How to Pack a Backpack for School 

 May 15, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

It’s normal to feel a bit out of depth when your child first starts going to school. The number of things you need to take care of, as compared to the kindergarten days, suddenly increases and you find yourself unprepared. You will slowly learn through trial and error and become an expert with time.

Child in School

One of the things that are especially daunting is packing the backpack for school. The sheer amount of things that even elementary school kids need to carry every day to school is incredible. Until you pick up the backpack, you don’t realize how heavy it can be. The weight of the backpack increases as they get older and new subjects and activities are added to the curriculum. An average high school student’s backpack weighs between 16 and 20 pounds. Depending on the extracurricular or co-curricular activities of the student, this weight might increase or the student might have to carry an extra bag.

In fact, these heavy backpacks often lead to back injuries and back pain in children. Plus, data released by the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission informs that over 5,000 children visit emergency rooms in hospitals every year due to backpack-related injuries, though it needs to be pointed out that back injuries aren't the reason for the visit in the majority of the children. Studies have also shown that if the weight of the school backpack is more than 10% of the body weight of the student, it can have a severe negative impact on the spinal cord and result in bad posture.

Hence, it’s important that as a parent you learn how to pack a backpack for school to ensure that it weighs within the acceptable limit and that the weight is distributed properly. Your child may not be aware of the consequences of regularly carrying a heavy backpack, so you need to speak to them about this and ensure that as they grow older they learn how to pack a backpack for school on their own.

Some schools have rules in place regarding the types of backpacks allowed in school. So, you should check for that before picking a backpack for your child. As your child grows up and her height and body weight changes, the backpack will have to be changed as well.

Bags on Stairs

Typically, your child will need at least three different backpacks through their school life. The first for elementary school (grades one to five), the second for middle school (grades six to eight) and the third for high school (grades nine to twelve). Depending on how quickly the child grows, she might need two different backpacks during elementary school. Selecting the right backpack goes a long way in simplifying how to pack a backpack for school.

  • The backpack you pick should ideally have multiple compartments inside. This will allow her to stack the books neatly and the laptop can be securely packed (if she’s allowed to take it to school). Plus, there will be separate compartments for the pencil box or any other study accessories she may be carrying to school and the lunch box.
  • The key is to ensure that all of the things packed in the school backpack remain in their designated places and do not move around too much. If the objects in the backpack, especially the books and notebooks, move around a lot, it can strain your child’s shoulders and back.
  • The size of the backpack is important as well. It shouldn’t be hanging below the waistline. That puts a lot of pressure on the shoulder and back muscles.
  • If your child needs to carry a change of clothes, gym clothes, and sporting equipment, then don’t try to stuff everything into one backpack. It becomes too heavy. Buy a smaller duffle bag that your child can use to carry the things needed for her extracurricular and co-curricular activities.
  • The other aspect you need to keep in mind is that the backpack should have two shoulder straps. Don’t buy one of those sling backpacks with a single strap. The two straps evenly distribute the weight and provide a level of support, which is important. If the backpack has a padded hip belt, then even better. Hip belts help relieve some of the pressure off the shoulders.
  • Pick a backpack with adjustable straps, so that you can get the optimal fit for your child.
  • It makes sense to take your child to a store to buy the backpack and try it out. Ask one of the attendants at the store if you can stuff some things in the backpack to add some weight to it and ask your child to try it out. Buy a good quality backpack, because you don’t want to be back at the store the next year to buy a new one.

Create a Checklist of All Items to Be Packed

Before we get down to the techniques involved in how to pack a backpack for school, you and your child need to make a list of all the things that need to be packed. Initially, it might seem an overkill, but you will realize the benefits over time. You will already have the school timetable.

School Supplies

Based on that you can create a list of things to be packed for every day of the week. The timetable and this list can be put up above your child’s study table. Every morning (or better still, before going to sleep at night) you and your child can refer to the list and pack up the backpack, without having to think too much. It will ensure that you don’t miss out on anything important and get it done quickly.

Typically, mornings are hectic. You might have to get ready for work yourself, make breakfast, wake your kids up, get them ready and more. At least one task will be simplified by this list.

You can create a separate list for the gym or sporting equipment that needs to be packed and any other items that your child might require for after-school activities such as music or dancing lessons. If a specific outfit or a change of clothes needs to be packed, mention that in the checklist as well. Ideally, these should be packed in a separate duffle bag or sports bag, depending on the type of items, instead of the main school backpack. This list goes up beside the school items list.

Put up a note on the fridge or somewhere in the kitchen or dining area reminding you to pack the lunchbox as well. This is something you can’t do the previous night unless your kid buys lunch at the school cafeteria and you give them some lunch money every day. So, a reminder will ensure you don’t forget in the morning rush.

