Backpacks are an everyday part of students’ lives. Every morning, many of us squeeze our heavy laptops, books and notes into our bags and walk off to class with weighed down shoulders. We compare how heavy they are and laugh, as it often feels like we’re carrying around a small child, but this doesn’t make heavy backpacks a good thing.
As I lugged my backpack across campus a few weeks ago, I remembered having a Backpack Awareness Day at my elementary school, where our teachers weighed our backpacks and talked to us about how to avoid straining our backs and shoulders. Even in elementary school, a lot of our backpacks were an “unhealthy weight” or not being worn properly. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, a healthy backpack weight would be 10% of your body weight. So, for example, if you weigh 100 pounds, your backpack can only weigh 10 pounds–not an easy feat for a busy college student. Thinking about this, I became curious how much my backpack and other college students’ backpacks weighed.
Throughout the past few weeks, I had students around campus weigh their backpacks. The weight ranged anywhere from 9.5 pounds to 32.6 pounds, with an average of 17 pounds. Most students indicated that their backpacks were lighter or typical weight, meaning the average backpack weight would probably be higher during “heavy weeks,” such as midterms or finals. While some of these students may have been within the healthy backpack weight range, most still found the numbers on the scale to be quite unexpected.
“I was actually surprised. I was expecting it to weigh somewhere in the 20s,” said Chris Reedy, a sophomore from Sterling Heights, Mich. “In the future, I think it will be a factor to cause shoulder and back pain, but I don’t have much pain right now.”
Reedy’s backpack weight came in on the higher end at 32.6 pounds. As a biology and mathematics double major with a minor in chemistry and a pre-veterinary concentration, his backpack is constantly full of heavy textbooks, lab and class notebooks, and a laptop. Although he reported his backpack was his typical weight, he also said that it often seemed even heavier around exams. Although his backpack’s weight may have been on the high part of the scale, I have watched many students walk in and out of the Science Center or other buildings on campus with bags looking just as heavy.
Stuffed backpacks are a common occurrence on this campus. Wendi Wang, a sophomore and bio-chem major with a pre-medicine concentration from Midland, Mich., has so much stuff to carry for classes that she carries a heavy sorority bag full of notes on top of a backpack filled to the brim.
It isn’t just science majors with a heavy backpacks, La Porte, Ind., first-year Adrianna LeDonne created her own major to combine music and business. Despite the absence of science textbooks or lab notes her backpack still weighs in at 22 pounds, which she considered to be its typical weight.
If your backpack isn’t causing you pain consider yourself one of the lucky ones. A Boston University study indicated that 85% of students reported discomfort or pain caused by their backpacks. . If you’re experiencing pain, the Center for Young Women’s Health recommends using both of your backpack’s — preferably padded — straps. Having straps that cut into your arms can cut off blood flow and lead to a pinched nerve. Adjusting the straps so that the bottom of your backpack rests against your lower back is the best way to carry your bag. The final tips are to carry the least amount possible, but when necessary, carry the heaviest and flat objects closest to your back.
By remaining conscious of the weight and strain we are putting on our shoulders, we are more likely to be smarter about our backpacks. Picking only the items we’ll need for our classes that day or switching out books when possible is highly advised. Over break or throughout the month of April (National Backpack Safety Month), weigh your own backpack to see if yours is a healthy weight.
Photo by Katie Boni