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Bad backs and backpacks :: Initial thoughts

by , May 7, 2012


We do some Q&A on bad backs for a reader

There’s so much happening in the carry world these days that it becomes a maze of awesome information, and along the way we miss some topics that we should really be talking about. Point in case? Bad backs and backpacks. One of our readers, Sam, recently pointed out that he’d love to see a post on versatile packs that are good for your back (but also look good as well). We responded by email, and figured we might as well share these initial thoughts…

The question

Hi, Carryology!

Have you done a feature on packs for people with back problems? The site search for “bad back” resulted in badass-looking backpacks, which, while cool, aren’t what I need (though a badass backpack that’s also good for the back would be perfect.)

I’m a reporter so I always have my laptop with me, plus tech (mobile phone, voice recorder, digital camera). Also have notebooks and A4 folders stuffed with paper. I need a backpack that will look at home in both swanky venues and the great outdoors since I can be at the theater one day and climbing a hill the next. Not kidding.

So: a versatile pack that’s good for the back. Any suggestions?

Thanks,
Sam

Our response (with a few more options since added):

Sam,

Backs can be bad for a whole number of reasons, so it will be hard to cover it all in one post. Essentially though, if you can walk reasonably upright and symmetrically, with not much load on your shoulders and more of it on your hips, you stand the best chance of doing well.

That means you need a backpack that is not too deep (or it will cause you to hang backwards and strain). It needs a great waistband, and a bit of vertical structure so that the weight of it can ‘stand up’ on your hips. Waist straps without structure to the pack are nothing but load stabilisers. The harness also needs to be height-adjustable, as otherwise the waist belt won’t reach your hips to actually bear the load.

Tactical and Trekking packs put the most investment into great load-bearing harnesses in packs, so these should be your starting point. Your other option is to go for a hybrid wheeled bag and backpack, so that you tow the bag behind you, but this could be overkill for day to day usage… (and you might look a little awkward haha)

Trying to find a discreet and office-safe outdoor pack then gets a little tricky, as most of them have more straps than a dominatrix, so that will be the key balance. A pack that works well in office/formal environments is usually a more square/rectangular format (to hold square contents like folders), with more natural fabrics and fewer external dangly bits. Pretty much the opposite of most outdoor packs (round, lightweight synthetic, Wiggles coloring).

OK, so some packs to scope…

Tactical/Outdoor

Something like the Camelbak TriZip (or any of the Mystery Ranch packs it’s based on) have amazing harnesses that could haul loads no prob’s for you. In full black they can look OK, but they’re still pretty full on. Packs like the Goruck GR1 look great in a work or outdoor setting, but then miss out on a great load-bearing waist strap.

Packs from Osprey also have great harness systems, but again look a bit off in a work setting. LoweAlpine have some waist strap models for long backs which get the waist strap in a better position, but again they do look outdoorsy.

Work Focused

The best work setting packs are from minimalist brands like Qwstion and Arc’teryx, but then you don’t get the waist strap support. 🙁

Bike

If you have a fairly average-sized body, you could go for a Mission Workshop Rambler or Vandal in black, which both have a little structure and a good waist strap (removable). Their length can’t be adjusted though, so if you’re not average-sized, they won’t work as well. If you are kinda average-sized, a Rambler would be my pick.

Camera

Camera packs ain’t cheap, but they are made for hauling weight around all day, so they generally have lots of spots for tech, big waist straps, and feature-rich harnesses. Clik Elite make some more casual looking packs like the Cloudscape which might be interesting. Naneu have something that looks a touch more like a camera pack, but is still loose enough to get away with. Dakine have street cool photo packs which may tick the box for you. If you want the youth vibe, pick something like a black Sequence 33L for larger or Mission Photo 25L for smaller. And last photo pack suggestion would be an F-Stop Guru or Kenti in black.

I’m sure we’re missing some good options though. Can anyone recommend a structured pack with a great harness and waist belt that looks neat in a workplace?

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