Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
UL pack for cranky lower back
Display Avatars Sort By:
Elizabeth Fallin
UL pack for cranky lower back on 10/22/2012 11:06:07 MDT Print View

Sorry, no poetry intended ;-) Looking for a pack recommendation or three.

I am a lightweight hiker, not yet UL, but gradually working that way as time and budget allow.

I am going back to Philmont Scout Ranch for another 11-day trek. Last time I was 25 lb dry, but after a multi-day resupply and the need to carry a lot of water (dry camps), I was up to 45. Not my idea of fun. And Philmont food tends to be pretty heavy and bulky. There's nothing to be done about that, though. Anyway, I'm aiming to shed 5-7 lb this time. With the resupply mentioned above, plus all the water, my 4600 cu in pack was loosely full. I could have compressed it down by 10-15%.

My big three are a North Face Cat's Meow (2-10) + a NeoAir (0-14), a Big Agnes Seedhouse 1 (2-8), and my Osprey Ariel (5 lb even). I love how the Ariel fits, except for that pesky weight part. The other gear has been carefully chosen, weight, comfort, ease of use, etc. all being factors for me.

I have a cranky lower back/sacrum, so I try to keep weight from banging into it (my Ariel is a great thing I love about it). I really appreciate a wide, padded hip strap, and suspension to keep the weight on the hips.


Liz in Seattle

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
RE UL pack for cranky lower back on 10/22/2012 11:23:58 MDT Print View

I'm sure you'll get a ton of suggestions on packs but I wanted to toss in a couple things about lower back issues. I herniated a disc a few years ago, was 100% disabled for months and now am basically 99% of where I was pre-injury with the exception of some permanent nerve damage that has left part of my right leg numb. Back care is a daily issue for me, however. I stretch daily- there's several yoga stretches that I find particularly helpful. I also get a once monthly massage and a once monthly acupuncture appointment. And I do daily lower back strengthening exercises and core strengthening exercises. You may already have a regimen and if you do I applaud you but I see so many people out there with back issues that don't take daily steps to heal themselves and I've had such good success by doing so that I felt compelled to share.

My daily looks a lot like this:
-Cat/Camel pose - 1 minute
-Childs pose- 1 minute
-Pigeon pose - 1 minute (stretches glutes/hips which can pull low back out of alignment)
-Crescent Lunge w/ spinal twist - 1 minute
-Plank pose - 1 minute
-Supermans (or some other variety of stabilizing pose)- 1 minute

I also diligently stretch my hips and hamstrings. Hips and hamstrings tend to get very tight and they pull the lower back out of alignment so care must be taken with these areas as well to keep them loose.

I still have the occasional bad day, but this combined with acupuncture and massage has taken me from being 100% disabled to being able to hike all day again.

My pack last year was a 3 lb 40L GoLite Speedpack. The torso was too short for me and placed all the weight on my shoulders, so I'm retiring that pack and switching to a Granite Gear Vapor Trail in a long torso. I haven't weighed it yet but it's less than 3 lbs. It feels pretty cushy loaded up, so I think I'll be happy with that.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
re: UL pack for cranky lower back on 10/22/2012 12:18:45 MDT Print View

Another cranky back sufferer here, same general region.

A couple of years ago I went through a bunch of packs, trying to find a lightweight pack that was comfortable to my back, and did a good job of transferring weight to my hip vs. hanging a bunch off the shoulders.

I found that ULA packs did the best job for me, with the Catalyst being the most comfortable. It's not the lightest pack (about 3 lbs), but I can carry 35-40 lbs with no back issues (I tested this by loading the pack with encyclopedias - try that with Wickipedia!!!). With a normal 20-25 lb. load, it seems almost not there.


Stuart .
(lotuseater) - F

Locale: Mountains
+1 ULA on 10/22/2012 12:28:46 MDT Print View

If you don't need the volume of the Catalyst, take a good look at the Ohm 2.0 or the Circuit. I've spent entirely too much time and money at the chiropractor this year dealing with lower and upper back problems from a paragliding accident. I find the original Ohm the most comfortable pack for three season 3-4 day trips (total pack weight ~20-25lb), and I've heard others successfully use that model for 7+ day trips. The Ohm 2.0 offers interchangeable hipbelts, and the Circuit's suspension allows up to 35lb total pack weight.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
re: +1 ULA on 10/22/2012 12:51:06 MDT Print View

Hey Stuart

I am in no way trying to invalidate your favorite cranky back pack, the original Ohm, this is just a FWIW add-on.

ULA sent around a message a month or so back, saying that if anyone wanted some custom work done, now was the time. So I called up Rodney to talk about a skinny Ohm (making it more day pack sized, which is what I tend to use it for), that I didn't care if it was an original Ohm or the Ohm 2.0, and when I mentioned the cranky back thing, he suggested the Ohm 2.0 because he thought the weight transfer was better with the regular hipbelt.

