Bag for a Bad Back
January 8, 2005 5:57 PM   Subscribe

I need some advice on a good bag for a bad back. I'm trying to find a high-volume weatherproof bag that I can use on my bike and on foot. What's the ergonomic word on backpacks vs. messenger bags? [more inside]

I pack everything from library books to groceries to my laptop into my current shoulder bag. It's just too small for everything I need to haul around, and it's also aggravating my back and knee problems.

I'm considering a large (15 x 16 x 6) backpack, but I'm wondering if I should invest in a messenger bag. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Shopping (22 answers total)
I love my Timbuk2 messenger bag for on and off bike use. It has lasted for years (mine was made in SF, some are now made overseas) and has hauled everything from six bottles of wine to tools to a laptop. Invest in a strap pad and use the secondary 'stabilizer' strap and you'll be happier. Mine is the Dee Dog which is in a word, huge.
posted by fixedgear at 6:11 PM on January 8, 2005

I did the messenger bag fad thing in 1998. I've since gone with something more practical, a Victorinox backpack. But I have a lot of friends who use both Timbuk2 and Manhattan Portage.
posted by orange clock at 6:43 PM on January 8, 2005

If you want to blow some bucks you can always go with Jack Spade.
posted by orange clock at 6:45 PM on January 8, 2005

This doesn't exactly answer your question, exactly, but it's best if you don't wear the thing while you're riding. Get a basket instead, and let the bike do the work. You know, one of these.

Bad backs don't mix with bags, even if they're good bags.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:51 PM on January 8, 2005

Because my back and shoulder are not in the greatest shape, I can't use backpacks while biking anymore. (My whole arm goes numb with pins and needles.) I've switched to pannier bags for my bike and they rock. They are waterproof as I've been caught out in heavy rain with them and the contents remained bone dry! The panniers have handles, but they're a pain to carry around if you're planning to go from bike to foot.

I use a backpack with padded shoulder straps and back if I'm not biking.
posted by aedra at 6:54 PM on January 8, 2005

I would say for heavy things in one bag, backpacks beat out messenger bags. I used to do the latter, and it just destroyed my shoulders every day. However, I found on my bike I prefer the laptop-only messenger bag on the shoulder (because I live in Brooklyn where the streets are rough & prefer my computer not bang around) coupled with other things in a tote in the basket. The weight on my shoulders in negligable and the baby is safe.
posted by dame at 6:58 PM on January 8, 2005

Avoid messenger bags if you back is bad. Look for a high quality backpack that has padded wide shoulder straps and has a adjustable waist belt (and use it!) trick is to get your hips to support most of the load and not your shoulders or upper back. If you can go into a outdoor store in your area I would go in and get someone (who knows what they are doing) to fit a pack to your back. Not all packs fit all people and an ill fitting backpack can cause problems as well. They should also show you how to wear/adjust a pack so you can avoid discomfort. Panniers are a good alternative too if you don't have to walk far.
posted by squeak at 7:08 PM on January 8, 2005

Best bet: bags that attach to your bike while you're riding, not to you. Several people have mentioned that above.

If you absolutely have to get a back that attaches to you, don't go for a messenger bag. They're truly not good for your back, as they don't evenly distribute weight to your musculature. Instead, opt for a well-made backpack and wear both straps at the same time at all times. Also, try not to make the bag too heavy if you can avoid it.
posted by nyxie at 7:09 PM on January 8, 2005

Should also add, try to get a bag that has a sternum strap as well.
posted by squeak at 7:10 PM on January 8, 2005

I also have some significant back problems that are badly exacerbated by shoulder-hung loads, and even more so when I carry them on a bike. My problem is primarily in my lower back, in the muscles, not the spine, in case that helps your eval.

My sense has been that the messenger bag -- properly slung -- is a bit kinder to my back than a backpack. I use one with a wide-stiff nylon strap and the usual cross-chest clip, and I make sure it rides low enough that the weight rests on my pelvis.

All that said, my ideal solution is a lumbar pack. I have a really nice, fairly large Kelty Moab; it's really a nicely designed bag, as seems typical of the Kelty lumbar bags. This one can be carried either with a single over the shoulder strap, like a messenger bag, or as a lumbar pack, around the waste. All the load is distributed onto my hips. It looks much smaller than it is, because the design essentially cuts away unused space in the upper corners. And on the few occasions when I've had to load it heavily (like riding back from a bookstore), I've found that I can pull the shoulder strap over my shoulder to absorb a little of the load and stabilize it.

This particular bag would not be big enough for most modern laptops, but I know that Kelty makes a lumbar that's designed to carry them. Give them a look. I know, they have a reputation for being tres uncool, but they don't look nearly as bad as you'd think they do, and they're just so goddamn practical it's not even funny.
posted by lodurr at 7:49 PM on January 8, 2005

I know there are briefcase type items that clip on to bike racks, but that's not really high-volume.

Googling "backpack pannier" turned up:

one model, another model. They look really neat, actually..
posted by Jack Karaoke at 9:45 PM on January 8, 2005

My mother has a bad back, and uses AmeriBags line of bags. While she has many high-end bags, she'll use AmeriBags when traveling and on comfort missions. They have tons of designs. I ordered from them a few years ago, and they had great customer service.

