Heavy Backpacks

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0913>Heavy books at BHS

Sept 2013

My son has started as a Freshman at BHS and I am a bit worried about the incredibly heavy books he has to carry around. He takes the bus to school, so there is a lot of walking and standing involved. I was wondering if it is possible to get the electronic versions of these books so that he does not have to carry all that weight. Has any family done that? Thanks! Worried mom

My daughter has bought a second book to have at home for biology and math and other courses over the years. She found them on line and while I don't remember how much they were, the cost was modest and well worth it. Saved her back. Then she donated the book to school at the end of the year. mom

I told my daughters doctor that the heavy books were hurting her back and she wrote a note requesting that my daughter be allowed to have a set of books at home and a set of books at school.She did not go to Berkeley High,but her school went along with it. Ellen

I feel your pain. Because my daughter has some learning issues, I decided to go online and purchase used copies of the big textbooks she used. It was a very modest expenditure and she could then highlight or use post-its and the books we bought stayed at home. She left the school copies in her locker and took them to class one at a time. At the end of the year I donated the purchsed copies to BHS and they appreciated it. Use the ISBN number to order and you will get the right edition. It was a good idea all around. former BHS mom

Hi there, I agree that the books are heavy! For about a week our son didn't have a locker and he was lugging his books around with him. We bought our son used copies of his books from Amazon. He keeps his school books at school in his locker, and his copies at home. After the school year is over we plan to donate the extras to the school. We got the tip from his BHS tour guide. Hope that helps! laurel

Backpack and back pain (BHS)

Dec 2012

My son is a freshman at Berkeley High. His back pack weighs 20 lbs., which is 20% of his body weight. He has developed a back problem and I am concerned.

The heavy weight is partly due to the fact that he doesn't have time to go to his locker to put things away so that he can have only the morning books or only the afternoon boks. He also has organizational challenges, which makes it hard to sort these. Plus, he has to carry all the books to and from home every day (to/from bus/car).

I have suggested he get a suitcase with wheels, but he insists that this would not work due to the crowded hallways and stairs.

I am wondering if others have struggled with this issue and if you have found any solutions? Thanks

I feel your ''pain''. My skinny BHS softmore daughter has a backpack I can hardly lift. She hoped to get to her locker at noon as a freshman, but lunch and participating in clubs make that unrealistic. Some teachers do not seem very understanding about not having your book every day if for some reason you don't make it and she didn't want to stress on that every day.

If you have been at the school for Open House and tried to run between their classes, you will agree the hallways are jampacked, stairs are a given and even running across campus requires lots of stairs and uneven surfaces, so wheels are not realistic. Wrenching your back lifting it over obstructions and keeping it from tilting sideways on the curves is not ergonomic. Its like a Japanese subway in there- the kids are literally touching shoulders and turning sideways to pass one another, with only 6 minutes to get it all done.

Our partial solutions:

#1. Searched a long time for a supportive large backpack that sits contoured to the body- we ended up with one designed for laptops. The more the material itself holds things up (the stiffness and padding for the laptop protection provides structure), the less your back has to make contortions as the load shifts etc. Hers also has a support strap between the straps in the front. She doesn't like to clip it during school but a guy might not care, and its great for walking or taking bus after. It's sad she's outfitted to carry a bigger load than a weekend camping trip but she hasn't complained with the new backpack (which she was inclined to reject based on its businesslike appearance until she tried it one day and never went back)

#2. We bought a used Algebra text, same title and edition, on Amazon for about $10, so she is not dragging it back and forth. We got this idea from someone who applied to have duplicates from the school system due to a disability. The $10 is a lot less hassle than the paperwork, etc. required, but the option is open to you. Some teachers also allow kids to share a few spare texts in the classroom or allow one kid in a working group to bring it, but we have not found trading off with seat partners to be reliable either.

#3. Made her conscious of her posture- she was looking hunched even without the backpack. If she's hunching she knows she needs to adjust the pack, not her shoulders. BHS parent

We are having the same heavy backpack issue at our middle school. I feel awful when I see the kids so hunched over. I agree the wheelies are the best option (I use one myself), but I understand it's harder when it's crowded and there are stairs (and maybe the need to not stand out.) One mom recommended using the hikers'-type backpack that provides the extra strap to go around the hips. Then some of the weight can be re-distributed. She said that there are particular backpacks recommended by chiropractors. (Maybe check the internet for chiropractors assn?) The other thing I would recommend is just continually encouraging your child to be aware of back health and ergonomic health as injuries and extended computer use may only increase as they get older. I nag my daughter on this, but she'll realize things like not to stuff her jacket in her backpack because, despite how light it is when carried alone, it makes her backpack feel much heavier. So, she'll tie it around her waist instead. k12mcc

