Ergonomist Speaks – Helping With The Pain Of Traveling, Part 1

Ann Hall, one of our ergonomists, addresses the challenges of Carry On bags.

1. Minimize your Load.

You will be setting them down and picking them up. You will be hauling them around. You might be lifting them over your head.

I found one statistic that said the average carry-on luggage weight per person was estimated to be 16 pounds. Sounds reasonable and not too heavy until you carry around a 16 pound baby for an hour. Then you realize that 16 pounds gets exponentially heavier with duration and also when you are carrying that load on the front of your body and maybe even to one side.

After years of travel I try to make bags as light as possible, with just the necessities. I stopped carrying that large hard back book I was never reading and opted for audio books on my phone. I switched to a Surface tablet when on the road instead of my heavier laptop. When I can check my larger bag, I do.

The information I found from UCLA gave a rule of thumb to never carry more than 15% of your body weight, with a maximum weight of 25 pounds. Another group said 10%. This is aimed for bags you carry, not roll. If you have a bag you can roll that would be optimal. So basically, over 160 pounds don’t go over 25 pounds, under 160 pounds keep it under 15-20 pounds; under 100 pounds keep it under 10-15 pounds.

Regarding carry-on roller bags, it may be tempting to not watch the weight of these as much, after all, they are just rolling behind us. I see people straining and sometimes twisting to hoist these up over their heads AND get them back down though. My suggestion, if you can’t keep that bag light, is to take some heavier things out of the bag that will be going into the overhead and put these into a second bag that can be stowed under the seat. Basically, split the load and avoid some of the overhead lift.

2. Distribute the load on your body, evenly between the left and right side.

My mom still carries the large tote bag, with thin canvas straps, packed full of stuff. It hangs off her right shoulder. If I walk behind her I can literally see her body leaning to that side. I at least got her to carry her pocket book on the other side to try to even her out, just a bit.

Bags that you sling over one shoulder increase strain on one side of the body. Try using a backpack style bag so that you can benefit by having shoulder straps over both shoulders. Just make sure that you adjust the straps to make sure the load distribution is even and the straps are snug against your body.

It is so important that I will emphasize it here – if you are carrying a backpack, use both straps. It took me awhile to fully adopt this, but it makes a huge difference.

3. Keep the load on your body above your waist with the heaviest portion, closest to you.

Besides people watching, I looked at pictures of people wearing backpacks. Oftentimes, the weight of the bag was dropping way down past the waist and away from the body. Just a simple strap adjustment would have fixed more than half of the “fit” issues.

Ideally the heaviest part of the load will be tight and close to your body, not drooping way down. Strive to have the bulk of the bag between your shoulders and your hips. Avoid letting the back pack hang more than 2-4 inches below your waist.

A bag with compartments is great, not just for organization, but it helps control the shifting of items in the backpack which can make your load become unbalanced. Best practice is to use these compartments to help distribute the load within the backpack. Make sure when you do this that you try to spread things out evenly, between the left and right side, and again heaviest items such as a laptop towards the back of the pack (side closest to the body).

I was troubleshooting with a friend of mine who was having persistent right hip pain. We were trying seat adjustments, everything. I was behind her one day and noticed the compartment pouch she wore tight and along the lower back. All of her heavy items were on the right side where she was having pain. We couldn’t believe the solution could be so simple as to adjust the items in her pack for even weight distribution.