Backpacks Are Too Heavy! Here’s How to Lighten the Load

Chances are you’ve heard that your kids’ backpacks are too heavy, but have you ever wondered just how heavy they should be?  Researchers in the UK at the Liverpool John Moores University finally figured out exactly how much all backpacks should weigh, including rolling bags. Read on to learn more about this latest study and find out what kind of damage a too-heavy back can cause. Plus, perhaps most important of all, we’ll look at ways to lighten the load!

Backpacks are Too Heavy

Just how heavy is too heavy for backpacks?

Before we get into the dangers of a too-heavy backpack and tips to lighten their load, we have to figure out exactly how heavy is too heavy, right?

The answer depends entirely on the type of backpack they’re using. For kids who actually carry bags on their backs, both the UK study and the American Chiropractic Association recommend keeping it below 10% of your child’s body weight. So, for a 50 lb kindergartner, that would be about 5 lbs, whereas a 120 lb high school student could get away with about 12 lbs.

On the other hand, if your child is using a rolling backpack, they can handle double that to about 20% of their body weight. Up until the UK study, most researchers looked at maximum weight for actual backpacks, so it’s very surprising to learn that even rolling backpacks have a maximum weight recommendation.

If you’re wondering why rolling backpacks have a weight limit, you’re not the only one. I was surprised by this news. Since you’re not carrying it on your back, what difference does a little extra weight make? Turns out, there is such a thing as too heavy, even when the majority of the load is on wheels.

Scientists observed kids using rolling backpacks and found that too heavy a load could cause strain on the trunk and hips. Think about how you feel when you lug a heavy suitcase behind you. Even though the wheels do most of the work, you’re still twisting around a bit to reach the handle and pull on it. While a quick run through an airport isn’t likely to cause lifelong damage, lugging a too-heavy load every single day for 12 years (13 if you count kindergarten) is bound to take a toll.

How Heavy Are Textbooks?

While 12-24 pounds for a high school student sounds reasonable enough, consider that the average textbook weighs between 2.5-5 lbs. If your child takes 6 classes a day and gets homework in every class, the books alone would come in at between 15-30 lbs, and that doesn’t even factor in all of the other random stuff our kids carry with them every day. For younger kids, just bringing home one textbook is enough to push the weight over the tipping point and cause problems.

Studies show kids' backpacks are too heavy! How much should they weigh & how can we lighten their load? Read on to find out!

What can go wrong when backpacks are too heavy?

Problems caused by overweight backpacks (especially when worn improperly) can last a lifetime, and some effects don’t even show up until years later. In fact, your backaches today just might be a result of bad backpack habits during your school years.

While potential dangers depend on the type of bag and how your kids carry it, some of the most common negative effects include:

  • Poor posture from sloughing under the weight
  • Muscle weakness & pain
  • Long-term back pain from the constant strain and spinal compression
  • Pain on one side of the body, including in the back, shoulders & neck (from slinging a bag over just one shoulder)
  • Nerve damage from the straps digging into their shoulders & neck
  • Weakness, numbness & tingling throughout the body due to compressed nerves in the vertebrae

As Kids Health from Nemours explains, damage to your child’s back isn’t the only potential negative effect when backpacks are too heavy. Since kids don’t realize just how big their packs really are, they’re prone to accidentally hitting other kids with them, tripping over them on the bus, and more. Heavy bags can also throw off your child’s center of gravity and puts them at risk of falling down the stairs.

The things that can go wrong when backpacks are too heavy are definitely no laughing matter, so we definitely need to find creative ways to lighten that load. With that in mind, let’s check out some ideas and products that can help.

Buy a padded backpack that evenly distributes weight

FYI, the next section includes affiliate links. If you decide to buy anything through them, I’ll earn a small fee at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

How to Lighten Your Child’s Backpack Load

I’ve been thinking about this problem for a long time for my son who is in elementary school and since he started kindergarten, I noticed the heavy-weight backpack issue. Last year I bought a rolling backpack for him because I constantly worried about his back and future backpack problems. My school district does not “love” rolling backpacks, but they are not prohibited either. I know some schools don’t allow them and I’ve heard stories of moms getting notes from their child’s doctor saying the child cannot carry the weight and get away with buying the rolling. This brings us to the first tip…

1. Use a rolling backpack when possible

rolling backpack

Since the maximum weight allowance for rolling bags is a lot higher than actual backpacks, they sound like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, many schools won’t allow them because they add clutter to already-packed halls and may trip other students.

Still, if possible, this is your best option. Just remember that there is such a thing as too heavy for rolling backpacks.

