What is the Best Way to Wear a Backpack?

I was wearing my backpack the other day, and I thought about HOW I was wearing it, and how it may be different from how you wear yours, and what you were told.

What have you been told about backpacks since you were a kid?

To protect your back and spine, wear it with both straps on at the same time, to distribute the weight in a balanced fashion.

Person using ergonomic backpack correctly to protect back and spine health.
Demonstration of the correct way to wear an ergonomic backpack to support spine health.

Sounds good, but is that actually true?

Does wearing both straps evenly at the same time really protect your spine?

No. In fact, this likely CREATES problems.


You heard me, I do NOT recommend wearing backpacks with both straps on at the same time.

Why not?

Because, as you do this, the backpack shifts your weight backwards, over your heels. This starts to pull your whole body backwards.

As a result of this, guess what compensation your body innately makes, without you even thinking about it? To keep you from toppling over backwards, it shifts other parts of your body, forward, to counterbalance this weight.

Venture to guess which part gets shifted forward?


Can you see a potential problem with this? The backpack pulls you back, and your body shifts your head further and further forward, to counteract this backward pulling stress.

This is bad because this worsens a very common habit we see in so many people…forward head displacement, or the more common term these days, text neck or tech neck.

This forward hunching of the upper back and neck (think nursing home posture) is becoming more and more common, largely

because of people sitting at desks and looking at computers all day, and from staring down at smart phones for hours on end.

Not good!

If you absolutely must wear a heavy backpack, for instance when going on a major hike or trip, try to wear the weight as HIGH UP on your back as possible, and as CLOSE TO YOUR SPINE as possible.This will minimize the backward pulling stress of the backpack on your body, and minimize the amount your head is thrust forward to compensate.

The worst are backpacks whose straps are so long, and so loose, that the majority of the weight is carried low down and back towards the butt. This significantly forces the head forwards to compensate.

So, if I don’t recommend using two straps, what do I recommend?

Alternating straps. Yes, wear it over one shoulder, only ONE SHOULDER, for 5 or 10 minutes, then SWITCH SHOULDERS.

Individual performing lower back exercises to strengthen spinal muscles.
Effective lower back exercise routine for strengthening spinal muscles.

This actually functions to TRAIN the spinal muscles, by forcing the outside muscles of the spine to stabilize you from falling over. This strengthens and conditions the muscles, which is a very good thing.

You would then switch sides, to balance this stress and conditioning. If you don’t switch sides, this will eventually create an imbalance in the pulling of these muscles, which long term is not good.

So, carry it over one shoulder, just like everyone told you NOT to do when you were a kid. But remember to alternate sides.

Have fun being the rebel you always wanted to be!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

Dr. Byron Mackay


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