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ISSUE 121 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/26/2007

Backpack do's and don'ts

By Cody Venzke
Variety Editor

Friday, October 26, 2007

It's a sad truth about college life: Sometimes we just need to carry our lives with us. You get up in the morning, fumbling your way towards your dorm room door to make it to your first class. Still half-asleep, you open your bag and begin filling it. Books? Need ‘em. Pencils? Yep. Cell phone? Of course. Slowly, but surely, everything makes it way into your backpack.

You are, after all, a busy college student – so busy, in fact, that you won't see your beloved room again until they kick you out of the library at midnight. You simply don't have time to change books midday; it's just easier to carry it all with you.

Or maybe you're not the overly busy type. Maybe you're well adjusted, and you're not going to carry the whole library with you wherever you go. Then again, most bowling balls are lighter than your chemistry book. Whether you like it or not, you're going to be carrying a lot of literal baggage with you.

Just because you feel like a pack mule, however, doesn't mean that you can't be a stylish pack mule. Not only that, you don't have to destroy your back either. Are there any backpacks satchels or messenger bags out there that look good and feel even better? Which backpacks match up for style and for comfort?

Students, of course, can always resort to the classic two-strap bag. Sometimes classic is best – bags with two straps are often better for the back than other styles. Using a bag with two straps helps distribute the weight evenly over the back, avoiding problems such as back pain that other bags may cause.

Kimberly Buffie, a chiropractor in Roxford, Minn., says that these bags allow for a more natural distribution of weight. They also cause a smaller arch in the back and force the student to lean forward less than other bags do, amounting to less strain on the back and shoulders.

Double strap bags also come with a number of other features that help protect the back. Straps with heavier padding help protect the shoulders, and bags with a strap that goes across the chest move weight away from the back.

As you might remember from elementary school, there's no shortage of backpack styles. A glance through or (that's right — a website dedicated to school bags) uncovers more possibilities than you could have possible dreamed of, ranging from $10 to $40.

Like to incorporate your iPod into every aspect of your daily life? There are bags out there just for you. Want something simple, just for your books? It wouldn't be hard to find. Just gotta have a backpack with Dora the Explorer or Hilary Duff (you know who you are)? Go for it. There's a bag for every need.

More stylish than the double-strap bags are the single-strap messenger bags. These packs sling over one shoulder and allow the ever-ready bearer to deliver letters and packages at any moment. Or maybe not. But you still look good. A messenger bag is just cool, confident and utterly relaxed. Unlike the proponents of two strap bags, you've got this college thing down, and your bag shows it.

For all their charisma, however, messenger bags simply don't offer the ergonomics that their two counterparts provide. The single strap unevenly distributes the bag's weight, and students have a tendency to lean farther than with double strap bags, resulting in back and shoulder pain.

Finally, there is a third option for students. Unlike the previous two alternatives, this type of bag puts virtually no strain on the back simply because is not carried, but rolled. These bags, equipped with wheels and extendable handles, tend to resemble luggage more than anything else. Despite their benefits, however, these bags are probably less than practical for those of us who must traverse rougher terrain to the farthest reaches of campus, –when returning to Thorson or Hill-Kitt, for example.

Also, roller bags simply do not offer the aesthetic bonuses of double strap or messenger bags either. I mean, really – you're rolling your bag. Do you really have so many books that you can't carry it?

Whichever style you select, Kimberly Buffie also offered other advice for avoiding back pain. First, you should never carry more than a quarter of your weight on your back – 10 to 15 percent is ideal. It is also important that the backpack fits snuggly to prevent you from leaning too far forward to compensate for the weight. Improper backpacking can result in more than just back pain, too. According to Buffie, bad posture as a result of backpacking can lead to conditions such as permanent spine curvature.

Whatever style of backpack you pick, remember that you can have the best of both the backpack worlds. So travel in style with your overabundance of books, and keep your back healthy at the same time.

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