Choosing the Perfect Backpack

How to choose the perfect backpack for long-term travel is no easy task. Dr. Sarah Johnson of the Spine Wellness Center in Las Vegas offers some key advice to help you through the process.

As a long-term traveler, you’ll need to carry everything with you, which means your backpack becomes your closet, you office and your home. Over the course of your trip, you’ll have to lift your bag hundreds of times, carry it dozens of miles and slip it on and off over and over again.

All of these actions can be rough on the body, so before you leave for your trip, take the time to find a backpack that fits properly, feels comfortable and doesn’t put any undue stress on your back or shoulders.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when finding—and using—the perfect backpack:

Let your torso length guide your backpack choice.

It is your torso length, not your height, that determines your pack size. To find your torso size, stand straight up with your hands on your hips so you can feel the “shelf” of your pelvis, and position your hands so your thumbs are pointing behind you. Have a friend measure the distance from the 7th cervical vertebra (the bony bump at the base of your neck) down to the invisible line between your thumbs. This measurement will help you determine what pack size is appropriate for your torso length.

Use the straps and hip belt.

Take the time to learn about how all of the straps and the hip belt on your backpack function. It’s a combination of these different straps that helps distribute the weight of your backpack appropriately. The weight of your bag should primarily rest on your hips, which is why using the hip belt is so important, and your back, shoulders and upper chest region should take the secondary brunt of the weight. Backpack straps are meant to keep your bag close to your back. If kept too loose, the backpack will tip backward, which throws off balance and puts unnecessary strain on your back. While you’re trying on a backpack, throw some weight into it and wander around the store to get a feel for whether it is comfortable and fits well.

Not every body fits the same mold.

There are women-specific backpacks, which are designed to better fit the female frame. Generally the torso dimensions in these bags are shorter and narrower. Also, if your torso size falls on the high end and standard backpacks don’t fit properly, have one custom made for your body size. You’ll be glad you took the extra effort twelve countries into your trip!

Properly distribute weight.

Always pack your bag so the heaviest items are closest to your back, centered between your shoulder blades. Keep these heavy items in the middle part of the back to help focus more of the weight over your hips, which is the part of the body built to handle the bulk of the weight. The best tip for weight distribution is simply to start out light. The less weight you have to pack, the less weight you have to distribute.

Lift your back appropriately.

Over the course of your trip, your backpack will practically become an extension of your body. The old rule of lifting with your knees, not with your back, is one you’ll want to abide by to avoid muscle strain and fatigue. To put your backpack on, use one hand to grab the loop on the top of the pack. With a wide stance, slightly bend your knees and slide the bag up your thigh. Slowly and steadily slide the other arm and shoulder through one of the straps, and then, without any sudden or jerky movements, swing the pack onto your back and put the other shoulder strap on. Don’t forget to buckle the hip belt, cinch the shoulder straps and adjust any other buckles and straps before you begin moving.

The Spine Wellness Center has graciously donated space to host our inaugural Meet, Plan, Go! event in Las Vegas this year. Join us on October 18 and you’ll be ready to pack your backpack!



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