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Lighter pack or better frame with bad back?
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Aaron Smith
(Aaronsmity)
Lighter pack or better frame with bad back? on 01/21/2014 08:32:09 MST Print View

I am looking for some general advice on what I should be looking for in a pack since I have a protruding disc in my lower back which acts up on me. At first it seemed the lighter the better but there has to be a point where too light of a pack may be bad because you are giving up quality support from the frame just to save .5-1 pound.

I am planning a trip this summer which I am trying to get ready for. I have already gotten everything I need to bring on my trip except my pack and my base weight right now is 16lbs (figuring a 39oz pack). Add in food, water, fuel for a 4-day hike and I am at around 27 lbs.

Now at this weight I can get some lightweight packs such as ULA circuit or Osprey Exos. These are lightweight options. I can also get something like maybe an Osprey Atmos which is heavier but with a more robust frame.

Will getting something with a more robust frame be better for someone like me IN GENERAL? I know I need to go try these on but im trying to figure out if weight savings for a lighter weight pack will not be a good option for me since I have to take into account my bad back. I have also heard about the aarn packs which distribute weight somewhat evenly between front and back. There are so many choices but seems like I need to get as much weight distributed to my hips as possible. Thanks for helping me out!

Billy Ray
(rosyfinch) - M

Locale: the mountains
Re: Lighter pack or better frame with bad back? on 01/21/2014 08:41:21 MST Print View

"...im trying to figure out if weight savings for a lighter weight pack will not be a good option for me since I have to take into account my bad back."

I don't think anyone can answer this for you. Backs are very complicated and it seems everyone's back issue is just a little different and thus the pack requirements a little different.

You may get a bunch of varying opinions answering your questions, but in the end you will have to try the packs out and see how it works for YOUR back. And weight should be the last consideration, the response of your back being the first.

Good Luck

Billy

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
Re: Re: Lighter pack or better frame with bad back? on 01/21/2014 09:50:55 MST Print View

Nm

Edited by FamilyGuy on 02/02/2014 08:38:48 MST.

Stephen Barber
(grampa) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Both! on 01/21/2014 09:55:26 MST Print View

For me the answer was both - radical reduction of weight, AND a light (but not SUL) framed pack with good weight transfer. The ULA Catalyst did well, but the McHale is even better carrying the same weight, though it itself weighs a bit more.

Ito Jakuchu
(jakuchu) - MLife

Locale: Japan
reply on 01/21/2014 15:41:01 MST Print View

I think the above comments make a lot of sense.
That being said you have to start somewhere and although I wouldn't start carry a day hike worth of gear in a 3Kg/70L pack, I would choose a bit more support over lighter weight. I had a weak back and once I did choose a bit heavier pack (Osprey Kestrel for me) with a frame and alu stay it made all the difference. As in, now I can go out hiking, vs. really not being able to.

Now my back is stronger so I don't need it as much, but I'd say get something with a bit more support, and that fits really well.

Derek Musashe
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Lighter pack or better frame with bad back? on 01/21/2014 15:55:51 MST Print View

This seems to be a hot topic right now for some reason... I'm not sure sure why that is, but I do like the discussion it generates since it reminds us all that there are a wide variety of valid backpacking styles out there.

My two cents is that you should get a pack that supports your heaviest intended load comfortably, not just your average load comfortably. Even one 12 hour day of pack misery can really sour a whole trip, so it's just not worth skimping on the load carry capacity of your pack, IMO.

If you think you will practically never carry more than 30 pounds, then get the lightest pack that can support that load comfortably. You're going to have to find that pack though, since pack fit and comfort is as personal as shoe fit.

Good luck with your pack choice!

BJ Clark
(bj.clark) - MLife

Locale: Colorado
Re: Lighter pack or better frame with bad back? on 01/21/2014 15:59:26 MST Print View

If you are going to get a really good answer here you need Jen Mitol to weigh in.

peter vacco
(fluff@inreach.com) - M

Locale: no. california
Re: Lighter pack or better frame with bad back? on 01/21/2014 16:09:26 MST Print View

i am in saramento and have a reasonably sized aarn body pack. you are welccome to try it if you live nearby.

that said, and having a sore back myself sometimes, it seems that the more mass you could move to the hips, the less they'd be to compress your spine.

cheers,
v.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: Re: Lighter pack or better frame with bad back? on 01/21/2014 17:02:54 MST Print View

As most people said, your back has the final vote here, not what any of us have to say. Since it is an absolute rarity to know exactly what in your back is actually "acting up" (we all pretty much have disc bulges, herniations, degeneration, etc...but we have no idea at all if and when that is actually the cause of our pain. Just because you have a bad disc does not at all mean it has anything to do with your back troubles...but I digress...)

Anyway...excess weight is a primary contributor to back pain, be it around your middle or hanging off your back. That is the first point. The second point is that the further away a weight is from the center of your mass (which in a guy is pretty much right behind your belly button, halfway between your front and your back) the worse the stress on your lumbar spine.