The custom Ohm 2.0 came out very nice, including a roll-top closure! I also got a new Catalyst with the Ohm side-squeezing ladder cord system (never did especially like the single strap up high!). Both packs are fantastic! Can't say enough good stuff about ULA!

p.s. Anyone want a nice deal on a Ohm 2.0, large/large in very good condition???

Edited by grampa on 10/22/2012 12:52:39 MDT.

Stuart .
(lotuseater) - F

Locale: Mountains
2.0 on 10/22/2012 13:32:47 MDT Print View

I've considered the Ohm 2.0 (shame yours isn't medium/medium, Stephen), but realistically my next pack's capacity will probably be closer to 4000cu in the main body + collar to handle all the extra stuff I'll need for winter hiking. Whether that'll be the ULA Catalyst, CCW Chaos, HMG Expedition, or something else I haven't decided yet.

Which brings me back to the OP's question - do pay attention to ULA volume: they 'feel' smaller than other apparently equivalent backpacks I've tried because the measurements include the collar and all the pockets. I've heard others say that Utah liters must be smaller than those in the rest of the world :-) If in doubt, put together your standard packing list and shoot it over to the backpack manufacturers you shortlist to find out which model they'd recommend.

jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
"UL pack for cranky lower back" on 10/22/2012 13:40:53 MDT Print View

I also need to carry my pack weight on my hips and off my shoulders because of a cranky lower back. I'm an outlier, but my solution is to use a Luxury Lite pack frame but not use the LL "bags". Instead I've strapped a Gossamer Gear pack to the frame. The whole thing weighs about 2 1/2 lbs--heavy by this forum's standards but for me it carries like a dream. Even better, the "flange" at the bottom of the LL frame is perfect for carrying a bear canister; like it was designed for that. There's more than enough room in this set-up for my longest trips (10 days or so).

Aaron Croft
(aaronufl) - M

Locale: Oregon
Packs for the crankiest of backs. on 10/22/2012 13:56:44 MDT Print View

I would also recommend you take a look at the Granite Gear line of packs. The Blaze AC 60 Ki (Women's version) may be right up your alley. It has:

An adjustable and fairly thick framesheet
A very cushy hipbelt
Transfers weight to the hips very well
Offers 3660 cubic inches of space
Is under 3 lbs.

That being said, I use an Ohm 2.0 and love it, but do find that it carries more on the shoulders once you get above 25 pounds or so.

The best advice that i can give is to try multiple packs, as fit is a very personal thing. Happy hunting!

Edited by aaronufl on 10/22/2012 13:59:12 MDT.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: UL pack for cranky lower back on 10/22/2012 13:59:49 MDT Print View

Yeah, I have a couple screwwed up disks in my upper spine/lower neck & shoulders. Back problems all center on one area, removing weight from the spinal column. Upper back problems means low weights on my shoulders. Lower back problems means lower weights on your shoulders. I am sure you understand. Sooner or later, ALL the weight rests on your hip bone: through the spinal column if you allow your shoulders to carry the weight, or, on your hip belt if you don't.

Relieving the load on the spinal column usually helps. What I would suggest, is a slightly taller bag than technically fits you. This will provide a greater load carrying transfer to your hips without going through your spine. This "loose" fit should help with larger loads. No, I won't try to sell you on a pack. Only you can really fit one, but, fit it "loose" in the shoulders.

Make sure you use a sternum strap. Looser shoulder straps can dislodge easily. A sternum strap should only stabilize the pack with little to no restriction on breathing.

Wider straps will help. A 2.25" strap will have a greater tendency to twist and rock with the pack than a wider strap...say 3.25".

You may not need a different pack. Sometimes, simply readjusting a hip belt may relieve any pressure. If the pack is leaning "in" against your back, you can load weight higher and closer to your shoulders, forcing it to pivit less against your spine and transfer to the belt. Try some different loading techniques. If you need a good pack, start with looking at a 1-2 pound pack. Then modify it exactly to your needs. Like any good prosthesis, it will take carefull work to fit it properly. Your goal is to backpack without your back.

Good internal/external support is likely necessary. You will need good frame work in any case. A stiffer frame will help transfer loads. Don't worry to much about extra weight on the pack if you need it. A taller pack will also ride slightly lower. Not the best, usually, but if it takes weight off your spine, the bears don't care. Often, using gear to stiffen your pack helps for "temperary" loads, like food, water and fuel. Roll your tent to the full length of your pack and wrap it tightly with guy lines. Roll your bag tightly, wrapping it with a length of cord.(You might need a custom dry bag for this.) Slip them into your pack, one on each side. They make good support members for the pack. Minimally, they support themselves, and do not become "dead weight" in your pack. They do something. Again, the goal is to put the weight on your hips.

