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Backpack shopping guide

The kids only care about the colors and the characters. But when it comes to backpack shopping, moms know that comfort and durability are the key factors.

Choosing a quality backpack -- and packing it correctly -- helps prevent back, neck and shoulder pain, especially for kids entering middle school, where they may have to haul heavy textbooks, laptops and sports gear for the first time.



There are hundreds of kids' backpacks to choose from, with prices ranging from $10 to more than $100. For most kids, the backpack is also a fashion statement, so the challenge is to find a good one that the student likes, too.



Armed with advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics, MomsMiami hit the stores for an update on how some of the offerings compare to last year's.

We found some new gems -- and some higher prices. But many of last year's favorites still make the grade.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR

• The correct size.A kindergartner -- with no heavy books or a laptop to carry -- can get away with a smaller backpack with less padding. It should not be wider than your child's torso. The bottom of the backpack should rest against the curve of the lower back and never more than four inches below the waist.

• Wide, well-padded shoulder straps.

The padding helps prevent the straps from digging into the child's shoulders, back, and neck and can make a heavy pack more comfortable. The straps should be adjusted so the backpack fits snugly against the child's back and sits a few inches above the waist -- but not so tight that it pulls on the shoulder. Experts also recommend a well-padded back panel and, if you can find it, an additional waist belt, which helps distribute the weight more evenly.

• Avoid bags with a single shoulder strap.

Those put all the pressure on one shoulder, which can lead to back, neck and shoulder pain.

• Wheels?

These help kids lighten their load. But they can be hard to get up and down stairs and may not fit inside lockers. Since they also pose a tripping hazard, some schools don't allow them.

• Lightweight, sturdy material.

It will need to withstand being thrown and dragged around. Look for nylon or canvas that can be spot-cleaned. Skip those made of heavy leather.

SOME GOOD FINDS

• UnderArmour Varsity

, $49.99, available at Sports Authority stores and

online

. This midsize pack is sturdy, lightweight and water resistant. An interior wet/dry tunnel pocket is perfect for wet clothes. The best features: ergonomic, one-piece, U-shaped shoulder straps; and plush, padded back panels. It also has a waist strap and heavy metal zippers.

• Swiss Gear, $35.99, available at Target in stores and online. This updated, large backpack has three big compartments with durable and lockable zipper pulls, a strong looped handle and well-padded back panel and shoulder straps. The exterior has two side pockets and the interior has a cell phone pocket and an organizer pocket. It also boasts built-in holders for headphones and drink bottles.

• Trans Supermax by Jansport, $29.99, at Target stores and online. It has two main compartments with zipper closures. The inside compartment has an organizer. This polyester pack has a decently padded back and S-curve shoulder straps for maximum comfort.

• Pottery Barn Kids

MacKenzie, available in three sizes, $26-$45,

online

.

Super cute and preppy, the bags feature several pockets, well-padded straps and back panels, clips for a matching lunch bag and sturdy zipper pulls. Color combinations include solid pink with green trim, purple and white dots, pink and white dots or blue flower dot for girls; red and navy, navy camouflage or orange and brown for boys.

Get them p

ersonalized for $6.50 more. Available in rolling style for $59.

• Land's End Wheeled ClassMate, $49.50, online and at some Sears and Kmart stores. This pack is sized for kids 8 to 14. It's available in several bright colors; the wheels roll smoothly; and the reflective trim and glow-in-the-dark zipper pulls help keep kids visible. There’s a removable organizer pouch and hide-away C-shaped shoulder straps for comfort. The back panel is well padded. LandsEnd backpacks are guaranteed.

• L.L. Bean Quad Pack, $59.95, available online. Built for kids 12 and up, this pack has several pockets for books and a padded laptop sleeve. The MP3 port can double as a water pouch and the middle pocket is wide enough for notebooks or a binder and has an organizer panel built in. Made of 100% polyester, a fleece-lined pocket offers protection for electronics or sunglasses, and an exterior pouch has zip-down entry, making it easy to stuff workout clothes inside. It has ergonomic shoulder straps and a padded lumbar panel. LLBean also offers a lifetime warranty.

HOW TO PACK IT

  • Use the pockets. Select a back pack with pockets for smaller items, which help to distribute the weight of the load and keep items from shifting. Don't put all the books in one pocket.
  • Don't overload it. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children carry no more than 10 percent to 20 percent of their body weight in a backpack.
  • Place heavy items, like books, in first. Put them closest to the back. Other items should be arranged so that they do not slide around.
  • Keep it light. Pack only the necessary books and supplies, even if it means storing extra items in a locker or desk between classes. Clean it out daily.
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