So what can we take from this? Any pack that reduces weight through your shoulders (be it in overall reduced weight or one that simply transfers weight better) will be better than one that does not, and one that sits closest to your center of mass is better than one that sits further away.

As others have mentioned, there is a great deal of variation in what your back wants in a pack...you honestly might feel better with the absolute lightest pack you can buy. And HOW you pack will probably be more important than the pack you buy; meaning paying very close attention to how much weight you put in the outside pocket, where the heaviest stuff is in your pack, etc, keeping in mind it's distance from your center of mass.



The more I think about it, I'm just not really sure exactly how a heavily framed pack would change the stresses on your lumbar spine.........

M B
(livingontheroad) - M
pack on 01/21/2014 19:07:11 MST Print View

A good pack that fits right should have the capability of carrying all the weight on your hips. Your back shouldnt be an issue.

A lot of lightwt packs will start out with weight on hips, then slowly transfer it to the shoulders as the belt slides down, etc. More robust packs and belts should be more resistant to this.

My son used to carry his pack in the low 20s, with a gap under his shoulder straps you could put a pencil thru. He had NO weight on his shoulders most of the time, thats the way he liked it.

Keep the pack light, under 30 , and I doubt you would have issues.

Edited by livingontheroad on 01/21/2014 19:08:25 MST.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Packs on 01/21/2014 19:15:47 MST Print View

Hopefully Leigh Baker will weigh in at some point. She hurt her back at some point and has tried a variety of packs out. However she keeps coming back to her Deuter pack. Its a bit heavy but its comfortable for her which is the important thing.

I'd suggest taking a look at the Exped Lighting 45. Its just over 2 pounds and carries weight well. The hipbelt and the lumbar pad are very generously padded. You could also try the Osprey Exos 48. I didn't like the older version but my mom loved the trampoline style back. Its different so if other packs don't feel good its worth a try.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Packs on 01/21/2014 19:45:02 MST Print View

"Hopefully Leigh Baker will weigh in at some point. She..."


Leigh Baker.... HE hurt His back....

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
Re: pack on 01/21/2014 19:55:59 MST Print View

Nm

Edited by FamilyGuy on 02/02/2014 08:36:21 MST.

Leigh Baker
(leighb) - F

Locale: Northeast Texas Pineywoods
re: "Lighter pack or better frame with bad back?" on 01/21/2014 20:12:23 MST Print View

Well this one caught my attention, as it's near and dear to me :-)

+1 on these IMHO:

"I don't think anyone can answer this for you. Backs are very complicated and it seems everyone's back issue is just a little different and thus the pack requirements a little different." Billy Ray

"Now my back is stronger so I don't need it as much, but I'd say get something with a bit more support, and that fits really well." Ito Jakuchu

"A good pack that fits right should have the capability of carrying all the weight on your hips. Your back shouldn't be an issue." M B


As Luke mentioned, I have a significant bulging lumbar disk that's plagued me for many years before I started backpacking. In fact I never dreamed I could even carry a pack until I discovered UL gear. I've tried a number of packs,ULA,Aarn,Lowe,Granite Gear, Exped,Elemental Horizons,and more.....ALL great packs. As frustrating as it is to have 3 lbs of my 10-11 lb base weight be my pack, the Deuter works well for me. Jen brings up really good points. On her advise I found a good pt when I had some knee issues, and I'm really working on getting my overall body as strong overall as possible so hopefully I can try out some of those lighter packs again.

Good luck!

edit to add

@Greg Mihalik

""Hopefully Leigh Baker will weigh in at some point. She..."


Leigh Baker.... HE hurt His back...."

Greg, not sure what you mean, but I am a she :-)

Edited by leighb on 01/21/2014 20:15:33 MST.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: re: "Lighter pack or better frame with bad back?" on 01/21/2014 21:06:37 MST Print View

Leigh,
My humble apologies.

I replayed what I thought was recently posted here.

There is name/gender confusion, and apparently I am part of it.

Sorry.

Greg

Samuel C. Farrington
(scfhome) - M

Locale: Chocorua NH, USA
pack for bad back on 01/21/2014 22:48:17 MST Print View

Aaron,
Since we don't have any scientific studies to rely on so far on this thread, the alternative is to look at the question logically.

If you look at picture of a human skeleton, its seems logical that weight transferred by pressure on the shoulders and back will compress discs in the lower back. On the other hand, weight transferred by pressure on the iliac crests (hip bones) appears to be transferred directly to the legs through the femoral head (hip to leg connection).
If that is correct, it follows that the greater the percentage of weight resting on the iliac crests, the less pressure on the discs.

AFAIK, a frameless pack cannot accomplish this, due to the amount of weight transferred through the shoulders and back. While it seems counterintuitive, a pack will also transfer weight through the back, because we tend to lean forward a bit when backpacking. So a frameless pack would have to be extremely light to give an edge over a framed one that transfers more weight through the iliac crests.

