Backpack Vs. Messenger Bag?

Updated on August 19, 2012
T.W. asks from Alexandria, VA
13 answers

My daughter (aged 17 and going into her senior year) has decided that she wants a messenger bag instead of a backpack for school. She has a lot of books and notebooks to carry back and forth, and the weight has been hurting her back.

This hasn't been a problem until now, when a friend told her how cool a messenger bag would be.

Any experience with one vs. the other? To me, it seems that the weight on only one side would make her back hurt more, because it's unbalanced.

To which she says she won't put *all* of her stuff in the bag, but will carry it in her arms.

It will still be more weight on one side than the other.

She says that she'll carry her flute on the other side for balance.

"How will you protect what you are carrying in your arms from rain?"
"My jacket will be over that."

"Your arms won't be free - and you like to hug your friends when you see them."
She says she doesn't have to hug them. (Yeah, right, lol!)


As you may have figured out by now, she's determined. I just don't want to put out money for this current whim, only to have to replace it when her back *really* causes problems. If I'm wrong, and there isn't likely to be a problem down the line, I'll let her get one, but if I can stand on medical grounds I will!

TIA :-)

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So What Happened?

Thank you for sharing your opinions and experience - flowers to you all!

Lots of points for further discussion :-)

Featured Answers



answers from New York on

Holy cow. No one ever worried about all this when I went to school. We had school bags, book straps and boy did we carry a lot. We also either walked or took the bus or subway. Oh we did this in the rain and snow ( now don't I sound like an old fart). Really let her get what she wants. She is 17. She will deal with it. Messenger bags are the thing these days.

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Los Angeles on

Her spine is still growing...have her look at this pic (I had to find one!):

The backpack should due worn high enough (and the pack should not be too big - most of them are!) so that it does not hit the pelvis. Both shoulder straps worn and not more than 15% of her body weight in the bag....this will cause her shoulders to roll forward.

Trust me, she'll be carrying everything on one side and then texting on the other side. Back pain at 25 is not worth the fad now.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

A PROPERLY FITTED backpack or a rolling bag are the best option. I am in college right now and there is NO WAY I could lug around all my book and laptop in a messenger bag and not totally screw up my back.
Even if you go with a backpack I would suggest getting a high quality one from an outdoors outfitter - not a cheapie Target one. It should be appropriate for her height and built and have hip straps she can use when is walking particularly far.
At 17 she is almost an adult and needs to make her own decision on what bag to get... however, make sure she knows all the pros and cons and ideally let her try it out. Good stores have weights that you can put into the backpack you are trying so you can see what it feels like.
Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Have her pay for what she wants and be done with it. Maybe it will work for her, but maybe it will not. If she pays, she will own it.. And make it work.
She is 17..., she thinks she knows everything, great, have her go for it and end all of this.

She needs to use the backpack and wear it properly., there is no way a flute will counterweight a filled up back pack.

Rolling back packs are best, but good luck getting a teen to use one.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I teach in a high school, and my students use all sorts of things. Even the students who use backpacks don't wear them the way they're intended; they wear them over one shoulder, so they still don't distribute the weight evenly they way they should.

With teens, I pick my battles, and I don't battle over backpacks. My teen, like yours, prefers a messenger bag. He's carried one for several years now, and somehow he's made it work. My younger son (in third grade) still prefers a backpack even though he generally idolizes his brother.

*As for the rolling backpack that Laurie mentioned, those really would be ideal, but most schools around here don't allow them.

Good luck, and I hope your daughter has a great senior year! It's an exciting time. :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I would insist on a good backpack. Is she wearing her old backpack correctly, on both shoulders and with the straps pulled tightly enough? I notice a lot of kids with backpacks way down on their backs-- if the straps aren't both being worn and at the correct length, so the weight is correctly distributed, this will cause a lot of problems.

I also have done both (backpack and messenger bag)... in my opinion, messenger bags make a great light-load purse, while heavier loads do need the support of both straps. This might help:

3 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

I went to college five years ago so when I was old. I carried on some days five courses in my back pack plus my laptop, I looked like I was skiing to give you some idea of the weight. That did not hurt my back. I also had a messenger bag that I used when I only had one class, like my evening courses. That hurt my back even with one class in it.

