Lumbar Packs

  Lumbar packs: What's in a name?

Lumbar packs....would this particular rose smell as sweet if we called it a "fanny" pack?
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How about a "waist" pack?

You know, a smaller version of a hiking backpack.

All 3 words refer to the general geographic area on a female hiker's body.

But here's why I prefer the term "lumbar packs".

First off, I teach anatomy classes. I'd much prefer my students referring to their lower back side as the lumbar area, as opposed to their fanny.

Secondly, the term "waist" is too general for me.


I'm a Naprapath, someone who specializes in the care of the spine. I'm concerned with the way the lumbar pack is interacting with the lumbar vertebrae, as well as all points north and south on a hiker's body.

And just for the record, I have a third reason:

As a child, I was threatened with having my fanny whooped if I misbehaved. So the word has a very negative connotation for me.

Just a personal preference to avoid it, but I'm sure you can sympathize.

 Load bearing and the human spine

OK, so let's get down to it.

(Oh dear. I sense the onslaught of some rather pathetic puns. I will do my best to practice "pun avoidance behavior.")

The lumbar region of your spine is critically important to your hiking career.

There's a lot going on in that particular area of the body that can

  • make you miserable (via chronic lower back pain),
  • set you up for problems later in life ( or chronic muscle tension), or
  • sideline you temporarily (an improperly loaded lumbar pack can create lopsided muscle fatigue, leading to spasms).

A quick peek at the human spine should convince you that it really isn't designed for walking upright against gravity while bearing a heavy load.

Take a look at this diagram.

Notice right away the curvatures: one near your neck and one near your gluteals (ok, I suppose the word "fanny" wouldn't hurt here).

That second curve is in the lumbar region.

And it's the lumbar region that will interact directly with the lumbar pack.

[As an aside, you might want to check out the association between tight muscles on the back of your legs and lower back pain, nicely explained below the diagram.]

How to select a waist pack

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind if you want to try wearing this small alternative to a hiking backpack:

1. What is the purpose of this pack?

If you just want to carry a water bottle (or 2) and some lip balm, or maybe a lightweight jacket, then you're correct in thinking that a day pack is overkill.

However, if you find yourself loading up the lumbar pack with snacks, keys, camera, lots of water, and other heavy items, do your back muscles a favor and DON'T use a waist pack. Think a little bigger.

2. Regardless of whether you have pockets for one water bottle or two, think "balance" every time you strap on the pack. Don't make one side of your body work harder than the other.

Short term, no worries.

Long term - ouch!

3. Be sure it fits you.

  • Can you tighten down and loosen the pack as needed? It should fit snugly at your waist, sitting on your hips.
  • Does the pack have a wide enough range of belt material to fit you comfortably? Look at the specs for the adjustment ranges before you order one online.

And please avoid having the waist belt dig into you for extended periods of time. Not only is it annoying, it cuts off blood flow to important structures below the pack.

4. Look for wicking and breathable materials in the waist belt. No sense in having your perspiration pool around your middle!

And while you're at it, look for a little padding, too.

5. Be sure the water bottles that come with the pack play nicely with your lumbar area. Some bottles have a flat side so they snug up against you, giving a nice fit.

Some packs don't come with water bottles, so be sure your current bottles are compatible with the pack.

6. Interested in the "green" movement? Some lumbar packs are made from reclaimed or recycled materials. Check under the manufacturer's specs for the source materials.

7. Look for some nice features:

  • key clip,
  • compression straps,
  • shoulder straps,
  • bottom drain holes,
  • reflective strips,
  • zippered inner pockets to hold small treasures.

8. Try to borrow one of these packs and give it a spin before committing to one particular manufacturer.

It's not that they are expensive, it's the time investment in equipment that doesn't work for you that I'm concerned about.

Or at the very least, don't be too shy to ask someone on the trail how they like their waist pack.

9. If you'd like to comparison shop, try this.

10. Want my recommendation for the best lumbar packs for comfortable trail time? I like it because it's built of tough materials,  and it's versatile, meaning I'll get more mileage out of it (literally).

That about covers it! (See? I didn't even touch an easy hiking pun.)

As a hiker, you should be all about protecting your knees and back.

And a sweet little ultra-portable pack might be just what you need for short day hikes or training walks!

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