How to Prevent Back Pain While Backpacking

Hello again, friends.

Last Monday I went to a meet up with backpackers in my area and we discussed how to prevent back stiffness whilst backpacking! Just a little bit about correct posture and all the muscles that go into standing and walking correctly. A physical therapist ran the show and she did an excellent job and actually answered a lot of my questions. If you’ll recall from last week I was already interested in preventing back pain and standing/walking correctly so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

I’m not an expert, I didn’t come home with a complete command of the physiology that goes into posture, but I find the topic fascinating and I’ve been implementing some of the little things she mentioned all this week, and I want to share that with you.

Transverse Abdominis

Upper-left information bubble points out the transverse abdominis. As you can see it runs deep in the core, with the six-pack muscles layered over it.

So the first thing she told us to about was the transverse abdominis. This is the deepest muscle of your core, and it wraps all around your abdomen and connects at your spine. The “six-pack” muscles are the layer over it. But the take away is this: you can have the biggest six-pack in the world, do all the sit-ups you like, but if your deep down core isn’t strong then none of that will do you much good. And that deep down core is mostly the transverse abdominis.

What does this muscle do/how do you strengthen it? Well I’ll show you. Sit up straight right now, without using the back of a chair, a wall, or anything else for support. You’ll want your shoulders to be slightly back and in line with your hips: no slumping forwards. Now see how long you can comfortably hold this position. I bet not very long.

The muscle that is holding you upright, providing you the support you need to sit erect, is the transverse abdominis. You should start to be able to feel it within a few seconds: a sort of ache all through your sides. Just sitting upright unsupported a few times a day can strengthen this muscle.

Proper sitting posture

This person is sitting upright without support and using her core muscles. Bravo her. It’s harder than it looks.

Walking and standing employ the same concept. But the thing to remember here is to tilt your pelvis slightly forward, almost as if you’re tucking it under your body or pointing your tailbone towards the floor. This will both ensure that your transverse abdominis is working and also engage your glutes ever so slightly; they will begin to power the way you walk. I think that’s fascinating because it means that maybe, if you only subtly change the way you carry yourself, you can get all the same benefits as you would from doing fifty squats a day.

If you stand and walk in the ways I’ve just described it supposedly helps with back pain while backpacking, but I hope to eventually implement this constantly, throughout my day. The beauty of it is that, while it is hard, there’s no constant reps or exhaustion or a ruthless sap of energy like with many workouts. It’s literally just a tiny way to adjust the way I carry myself that still makes me much stronger and is the way I was meant to use my muscles. I don’t want to always be dependant on chairs to keep me upright, you know?

Food for thought. Anyway that’s all I have this week. Next week I will have completed an overnight hike with the backpacking group I keep mentioning and will at least be able to summarize my experience, so exciting things coming up!

Until then,


(P.S. Happy Easter!)


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