Hope this helps.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
UL pack for cranky lower back on 10/22/2012 14:00:10 MDT Print View


If you happen to be in Portland anytime soon, Next Adventure has ULA packs in the store. Mountain Shop has Six Moon Designs and Hyperlight Mtn packs in their store. Packs & shoes are the two items that are so individual-specific, it would be nice for you to walk around for an hour or more with 15-20 lbs on your back.

I imagine there is a shop in Seattle (Second Ascent in Ballard, maybe?) that carries some of these cottage gear packs, too.

Good luck!

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Backs and packs from a PT perspective on 10/22/2012 14:35:29 MDT Print View

If you like the way the osprey carries, try the Exos. They make a 46 and a 58L and its quite a bit of weight savings from the Ariel. But having said that, you may notice an even bigger difference in your back's tolerance for backpacking just by going as light as possible. Which would be going much, much lighter and going frameless.

Ideally you want a pack that you don't that is light enough that it doesn't just drag you down as the day wears on. Backs and knees are VERY sensitive to weight issues, both the kind that is around your middle and the kind that is on your back. I have a bad back myself and went from the osprey - eventually to the gossamer gear gorilla (thanks to these fine folks as BPL...) and honestly, my back has never felt better on the trail. If you don't use them already, your back will also appreciate trekking poles, as they help to keep you balanced from side-to-side, an important variable for people with back, hip, knee or foot/ankle problems.

You'll likely find the best results from the lightest pack that fits you well.

Good luck!!

John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
pack on 10/22/2012 17:48:39 MDT Print View

My wife and daughter liked the Osprey Aura and Dueter Act Zero. 3.2 and 3.5 lbs in 50 liter. The aura carries weight with noticeably less bounce than the Exos (sturdier belt foam and mesh panel) and has sturdier fabric (good for scouts because can throw into the back of pick ups to transport) but is otherwise similar. It's stocked at most Rei's

The Dueter isn't in the Rei stores, but has the same harness etc as the Dueter Act lite - which they do stock.
My wife & daughter both like the belt and lower back area of the Dueter better than the Osprey.

Ps: I'd get a 650 down bag so you can use a 50l pack (and be warmer), ll bean puffy coat instead of fleece, and share a 2 lb betamid style shelter with another female leader so your shelter weight would only be 1 kb.

Edited by JohnG10 on 10/22/2012 21:18:42 MDT.

Elizabeth Fallin
Re: pack on 10/23/2012 14:12:37 MDT Print View

Thanks for the great advice (h/t esp to Jennifer the PT). FYI, I have the synthetic bag because I live in the Pacific NorthWet, and the only time I could use down would be at Philmont every few years (crossing fingers).

Rick Adams
(rickadams100) - M
pack on 10/23/2012 15:00:51 MDT Print View

i also have a bad back and have tried lots of different gear. My experience is a comfortable pack is worth it's wieght in gold. I would keep the pack if you like it and work to lighten up the bag and tent. There are good sales coming up. Your bag and tent wiegh 82 oz, mine 47oz. A couple pounds there. You might also look at what else is in the bag. It shouldn't be too complex to get below 20lbs dry with a 5lb pack. You would also probably benefit from grafting some aarn balance pockets onto your pack. The counter balancing effect is amazing and has eliminated any discomfort from my treking.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
UL pack for cranky lower back on 10/23/2012 16:46:31 MDT Print View

For reducing weight, the pack is actually the last thing you want to replace. From your description, it sounds as though, until you replace your tent and sleeping bag and lighten up on the rest, you'll still be carrying in the 30 lb. range, maybe the high 30's at times, by the time you add food and water. Please don't try to put that much weight in a UL pack or the result will be PAIN! With a bad back (I have lower back issues too), you want nearly all the weight transferred to the hip belt where it's far less of a strain. You do therefore need really good suspension.

Most frameless packs support no more than 20 lbs. (for me the top weight for comfort is more like 7-8 lbs.) Lightweight packs with removable stays support up to 30 lbs. with the stays. The ULA Catalyst is supposed to support up to 40 lbs., but I have never tried it (I have knee issues that mean I have to stay under 25 lbs. total pack weight).

What you may want to do, until you've reduced the weight of the rest of your gear, is do some judicious trimming on your Osprey pack, which could reduce its weight by as much as half a pound.

You might want to watch the two really fun videos in which Grant Sible does a pack makeover for a woman Scout leader--10 lbs. cut for basically no $$!

Do remember, though, that the video recommendations are for Philmont, which is of course a considerably milder (and dryer!) climate than what we have in the PNW.

Edited by hikinggranny on 10/23/2012 16:57:17 MDT.

Craig Rowland
(craigr) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
AARN packs on 10/24/2012 07:39:24 MDT Print View

If you have a bad back, or even a good one, I'd seriously check out AARN packs of New Zealand. They have a very unique load carrying system that puts almost all the weight in your hips. It really works.

Edited by craigr on 10/24/2012 07:41:02 MDT.