As a backpacker, your back is your most important asset on the trip. 7-10kg may not sound like much at first, but stretch it to several weeks or months (along with the occasional need to run with it), and that’s a whole lot of weight to shoulder!
Before embarking on my solo backpacking trip, one of my main concerns was how I was going to carry the weight on my back for three months. I have a small frame so I had to be selective with what I choose to bring.
Even then, my clothes, toiletries, laptop and other essentials in the backpack weighed about 8kg. I also had a daytime sling bag to carry my camera, tripod, notebook, make-up and umbrella which came up to about 1.5kg. Along the way, I accumulated leaflets, postcards and gifts, easily piling on another 2kg.
Don’t let that discourage you though! The last thing you want at the end of the trip is a backache or long-term back problem, but rather than shying away from the backpacking, there are a few precautions you can take. Here’s how:
Invest in a good backpack
A few years before I went on my trip, I had a large backpack which strained my shoulders and back within a few hours. It was hurting me so much I had to give up on it.
The main reason that backpack didn’t work was because of its design. It was bulky, heavy on its own and didn’t have the proper features to alleviate the pressure on my shoulders.
Nowadays there are all sorts of nifty backpacks in the market catering to this travel style. I recommend looking for one which is light, has padded shoulder straps and most importantly, has padded waist straps. Trust me, the padded waist straps make a difference. They balances the pressure on your shoulders by shifting some of the weight to your hips and pulling the bag closer to the body.
I carried an Osprey Porter 30 for my trip across Europe. It worked well for me and I can’t wait to use it again for my upcoming trips. I’ll write more on the bag in a later post.
Keep the backpack close to the body
Space between the bag and your back exerts more pressure on the shoulders. There are two ways to counter this:
(i) Adjust the shoulder strap to bring the backpack closer to your body.
(ii) If you start to feel a strain while walking, pull the straps of your backpack to narrow the gap further.
These help to distribute the weight throughout your body instead of forcing the shoulders to do most of the work.
Give it a rest
Waiting for a train? Put it down. Nowhere to sit? Find a railing you can lean your bag on for support, or sit on it if you don’t mind. Be creative with your environment. It’s unnecessary to stress out your body by constantly carrying it.
Listen to your body when travelling. Whenever it starts to feel uncomfortable, take a break on a bench or sidewalk. Take time to immerse in the surroundings.
Obviously you would leave your backpack at your accommodation before heading out. But what if you didn’t book one or are only able to check in later?
Most hostels or hotels allow you to leave your bags in their storage area prior to check-in time. Make full use of it.
If you don’t have a place booked for the day and are not keen on dragging your backpack with you, look for a public storage area. You can find this service at most airports and train stations. They usually charge a small fee to keep your luggage for up to 24 hours. In Paris, for instance, you can leave your luggage in lockers at most train stations for €5.50 to €9.50 per day.
Sneak in core exercises
Exercising isn’t just about cardio or strength training. Strengthening the core helps you maintain proper posture, stabilise the body and improve flexibility. Yoga, pilates, taichi, planking – you name it. I’d been joining Body Balance classes prior to the trip so I would sneak it into my routine when I can.
Whether it is to warm up or cool down, stretching is an important step when performing core exercises (or any form of exercise for that matter). It’s a good way to lessen back pain and injuries. And the best part? As core exercises do not require much equipment, you can do it discretely in the room.
This is the simplest and most important way to take care of your back. Each time you put your backpack down, stretch to give your muscles some relief. It only takes a few seconds and you’ll feel much better afterwards.
From one backpacker to another, do take care of yourself and the one who will always have your back(pack). Stay safe!
Do you have any other tips for fellow backpackers out there?