by Diane Spicer
Back injury prevention for hikers involves:
As you can see, it's a combination of what you can purchase, and what you provide for your back through commitment to be your strongest, best hiking self.
Back pain after a hike is a horrible souvenir to take away from trail time.
But it's a wake up call you should never ignore.
So it just makes sense to go down the path of back injury prevention for hikers.
Let's tackle the purchasing angle first.
Back injury prevention for hikers through the lens of your purchasing power boils down to this advice:
A flimsy day pack, cast off by your kids or found at a rummage sale, is not the way to go.
Or, at least not after more than the first few easy hikes you do.
A hand-me-down or second hand store purchase may save money in the short run, but back pain costs you time and money down the road - or down the trail.
It may even discourage you from ever hiking again!
Just say no to an old used pack.
Because to be a strong hiker, you need a pack that gives you:
I'm not pushing you to buy a high-end pack with too many bells and whistles. (Think I'm kidding? There are packs with a whistle right on the straps, and a place to attach bear bells!)
In fact I'd discourage you from paying a lot of money for bells & whistles you will never use, like an ice axe loop - not to mention the trendiest new colors.
To find out how to locate the pack of your dreams along with other hiking gear, go here.
Hiking For Her's backpacking buying guide here
A review of a trusted backpack here
Not ready to commit to purchasing the best dayhike pack yet?
Here are some ideas for scoping out packs without being stuck with a less than ideal purchase:
...in short, become a pack hound.
(Which is not to suggest that you are a beagle.)
How to determine if the pack you're interested in purchasing fits you?
Long story short:
You need to try on every backpack in front of a full length mirror and decide:
AND you need to walk around with some weight in the pack, carried down low and representative of the amount you would carry on a trail.
It's one of the best pieces of "back injury prevention for hikers" advice I can give you!
Much as I love the convenience and competitive pricing of Internet shopping, I would caution you against purchasing a pack without trying on several first.
Yes, I know that you can return it in the mail if it doesn't fit, but why waste time (not to mention environmental resources) until you're really clear about what you need?
Find a nearby store that seems friendly and cozy up to a salesperson who is knowledgeable about hiking. Any old big box store with a limited selection won't do - you need an experienced hiker to sell you a pack!
Have this person suggest packs after explaining what type of hiking you'll be using it for, and then be meticulous in adjusting each one until you can decide if it's a potential candidate.
After spending your time and theirs wisely, seriously consider purchasing the pack from that salesperson, unless the prices are seriously inflated (which you would know, by doing some comparison shopping online before entering the store. Go here to do this.)
It should not shock you to hear that I put as much thought into purchasing hiking gear as I do with purchasing a car, and for much the same reason:
Or you could use the Cinderella analogy!
I hope I've convinced you about investing time in finding THE pack in order to avoid back pain after a hike.
Now let's look at back injury prevention strategies for hikers that cost time, rather than money.
Body mechanics are a big factor in preventing back pain.
Answer these questions about your body mechanics in the privacy of your own mind:
These are all examples of improper body mechanics which, over time, can give you back pain and loss of mobility on the trail.
So the bad news is that back injury prevention for hikers is a full time job, in terms of establishing good habits (or breaking bad ones first).
And it's no surprise that if you add a heavy field guide, a camera bag, and some heavy water bottles into the mix, your already-weakened back will begin to talk to you:
Hiking For Her tips on how to pack a backpack might be useful here :)
And it's not just wearing the pack that you must pay attention to!
Here are more questions in your back injury prevention self assessment:
All of these motions can stress the multitude of joints in your backbone, not to mention tick off your muscles.
You probably can guess that it's important to use good body mechanics every day, but especially when you're lifting and wearing your filled backpack.
Play out this little scenario to gather more information about your tendency to ignore/practice good hiking ergonomics:
imagine yourself, standing up from a nice comfy moss covered log and reaching for your backpack.
These are negative examples of hiking biomechanics - don't continue to do them if you truly believe in back injury prevention for hikers!
OK, I can hear you thinking: "So what is the proper way to put on a pack?"
It depends on the size and weight of the pack, to some extent.
It also depends upon your upper body strength.
And here's my 2 cents worth of advice on back injury prevention for hikers:
Vow to work on developing upper body strength, so you can
let your arms and chest control the weight of the pack until it is
properly seated on your back.
Here's how I started:Crown Sporting Goods Sprint: Set of 3 Pairs of Neoprene Body Sculpting Hand Weights
Yoga for hikers can be an excellent way to build upper body strength.
Some of the poses are known to stabilize and strengthen the shoulder girdle.
And older hikers will welcome the chance for increased flexibility.
And finally, reconsider every item in that pack - is the weight justified by absolute necessity?
Or are you over-packing?
If you can't hoist the pack up by a few fingers on one hand, it's too heavy!
Drop some weight.
Or start lifting weights! (see above)
While we're on the topic of gaining strength, let's shift our attention to strong back muscles.
Most of us sit way too much every day, and have lost flexibility over the years.
You already know where I'm going with this.
I know, I know: daily exercise and back stretches are a real pain.
But so is chronic back pain! (literally)
A strong vertebral column is a fantastic gift to give yourself, particularly as you age.
This depends upon your personality.
Are you a social person?
For those who have a more introverted nature, a home fitness routine is more appealing (ask me how I know).
Here's something I do to enhance my posture and spinal strength during my long hours sitting at a computer:
I perch on a balance ball chair.
I love it so much I can't go back to my "regular" office chair any more!
And I notice that my posture on the trail is much taller - I don't slouch into my pack and I don't crane my neck in front of my body.
I use the balance bar to do some stretching every day.
My spinal column flexibility is NOT what it used to be. But this gives me a gentle way to remind my body that my back is for strength AND flexibility.
Here's another thought:
If you visit a massage or physical therapist regularly, ask him/her about back strength & flexibility exercises.
These therapists deal with muscles on a regular basis, and will be familiar with the various types of back pain you might be experiencing - even to the point of knowing exactly which muscle is responsible.
If they give you exercises and stretches, commit to doing them every day.
And speaking of the spinal column, it's held together by more than just muscles: connective tissue fibers called ligaments connect the bones, while other connective tissue called fascia acts as packing and wrapping material.
And we haven't even mentioned the hard working blood and nerve supplies! They can be impinged upon, and cause trouble, too.
Regular bodywork helps to normalize the functions of these fibers and essential body routes.
So after reading all of this information about back injury prevention for hikers, ask yourself:
Are you your own best friend,
or your back's worst enemy?
A strong healthy back is a precious resource for any hiker, and that's why back injury prevention for hikers is a hot topic for those who want to keep burning up the trails!
Invest in the time and gear necessary to preserve your resource, and you'll be hiking with ease and grace for decades to come.
Once you get on the back injury prevention for hikers train, there will be no more sore backs, back pain or stiffness for you!
Back Injury Prevention for Hikers
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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