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Backpack and back pain

My wife and I both purchased the Rick Steves Backpacks for our trip coming up in less than 2 weeks. My wife recently packed hers and went for a short walk. At 17 lbs, it was a strain on her back. She bought a wheeled caddy so she can pull her backpack behind her. I think the extra piece of equipment will become a nuisance with storage etc. Do any readers have any tips or ideas for configuring her backpack to lessen the load? I have told her that I will carry more in my pack to lighten her load.

Posted by
5793 posts

RS luggage backpacks do not have internal frames and load carrying hip belts but the following packing advice still applies. Pack the heaviest (dense) items closest to your back. Use the compression straps to keep the load properly positioned and close to her back. Walking with a slightly forward posture will place more of the load over her hips. (Packing with the heavy items high places weight over hips if she leans forward.) And definitely don't overpack keep the pack weight down.

Posted by
2930 posts

We used those wheels on our backpacks years ago when wheels were not yet successfully attached to suitcases. It wasn't that much of a pain, just a delay once off the gateway to put on the wheels. However, as there are now light wheeled carryons, why wouldn't she just forgo the backpack and get a nice little wheeled bag? Trade the backpack in for Rick's wheeled carryon. I love mine.

Posted by
448 posts

As stated above an internal frame is better. I have a bad back. I have to start months out carrying ever increasing weight to prevent problems. Unfortunately you don't have time. Use the wheeled caddy. It is better than hurting your back on your trip.

Posted by
8869 posts

Trade the backpack in for Rick's wheeled carryon

Wray beat me to it. A wheeled carry on is the answer.

Posted by
1364 posts

I used the RS convertible backpack for several trips although i did own the RS wheelie carryon too. I hesitantly decided to go with the wheelie this trip (in Colmar right now!) For two reasons- 1st I've been having more back pain lately, and 2nd, I was sick most of August and lost lots of fitness.

Long story short, it was the best decision I ever made. Don't miss lugging the backpack and not being hands free has not been an issue.

For flying purposes I put some things in the Euro Flight bag. Once in Europe i moved it all to the wheelie.

We will probably check the wheelie when we return home.

DH has been devoted to his backpack but after watching the ease I've been traveling with is considering going the same route next time. He especially hates the back sweat the backpack created since its been so hot here.

Posted by
6513 posts

I bought the RS convertible back pack and after packing it and carrying it around as a test, I found that I just had to return it. It did not work at all for my short stature. So, the important things to remember are: 1) backpacks don't work for everyone, 2) there's no shame in admitting that they are not for you, 3) there's also nothing wrong with returning it and getting a small wheeled carry on - whether RS or other brand. Sorry that you don't have a lot of time left to experiment with some different bags to see what works best for you but I hope you do find something.

Posted by
3493 posts

The issue with the RS convertible is that, being convertible, is not the best at either being a backpack or a suitcase.

First there is no real structure to it. Meaning as a suitcase it is floppy when not packed full. It has no frame to it when used as a backpack it flops too so it is not much better than a pillowcase strapped to your back. Take it for what it is. It is not designed to be used as a backpack for an all day hike.

It is still my favorite bag for the trips I take because, so far anyway, I do not need wheels on my carry on and the backpack option can come in handy for short durations. I have only used it as a backpack once, and that was when dashing through LHR helping to carry someone else's bags.

Posted by
16883 posts

Rick's Classic Backdoor Bag doesn't have a waist belt but the Convertible Carry-On does have one. If that doesn't fit you well, e.g. for tall people where the belt hits too high, then I'd consider that a problem. I could never carry my backpack without the waist belt well cinched, and other straps also well cinched, as Edgar described.

Posted by
99 posts

If you would like to carry a backpack, please go to a reputable backpacking store like REI in the USA or in Canada MEC and get fitted properly. One size or kind does not fit all. Even amongst those of us who are backpackers or round the world travelers, we must try on diverse backpacks to see which one fits best. Your back will forever thank you for taking the time to get fitted properly.

Posted by
2576 posts

Your trip is two weeks away. She is not experienced in carrying a backpack and won’t be by then even if you buy a very good one. Forget about it and get a wheeled carry on. The caddy is a poor second choice. Take a look at a Travel Pro spinner, the Crew 10 series or higher.

Posted by
155 posts

Have to agree with the advice to get a wheeled bag. Try as I might, though I love backpacks, I just can’t get by with packing light enough to carry a travel backpack for extended periods. Function of getting older, I suppose, but the wheeled bags are so much more convenient if a) they aren’t too heavy empty and b) aren’t overpacked.

If I only need clothes and other stuff for a couple of days, I’m good with a backpack. Great for stuffing under the seat in front of me on a plane and/or just flexibility in getting around. But anything longer, a quality wheeled bag combined with a small backpack or tote (carried over the telescoping handle of the wheeled bag) will fill the bill for 90% of my travel.

If you still want to use a backpack, the advice above about getting properly fitted at an outdoor retailer is a really good idea. One size doesn’t fit all with backpacks, especially if you’re on the shorter or taller ends of the spectrum. Good luck.

