Health Blog

Going Hiking? Tips for Properly Fitting and Packing Your Backpack to Help Avoid Back Pain or Injury.

Now that it’s getting sunny outside and we’re all tired of being cooped up, it’s time to go backpacking! A poorly packed or fitted backpack can lead to back pain or other injury. The good thing is it can easily be prevented! Here are a few things you should consider when planning your trip that will not only help keep you safe, but can also help you prevent unwanted pain and injury.


The first step is to buy a backpack if you do not already have one. The most important consideration in purchasing a backpacking backpack is your torso length, not your height. This REI article outlines a few easy steps you can take to ensure your backpack will be the right fit for you:


Now that you have a perfectly fitted backpack, next thing you need to consider is the correct method of packing. Here are some tips that will help you pack your backpack properly:

  • Bottom of the pack: pack your lighter items that aren’t needed until after you’ve set up camp at the bottom of your pack. This generally means sleeping bag, sleeping pads, hammocks, clothing for night, etc. Packing these at the bottom will create a layer for shock absorption at the bottom of your pack.
  • Middle of the pack: this is where your heavier items should go. This generally includes food, camp stove, and fuel. These items should be packed as close to your back as possible. This will maintain your center of gravity and prevent you from feeling like you’re being pulled backwards.
  • Top of the pack and accessory pockets: this is where you should pack the things you may need access to as you’re hiking. This includes lightweight jackets, hat, snacks, and water. Having these easily accessible will prevent you from needing to unpack your whole backpack on the trail to get to what you need.

Here are also some helpful tips and common mistakes:

  • Pack everything inside of your pack if you are able; try to only strap things to the outside of your pack that you might need while hiking, such as poles.
  • Avoid attaching things to your pack that swing. When objects, such as water bottles, are swinging from your backpack, it can place you off balance.
  • Make sure to pack the essentials in an easily accessible pocket – these essentials include first aide kits, sunscreen, bug spray, etc.


Once packed, there are a things you should do to make sure you have it adjusted correctly:

  • The waist strap should be nice and snug around your hips. This is where you want most of the weight to be supported.
  • The shoulder straps should be snug, but not so tight that they are carrying weight.
  • Load lifters (the straps from your pack to your shoulders) should be tightened so they are at about a 45 degree angle. Do not over tighten these!



  • Chest strap should be clipped at a comfortable tension that does not restrict your breathing or arm movement.
  • On the trail: make sure to adjust as your backpack as you go! What might have felt great at the start of your hike, will likely need to be altered here and there along the way.




For a more thorough explanation on adjusting and fitting your backpack, refer to the REI article mentioned above. If you need to assess an injury before your hike, or need some assistance after your hike, we are here to help. Just contact your local MTI Physical Therapy clinic.

Now you’re ready to go! Make sure to tell a friend or family member where you’ll be for the weekend and have fun!



















Michelle Ernsdorff, PT, DPTMichelle Ernsdorff, PT, DPT,  joined the MTI Physical Therapy team in 2019 and treats patients at our First Hill and Issaquah clinics. Michelle enjoys treating patients who are working hard to get back to the activities they love and has a special interest in working with tactical athletes.

She enjoys spending most of her weekends in the summer backpacking and hiking. This passion has taken her internationally, where she spent a few weeks backpacking through Patagonia. In addition to hiking, she loves to snowboard, play soccer and volleyball, and eat food. Come in to see her at our Issaquah or Seattle clinics!

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