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May 2021 Issue
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How to avoid shoulder and back pain when tramping

When fitted properly, the pack’s weight will be supported by your hips. Photo: Tony Gazely

If you finish a hard day of tramping with sore shoulders or a sore back, don’t just blame a heavy pack. There are a couple of culprits you might want to look at first.

Fit your pack properly
Tramping packs are designed to carry a lot of weight. But, as with any good tool, packs should be used properly. Try these steps to ensure the correct fit.

  1. 1. Loosen all adjustable straps.
  2. Put the fully loaded pack on and if you have a friend, ask them to hold it in the right place against your body.
  3. Tighten the hipbelt first and make sure the pack is actually sitting on your hips so that its weight is supported by your hips.
  4. Adjust the shoulder straps to move the pack closer to your upper body.
  5. Refine the position of the pack making smaller adjustments with the remaining straps.

When fitted properly, most of the weight of the pack should be sitting on your hips. The shoulder straps should keep the pack from feeling like you will topple backwards, but there shouldn’t be much pressure on your shoulders.

Healthy posture
When your pack is fitted properly, you should be able to stand with a natural position in your spine. That means upright in your chest and upper back, relaxed shoulders down and a slight curve in your lower back – or the opposite of hunching and rounding forward.

We often lose this healthy posture when breathing hard or working hard – like when tramping uphill. When things get tough, pause for a moment and take a slow breath in. As you inhale, stand tall through your spine, letting your shoulders relax.

Keep taking micro-pauses to reset your posture, especially when tired or struggling through difficult terrain.

Hamstring stretch. Photo: Tony Gazley

After working muscles hard, they can become tight when you stop moving at the end of the day. Tight hamstrings are a common cause of back pain, so when you get to the hut, try this stretch:

  1. Put your hands on a table or another surface that’s at least as high as your hips.
  2. Walk your feet slowly back.
  3. Hinge or fold at the hips as you move your feet back. Let your knees bend a little.
  4. Your upper body will lean forward. You should feel a stretch in the back of your legs.
  5. Make the stretch stronger by lifting your tailbone.
  6. Vary the stretch by having your feet parallel or moving one foot further forward or back.

To get a bonus stretch for your back, hold on to the table and lean back in your hips, letting your body weight pull or stretch through your back.