The most popular rolling backpacks for kids are Rockland (the most affordable) J World New York Kids (for a more sturdy, water-resistant bag), J World New York Sunrise, and JanSport Driver 8 Core Wheeled Backpacks (larger size, more expensive, good option for bigger kids).

2. Buy the right backpack when a rolling pack isn’t possible

light backpack

If your school doesn’t allow rolling backpacks, you’ll want to pay close attention to this tip. The right backpack is one that is light on its own, has multiple compartments to evenly distribute weight, and comes with padding on both the straps and the back.

Ideally, it also comes with a waist belt. Just keep in mind that most high school kids won’t use the belt because it’s not “cool.” Still, it’s a good option for those who actually will wear it.

For preschoolers, I love the Skip Hop Toddler Backpack because it is super light, and the perfect size for a small child. They also come in super fun designs, my daughter’s favorite is the Unicorn. Great options for bigger kids are the Macbag School Backpack, the High Sierra Curve Lightweight and Compact Student Backpack, and the JanSport Agave which is a large backpack with a waist strap.

3. Ask for the online version of textbooks

Now that you have the best possible backpack, it’s time to figure out what we can leave out of it to lighten the load. The first thing that needs to go: textbooks! Some schools are already using the online version. For those that aren’t, ask your child’s teachers about access codes so you can at least use them at home. Just following this tip alone can slash your child’s backpack weight down to virtually nothing.

If your kids have lockers, encourage them to actually use them. I mention this because my friend’s son is going to be a high school senior this year and he’s NEVER once opened his locker.  He told her that they don’t have enough time to get from class to class, so no one uses lockers. If your teen takes just 5 classes with textbooks weighing an average of 6 lbs, that’s 30lbs that they’re carrying around on their backs each day in books alone.

4. Clean out your child’s backpack every week.

It may not seem like it, but all that crumpled paper, those broken pencils, old tests, and crushed bags of pretzels really add up over time and can add a lot more extra weight than you’d expect. Make a habit of going through and cleaning it out at least once a week.

5. Use lighter lunchboxes & bags


When possible, opt for a lightweight bag versus a box. Check out some of my favorite green lunchbox gear for ideas. Some meals need to go in a thermos or heavier box, and that’s fine. Just compensate for the added weight by cutting back on extras. You can also lighten the lunch load by making “lighter” meals (lighter in weight, not calories). Many of these easy & healthy lunchbox recipes are fairly lightweight!

You can also use lunch bags with carrying straps or handles. That way your kids can carry them instead of shoving more weight into their backpacks. I shared some of my favorites below.

6. Swap out those bulkly plastic pencil cases for zippered pouches instead

pencil pouch

Yeah, I know, plastic pencil cases are cute and do a better job of keeping crayons & pencils from snapping. But plastic is SO bad for the planet, for one thing. Plus, those cases weigh a tad bit more than a zippered pouch. Not enough to make a major difference, granted, but every ounce counts. Besides, if you have a larger plastic case, your kids are more likely to want to fill it up.   Now that definitely adds weight.

There are tons of zippered pouches on Amazon. I kind of like these plain ones, though, because your kids can decorate them. It makes a fun back-to-school activity to get them more excited about the upcoming year! Here are a few other lightweight options:

7. Buy two sets of everything and keep one at home

If you can swing it moneywise, buy doubles of everything on their supply list. That way they can keep one set at school in their desk, cubby, or locker and the other set at home. While pencils, crayons, markers, and even glue sticks may not weigh much on their own, those ounces add up fast. Remember, a 50-lb child should only carry no more than 5 lbs on their back. So even if those supplies only add up to half a pound, you’ve used up 10% of their weight allowance.

8. Ditch the heavy binders

folders for kids

Aside from textbooks, binders are pretty much the heaviest thing that you’ll find on your child’s back-to-school supply list. Today’s binders are roughly twice the weight of the Trapper Keepers that we carried back in our school days, and that’s BEFORE adding folders, papers, etc.

Honestly, kids don’t NEED binders. I mean, their entire purpose is to hold folders, and the entire purpose of folders is to hold papers. So they’re basically holder holders!  Skip the extra weight and cost. Just invest in some extra folders when they’re on sale and swap them out as they fall apart (which they inevitably will even if you do keep them in a binder).  Here are a few cute options:

Depending on your child’s age and weight, getting that backpack down to the recommended maximum allowance is tricky but it’s totally doable if you get creative. Your kids will definitely thank you later when they’re not suffering from back problems by the time they graduate!

Backpacks are too Heavy Video

Last update on 2022-11-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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