I just cleaned out my teen's backpack, or rather, what remained of his backpack because it looked like it had gone through a war zone. In some ways, it had. He'd lugged it on and off buses, through his large school, to friends' houses, etc. Like my purse or the car, it was an item he basically lived in throughout the 9 months of this past academic year. And even though it's only July, NOW is the time to start looking for a replacement, while the stores are full of them and choices are abundant. So what should one look for when buying a new backpack? Here are some guidelines and tips:
- If your kid will be using a locker during the upcoming year, try to get a handle on how big and wide the locker will be. When my son started middle school, the backpack that had wheels on it that I'd bought at Walmart was too big to fit into his locker. He was mortified on that first day when he had to ask a teacher to store the backpack under her desk for the day. Now we only buy backpacks without wheels because they'll compress into lockers easily and are usually lighter.
- Think about what the student will carry because this will effect how many compartments are needed. Will he/she be carrying a laptop, lunch box, etc.? How many binders are they likely to bring home? Backpacks with large, exterior pockets allow for easier access in crowded hallways and in the classroom. Multiple compartments also distribute the weight better.
- Choose a model made out of synthetic fabric which will last longer and be lighter than those made of leather. It should also have wide, padded, adjustable shoulder straps and a padded back.
- The choice of a backpack is a very individual decision. If at all possible, have the child try a few on. Again, they're going to be LIVING in their backpack during the year and need to be comfortable. Consider the wearer's height and weight; when filled a backpack should never weigh more than 15% of a child's weight. Also, models which are wider than your child's torso are not recommended. For safety reasons, they should rest against the curve of your child's back, but not be more than 4 inches above or below their waist. Thumb loops, a waist belt and sternum strap help prevent excessive shoulder pain. A backpack's shoulder-strap anchor points should rest 1 to 2 inches below the top of the shoulders.
- Check the quality of the models you're looking at. Sloppy stitching, loose threads, exposed fabric edges all indicate poor manufacturing. According to Consumer Reports, look for zippers that are protected by flaps because if they're not, water is likely to seep in. Double-headed zippers mean the zippers can be locked for security, which is especially important in the upper grades. Reflectors or reflective fabric add safety when the child is walking to/from school or the bus at dawn or dusk.
How cute is this!
Review with your child how to carry and pack their backpack:
- Pack light and don't bring home unnecessary items. Organize the pack so that all compartments are used and the weight is distributed as evenly as possible. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the backpack. Place bigger books at the back and smaller ones in the front to make the backpack feel lighter.
- Always use BOTH shoulder straps because slinging a pack over one shoulder strains muscles.
- Tighten shoulder straps to fit closely to the body.
Oh, and consider popping a few Ziploc bags in your kid's backpack. They're great for protecting electronics in case of oopsies involving forgetfully open zippers, the inevitable rips, etc.
Remember: a backpack is crucial to your child's comfort and organization the upcoming year. Shop now, while you have time the inventory is plentiful. September is right around the corner!
Sources used for this post included: http://www.wcch.org/sites/www_wcch_org/Uploads/files/Downloads/Backpack-Guide.pdf; http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2010/07/how-to-choose-a-backpack-for-back-to-school/index.htm; and http://www.wikihow.com/Choose-a-Backpack-for-School.
Thanks for reading!