Many trekkers feel that carrying a backpack is difficult. Often trekkers ask me if they can hire a porter to carry their backpack. While on most treks you can, it is a bit shameful to ask a porter to carry your backpack.
The fact of the matter is that carrying a backpack is not as difficult as it is made out to be.
I'll explain why.
Backpacks these days are so designed that the weight is distributed across your hips and shoulders (especially if you are carrying an internal frame backpack, as most of you will). It is the hip that is actually doing most of the lifting. Hips are the strongest bones of your body and can carry a lot more than the 8-9 kgs of your backpack.
It is a common sight to see trekkers throw down their backpack the moment they reach camp grimacing in pain around their shoulders. The reality is it is not the weight of the backpack that has caused this soreness. The cause of the soreness is the build up of lactic acid in the muscles. This is a result of our breathing faster than usual and less oxygen traveling to the compressed muscles. When you take off your backpack and relax your muscles, the lactic acid disperses in the blood stream and the soreness disappears. Unknown to most trekkers, even carrying a small daypack for 5-6 hours causes this compression of muscles and soreness.
Learning how to disperse the lactic acid helps in returning to normalcy quicker. A quick way to do this is to exercise your shoulder muscles frequently during a trek. Though there are specific exercises for these, a simple rotatory movement of the shoulders helps in dispersing the lactic acid. Doing these exercises periodically goes a long way to make a trek pain free and enjoyable.
But what will reduce the soreness most is learning how to pack and carry your backpack. I have often seen backpacks dangling lopsided from a trekker’s shoulders – this is a sure sign of approaching acute pain in a few hours. A backpack needs to fit you like a glove, so that the centre of gravity stays as close to the hips as possible. For that you need to fasten your backpack in such a way that it fits snugly on your back, especially around the hips. Strap the backpack in such a way that if you jump up and down nothing wobbles – the backpack needs to feel like a part of your body.
Another backpack technique most trekkers miss out is on the use of the hip belts – yet, it is something that keeps the backpack snug. Secure the belts around your waist in such a way that there is little gap between the backpack and your lower back.
Trekking upright is the best thing that you can do to reduce your soreness. Apart from fitting your backpack snugly, use a trekking pole to ensure that you don’t stoop forward too much, especially when climbing uphill. This slight correction in the centre of gravity reduces your fatigue by over 30%.
Apart from the psychological benefits of carrying your own backpack (a sense of achievement and pride), there are some practical benefits of carrying a backpack.
Trekkers carrying their own backpacks reduce the number of porters/mules hired on the trail. This means lesser energy consumed, lesser fuel burnt and lesser waste generated. Spending a few thousand extra on a porter does make a trek more luxurious but it greatly increases the ecological impact on the trail.
A backpack gives you access to your warm clothes or anything else in a hurry. Often there is a burst of rain or a long cloud cover sweeps over the trail. The temperature plummets. Access to your warm clothes and rain gear is of utmost importance in such circumstances. Your backpack saves your day. I have often wondered at the number of times I have thanked my backpack in such situations. There have been numerous times when I have had to fish out my knife or a medical kit. Without my backpack I would have been caught napping. Once, when I had to make a sudden camp overnight, it was the clothes in my backpack that kept me warm through the night. I can’t also forget the number of times I have used my backpack as a pillow to take a quick nap on a trail.
It is not difficult to carry your own backpack on a trek. The worst you feel is on the first day of the trek. But carrying your own backpack is practical and humanely the right thing to do.
Read here on how to pack your backpack in our backpacking tips.
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