We solved the back pain problem by getting my son an Ivar backpack. They are ergonomically designed and also good for organization. He is using his second one in college now and didn't consider anything else when he needed a replacement. We got his second one at a luggage store in San Rafael (good selection and very helpful) but I recently saw one in the display window at Rockridge Luggage. Anon

As a freshman at berkeley high, your son should be able to get to school a little early and drop off afternoon books. Then at lunch time he should have enough time to switch, unless he is going off campus to try to find lunch with all the other students. Why dont you have him bring a lunch instead. Work on something that the two of you can agree on. Other potential issues may be that he wants to go to lunch with friends off campus and that is understandable. Another potential issue is that he does not feel comfortable going to his locker for some reason, and if that is the case then it is truly not a matter of not enough time. Solutions are out there. Another BUSD parent

Some of the text books are actually available on line. The teachers can give you the sites and passwords. For the books not available on line, we bought a second set of used text books from Amazon. We will donate them to the school when finished. That provides some relief. Is it possible that he doesn't need every book every day? A query to the teachers might prove useful. Claudia

I wanted to second the idea of getting a second set of books for home to limit the heavy backpack. We have bought used textbooks over the years through amazon (Calculus this year was 41cents! plus 3.99 for shipping. We'll pass it on to a friend next year... Look in your child's book and enter the isbn number on amazon's site and many used ones will pop up. We've done this for the major books going back and forth (math, science). Good luck bhs mom

Backpack/Wheeler bag recommendations?

Aug 2009

Our teenage daughter just started ''Middle College'' High School. She has TONS of heavy books. Does anyone have a recommendation for a sturdy backpack that also has wheels for rolling? I've looked online, and it seems like we'll have to spend close to $100 -- which is OK, but if I'm going to spend that much, I hope I can get something of good quality. Any suggestions? Thanks, Marilyn

Try the L.L.Bean website to order a rolling backpack--many color choices. About $80. Their wheels and zippers seem sturdier than store-bought brands and if anything tears or breaks, they advertise free replacement. If you don't like it, call because they pay for return shipping. They have an outlet store in New Hampshire if you're not particular about color--usually half the price. Sam

An alternative to the wheeled backpack is to get the ISBN numbers off of your student's books and do a search for used copies. Using the ISBN number ensures that you find the correct edition. We found many bargains where the text was just a few dollars, sometimes less than the shipping costs. We went this route for two reasons: first, so our daughter wouldn't have to lug the textbooks back and forth to school, and second, to ensure that the textbooks would always be available when needed and not forgotten in the school locker over the weekend. It really worked well for us. anon

Heavy Backpack in Middle School

Nov 2005

I know just about every high schooler has a heavy backpack, but my daughter is in MIDDLE SCHOOL and her backpack weighs more than 15% of her body weight. (She weighs about 90 pounds, backpack is maybe twenty on heavier days). It seems a lot of kids have this issue, even in sixth and seventh grade. I am worried, a twelve- year-old is NOT supposed to have this much. It really isn't an option to just buy her home parts of her textbooks, for one, because she goes places and has to do homework in other places besides the home, and two, those textbooks are about seventy or eight dollars, and she's got probably five, so that's four hundred dollars, which I'm not willing to spend, nor should I have to. Any reccomendations about what we can do? It's just really bugging me, and I don't want her to have a back brace by the time she is fourteen! Molly

I agree that this is problematic. I would recommend a heavy backpack with wheels, and a handle they can pull around. I've seen many middle-schoolers with these. Susan

My son is in 6th grade and only weighs 70 lbs. I also couldn't believe how heavy his backpack is. We got him and his friend a backpack with wheels. THe first one was cheaply made and didn't last very long, but then I replaced it with one clearly more durable and it works fine. They are both grateful. It only cost $20. max

How about a roller backpack? Let the wheels do the work, at least most of the time. sarah

Heavy backpacks are an ongoing problem these days. The books are so heavy, and there are so many ofthem (in addition to binders, folders, and all the after-school stuff the kids haul around). Most experts suggest that 15% of body weight is a reasonable limit for middle-school age (10% for younger children). So if your daughter is carrying about 15% and not complaining of any discomfort, it's probably o.k. But if it's often heavier, and/or she says it feels very heavy or painful to carry, it's worth making some changes. Despite the expense, you might consider buying one or two books to have at home (you can often gind used copies on line). She can do the other homework at her after-school places, and the rest later. If she is going to be with other classmates after school, doing homework together, maybe they could agree to each bring part of the book-load. ANd if your daughter has ongoing discomfort, be sure to make her principal and teachers aware of it. At my child's middle school, we organized a Backpack Awareness Day to help educate both kids and staff about this issue (with varyng results). I have several resources from that event that I'd be happy to share with anyone.

