Backpacks are an essential back-to-school need for students: Not only can they keep supplies like textbooks, folders and stationary in one place, but they can also show off some of your kid’s personal style. But with various classes and extracurriculars throughout the day comes an increasing number of textbooks and supplies — and the weight of these items can sometimes be overbearing for students.
SKIP AHEAD Health effects of a heavy backpack | How to avoid back pain | Are rolling backpacks a good alternative?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the weight of a student’s backpack should not exceed 10% to 15% of their body weight due to concerns of discomfort and risk of injury to muscles and joints. The American Chiropractic Association similarly advises that children carry no more than 10% of their body weight.
“Our backs house some of the strongest muscles in our body — but add food, schoolbooks, electronics and an assortment of other items, and the weight can add up quickly,” said Shai Karpf, DC, the owner and directing physician at North Broward Chiropractic & Wellness.
If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional backpacks with shoulder straps, rolling backpacks can quite literally take the weight off of your child’s back. But are there long-term effects if your child continues to use a too-heavy backpack? We consulted experts on how heavy backpacks can impact children and whether rolling backpacks can be a safer option.
Best rolling backpacks for students
We rounded up some highly rated rolling backpacks, all of which offer a main compartment and multiple pockets to help kids store their school supplies, a durable bottom to prevent damage from the floor and padded shoulder straps to use it as a traditional backpack when needed.
Top-rated rolling backpack overall: L.L.Bean
L.L.Bean Rolling Deluxe Book Pack
Designed for kids ages 13 and up, the L.L.Bean Rolling Deluxe backpack is our overall pick thanks to its large 35-liter capacity, durable ripstop nylon fabric and internal divider to help keep items organized. This rolling backpack contains a dual main compartment with an organizer and laptop sleeve, as well as a fleece-lined interior tech pocket with a built-in cord port so you can charge devices on the go. Its ergonomic handle is retractable, so you can use it either as a rolling backpack or a traditional backpack with padded, tuck-away straps, according to the brand.
Top-rated affordable rolling backpack: Rockland
Rockland Double Handle Rolling Backpack
If you’re looking for a good-quality rolling backpack on a budget, this Rockland option is made from durable polyester and equips a heavy-duty plastic stand on the bottom to keep it upright. You can choose from several patterns and designs, including polka dots, pink chevron, multi-colored hearts and leopard.
Top-rated rolling backpack with laptop compartment: High Sierra
High Sierra Freewheel Pro Wheeled Backpack
For students who carry tech like laptops and tablets, this option from High Sierra comes with a padded laptop sleeve that can accommodate a 15-inch laptop, according to the brand. Kids can store supplies in the backpack’s organizer compartment that comes with multiple pockets, including a zippered mesh pocket, pen pockets, a media pocket with a USB port and a key fob hook. The padded shoulder straps can be tucked inside a dedicated back compartment — when they are in use, the handle can be fully zipped away and out of sight, High Sierra says.
Top-rated durable rolling backpack: J World
J World New York Sunrise Rolling Backpack
This rolling backpack from J World is made from durable ripstop polyester fabric and has a rubber bottom that can withstand being dragged on hard floors and pavement, according to the brand. It also includes two mesh side pockets for water bottles and its front pocket organizer contains a key clip, pen holders, card slots and an internal zip pocket to keep small items safe and organized, J World says. The backpack is available in 40 kid-friendly designs and patterns, including Safari, Garden Purple and Color Dots.
Top-rated rolling backpack for elementary school: Twise
Twise Side-Kick Rolling Backpack
The Twise Side-Kick is designed for young children between the ages 3 and 9 and comes in several animal-inspired designs, including Dino, Penguin and Unicorn. It has a padded grip handle, two side pockets for water bottles and a front pocket organizer with a pencil holder, key fob and zipper pocket. The backpack, which is made from water-resistant polyester, also equips a cushioned back for comfort when it’s being used as a traditional backpack, Twise says.
Top-rated rolling backpack for middle and high school: JanSport
JanSport Driver 8 Backpack
The JanSport Driver 8 features the brand’s classic backpack silhouette on wheels to help relieve some of the weight from your kid’s back. The rolling backpack comes in several colors and patterns and features a padded grab handle, a padded back panel and shoulder straps that can be tucked away when they’re not in use. It also has multiple compartments, including two main ones to store larger supplies, a front utility pocket with an organizer for pens and pencils, a front stash pocket for smaller items and a side water bottle pocket.
