades
- Bottom of backpack rests in the middle of the pelvis (hips)
- Straps fit snuggly around shoulders
- Utilize your chest or waist straps if you have them
Proper Backpack Weight
Start at 10% of your child’s bodyweight and see if they pass these 2 tests. If they pass easily, they can tolerate more weight if needed. If they don’t pass, do less weight until they can pass the tests with moderate effort.
- Overhead Press the Backpack 10x
- Grabbing the straps, lift the backpack from the floor to overhead, return to the floor and repeat.
- This should look mild to moderately challenging standing straight up and down not leaning back a lot
- Lunge while Wearing the Backpack 5x each leg
- Should be able to tap the knee down and stand back up with mild to moderate challenge
These tests also make great exercises to improve your child’s strength whether they add more backpack weight or not!
Other Methods to Improve Strength
- Make sure strive to have your kids be active for 60 minutes per day with moderate to vigorous activity as recommended by the World Health Organization
- Go on family walks and hikes with your child wearing their backpack at the weight that is appropriate for them. You can make it functional and pack food/water/clothes that you would typically need for a hike
- Stay active with exercise and fun games! Check out our 15 Minute Kid and Family Workouts, Parent Park Workouts, and Exercise Video Library for inspiration!
Signs your Child’s Backpack is Too Heavy
- They can’t pass the 2 tests above
- They complain of neck, back, or shoulder pain or numbness and tingling in their shoulders or arms while wearing the backpack
What to do if your Child’s Backpack is Too Heavy
- Decrease the weight of the backpack to a weight of which they can pass the 2 tests above AND don’t complain of any symptoms
- Don’t just chalk it up to the backpack being too heavy, encourage your child to increase their strength to be able to tolerate a heavier backpack! Check out the “Other Methods to Improve Strength” above in addition to having them work on the overhead presses and lunges with their backpack!
It is important that we don’t overload our child’s backpack, but we don’t have to settle for the arbitrary 10% of bodyweight number. We can utilize our 2 tests above to learn if 10% is too much or if they would be fine with a little more weight. Regardless, it would be beneficial for our kids to strengthen with their backpacks and otherwise work on being active and getting stronger! The majority of children these days are not getting enough activity, specifically, challenging strengthening activity, so what a great opportunity to be working on it!
Learn lots, have fun, and keep getting stronger!
Dr. Dane Happeny, PT, DPT, OCS, CF-L1
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist
CrossFit Level 1 Trainer