Reading time 6 minutes
Backpacking is exciting: you can climb mountains, walk along rough roads… You have the freedom to go anywhere and keep your hands free!
However, sometimes there is a worry related to the backpack: back pain.
Back pain while traveling could be caused by several factors: excessive physical effort, incorrect posture (especially after many hours sitting on means of transport) or a mattress that is too hard or too soft compared to the one we are used to.
Sometimes back pain can be caused by the backpack. Let me explain.
Walking for several hours with an extremely heavy and poorly padded backpack (especially on the backrest and shoulder straps) could cause annoying back pain and shoulder pain.
Back pain caused by the backpack could affect your adventure but fortunately there are ways to prevent it.
Make yourself comfortable because we have prepared 6 tips for you to enjoy your experience without letting annoying back pain stop your wanderlust.
Backpack and back pain: 6 useful tips
1. Choose a suitable backpack
Each backpack is different, just like each of us. Our travel buddy’s backpack does not necessarily suit us as well. Physical stature, height, muscle, backpack capacity, low weight and backrest are all things to consider when choosing a backpack. We suggest you check the exact size of the backrest and compare it with your back. In case of doubt, ask for a suggestion.
2. Key features
A comfortable backpack has a padded, rigid and well-reinforced backrest with a breathable system to keep the back dry during movement. The wide, padded shoulder straps cushion the weight on the shoulders and all the straps need to be easily adjustable for any body shape. The hip belt distributes a part of the weight on the hips and reduces the load on the shoulders. In addition to distributing the weight, the waist belt, along with the chest strap, ensures that the backpack remains stable and close to the back. If the backpack is steady, your back will maintain a correct and relaxed position without being in tension to follow the oscillations of the backpack. You can learn all the parts of the backpack in this detailed glossary.
3. Distribute the weight
The weight of the backpack shouldn’t exceed 20% of your body weight and has to be distributed symmetrically. This means that it would be better to travel light, optimize space and always carry the backpack on both shoulders. Packing a backpack is also fundamental: heavy items need to be close to the back to keep you balanced (this avoids the backpack pushing you backward). Lightweight and bulky items (e.g. sleeping bag) need to be placed at the bottom of the backpack to create a base for all the other things. Lightweight and not bulky items will be positioned at the top. If you distribute the weight correctly, the back will remain in a natural position and will not move backward to follow the oscillations of the backpack.
4. Pay attention to the physical efforts
Especially if the backpack is particularly heavy, a sudden effort could damage your back. Often in the rush to lift the backpack, we do not realize the position of our back: rather than bending it and keeping it in tension, we always suggest bending your knees and following the movement by extending your legs. By doing that, most of the effort is supported by the legs and not by the lumbar part of the back.
To balance your body, always grab the two shoulder straps, both when lifting the backpack and also when placing it on the ground. Give your back some rest from time to time and do some movement such as slow neck rotations or gentle shoulder massages.
5. Adjust the backrest accurately
Backpacks under 50 liters usually have fixed backrests that adapt to all physical conformations. Larger backpacks, on the other hand, can have adjustable backrests based on height and physical conformation. The reason is obvious: the greater the capacity of the backpack, the greater the length and consequently it is necessary to adapt it to one’s back. A backrest that is too short or too long is not just uncomfortable, but it leads to an uneven gait and an unnatural movement of the back to balance the weight. You can read a post dedicated to correctly fitting a torso length.
6. Wear the backpack correctly
Never underestimate a very important aspect: adjusting the backpack. Before backpacking, you need to adapt the backrest and adjust all the straps: hip belt, compression straps, load straps, and chest straps.
In fact, the hip belt plays a key role and is an excellent ally for the well-being of your back. It has been designed not only to make the backpack adhere to the back and make it steady but also to distribute the weight more evenly along the hips without loading on the shoulders during long walks. Most waist belts come with pockets to keep small items close at hand. The hip belt is essential and you will need to adapt it to the diameter of your waist.
As you may have noticed, preventing backpack pain due to a backpack is possible. It is only necessary to pay a little attention and change some bad habits. The choice of backpack deserves careful consideration and for this reason, we have prepared guides to help you to choose the model that suits you and the features to consider in a backpack.
Posts you may like:
- Why you should choose a backpack for your next trip
- How to choose a backpack: the definitive guide
- How to adjust the backpack’s straps
- Guide to pack a backpack
- Glossary: what are the parts of a backpack called?
- Travelling with a trekking backpack instead of a travel backpack
- How to fit the torso lenght
- What is a hip belt in te backpack needed for?