The 10 Best Backpacks for Back Pain and Support, According to Spine Experts

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Whether you’re using them as a gym bag, a carry-on, or a hiking accessory, backpacks are the universal carry-all. But as useful (and adorable) as they may be, schlepping over 10 pounds of stuff on your back has the potential to put undue stress on your spine. The good news? There are plenty of backpacks for back support that are specifically engineered to combat those bag-induced aches and pains.

Experts In This Article

Best backpacks for back support, at a glance:

How to properly wear a backpack to reduce back pain

According to Kirstie Griffiths, DC, a chiropractor and yoga teacher based in Ontario: “The key to a healthy backpack is to pack it light and wear it right.” The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) says that a child’s backpack should weigh no more than 5 to 10 percent of their body weight, and this rule continues to apply as you get older. The more weight you pile onto your back, the more it forces your body to lean forward to support it, so a lighter load is always better. For example, “a bag that is 30 percent of a person’s body weight creates a 64 percent increased load on the lumbar spine,” says Dr. Griffiths. This means that when you increase the weight of the backpack, it significantly increases stress to the low back.

What to look for in a backpack for back support

As far as “wearing it right” goes, pros say there are a few things to look out for when selecting a backpack style. First up? Adjustable straps, which will ensure that the bag properly fits your body. According to Alex Renda, PT, DPT OCS, MDNC, a physical therapist at USA Sports Therapy, a good, supporting backpack shouldn’t hang more than four inches below your waist. If it sits too low (with the bulk of the backpack near your low back or hips), your spinal muscles will compensate, which leads to back pain, shoulder pain, and fatigue in other parts of your body. In addition to properly fitted shoulder straps, chest and waist straps can help to distribute the weight of a bag equally across your body. You’ll also want to be sure that your backpack is always settled on both shoulders, which means any single-strap or sling-style bags are out of the question. And finally, when it comes to materials, Dr. Griffiths suggests choosing a lightweight backpack, made from either cotton or vinyl, with padded straps and a padded back.

With all of that in mind, these are the best backpacks for back support that will seriously save your spine, according to the experts.

Best backpacks for back support

Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Backpack
Best multi-purpose: Osprey, Farpoint 55 Travel Backpack — $220.00

This large, duffle-style backpack is one of Renda’s favorites because it features two padded shoulder straps and a hip strap for optimal support. It’s also equipped with a laptop sleeve, waterproof fabric, and a detachable daypack for when you only need to leave home with your essentials.

Materials: Polyester
Measurements: 22”L x 14”W x 17”D
Capacity: 55L
Weight: 4.2 lbs.
Colors: 3


  • Padded straps and hip strap
  • Adjustable harness
  • Internal organization
  • Includes detachable daypack


  • Expensive
  • Bulkier size
Jansport Agave Backpack
Best classic: Jansport, Agave Backpack — $70.00

Originally $75, now $70
For a very lightweight option that still has supportive chest and hip straps, Dr. Griffiths recommends re-investing in your middle school go-to from Jansport. The brand is known for its durable fabric and zips, and the padded straps mean your shoulders won’t have to suffer.

Materials: 80% polyester and 20% nylon
Measurements: 19.5”L x 15”W x 2.9”D
Capacity: 3L
Weight: 1.5 lbs.
Colors: 2


  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Adjustable sternum strap
  • Waist belt
  • Lots of compartments


  • Some reviewers say the zippers catch
Kopack Laptop Backpack
Best functionality: Kopack, Laptop Backpack — $40.00

With over 6,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, this minimalist pack is perfect for all of your everyday activities. Don’t let the sleek, slim design fool you: It features an anti-theft laptop compartment, an external USB port with a cable for convenient charging, and sponge-padded shoulder straps for extra back support and comfort.

Materials: Nylon
Measurements: 17.3”L x 11.4”W x 4.7”D
Capacity: Not specified
Weight: 1.6 lbs.
Colors: 6


  • Adjustable padded straps and back
  • Built-in USB charging port
  • Anti-theft protection


  • No waist or sternum straps
Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack
Best for hiking: Kelty, Redwing 50 Backpack — $165.00

If you’re looking for a hiking pack that is lighter and less bulky than others of its kind, Kelty’s cult-fave pack is back with an updated design. The FIT-Pro adjustment system is perfect for quickly customizing the torso size, and the new ventilated back panel seriously limits those dreaded mid-hike, back sweats.

Materials: Polyester
Measurements: 27”L x 18”W x 10”D
Capacity: 50L
Weight: 3.9 lbs.
Colors: 3


  • Ventilated back panel
  • Adjusts to fit most torsos
  • Many organizational compartments


  • Some reviewers say the side pockets are small
Topo Designs Rover Pack Tech
Most stylish: Topo Designs, Rover Pack Tech — $129.00

If keeping up with the trends is the name of the game, this Topo Designs backpack has got you covered. The Rover Pack is a versatile, supportive backpack that’s great for city-slicking and hiking alike, featuring cushy perforated straps and back padding for increased comfort and airflow, external and internal laptop sleeves, expendable water bottle pockets, plus exterior pockets.

Materials: Recycled nylon
Measurements: 17”L x 11”W x 5”D
Capacity: 24.3L
Weight: Not specified
Colors: 3


  • Perforated shoulder straps
  • Padded back panel
  • Spacious main compartment


  • No sternum and waist straps
Nomatic Travel Pack
Best for travel: Nomatic, Travel Pack — $300.00

This duffle-backpack hybrid is another one of Renda’s favorites for back support. Its 20-liter capacity limits how much weight you’re carrying on your back, which means you won’t be able to load it up to the point of causing pain. The bag is filled with easy-access pockets designed specifically for shoes, liquids, tech, and more, making it easy to pack and unpack in a hurry.

