How To Wear A Backpack Properly (Tips To Prevent Back Pain)

Many people worldwide use backpacks as their main source of carrying supplies back-and-forth from school, work, or a day of shopping and adventuring.

When you wear a backpack incorrectly, you can create pain in your shoulders, neck, and back. Learning how to wear a backpack correctly can limit the amount of pain in your body and keep your daily commute comfortable.

Read our guide to learn more about the best way of wearing a backpack to prevent back pain.

Dangers of Carrying a Heavy Backpack Everyday (Especially Incorrectly)

Carrying a heavy backpack every day results in injury. One way to reduce injury is to find a backpack that fits you better. Not all backpacks are created equally, and not all backpacks are made for the same body type.

Search for a backpack that actually fits your body. The following list is some of the most common dangers that backpack users experience, particularly if they carry a heavy backpack every day.

Changes in posture

When you carry a heavy backpack, your body is tempted to lean forward. By leaning forward, the back takes more of the brunt force, and your body becomes conditioned to walk this way. Over time, this leads to changes in your posture where your shoulders are rounded and your back is hunched forward.

Issues of spine alignment

Leaning forward due to the heavy backpack load also creates issues of spine alignment. The spine becomes misaligned, and this can even speed up the degenerative aging process of the spine.

Higher risk of arthritis

The heavy weight moves through the joints of the body as well and makes your body’s hips, knees, and elbows (depending on how you hold the backpack) prone to arthritis.

Weakens your core muscles

Whenever someone leans forward, their body begins to lose core strength and back strength. Why? All of the pressure moves to the lower back and through the joints. This leaning forward, hunched position does not actually engage core or back muscles, so they waste away.

Can cause headaches

When the neck is overworked because of the heavy weight, this can create neck strain. Neck strain frequently leads to headaches, which are painful and frustrating

How To Wear A Backpack

Incorrect Ways of Wearing a Backpack

People wear backpacks in many different ways, but often the most convenient choices are the incorrect methods of wearing a backpack.

If you continuously wear your backpack this way, you will likely suffer from pain as a result. These are three of the most common incorrect ways of wearing a backpack:

  • Wearing A Backpack With Just One Strap
    When you wear a backpack with just one strap, you are not taking advantage of the two straps provided. This means that the heavy weight of the bag is all on one side of your body, specifically one shoulder. By not evenly distributing the weight, you place your body under excess strain.
  • Wearing A Backpack On Your Front
    When you wear your backpack across your front side, you tend to end up hunching forward or leaning backward. When you lean backward, you place excess strain on your lower back. This is really noticeable for people with lower back pain already from long days sitting in a chair.
  • Wearing A Backpack Too Low On Your Back
    When you wear a backpack too low on your back, you place excess strain on your shoulders. This can create both shoulder and lower back pain. When you wear your backpack, make sure that you adjust the straps so that the backpack is sitting right at the top of your back.

How Adults Should Wear a Backpack (Protecting Your Back, Neck & Shoulders)

Backpacks are not just for kids! Adults frequently wear backpacks to work and as a practical fashion accessory. Make sure that you wear your backpack correctly to avoid uncomfortable shoulder, neck, and lower back pain.

Ensuring Your Backpack Actually Fits You Properly

  • Torso Length 
    The torso length is an important part of figuring out how to wear your backpack properly. When you measure your torso length, measure from your hip to the seventh vertebrae (right at the base of your neck). Ideally, you want your backpack to fall two inches below the shoulder and then come to the bottom of your hip level (no more than 1-2 inches above).
  • Position Of The Waist Belt
    When it comes to waist belt-positioning, you want to keep the belt above the top of your hip bone. That is where the waist belt should fall naturally. Not all backpacks have waist belts, but they help take the weight off your back. You can also add a hip belt to a backpack if yours doesn't have one.
  • Position Of The Shoulder Straps 
    The shoulder straps should sit evenly on the top of your shoulders. You may need to adjust the straps because you want the backpack to fall two inches below the base of your neck.
  • Position Of The Load Strap 
    The load strap position refers to the straps that connect the top of your backpack to the shoulder straps. This is the load strap area. We recommend angling these straps by 45 degrees. Try to keep the load strap balanced.
How Adults Should Wear A Backpack