The only commercially available pack I ever saw that transferred most of the weight through the crests was Jack Stephenson's Jackpack sold by WarmLite. The center of the hipbelt was attached to the bottom center of the frame, but did not touch the center of the back due to foam on the belt to the right and left of the center attachment. The belt ran from the center, over the iliac crests on each side, and out to the front points of sidearms. WarmLite's pack should not be confused with the other sidearm packs that had no rear center connection between frame and belt, so transferred the weight to a point in front of the crests, causing the pack to pull back against the shoulders; thus defeating the whole purpose of the frame by putting weight back on the shoulders. Unfortunately, the WarmLite packs were discontinued.

As has been suggested in several of the posts, that leaves you with finding the lightest frame pack that will put the most weight on the crests, and less on the back. This is fairly easy to tell, because such a pack will put less weight on the shoulders, which is easily felt. But as was also pointed out, this is not helpful if the hipbelt slides down off the crests after walking a while.

One approach is to weight the packs when trying them out and see what happens with different packs, and with different lengths if available on the same pack. One problem here seems to be that when more weight is carried, the pack slips down, with the front center of the belt pulling on your gut, and the straps pulling on your shoulders. Sometimes a stiffer belt will help to prevent this slipping and pulling. I've tried lots of packs in the stores that feel great, but when weights are placed in them, slip badly. If you can find ones that hold firmly in place on your hips when weighted, thus taking more weight off your shoulders, the lightest of those should be the one for you.

Except for one thing. Even if there is no slippage, if the weight transfer is more though a lumbar pad pulled tight against the center back, that might not do much for your discs either.

It is also nice to find a pack that allows the hips to rotate freely when walking, without your hips having to alternately lift the pack as you step, a process which drains away a lot of energy. Someone mentioned the North Face Back Magic on a thread here recently, but those were discontinued also. Nevertheless, a number of pack makers have tried to address this, and you can feel how well they succeeded by walking in the store with a weighted pack.

None of the above makes much sense without strong leg and back muscles. Fortunately, that is something we can address with exercise.

Edited by scfhome on 01/21/2014 22:52:46 MST.

Mitchell Ebbott
(mebbott) - F - M

Locale: SoCal
Where the weight goes on 01/21/2014 23:39:27 MST Print View

I think it's important to add that the majority of the weight in a frame pack is carried directly in contact with one's body, mostly on the back and partly around the hips. As such, the extra weight from a heavier suspension is not as bad as extra weight from gear that goes in the pack. An extra pound in pack suspension is probably equivalent to an extra half-pound in sleeping bag weight.

Derek Musashe
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Where the weight goes on 01/22/2014 00:23:37 MST Print View

Mitchell,
That's a really good point, and one that I hadn't considered about pack weight.

Now that I'm considering this, it occurs to me that in general, we probably don't pay enough attention to where the weight is located that we are carrying. If we did, I think people would be much more critical of the weight of shoes, hiking poles, and pants, as well as the weight of the pack body vs. the pack suspension (as you mentioned).

Any weight that is constantly being accelerated and decelerated is obviously going to be the most energetically taxing weight to carry, with shoes, hiking poles, and pants being the biggest offenders here.

Then, of course, the leverage that a given amount of weight is exerting on your frame and center of mass should also be factored in, and here is where the suspension weight vs. pack body weight comes in, as well as how you pack your backpack.

Anyway, good food for thought.

Aaron Smith
(Aaronsmity)
Re: re: "Lighter pack or better frame with bad back?" on 01/22/2014 07:39:47 MST Print View

Thanks for all the great replies, nice wealth of information on this site!

Based on some of the things said I think I can rule out Osprey packs with the trampoline back ventilation. It may give me a sweaty back with one that snugs up close to keep all the weight as close to my center as possible, but seems worth it if it is better on my back. The ventilated backed ones seem to push it too far away from the back.

It sounds like a few things are universal:
I need one with a really good hipbelt that stays put so the weight will always be on my hips.
I need to make sure I dont buy on where the torso size is too small or I will be unable to get the weight transfered to my hips via the hipbelt.
Be aware of where/how I am packing things within the pack, this could potentially help with comfort.
Everyone is different, try on many packs.

Edited by Aaronsmity on 01/22/2014 07:41:40 MST.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: Re: re: "Lighter pack or better frame with bad back?" on 01/22/2014 08:41:30 MST Print View

Another quick point that Dave brought up...make sure the torso is long enough!

I have nasty collarbone issues with packs...meaning weeping blisters for some reason on pretty much every single pack I've ever owned. The medium gorilla, for some reason, sat pretty high above my shoulders and it was an epiphany!! The longer torso meant the weight, even as it slid a little during walking, stayed on my hips and never pulled down on my shoulders.

I ended up selling my circuit for that reason...technically it fit, but I kind of wanted it to be TOO big. That way the crest of the shoulder straps never rested atop my shoulders, but rather the front of the straps kept the pack from falling backwards.

This would apply to those who need to reduce vertical loading through the spine as well.....