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Shouldering the load

Choosing a backpack that doesn’t break your back

It’s back-to-school time, and where students go, so do backpacks. With the popularity of electronics, backpacks have been reconfigured, too. There are a range of options—from hiking and camping models to backpacks designed for students, or for adults to carry gear and lunches back and forth to work. Some models are made specifically for a woman’s frame.

In choosing an urban backpack for school or for work, start by considering who’ll be using it and what they’ll typically carry. While it might be tempting to buy a backpack that a child can grow into and carry for years, it’s important that a backpack fit the child well. The top should hit about 2 inches below the shoulder blades and the bottom should end at or slightly above the waist. For that reason, some experts recommend trying the backpack on for size before purchasing.

Look for comfort and function 

While most backpacks have the same basic features, the details can make a difference in usefulness and ease. Shoulder straps should be wide and well-padded. Some backpacks have padded waist or chest belts as well, to help distribute the weight evenly across the body. Leather backpacks tend to be heavier.

Consider whether you want a water-resistant material. For more protection from the elements, some models have rain flaps that cover the zippers. For students who’ll be heading to or from school in the dark, look for a backpack with a reflector stripe.

Take a peek inside. Some models are specifically designed for electronics, and offer padded compartments for laptops and tablets, but make sure they are the right size for your device.

For business travelers, some backpacks are TSA-friendly, with a separate laptop-only compartment that lies flat through the screening machine. Some models are even designed to charge electronic devices: the user charges up the backpack in advance, and then the backpack’s built-in battery charges the electronic device during the day.

While you’re poking around inside the pack, check out the configuration of compartments. Some offer dedicated spaces for keys, sunglasses, cellphones, headphones, and water bottles.

Don’t overload the backpack 

The U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that at least 14,000 children are treated each year for backpack-related injuries. The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends not carrying more than 10 percent of your body weight in a backpack. Place the heaviest items in the bag close to the shoulder straps, near the body.

While a rolling backpack is one way to avoid carrying a heavy load, be aware that some schools don’t permit them because they can pose a tripping hazard in crowded hallways and can be awkward to haul up and down stairs.


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