‘I’m a Physical Therapist and These are the 7 Best Backpacks For Back Support’
By: Dr. Abe Kopolovich, DPT, MBA, JD-IP
Whether you’re using them as a gym bag, a carry on, or a hiking accessory, backpacks are the universal carry-all. But as useful (and adorable) as they may be, schlepping 10+ pounds of stuff on your back has the potential to put undue stress on your spine. The good news? There are plenty of backpacks for back support that are specifically engineered to combat those bag-induced aches and pains.
“The key to a healthy backpack is to pack it light and wear it right.” The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) says that a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 5 to 10 percent of their body weight, and this rule continues to apply as you get older. The more weight you pile onto your back, the more it forces your body to lean forward to support it, so a lighter load is always better.
For example, “a bag that is 30 percent of a person’s body weight creates a 64 percent increased load on the lumbar spine,” says Dr. Griffiths. This means that when you increase the weight of the backpack, it significantly increases stress to the low back.
As far as “wearing it right” goes, pros say there are a few things to look out for when selecting a backpack style. First up? Adjustable straps, which will ensure that the bag properly fits your body. According to Alex Renda, PT, a physical therapist at USA Sports Therapy, a good, supporting backpack shouldn’t hang more than 4 inches below your waist. If it sits too low (with the bulk of the backpack near your low back or hips), your spinal muscles will compensate, which leads to back pain and fatigue in other parts of your body, says Renda.
In addition to properly fitted shoulder straps, chest and waist straps can help to distribute the weight of a bag equally across your body, and thought they may not be the most stylish addition to your outfit, they’ll help you avoid back pain. You’ll also want to be sure that your backpack is always settled on both shoulders, which means any single-strap or sling-style bags are out of the question. And finally, when it comes to materials, Dr. Griffiths suggests choosing something lightweight, made from either cotton or vinyl, with padded straps and a padded back.
With all of that in mind, these are the seven best backpacks for back support that will seriously save your spine, according to the experts.
This large, duffel-style backpack is one of Renda’s favorites because it features two padded shoulder straps and a hip strap for optimal support. It’s also equipped with a laptop sleeve, waterproof fabric, and a detachable daypack for when you only need to leave home with your essentials.
For a very lightweight option that still has supportive chest and hip straps, Dr. Griffiths recommends re-investing in your middle school go-to. from Jansport. The brand is known for its durable fabric and zips, and the padded straps mean your shoulders won’t have to suffer.
With over 4,500 five-star reviews on Amazon, this minimalist pack is perfect for all of your everyday activities. Don’t let the sleek, slim design fool you: It features an anti-theft laptop compartment, an external USB port with a cable for convenient charging, and sponge-padded shoulder straps for extra back support and comfort.
If you’re looking for a hiking pack that is lighter and less bulky than others of its kind, Kelty’s cult-fave pack is back with an updated design. The FIT-Pro adjustment system is perfect for quickly customizing the torso size, and the new ventilated back panel seriously limits those dreaded mid-hike, back sweats.
If keeping up with the trends is the name of the game, this Herschel has got you covered. The Barlow is a versatile option that’s great for city-slicking and hiking alike, featuring mesh back padding for increased comfort and air-flow, internal storage pockets, and a water resistant exterior plus an emergency rain cover. As an added bonus, the bag is made out of mostly recycled materials, making it an eco-conscious choice.
This duffle/backpack hybrid is another one of Renda’s favorites for back support. Its 30-liter capacity limits how much weight you’re carrying on your back, which means you won’t be able to load it up to the point of causing pain. The bag is filled with easy-access pockets designed specifically for shoes, liquids, tech, and more, making it easy to pack and unpack in a hurry.
This duffle/backpack hybrid is another one of Renda’s favorites for back support. Its 30-liter capacity limits how much weight you’re carrying on your back, which mean you won’t be able to load it up to the point of causing pain. The bag is filled with easy-access pockets designed specifically for shoes, liquids, tech, and more, making it easy to pack and unpack in a hurry.