Top-rated personalized rolling backpack: Pottery Barn Kids
Mackenzie Navy Solar System Glow-in-the-Dark Backpack
This rolling back can be personalized to display your child’s name, which can help teachers, school staff and other students identify them during the first few days of school and return their backpack to them if it gets lost. It’s made from a durable and water-resistant polyester material, which is designed to softly glow in the dark to match its solar system pattern, according to the brand. The Mackenzie collection features a variety of additional patterns like unicorns, dinosaurs and multi-colored hearts, and you can purchase matching items separately, including a lunch box and water bottle.
Top-rated rolling backpack with lunchbox: Tilami
Tilami Rolling Backpack 19 inch with Lunch Bag
This matching rolling backpack and lunch box set comes in 16 fun designs for kids — including Mermaid, Galaxy and Camouflage — and the lunch box features a handy strap by which it can attach to the backpack’s handle, the brand says. The backpack has multiple compartments, including a main pocket, a middle pocket, a front pocket to store stationary and a small top-front pocket for smaller items like glasses and headphones.
Top-rated eco-friendly rolling backpack: Pottery Barn Teen
Pottery Barn Teen Gear-Up Quarry Recycled Backpack
Like the Pottery Barn Kids rolling backpack, the Pottery Barn Teen Gear-Up Quarry Recycled Backpack can be personalized with your kid’s name or initials, and it’s made from water-resistant 100% recycled polyester for a more eco-friendly option, according to the brand. The rolling backpack has four exterior pockets, a laptop compartment, a cinch mesh pocket on the side to hold a water bottle and a durable plastic base to keep it from getting scratched and damaged, PB Teen says. It comes in multiple designs and patterns, including Interstellar, Tie-Dye and Ombre.
What are the potential health effects of carrying around a heavy backpack?
Heavy backpacks are all too common, and they can take a toll when students carry them around for eight or more hours at school. Carrying a heavy backpack can put a strain on the spine and shoulders, potentially causing short-term effects like soreness and fatigue and long-term bad habits like slouching and poor posture.
According to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, other effects can include lower and upper back pain as a result of wearing the backpack on one shoulder and thus trying to offset the weight by leaning to one side, as well as bad posture, especially in girls and younger children who may be carrying heavier backpacks that aren’t proportional to their body weight.
However, the experts we spoke to told us there’s limited evidence that suggests carrying a heavy backpack can cause significant back pain or have major long-term effects on children. In a joint email response, Dr. Jill Noble, the interim division director of general pediatrics at Michigan Medicine, and Dr. Ingrid Ichesco, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Michigan Medicine, noted that in a systematic review of five prospective studies, “backpack characteristics [like] weight and method of carrying were not associated with increased risk of back pain in children and adolescents.”
“The back will compensate for any load applied to it for an extended period of time,” they said, noting that “there is no evidence that structural spinal deformity can result from backpack use." According to the doctors, “there is little chance a child or teen will be permanently injured by carrying a heavy backpack.”
The experts we spoke to noted that a variety of factors can contribute to back pain that aren’t necessarily related to a heavy backpack. According to Noble and Ichesco, these include “sports participation, soft bedding, back flexibility and psychosocial distress [like] depression and anxiety.” Always check with a physician to assess the nature of the pain.
How to wear a backpack to avoid back pain
Dr. Richard Lichenstein, director of pediatric emergency research at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said that back pain can be avoided if a backpack is used properly: It should be appropriately sized, feature multiple compartments to evenly distribute the weight and have a padded back and padded straps that are tightened so the bag sits two inches above the waist. To spread out the weight in the backpack, he also suggested placing heavier items at the bottom of the bag right in the center and advised using a harness whenever possible.
“Books should be only transported when needed and stored in lockers when possible,” Lichenstein added, noting that “digitized content [and] a light laptop are excellent alternatives for a student lugging a backpack.”
Are rolling backpacks a good alternative to regular backpacks?
According to Karpf, rolling backpacks can be a great alternative to traditional backpacks since they “put the weight on the wheels instead of on your musculoskeletal system.” This can be helpful for children experiencing discomfort from lugging their backpack at school every day. It can also be a good option for those who do extracurricular activities or walk home from school, which results in additional time carrying around extra weight.
However, there are some drawbacks to rolling backpacks that parents and students should consider. Not only are these backpacks difficult to carry up a flight of stairs, but some school policies also don’t permit them since they “may clutter hallways and be a tripping hazard to other students,” said Lichenstein. These backpacks can also twist, “causing wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries,” added Noble and Ichesco.
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