When you do a lot of hiking, you start to come across the list of discomforts such as aching feet, blisters and chafing. But, an issue just as common if not more is your backpack straps digging into your skin. During a long hike, it can feel as though your bag is trying to carve through your shoulders or give you great shoulder and backache. When this issue occurs not only is it uncomfortable but also makes your bag feel so much heavier than it actually is.
So, in this article, we are going to look at how to solve the problem of back and shoulder pains from your bag and bag straps. We will discuss how to adjust your straps, how to pack your bag correctly and modify for pain-free hiking.
Make sure your bag is packed correctly
In my opinion, the most common reason for discomfort and pain is from an incorrectly packed hiking bag. As with everything balance is key, if the left part of your bag is heavier than the right this is going to cause stress on the left part of your pack and cause you to slant causing discomfort as certain muscles are working harder and under pressure. This discomfort can also have an adverse effect on your walking efficiency and cause problems in other parts of your body, such as legs and feet as more weight is on one side of the body.
All heavy items should be backed central and up against your spine if possible. Medium weight object should be packed around the heavier object. Lighter objects should be placed at the top of your bag and in pockets.
Packing your bag this way helps leverage your bodies natural strength and keeps gravity from working against you. Take a look at this image for more details.
Is your bag the correct size?
Another issue, as told to me by my chiropractor was the possibility of the wrong size bag. This means that if your bag is longer than your torso, it can lead to lower back pain (as to why I had to see a chiropractor). So how do you know if your bag is the correct size?
Hiking bags come in different shapes, designs and sizes, the size is defined by a Litreage, the most common being between 20L and 65L. So how do you know which to go for?
This may sound a little technical but it’s not. Your bag should be about the same length of your torso, which is between your C7 Vertebrae and the iliac crest. See the image below. Your C7 vertebrae is the central meeting point of your shoulder and back muscles and is easy to locate at the back of your neck. To find your C7 vertebrae, stand up straight and run your hand down the back of your neck, the first bump you feel is your C7! It isn’t much higher than your shoulder blades, which makes it a good marker for how high your bag go; don’t let your backpack rise higher than this point.
Finding your iliac crest is easy also because it is basically the top point of your hips. Essentially, you just place your hands over the top of your hips and where your index fingers meet behind you is where the bottom of your backpack should be resting.
So, we now know how to pack our bags correctly and what size they should be to maximize comfort. Let’s look at how to fit it correctly.
How to fit your hiking bag
Step 1 –
Put on the bag and pull the two shoulder straps equally, so they are snug against your body (snug but not tight). One tip to try is to jump on the spot, and as you are off the ground they bag will move away from the body at the rear, at this point pull the straps. You want the straps to be tight at this stage, but this is just wile we finish step 2.
Step 2 –
The hip strap is the most important part of the bag (comfort wise). Currently, all the bags weight is on the shoulders as you have just adjusted the shoulder straps. Now, fasten the hip strap as tight as comfortably possible, just as you would do with a belt for your trousers.
So at this stage, you can slightly loosen your shoulder straps. The job of the shoulder straps is to keep the bag from falling off your back not to carry all the weight. You should be able to comfortably get two fingers between your shoulder strap and shoulder if you can’t try loosening the shoulder strap a bit more.
What the hip strap does is transfer the weight from your shoulders to your hips. Your hips are a great deal stronger than your shoulder; therefore, your hips do all the carrying, which should eliminate and pain in the shoulders.
As we discussed above the job of the shoulder straps is to secure the bag on your back, not carry the weight, but, they do need tightening again to secure the bag from moving position. You do not want the bag moving to the side of moving backwards and forwards off your back. It should be firm and secure.
So, secure the shoulder straps again and then the sideload straps, so there are no gaps between your back and the bag, and no room for movement.
Step 4 –
Once you have secured the shoulder straps, and the hip strap its time to fasten the sternum strap (this is the strap that goes across your chest). Clip it together and tighten to comfort, ensuring that the bag does not move side to side when you walk and adjust is needed.
Top Tips for staying comfortable
It’s one thing to have your backpack properly set up in the comfort of your home or garden, but when you are out on the trails for several hours or days weariness sets in. This causes weakened muscles, especially if you are unfit or inexperienced with distance hiking.
1, Don’t Lean Too Far Forward When Hiking a Flat Trail
Our natural inclination when carrying a big weight – especially as we tire – is to lean forward, as if trying to carry the weight directly on our backs. Don’t do this! A gentle lean forward is good for posture, but not so much that the wrong muscles and weaker ones take the strain of your pack.
Only lean further forward if you are climbing a hill. This will help with taking the most advantage of your gravity and keeping the strain off of your back and neck.
2. Rest Regulally
Take regular breaks as a matter of course – every hour or so should be fine every two at most. However, if at any time you feel the straps have become too loose or too tight, or your pack’s weight has shifted, don’t just keep walking, this could do you more harm than good. Take a few minutes to stop where you are and readjust straight away – your body will thank you in the long run!
No matter how to fit and experienced you are, you should take the bag off completely every couple of hours to allow your muscles to recover.
Also, regular breaks give you more chance to enjoy your surroundings.
3. Warm up and Cool Down
As with any other physical repetitive exercise, warming up and cooling down properly will help to minimize soreness the next day. There are plenty of resources out there to guide you.
The simplest thing you can do is reach your hands to the sky and slowly rotate them in a circular motion with your pack off. This will restore your blood flow and reduce muscle tension. Simple stretched like joggers and runners do would also be beneficial.
The love of hiking shouldn’t involve discomfort, and if you follow the simple steps, we set out above, you should really minimize and chance.
Make sure your pack is balanced for weight, with the heavy kit in the middle and don’t carry things you just don’t need. Ensure your shoulder, sternum, and hip straps are correctly adjusted so that your hips carry the bulk of the weight.
Rest and take regular breaks on the trail, these breaks should include some form of stretching and always re-adjust as soon as you feel discomfort or pain (don’t ignore it or let it get worse).
Follow these simple steps, and you’ll be surprised at how much more comfortable your backpack straps will feel.