Backpack overhaul

Kids using bags to carry around more than just books

Posted: Sunday, March 06, 2005

 

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  Mariah Howarth Photo by M. Scott Moon

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Backpacks are as varied and unique as the people who carry them. There are slick designs for snowboarders, practical forms for hunters and hikers and backpacks emblazoned with Powder Puff girls, boy bands and brand-name logos. These fun bags are popular with students, especially. But what do they keep inside that's so important to haul around for a week of school?

The obvious answer is textbooks and school-related materials, which can add up to some serious pounds. Take a look at any group of kids and you'll likely see a few who appear to have stuffed a full-sized aircraft carrier into a two-pound bag.

Three students at Kenai Middle School recently have been discovered as backpackers hauling more than their fair share. Eighth-grader Christina Fischer and her purple Hawaiian flower and tortoise backpack were found guilty of "over-hauling."

Fischer's bag contained more than two dozen pens, 10 pounds of books, a mitten, a toothbrush and more candy than an entire army of Oompa Loompas could make in a year. Her bag weighed approximately 20 pounds.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm going to fall over," Fischer said, and admitted her plans to get a bigger backpack soon.

Seventh-grader Mariah Howarth loads her stylish pink and gray Billabong backpack with school supplies and country music. She needs an organizer of at least 20 CDs to choose from at any given point throughout her day.

She hauls 25 to 30 pounds around in the bag she said she had her eye on for some time. She also said she will need a bigger bag soon to make room for her math book, organizer, CDs and flashlight.

Eighth-grader David Ashkenasy had the largest bag of the three, likely due to his interest in school sports.

He carries about 25 pounds of gear every day in a backpack that an experienced outdoors-person could live out of for a week. He usually hauls shoes, jerseys and homework to and from the school.

"I probably only carry my backpack for about an hour or more in a day," Ashkenasy said. He, too, plans on carrying more, and he said he will need something more like a duffel bag for high school next year.

 

Christina Fischer

Photo by M. Scott Moon

As popular as backpacks remain, it is worth the time and consideration to the spine to get a pack that best suits body type and usage purposes.

Gary Farnsworth of Wilderness Way in Soldotna said people are carrying more things around than they used to.

"Everyone is carrying water bottles, extra shoes, cell phones and strap all kinds of things to the sides. Most people have excessive stuff." he said.

Farnsworth said problems arise when people try to pack too much in a bag too small.

"Just lay it out, and see how it feels," he said.

Though people seem to be carrying more, it might be because backpack and outdoor wear technology has come a distance in the past several years.

"The comfort level has come a long way. It's amazing what people have access to these days," Farnsworth said.

He said people should look carefully into buying the right backpack.

"People need to be fitted for backpacks. They should wear both shoulder straps and have a hip belt and sternum strap. They should fit snugly to the body. As kids grow, they need to update and readjust their backpacks. Sometimes people try to overpack into something that's not big enough," Farns-worth said. "Having a properly fitted pack makes all the difference in the world."

 

David Ashkenasy

Photo by M. Scott Moon

He said finding the right backpack for its purpose is equally important. He said if kids plan to do a lot of hiking and backpacking, they should have one custom tailored.

However, just because the ability to carry more is available doesn't mean people necessarily should. Soldotna chiropractor Dr. William West said carrying a pack that's too heavy or doesn't fit properly can lead to a weakening of the back as well as a host of other problems.

"Carrying your pack on one shoulder can cause scoliosis, which in turn can curb breathing due to a compression of the lungs or displacement of internal organs. If a pack is too heavy, it can cause you to lean forward and damage the protective qualities of the spine. It can lead to some real horror stories."

West, of West Chiropractic Clinic, said the proper maximum weight for loaded backpacks should not exceed 10 percent of a child's body weight, and if the pack forces the carrier to bend forward, it is overloaded.

 

Mariah Howarth

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"Packs need to be well-padded on both straps and be carried as close to the spine as possible. A backpack that is too large will sag too low and stress the lower back and shoulders. The younger the carrier, the less time they should spend carrying the pack," Dr. West said.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, backpacks should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. The ACA recommends getting a backpack with individualized compartments which helps position the contents most effectively.

"Bigger is not necessarily better. The more room there is in a backpack, the more your child will carry — and the heavier the backpack will be," an ACA study stated.



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