How Children Should Wear a Backpack

Children often wear backpacks to school and also while camping or hiking. On average, children can carry up to 10% of their body weight in their backpacks, according to the National PTA. The PTA also has a few strategies for packing your children’s backpack safely.

First, pack the heaviest books at the back. Next, make sure that the child knows how to use the chest straps or hip belts if the backpack comes with these extra straps.

Last, make sure that your kid knows how to pack their own backpack so that books and other items won’t move around while they walk (moving loads increase strain and lead to injury).

How to Wear Different Types of Backpacks

How to wear a hiking backpack?

When wearing a hiking backpack, make sure that you load the backpack with the heaviest items towards the back. It is also important to understand and utilize each of the straps. The hip belt strap and chest strap can make a significant difference in distributing the weight.

How to wear a crossbody backpack?

When wearing a crossbody backpack, make sure that you look at the materials and the strap size. If you plan to purchase a large crossbody backpack, it is best to buy one made out of quality materials so that it won't fall apart while you wear it.

It's also best to make sure that the strap is comfortable, made of cloth material, and will lay flat. For comfort, let the crossbody bag sit slightly above your hip and in front of your body. You can gently hold the strap to keep it in place while you walk.

How to wear a drawstring backpack?

Wearing a drawstring backpack is similar to wearing a traditional backpack. The key with this backpack choice is making sure that the drawstrings are pulled so the bag is symmetrical.

If one side is longer or shorter than the other, the weight distribution will be off, and you will find yourself with back pain. These backpacks are also not meant to hold heavy items so try to keep them lighter (under 5-6 lbs).

How To Wear Different Types Of Backpacks

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can I wear a duffle bag like a backpack?

Yes, you can wear a duffle bag like a backpack, but it is not recommended long-term. Wearing a duffle bag like a backpack long-term can lead to all kinds of pain in the body because the weight will not be evenly distributed across the back.

How do you wear a poncho with a backpack?

You can wear a poncho with a backpack in any way you like, but we would recommend wearing the backpack over the poncho. This is simply easier and more comfortable. As long as you scrunch the poncho up a little bit on the sides, you should be able to easily move your arms while wearing both the poncho and backpack.

How do I make my backpack less stiff?

The best way to make your backpack less stiff is to break it in by wearing it often. We also recommend pulling gently on the shoulder straps to fit your body. You may also want to massage the material of the backpack the same way you might with new leather shoes.

What can you do with old backpacks?

Most people discard old backpacks, but there are ways you can recycle them. Some manufacturers will restore the backpack if you send it in under warranty. Another option is to bring it to a thrift store such as Goodwill for people less fortunate to use. Aside from thrift stores, you can use the material of your old one and make a new backpack out of it.

How do I make my backpack straps more comfortable?

If your backpack straps are hard and feel uncomfortable, you can try soaking them in distilled water. This sometimes softens hard material. If you want padding, you can purchase fleece backpack shoulder straps or create your own for maximum comfort.

How do you train to wear a heavy backpack?

If you are going to be wearing a heavy backpack every day, you can train your body by first starting off carrying 25% of your ideal weight, then 50%, then 75%, and finally 100% of the weight. When you walk around as you train, maintain a neutral spine position and engage your core. Focusing on your form will help you manage the weight of the backpack as you increase it.


Backpacks are a wonderful way to carry supplies throughout the day, whether you are commuting to school, work, shopping, hiking, or going for a day adventure. With the proper form, you can wear a backpack comfortably and avoid heavy backpack pain.

  • Updated November 2, 2021