Here is their website: "From classic leather to urban nylon, there’s a style for everyone. But the AmeriBag® Healthy Back Bag® tote isn’t just all looks. This baby has brains, too! It’s based on a patented design concept with an ergonomic shape that improved positioning, to make the load feel lighter and reduces stress on the shoulders, neck and back. The Healthy Back Bag® tote can also easily be worn across the back for hands-free use."
posted by naxosaxur at 9:45 PM on January 8, 2005

I don't think this is too far off-topic to ask - anyone have a recommendation for a good, inexpensive laptop backback (I've long since discovered that backpacks hurt less than shoulder-bags and yet almost all laptop bags are of the latter type)?
posted by Sinner at 12:26 AM on January 9, 2005

The problem with messenger bags is that most people don't have them adjusted right. The shoulder strap needs to be short. As short as you can get it so that when you're riding the bike the weight in the bag is almost on to of your shoulders, rather than half way down your back. This makes access less easy when off the bike and many of the better bags (expensive) have a quick-release type of strap that can be released and lengthened with a flip of a catch or tab where the strap meets the corner of the bag. A more affordable and made well bag like this is the Soma one.

Having said that, messenger bags are great for speed, but if you're in less of a hurry, and as others have mentioned, it's always better for your back to attach the weight to your bike instead of you. There are some great panniers out there these days. My favorites include Carradice, Ortlieb and Arkel.
posted by normy at 6:06 AM on January 9, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all this helpful feedback!

What I'm not clear on- or maybe there is just a difference of opinion here- is wether messenger bags are bad for your bag when worn off the bike. Normy and Lodurr suggest that when properly worn they can be easier on the spine, and the uber-ergomnomic AmeriBag site features a lot of shoulder totes.

unfortunately a side-rack pannier isn't such a great option, because placing the weight on one side makes my bike tip over (or maybe I am totally missing the point here.)
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:12 AM on January 9, 2005

The shoulder strap needs to be short. As short as you can get it so that when you're riding the bike the weight in the bag is almost on to of your shoulders...

I know why you do that -- if you ride like a messenger, or don't have a bad lower back, you're probably right -- but that would be absolutely the worst way to adjust one of those bags for my back. I've commuted by foot and bike (30-40 minute rides, 25-40 minute walks) for extended periods (months to years), and high-back loads that can't somehow be shifted onto the hips are, for me, at least, a disaster. And it's even worse on a bike.

If I were to commute by bike right now, I'd use a lumbar bag or get panniers. If I were to commute only by foot, and it were a warm weather location (i.e., no long coat), I'd use my Kelty Moab; around here, I'd get a two-strap backpack -- in particular, I'd try to get this cheap JanSport that has a lower compartment that, when loaded, effectively shifts the pack's load to your hips.

Plus, I have to wonder about the wisdom of designing a bag to only ever load one shoulder (which seems to be the trend). How would you shift such a bag from one shoulder to another?
posted by lodurr at 8:47 AM on January 9, 2005

Sinner -- how inexpensive?

These are really common, now. If you go to any consumer electronics store, you'll see a bunch in the $50-$60 range. You could probably find more sport-focused ones at Dicks or Galyans stores. But I would actually go to your local RiteAid or Target and see what they have. I know you can get JanSport at either place.
posted by lodurr at 8:51 AM on January 9, 2005

If you decide to got the Ameribag route, buy it from Travelsmith. They have a really good balance of prices and delivery options.
posted by glyphlet at 9:55 AM on January 9, 2005

I think the point is to avoid getting any type of bag that allows the bag to move freely when worn, if the bag moves your body will compensate for the movement and usually not in a good way. The trick is to wear a bag so the weight is mostly on the hips, doesn't shift on your back and the contents don't shift in the bag. I can't see how a one strap bag can acheive this and if you want a 'high volume' bag for 'everything from library books to groceries to my laptop' I'd stick with a back pack. I've used one for grocery shopping for years now. For ideas try here (they also have a section on what look for when buying a pack)

As for setting up a bike with one pannier put the bag on the side with the kickstand (if you have one) once your going down the road it wont matter since gyroscopic effect will take over.
posted by squeak at 10:26 AM on January 9, 2005

I switch between the aforementioned Ortlieb, gigantic two-strap bag and an admittedly expensive Pac shoulder bag. I use the Ortlieb when I know I'm going to be carrying a heavy load (in particular, groceries). The Pac bag is great because you can use compression straps on the bottom to adjust it from flat to extremely deep depending on the size of your load. Also, you can wear it with anywhere from two point (just a shoulder strap) to five point suspension (shoulder strap, waist strap, and two other straps which go over your other shoulder and come up under your other arm). The big shoulder strap is heavily padded and attached to the bad on an angle (rather than straight up from the sides of the bag) so that the bag rests flat on you back instead of flopping around. I find both of those bags extremely comfortable and, importantly for me, very stable on my back.

Though it's been said several times already, and though I really love my bags, I'll go ahead and say again that big loads in bags are pretty much always gonna' be tough on your back. This will be more or less the case depending on your posture on you bike. I ride with my hand below my ass so my back carries a lot of the load even when I use a waist strap. If you ride a mountain or hybrid or cruiser-type bike, you'll be sitting more upright and more weight will be on your shoulders and, if you use a waist strap, hips. If you decide on attaching something to your bike, I'm personally a big fan of strapping a milk crate to a rear rack.
posted by leecifer at 10:38 AM on January 9, 2005

If you want a backpack, get one with a good padded hip belt. That way, the weight is on your waist/hips. You may even want to spring for one with an internal frame. I haven't been in the pack market for years, but I'm sure there are small daybag-sized packs out there with internal frames. That way, the frame transfers 100% of the weight to your hips and the shoulder straps are just there to keep things upright.

Also, when riding a bike with one loaded pannier pack it doesn't take much to compensate for the off-center weight, really.
posted by zsazsa at 8:42 AM on January 10, 2005


Sorry, I missed your post when I scanned this thread again yesterday. >$50 would be a good price, but the most important thing is the degree of padding/shock absorption. Really looking for a recommendation based on a good experience, I guess.
posted by Sinner at 11:00 AM on January 10, 2005

« Older Help me with the Moveable Type learning curve   |   How do you get to bed on time? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.