5 Tips to Keep You Hiking and Backpacking despite Back Pain

Back Pain can stop you from doing the things you love! Here are a few tips I use to keep hiking and backpacking.

Early in the season, my boys and I were invited on a backpacking trip up American Fork Canyon. Being one of my favorite canyons, and aBackpacking Despite Back Pain Blog Post Utah Physical Therapy good chance to take my boys, who are 5 and 10, away from technology made me jump at the chance.  My 5 year old had never been backpacking before and he couldn’t stop talking about how excited he was to go.

A few days before the trip, I was moving some things in my yard and tweaked my back, which caused pain when I lifted and bent over.  Because my kids were still young, I knew my pack was going to weigh quite a bit to carry a lot of the essentials, and I needed a plan to keep the back pain under control.  Here are my 5 tips on things you can do to limit the impact of Back Pain on your hiking and backpacking this summer.

  1. Get a Good Pack
    Whether this is a full backpacking pack or a day pack, make sure you have a pack that works for you. Using the backpacking pack you got when you were a scout, and now you are 45, may not be the best idea.  Our bodies change as we grow and age, and we need to make sure our packs adjust to these changes.Get a backpacking pack that distributes the weight more onto the hips and has enough stability to support the load of your gear.  If you are one who packs light, an internal frame pack is a great choice to shed pounds and still have some stability.  If you tend to pack heavier, you may want to get an external frame pack to distribute the load better.Make sure the pack is fit to your torso.  A lot of packs adjust to your torso length, but some don’t. There are many sporting goods stores that can help you measure your torso, and pick an appropriate pack. (REI, Outnback, Scheels, etc)For Day Packs, the same suggestions apply.  Get a pack that is sized right for you even though you may not be loading it as much.
  2. Get a Comfortable Sleeping Pad
    Few things irritate my back as much as sleeping on the ground. One way to make sure this is a good experience is to make sure you have a pad that is supporting your back.  There are so many pads out there, and they can range dramatically in price, but this is somewhere I would not skimp.Get a pad that is the whole length of your body, and is good quality.  The last thing you want is to have a cheap pad deflate on you during the night.  Personally, I like the Klymit brand because they are light weight, small, and feel like they provide good support.  There are also many other options.
  3. Use Trekking Poles
    My son always comments about people on the trail using “hiking sticks” and he always tries to find one during the first part of our trek. I used to think Trekking Poles were just for old people who had balance issues.  Turns out, they are great for that purpose, but can also help lessen the impact on the joints.Trekking Poles come in a variety of sizes and with a variety of features.  Telescoping poles are nice as you can make them compact and strap them on to your pack when they aren’t needed.  Get some with a comfortable grip that are adjustable.  As you go uphill, make them shorter to accommodate the hill, and when going downhill, make them longer.Using one or two poles can help lessen the load on your legs, and distribute it more to the upper body.  Not only does this help lessen the load on the back, but it also can help you burn more calories, if that is something you are going for.
  4. Distribute Your Load Correctly
    This is something as a scout I didn’t even think about. I would just take everything I had laid out, and threw it in until it fit.  Turns out, loading your pack correctly can significantly reduce the load on your back, and can make it less of a headache when you need to get to stuff.Make sure to load the most dense and heavy items closer to your back and in the middle.  This will help to lessen the load on the back, and make you more stable as you hike.  Medium weight items can then be placed around that, with a little more weight on the top than the bottom.Items you think you will be using during the hike should be placed at the top of the back, or in the side pockets, and items you won’t need until setting up camp should be placed deeper in the pack or on the bottom for convenience.Sometimes, especially with kids, I have strapped thing onto the outside of the backpack out of necessity, but this causes more of a load on the back as you get the weight further away from it.  Try to keep things close to the back as much as possible.
  5. Take Care of it Beforehand
    Most of the time, back pain doesn’t happen right before a backpacking trip like it did to me, although it can. Many of my patients with back pain have been dealing with it for months or even years, and they are trying to stay active and do things they love, like hiking and backpacking.Strengthening and stretching can help ease the pain, if done correctly, and can help you to have an amazing pain free adventure in the outdoors.  The problem is, most of us don’t know what to do about the back pain, and have resigned ourselves to it just being a part of our lives.  This is not the case, and I see people improve their back pain on a daily basis, but treatment needs to address the specific problem each individual faces.There are many myths surrounding back pain that stop people from getting the care they need.  Recently I wrote a FREE Report addressing 6 of the most common myths I see as a back specialist.  It will provide valuable insight if you, or someone you care about, suffer from Back Pain.CLICK HERE to download your FREE Copy of this report.

The end result of my backpacking trip with my kids was we had a great time, but I ended up still feeling some back pain.  My kids had a blast and unplugging them from technology and getting them out in nature was priceless.

Don’t let Back Pain hold you back!  If you have specific questions on what can be done, please feel free to email me at david@utahphysicaltherapy.com, and we can talk about how to help your specific back problem without pills, surgery, or injections.

Get out there and enjoy the amazing resources we have in this great State of Utah!


David Butler, Physical Therapist