Get a rolling back pack. Many kids have them. Do the kids have lockers? What about a study hall? Time management and organizational skills are also helpful at this age. Talk to the principal too and or teachers about your concerns. There should be designated test days for each subject and homework can sometimes be completed at school to reduce having to bring home another book. Ask the teachers to consider alteratives to having to require homework out of the book each day. (former middle school counselor) Michelle

Get a rolling backpack. Land's End has ones with cool colors and designs. No one should haul that much weight on their backs, especially not growing kids. Donna

Daughter carrying heavy backpack

March 2005

Our teen's school backpack must weigh at least 30 pounds (a big binder and text book for each class). This hasn't been a huge issue since we currently have a carpool in place. Next year she'll be going to school via public transportation. This will involve walking 10-15 minutes to and from the bus stop. She refuses to consider a backpack on wheels...too cool for that. The only thing I can think of is getting lighter weight binders. Other suggestions? Thanks so much.

Go to REI, and ask for a backpack with a belt around the waist. It doesn't have to be a fancy and expensive backpacking backpack. The weight of the backpack will rest on the hips instead of the shoulders. For more weight on the hip, relax the shoulder straps and let the backpack hang loose on the hips. My son has long walks for his commute and credits t=his backpack for saving his back.


Carrying way too much weight is definitely an on-going problem for students these days. Most experts agree that most high school kids should not regularly carry a load greater than 15 percent of their body weight (does your daughter weigh 200 pounds?). There are two issues to address - 1. keeping the weight down and 2. minimizing the effect by selecting a well-fitting pack, and packing it right.

A few ideas for the first issue: if possible, buy a separate copy of the heaviest textbooks to keep at home (assuming there is a locker or other place to keep the other books at school); encourage her to carry only what she really needs each day (leave the magazines and multiple CD's at home) - this may involve having her actually talk to teachers about this; have her use her locker as much as possible, so she only carries around a few classes worth of stuff at a time; encourage frequent binder purges - again, she'll have to ASK what school papers she needs to keep and have available at school, what she needs to keep for studying, but can keep at home, and what she really doesn't need any more (and tear out finished pages from planners and spiral notebooks); assuming she has a locker at school - keep a separate stash of supplies such as pencils, highliters, binder paper, etc. at school rather than lugging everything back and forth (every ounce can help!); have her carry her lunch, sports gear, etc. in a separate bag, carried in her arms, so not all of the weight is in one place; try to discuss the issue with teachers and administrators to see if they can cut down on the number of heavy books that need to be in class each day, remind kids to clear out old papers, and try to give kids enough time to use lockers between periods.

As for the second issue, wheeled backpacks - even if she was willing to use them - do not solve everything. Select a strong backpack, ideally with ''snugger'' straps, so the load will be compact. It should have well padded shoulder straps (wear both!), and be adjusted so the bottom of the pack rests in the lower back curve, low on the hips. Items should be packed with heavier things closer to her back, and arranged to keep them from sliding around. If possible, choose one with a hip strap, and hope she will use it at least for the longer bus-school treks. If she prefers a messenger-style bag, be sure she wears it across her body, with the weight evenly distributed, not slung over one shoulder.

Finally - if she experiences any neck or back pain, get it checked by your health professional.

I worked on a ''Backpack Awareness Day'' at my son's school, and I have some handouts and information I can forward to anyone. e-mail me at rkonoff [at] yahoo.com.

For more information, check out http://www.promoteot.org/AI_BackpackAwareness.html

R. K.

I read somewhere that a study was done on school backpacks, which showed that they have not increased in weight over the last thirty years, and most of the trouble kids are having stems from too much time slumping in front of the tv. Nevertheless, I find the amount of weight ridiculous. I can often hardly lift my daughter's backpack. The weight of the textbooks is extreme. We're now working on photocopying her big books chapter by chapter and putting them in a binder for her to take as necessary. Schools and publishers like the heavier glossy textbook paper, I believe because it's sturdier, but at the expense of kids. On a lighter note, on one occasion in middle school my daughter was complaining about her heavy backpack, so we went through it and I discovered a copy of the full three-volume Lord of the Rings that she'd forgotten about. Fiona

It's not a cheap solution, but you could buy copies of othe heavier textbooks to be kept at home so your child could leave the ''school'' copy at school in her locker or classroom. (In my son's school, the school was able to buy ''classroom'' copies so the kids could leave the heavy books at home and use the school's copies for class.) Linda