Materials: Nylon and polyester
Measurements: 18.5”L x 12”W x 6”D
Capacity: 20L
Weight: 4.2 lbs.
Colors: 1


  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Adjustable sternum strap
  • Lots of pockets


  • Expensive
Got Bag Daypack
Most sustainable: Got Bag, Daypack — $89.00

The Got Bag is the world’s first backpack made entirely from ocean plastic—to date, the brand has recycled over 117 tons of the stuff. The daypack is a great PFC- and PVC-free water-resistant option that holds just what you need (and nothing more) while still offering maximum comfort and a structured inner pocket system.

Materials: 60% ocean impact plastic fabric, 20% recycled materials, and 20% non-recycled materials
Measurements: 14”L x 11”W x 5”D
Capacity: 11L
Weight: 1.2 lbs.
Colors: 14


  • Padded back and shoulder straps
  • Made with recycled materials
  • Compact size


  • No sternum and waist straps
Peak Design Everyday Backpack V2
Best everyday: Peak Design, Everyday Backpack V2 — $280.00

If you’re going to carry a backpack every day, you want to make sure that it’s comfortable, useful, and stylish, too. This Peak Design backpack checks all those boxes and can expand based on your needs. It has a laptop sleeve, expandable side pockets, a waterproof bottom liner, padded straps and back, and a sternum strap. It comes with three flexible dividers you can configure in different ways — for example, you can turn this into a camera backpack by using the dividers to hold and separate your camera body from various lenses and accessories.

Materials: Nylon and polyester
Measurements: 22.3”L x 11.8”W (depth not specified)
Capacity: 20L
Weight: Not specified
Colors: 4


  • Padded back with mesh panel
  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Stowable sternum strap
  • Customizable dividers


  • Expensive
  • Some reviewers say the shoulder straps are thin
The North Face Borealis Backpack
Best lightweight: The North Face, Borealis Backpack — $99.00

The North Face Borealis backpack is a more lightweight, compact backpack that is still packed with ergonomic features. It’s designed specifically for women and has a suspension system that’s American Chiropractic Association certified. With a padded back, breathable straps, a sternum strap, and a removable waist belt, you can adjust the backpack to best fit you. There are bungee cords for compression (and to hold extra stuff), a laptop compartment, a front pocket with organizational compartments, and two water bottle pockets.

Materials: Recycled polyester
Measurements: 18.8”L x 11”W x 5.8”D
Capacity: 27L
Weight: 2 lbs.
Colors: 12


  • Padded back
  • Breathable shoulder straps
  • Sternum strap
  • Removable waist belt


  • Some reviewers say it’s top-heavy when full
Thule Subterra Backpack
Best organization: Thule, Subterra Backpack — $177.00

Made of durable nylon, the Thule Subterra backpack can withstand everyday use and more. It has tons of features and pockets to keep you organized, day in and day out. There’s a removable packing cube for your clothes, a padded laptop sleeve that can hold up to a 15-inch laptop, an internal power pocket for your cords, a zippered side pocket, and a pass-through sleeve for putting over a luggage handle. It’s easy to get things in and out of the bag, and you can reach inside quickly via the roll-top opening or unzip the size zipper.

The perforated shoulder straps and padded back help keep your body cool when you’re lugging around your stuff, and the adjustable sternum strap will come in handy on those days when you can’t pack light.

Materials: Nylon
Measurements: 21”L x 13”W x 10”D
Capacity: 34L
Weight: 2.8 lbs.
Colors: 2


  • Breathable shoulder straps
  • Padded back
  • Sternum strap
  • Comes with removable packing cube


  • No waist strap

Frequently asked questions

Are backpacks bad for your back?

According to Rahul Shah, MD, a board-certified orthopedic spine and neck surgeon, the answer will depend on how much you carry in a backpack. He says that typically, most people can handle carrying some weight on their back without any issue, but carry too much and that can be a problem.

That said, determining how much is too much weight can be tricky. As a general rule, Dr. Shah says if you tip forward or back when wearing the backpack or experience back pain, those are signs that the backpack is too heavy for you.

Whether a backpack is bad for your back also depends on the context. “If the body has underlying conditions or cannot handle the weight then, of course, it can hurt the body,” Dr. Shah says. “Or, if you are wearing it for prolonged periods of time day in and day out.”

How do I make my backpack not hurt my back?

If you do experience back pain from wearing a backpack, Dr. Shah recommends reducing what you are carrying in the backpack to make it lighter and therefore, put less strain on your back. He adds that evenly distributing the weight you carry on your back can help. If you usually carry your backpack draped over one shoulder, for instance, try wearing it on both shoulders.

Another option he suggests is trying a backpack with a different design or configuration. The backpack’s straps, in particular, will make a difference on how it feels when you wear it. For example, Dr. Shah says backpacks that have a waist or shoulder strap can help prevent the weight of the backpack from shifting to the front.

All that said, Dr. Shah says there is no one backpack configuration that is better than others. “One may be better for a lighter load while another may work better for a heavier backpack,” he says. The key is experimenting with different types of backpacks until you find one that is a good fit for your comfort and needs.

Can backpacks cause lower back pain?

According to research, there isn’t a significant association between the use and weight of a backpack and lower back pain. However, Dr. Shah says it depends on the person and any underlying issues they have.

Can a backpack ruin your body posture?

“Not permanently and not in general,” Dr. Shah says. “There is no clear increased risk for significant problems as a result of wearing a backpack. However, if you are wearing one on an area that is fragile due to an injury, it will certainly make your posture and pain worse.”

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Amyra Natasha, Azhar et al. “The association between backpack use and low back pain among pre-university students: A pilot study.” Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences vol. 13,2 205-209. 24 Jul. 2017, doi:10.1016/j.jtumed.2017.06.005

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