I say that because if her backpack is hurting her with just high school books there is no way the messenger bag won't hurt more. Oh if you are wondering why I say high school books I took accounting, I am not sure what they make accounting books out of but they seem to be three times the weight of a similar sized text book.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

A backpack is much more sensible. When I was 17 I wasn't sensible. Of course, when I was 17 my parents weren't buying my school supplies for me. Let her buy her own, and let her figure it out!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I would imagine at 17 she's old enough to live with what she asks for.
If you buy her a messenger bag and she hates it, or it hurts, she can always buy her own bag, with her own money.
As a senior she had better start learning to make her own choices and living with the consequences now!
Yes, I am a mom of a senior and a college sophomore, so I know of what I speak :)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Just let her do that... and per her experiencing it and it being a "hassle" she may realize, that SHE needs to make her own decisions and not just do what her friends tell her. SHE needs to do, what is best, for HER... not just going by what everyone else is doing and to have her own mind... and not just do things according to others.

Yes, you are right per the points you made about HOW will she carry all that, her back, and her flute, and if it rains etc.
You have the common sense, she does not.

But she is 17 and "determined."
Have HER pay for it.
And yes, her back AND shoulders... WILL get sore from carrying things like that.
She must have money for herself, by now. She is 17.

I've used messenger bags. It hurt my shoulders and back.
As women, we carry our purses on one shoulder and with TONS of things in it.... and that can hurt our shoulders too. But... a school bag will be MUCH heavier that a woman's purse.

Your daughter needs to learn about her mistakes.
AND PAY FOR IT HERSELF, if that is the kind of bag she wants.

And, WHY have a bag.. .if she says she won't put *all* her stuff in her bag... but will carry it in her arms instead. Plus her Flute and a jacket over that, IF it rains. She will end up... having ALL her stuff, just fall on the ground.

Your daughter is just wanting to do this... because... a friend told her to. And told her that it is "cool" to have a messenger bag.
So, that is the other.... problem.
She is doing what other kids are telling her to do.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

She's old enough to decide for herself, pay for it herself, and live with the consequences. Overloaded bags of either type can cause problems but you're right - the weight on one side can cause more issues but with some common sense messenger bags can be fine. My SD had a messenger bag in 7th grade and no common sense. She didn't like using her locker so she carried every book she had in her messenger bag and ended up with a neck and shoulder injury that cost us about $1000 in chiropractic visits over 4 months to fix. Most students, though, use them and are just fine If your daughter is a little less dopey and will actually use her locker, not carry a ridiculous load etc. then I say let her buy one herself and then if she decides to use a backpack, she can use the one from last year or you can buy her a new one. But as a Senior, this is one of those areas where you have to realize that she'll be on her own this time next year and this is a decision she can make and live with.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chattanooga on

I used a messenger bag from junior high on. I never had any problems... I would use it mainly for notebooks and miscellaneous supplies, and carried the heavy schoolbooks in my arms. I had to visit my locker between nearly every class, but that was fine. The only time I was ever 'overloaded' with books was when I had to take them home, and then I would stash a few in the bag, and carry the rest in my arms. If it rained, I just stuck them in a plastic bag and that protected them. I had to walk about 1/2 a mile to the bus stop, so I was actually carting those books quite a ways.

I typically alternated which side I carried it on... I'm not sure if that made a difference or not, but I never had any back issues from the messenger bag.

Even now, in college, I am using a messenger bag. I typically only carry 2-3 books in it at a time... the rest stay in the car until I need them. I have my books, along with everything pertaining to a specific class, 'bundled' into zip-up binders, so that I can easily switch one class' binder out for the next. I actually stay organized MUCH better that way than trying to haul everything around together.

MAYBE you could let her use her own money to buy a messenger bag to use while in school, and you can buy her a regular backpack (to be worn properly, like Jennifer P. mentioned...) for when she has to carry for longer periods of time.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

If she already has a functional bag for school (last year's backpack if in decent shape), I would say she can certainly pay for any new bag herself. It sounds like she just wants a new style. That's a want, not a need. If she has no bag in decent shape, I'd buy her a messenger bag, but let her know she is on her own if she changes her mind after using it for awhile.

My DD wanted a messenger bag one year (5th grade) instead of a backpack. DH bought her a really nice one. I think she only used it part of that year before going back to the old backpack. She's going to be in 8th grade this year, and still uses a backpack for school. I really think the messenger bag was a killer on her shoulder, and it was just not as practical in the long run. It's better for lighter loads than several heavy text books, etc. The days the homework load is light, or on of my kids is going on an overnight with a friend, that's is when they like the messenger bag.

1 mom found this helpful
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