Packing the School Backpack

All of the items should be packed systematically to make it easy to access when required. Separate compartments in the backpack help organize the things better.


The timetable will inform you which books, exercise copies or notebooks, and lab journals are required for a particular day. Pack these starting with the ones required for the first period at the front, the ones required for the second period behind these and so on with the others. So, your child will know exactly where the books and journals required for each period are kept. Label all the books, folders, binders, journals and other study materials to make it simpler to find and organize.

Reading a Book

Loose Sheets

Assignment papers, homework, test papers, and all other loose sheets should be kept in folders and then packed in the backpack. Folders not only organize all of the loose sheets but also protect the sheets from getting torn, crumpled or damaged in any other way. You can have a single folder with multiple sections or multiple folders for different types of sheets. One could be for assignments, one for homework, one for assessment papers and so on.

Laptop and Tablet

If the school allows students to bring their laptops, it should be packed right at the back. So, the laptop should be against your child’s back, when he wears the backpack. Make sure the backpack has an internal strap to keep the laptop steady and prevent it from bouncing around.

Buy a separate sleeve for the iPad to prevent scratches and dents and pack it along with folders and binders. It would be great if there’s a large enough pocket to fit the iPad.

Other Academic Items

Other study-related or academics-related items such as the pencil case or pouch and calculator should be packed in a separate compartment or pocket in the backpack. These should be easily accessible, so don’t stuff them in the main compartment of the backpack, where these might slide to the bottom and prove difficult to retrieve.

Lunch Box

The lunch box should be packed in an external pouch or pocket of the backpack and away from the books and sheets. You don’t want an accidental leak to soil the books and other study materials in the backpack. Lunch should ideally be packed in an airtight box or Ziploc bag.

Lunch Box

Other Essentials

All essentials items such as cell phone, school ID card, wallet, and keys should be packed in one of the external pockets.


If your child needs to have any type of medications during the day, put these in a small airtight container and pack it in one of the pockets. Those suffering from asthma will have to carry an inhaler, which should be packed in the same pocket as the medicine to ensure it’s easy to access when required. Find out if your child needs to submit a letter from the parent to the school nurse informing them about the medication he or she needs to carry.

For the Locker

Most schools provide students with a personal locker that can be locked. Some of the items such as sporting equipment, tampons or sanitary pads for girls, an umbrella or raincoat, spare cell phone charger, extra pens and pencils and any other items that your child doesn’t need at home and can be stored in the locker, should be kept there. It means that these are some of the things she won’t have to carry to school. What your child doesn’t need to carry every day is also an important aspect of how to pack a backpack for school.

Tips for Packing a School Backpack

  • Teach your child to get into the habit of cleaning the backpack every weekend. All random papers, used tissues, wrappers, etc. should be gotten rid of. If this isn’t done regularly, these things tend to settle at the bottom of the backpack and take up space. Wrappers and other waste materials can also give birth to a nasty smell inside the backpack.
  • In any case, all of the things packed in the backpack should be unpacked after returning from school and repacked before going to bed. It’s a good habit to develop and it also ensures that you don’t carry any unnecessary or unrequired items to school.
  • After reaching school in the morning, you can take out the lunch box and the books, binders, and journals required for the second period and later and keep them in the locker. This way you won’t have to carry them around the whole day. Go back to the locker before the start of the next period and pick up the things you need.
  • Buy thinner instead of thicker exercise books for taking down notes during class. This will reduce the weight of the backpack significantly. You don’t have any control over the textbooks that are part of the school curriculum, but you can choose to buy thin exercise books for your child.
  • The checklist will help you identify the day(s) when the backpack is likely to be the heaviest. Fill the backpack with all the items for such a day and weigh the backpack. It shouldn’t weigh more than 10-12% of your child’s body weight. So, if your child weighs 100 pounds, the backpack shouldn’t be heavier than 10-12 pounds. If it’s heavier, try and find a way to reduce the weight. Also, speak to the school and other parents about it and come up with a solution together.


Initially, you should help your child to pack their backpack for school, but during that period teach them how to do it themselves. Not only will it help your child be prepared for school every day, but it will also teach them to be disciplined, which will trickle into other facets of their lives as well.


Also, remember that unpacking the backpack at the end of each school day is as important as packing it. This is especially true for the lunch box. Remind her to unpack the lunch box after returning from school, disposing the leftovers and leaving it in the sink, if she forgets. 

Finally, you should also try to find out new ways to reduce the weight of the backpack by speaking to other parents, teachers and researching online. For example, many schools allow students to bring a tablet to school. If the school your child is enrolled in doesn’t allow it, find out why and if it can be changed. Can tablets replace the textbooks completely? If not now, definitely in the future.

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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