Calling all backpackers: help me prevent/cure hip belt rash
June 11, 2013 8:11 AM   Subscribe

When I cinch down my backpack's hip belt enough so that the weight actually rests on my hips, it tends to cause some soreness and, more annoyingly, a bit of a rash after a day of hiking. The pack is not that heavy (around 20 lbs/9kg with food and water - I'm not planning to do backpacking with a tent, just hut-to-hut hiking) and fits comfortably otherwise.

Further considerations:
  • Lightweight nternal frame pack, similar to this one.
  • I have very little in the way of hips/bum and tend to carry excess weight around my waist, so I find I need to cinch the belt quite tightly.
  • When I loosen the belt up, I find my lower back gets sore by the end of the day - presumably because more of the weight is hanging on my shoulders. I prefer the belt soreness to the back soreness.
  • I'm wearing ordinary polyester workout/outdoor clothes - not magical super-wicking fabrics but not cotton either.
  • I have pretty sensitive skin.
  • Mostly I've been a day hiker, and carrying more than a lightweight day pack that can rest on my shoulders is new for me.
I'm open to suggestions for pack adjustments, clothing recs, pharmacological solutions, whatever. I've got a 10-day hut-to-hut hike planned, and would really like to have a way of addressing this before I start! If the answer is, "You'll get used to it and it won't be that bad," I can deal with that.
posted by mskyle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
Make sure your clothes are not getting bundled/scrunched up under the waist belt, for one - it matters less with a lighter pack, but if you have to cinch it down really tight to get it secure, a few wrinkles will make a big difference.

Make sure your underwear/shorts/pants have a nice flat, non-elastic waistband, for the aforementioned wrinkle-prevention. If you can find pants that have a slight taller waistband that sits above the load bearing part of the waist belt, that might help.

There's a reason the magical super-wicking fabrics are popular - getting moisture away from the skin might help too, though I've never had much trouble with decent polypro fabrics.

The soreness is likely because you're reefing down on the waist belt so much. With only 20 pounds, you should be able to comfortably carry some of that on your shoulders, so you might try loosening the belt *just a bit*. Not so much that you're carrying nothing on the waist and your low back acts up, but enough to decrease the pressure on the waist. Adjusting your packing inside the pack could help here too - make sure the heavier items are closest to your back. Whether you have them high or low is personal preference, but can make a difference too - play with that.

Lastly - maybe try bodyglide, or an unscented deodorant that you apply to the skin under the waist belt. Works great for blister prevention and other kinds of chafe/rub.

Good luck! Where's your trip?
posted by Pantengliopoli at 8:22 AM on June 11, 2013

Also - "you'll get used to it" has a part to play here for sure, especially re: the soreness. My first time carrying a heavier pack, if I've been away from it for a while, is always a bit rough on the waist. Adjust the straps a bit over the course of your day, to move the load around.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 8:23 AM on June 11, 2013

That pack you linked too doesn't have a very substantial belt and I doubt it can be adjusted properly. Get a pack with a real belt that can be adjusted.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:50 AM on June 11, 2013

Best answer: I and most of the women I backpack with get bruises on our hipbones if a backpacking trip is more than 3 or 4 days. If you are a woman you likely have more prominent hipbones than men, and if you don't have much fat covering them the waist strap can be sitting right on the bone. It's not really a rash though - it's from pressure, not friction. Not sure if that's the same thing you're experiencing. If it is, I think that's just sort of part of backpacking. I prefer it to an aching back and shoulders.
posted by amaire at 9:06 AM on June 11, 2013

I have a cheap old pack with a very thinly padded belt which doesn't get quite tight enough to put the weight on my (rather narrow) hips. My simple solution is to tie a polyester microfleece top around my waist to bulk up my hips and give some padding. I always have a fleece with me anyway while hiking, and if I'm moving with the pack I'll be running too warm to be wearing all my layers. Works very well, for me at least.
posted by pont at 9:11 AM on June 11, 2013

Best answer: It's possible the rest of the bag isn't fitting you very well. Can you take it into REI and ask for help with fitting it? Much can be done with the shoulder straps and load lifters, as well as the placement of the hip belt. Is that your pack in the link? That hip belt doesn't look very comfortable to me.

Try putting on some body glide under your clothes too. It can help with weird friction issues.
posted by barnone at 9:27 AM on June 11, 2013

Best answer: Oh, this happens to me too. Even wearing my ~35 lb pack for a day leaves nearly raw skin on my back under the waist belt. My pack is very well padded and adjusted to fit me, and it still happens. (I also have sensitive skin.)

It's not the pack, it's not the weight in the pack, it's not how you're adjusting the pack — it's your pants. When I tuck the back of my shirt into my pants so the waistband isn't touching my skin, it doesn't happen. It's a pain to have to keep tucking my shirt in, to be sure, but if I'm diligent about it I don't get the horrible rash.
posted by adiabat at 9:53 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you adjusted the shoulder straps to see if more/less weight on the hips will do anything to help? Also, perhaps looping a long sleeve shirt through the lower part of the straps (like you were going to tie it around your waist, only it goes around the bottom of the bag) to help with rubbing.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:25 AM on June 11, 2013

One solution -- don't use the hip belt. I never use mine; can't breathe with that thing on. However, that may be because I was taught to breathe diaphragmatically at an early age.
posted by Rash at 11:16 AM on June 11, 2013

Response by poster: I think the pack fits pretty well. Once I've adjusted the shoulder straps and load lifters it feels fabulous, just like I weigh 20 extra pounds - it's only when I take the pack off that I'm uncomfortable. They don't make my exact pack anymore (mine is slightly larger and a women-specific design), but the hip belt feels more substantial than the one in the linked photo looks - definitely the part that actually goes over my hips (where I'm getting the discomfort) is comfortably padded, and I only have a few inches of the strap/buckle part in the front once it's adjusted correctly.

I'll try tucking my shirt in (or wearing high-waisted seamless underpants?) and wearing a closer-fitting shirt (although I don't really notice any bunchiness-related discomfort), and I've got some bodyglide around so no harm in giving that a try. I think maybe it has been worse with one specific pair of pants, so I should probably take those out of the rotation.

I'm going to be doing the Tour de Mont Blanc in the French/Italian/Swiss Alps a few weeks - even if I continue to have this exact problem, I'm confident I'll have a blast!
posted by mskyle at 12:54 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try to adjust the back straps so the pack fits into the lower part of the small of your back (imagine you are leaning forward, and the pack rides just below the top of your hip bones). It should ride comfortably. I can't think of any reason why it should need to be cinched down tight if it's in the right place.

Also, heavier stuff should be placed as near the bottom of the pack as possible, and I found it to be more comfortable if I didn't let the pack ride on my beltline. The pack should fit against your entire back--to better spread the weight--but the shoulder straps should not bear most of the weight.

30 pounds is about the limit that I (used to) like to carry in a pack with an internal frame. I used frameless packs mostly for ridge-running, because I could bind the whole thing closer to my body, a boon when scrambling. For trail hiking, a frame worked best.
posted by mule98J at 1:53 PM on June 11, 2013

This has helped me in the past by applying it to spots of high friction/pressure; it's not just for feets!
posted by MansRiot at 3:32 PM on June 11, 2013

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