What am I doing wrong with my new rucksack?
April 27, 2014 1:59 AM   Subscribe

I bought a 50 litre rucksack to take on a hiking holiday this summer. I do a lot of walking and am used to carrying a 25 litre backpack with no problems. Yesterday I lightly packed the 50L bag and took it out on a easy hike to start getting used to it, but over the course of the day I strained my upper back, between my shoulder blades. I don't think there's anything wrong with the bag - what am I doing wrong?

I am a 30-something woman, quite petite (5"3') but fairly fit. I'm used to carrying a 25L backpack on day hikes and I've never had any back problems as a result.

I bought my new 50L bag because I'm going on a walking holiday later this year and I need to carry a week's worth of gear, and be able to walk every day. The bag is an Osprey woman's Aura 50 rucksack, with a waist strap and upper chest strap. Yesterday I packed it lightly, filling it up with bulk rather than a lot of weight - I put a towel and a sleeping bag at the bottom then packed my normal day hiking gear on top of that - and went on a fairly easy hike, but almost as soon as I set out, I started to feel a strain in my upper back between my shoulder blades, which only got worse as the day went on. My upper back still aches a bit today, after a night's rest.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the bag, so I must be carrying it wrong (or packing it wrong?), but I don't know what I should be looking to fix. I know that when I'm carrying it, most of the weight should be resting on my hips through the waist strap, and it did feel like that was the case.
posted by meronym to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total)
What size is your bag? Wms Small? 5"3' is fairly short, does the backpack sit snug to you back? How much space do you have between the shoulder straps and your shoulders?

Check it Osprey's fit guide online - they had some stuff on their website (looks like it was updated, can't find the specific page anymore) and some youtube videos.

If it's indeed too long, you might want to go with a different model which has adjustable back length.
posted by sockpuppetdirect at 2:56 AM on April 27, 2014

Was the weight on your shoulders or on your hips?

I'm slightly shorter than you with pretty terrible upper body strength - a 50L backpack would be fine so long as the weight was mostly on my hips. That's mostly a fit thing.

Also the towel and sleeping bag would be light but bulky, so if you packed them at the bottom, that would make it top-heavy and therefore it would also put more strain on your upper back. I think. I'd pack it at the top and see how that affects it?
posted by Xany at 3:35 AM on April 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you also using the sternum strap? I found that helped take some strain off my shoulders when carrying a big pack. I'm still a novice though, so maybe you already do that.
posted by cabingirl at 6:36 AM on April 27, 2014

You generally want the heaviest things at the bottom and closer to you. And check that most of the weight of the bag is being carried by your hips, not your shoulders.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 6:49 AM on April 27, 2014

I have a different Osprey bag and for me the key was making sure the straps are set right - they have a guide here that may help you set it better. Based on what you're describing you probably want to re-attach the strap assembly higher so that the hip belt hits you higher - at the top of your hip bones - and then really tighten that hip belt so the weight is on your hips not your shoulders. I'm also short - 5'1" and getting the pack set right makes an enormous difference in comfort. Also depending on where you bought the pack you could take it in and have them help you set it up better.
posted by leslies at 7:54 AM on April 27, 2014

Sounds like the bag was pulling on your shoulders. You may need to adjust the chest strap (tighten it) so that it brings the shoulder straps together, and you may need to tighten the load lifter straps (the ones at the top of the shoulder straps) so that they pull the load forward and up, off your shoulders. Also make sure that the waist band is resting snugly on top of your hips, and that the heavier cargo is concentrated at the small of your back as much as possible, so that it can settle straight down onto your hips instead of trying to fall backward and away from you.

The overall goal is to put the weight on your hips, as close to your body as possible and without letting it move around. Your shoulders are really just there to hold things in place; the load should mostly be balanced right on the tops of your legs, which are the strongest part of your body. There may even be some gap between the tops of your shoulders and the straps. The shoulder straps also should be held together at a comfortable angle, not spread apart where they can yank on your shoulders.

Hope that helps!
posted by Scientist at 9:58 AM on April 27, 2014

When you use your pecs to keep your shoulders pulled forward, your rhomboids can get really tweaked. Using the sternum strap will really help!
posted by pajamazon at 5:50 PM on April 27, 2014

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