Research: Guidelines for Amount of Weight Children Can Carry

“A backpack loaded with a day’s worth of books and gear can be a heavy burden for your child. Before you start packing, experts recommend a simple set of guidelines to follow that will help you measure the weight of your kid’s backpack against his or her body weight.

‘The AAOS recommends that a child shouldn’t carry a backpack that exceeds 15%-20% of their body weight,’ says Karol.

An easy way to test how much your kid’s backpack actually weighs is to place it on your bathroom scale. While it might not be exact, it’ll tell you if you’re creeping into the red zone and putting your child at risk of developing back pain. But err on the side of caution, explains Hennrikus.

‘A reasonable recommendation is a 10% cutoff weight for bodyweight,’ he says. ‘This will help reduce the risk of injury related to falls and relieve pain that comes from wearing giant backpacks loaded with school supplies.’

With 10% as the more conservative target, here’s a breakdown by body weight for measuring how much your child should be lugging around in his backpack:

Child’s Weight Backpack Weight
50 pounds 5 pounds
75 pounds 7.5 pounds
100 pounds 10 pounds
125 pounds 12.5 pounds
150 pounds 15 pounds”


child carrying water

We know that the weight of water is: 1 Gallon = 8.345lb. Therefore, if we designed as a backpack, a 1-1.5 gallon capacity would be prudent, although this may not be sufficient for a family’s water needs.

“Backpacks are designed to distribute the weight of load among some of the body’s strongest muscles,” said orthopaedic surgeon and AAOS spokesman Michael Wade Shrader, MD. “But, when worn incorrectly, injuries such as strains, sprains and posture problems can occur. While some of these injuries can be minor, others can have a lasting effect on kids, and follow them into adulthood.”


  • Kids should carry no more than 15-20 percent of their body weight. (For a kid who weights 80 pounds, that’s no more than 12 to 16 pounds in his or her backpack.)
  • Use both shoulder straps to keep the weight of the backpack better distributed and adjust the shoulder straps to keep the load close to the back.
  • Remove or organize items if too heavy and pack the heavier things low and towards the center.
  • When lifting backpacks, bend at the knees.


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