Backpack vs. Messenger Bag: Which Is Safest?

Picking a school bag should be based on more than fashion and brand name—your kid's orthopedic health should be your top concern.

With so many choices of colors, styles, and prints, it’s hard to know which school bag is best. Arjun S. Sebastian, MD, orthopedic surgeon from Mayo Clinic casts his backpack vs. messenger bag vote.

Backpack vs. messenger: Which is safer?

The most ergonomic choice is a backpack with padded straps that is appropriately sized for the student, Dr. Sebastian says. However, if your kid has their heart set on a messenger bag, look for one with a well-padded and adjustable strap so that it can fit snugly around their chest.

One key factor with either bag is fit. Avoid an oversize bag that’s no wider than the child’s torso; not only does this help ensure the right fit, your child won’t be able to overstuff it with books, sports equipment, etc. “Whichever carrying option a student chooses, keeping the weight down is key,” reports Dr. Sebastian. “It’s really important to ensure that the weight of the bag is no more than 10 percent of the child’s weight.” Watch for these signs your kid’s backpack is too heavy.

Backpack vs. messenger bags for younger kids

“Young pre-adolescent age children should probably stick to conventional backpacks as they tend to be the most ergonomic for smaller children who should not carry too much weight to begin with,” reports Dr. Sebastian. If your kid simply can’t live without a messenger bag, make sure it is worn correctly and that the weight is kept moderate.

What about wheeled bags?

A mini suitcase may seem like an ideal solution, but Dr. Sebastian isn’t a fan as he says they present tripping hazards and are more likely to be overloaded. Their use should be limited to children who can’t physically carry a regular backpack, in his opinion.

What about certain health conditions?

The type of bag you choose matters even more if your child has an orthopedic condition of the spine, such as scoliosis or chronic back pain. These children should, “make more of an effort to avoid less ergonomic bags and heavier loads,” says Dr. Sebastian.

Backpack vs. messenger bags: The final word

Though Dr. Sebastian’s backpack vs. messenger vote favors the first, he goes on to recommend avoiding the drawstring backpacks for school use, since those tend to be less ergonomic. “The key is ensuring the bag your child chooses is well fitted and that the load is kept to a reasonable amount.” Hitting the mall for your kid’s new bag? These are the 14 school supplies that are a waste of money.

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Dianne Bright
Dianne Bright is a southern California-based writer and a regular contributor with, where she writes about the environment, nutrition, finance, pets, and books. She also contributes to Her work has appeared in Scholastic's Parent & Child magazine and blog, I Love Cats magazine, and Christianity Today, among other publications. Bright's book of parenting reflections: MOMS KICK BUTT, comes out in February, 2021. Her M.A. is in Spanish American Literature. Follow Dianne on Twitter @dibright, Facebook @AuthorDianneBright, and Instagram @authordiannebright.