Posted by
5697 posts

And to add to Nancy's list
4) there's no shame in checking your bag, even if it's carry-on size. I have both 2-wheelers with big wheels and 4-wheel spinners, each with its advantages, but always check on airplanes and then wander through the airport bag-free (OK, I do still have my Euro tote with under-the-seat necessities.)

I agree with the above. If your wife can't handle 17 lb.s on her back - then get a wheeled carry-on. (Just be sure to include wheel length in total bag length.

I don't know how tall your wife is. I am under 5'5". My ideal daypack is 16-17 inches long. I can handle 18." My travel pack is around 19-19.5 inches long. I cannot handle a bag longer than 20" on my back. I like the pack base to be in my lumbar area when packed.

Posted by
3356 posts

My wife and I both purchased the Rick Steves Backpacks for our trip
coming up in less than 2 weeks. My wife recently packed hers and went
for a short walk. At 17 lbs, it was a strain on her back. She bought a
wheeled caddy so she can pull her backpack behind her. I think the
extra piece of equipment will become a nuisance with storage etc. Do
any readers have any tips or ideas for configuring her backpack to
lessen the load?

Don't play around with back pain. Your wife told you the backpack put "a strain" on her back and wants to use a pullman; heck she bought it. That your response to her is that the pullman will be a nuisance with storage is cruel.

Posted by
3261 posts

Given that even the short walk was a problem, she should not try to use even a lighter backpack or reconfigured backpack at all. And I say that as a woman in her 60's who does the 17 lbs backpack thing when using public transportation. Not everyone is so fortunate. I got the backpack because I was scared to use my reliable shoulder tote as my personal item after right shoulder had impingement issues-it works better to distribute the load on my back. It is much easier for me to keep up with my husband in airports when I'm not rolling a bag, so you may need to slow your walking accordingly.

Posted by
6951 posts

If one's back is hurting carrying with a backpack, switch to a backpack rolling bag.
When my wife was mobility challenged earlier this year,, I purchased a backpack carry on. She was in a lightweight travel wheelchair, and I towed her Travel Pro swivel wheel 21 inch carry on suitcase behind the wneelchair. We got.along just fine. And we never checked any bag on the airlines.
Although she is doing great after a knee replacement, my wife wants to carry the wheelchair on future trips. She.never has.been treated.so well. I told her to forget it and walk like the rest of us.

Posted by
1277 posts

Yet another suggestion..... in March I had similiar issues w my Rick bag. I bought a pretty cheap "weight lifting belt" off if Amazon, I bet you could walk into Wal-Mart and find something similar for 15 bucks. I'm talking a big adjustable Velcro closure, not a higher end gym rat leather monstrosity. I'm surprised how much I liked it, would just loosen it up and leave it on during flights. Then I came home and bought an osprey Fairview. I'm 5,2
But yes, sounds like yr wife has sought out her own solution. Absoulutely plan on checking one bag coming home (all of the dirty laundry and guide books) and May be consider checking one out bound

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you for all your replies and tips. My wife is disappointed that she won’t be able to take the backpack, but it is what it is. I’d rather she be pain free than have neck and back problems.

To the person who said this: “Don't play around with back pain. Your wife told you the backpack put "a strain" on her back and wants to use a pullman; heck she bought it. That your response to her is that the pullman will be a nuisance with storage is cruel.”

I only said the caddy would be a nuisance because of the extra contraption to lug around. I didn’t mean that a normal suitcase with wheels already on it would be verboten. My wife knows that I’m very concerned about her comfort and not the least bit cruel.

Posted by
3356 posts

I only said the caddy would be a nuisance because of the extra
contraption to lug around. I didn’t mean that a normal suitcase with
wheels already on it would be verboten. My wife knows that I’m very
concerned about her comfort and not the least bit cruel.

Glad you cleared that up and that her comfort is indeed your first and only priority. :-)

Posted by
1128 posts

The weight lifting belt is a good idea. Another alternative is to add a waist belt to the bag. You could try using the weight lifting belt or a padded toolbelt from a hardware store. I got a Dickey's brand one that is 2.5 or 3 inches wide. You'll have to figure out a way to attach it to the bag. It helps if you can sew a study web belt loop to the bag at an appropriate spot for your height.

This approach doesn't work as well as a backpack that already comes with its own waist belt, but it does help. It is amazing the difference it makes to shift weight from your shoulders to your waist.

Edit: I should have called it a hip belt rather than a waist belt and the idea is to shift most of the weight to your hips. With a good backpack, using a hip belt makes it seem like the backpack is floating off your back, causing hardly any pressure at all.

Posted by
8888 posts

One trip my friend and I used the convertible backpack and rolling under seat tote bags. We would put the backpacks on when getting on & off trains or up and down stairs. The rest of the time we would just sit the backpack bag on the tote bag and wheel it. It worked very well.

Posted by
68 posts

I am in my 60s and, about 3 times a year, have back spasms. Muscle strain can bring on an attack. Nothing works except a hot water bottle and time. While I look wistfully at those able to use a backpack as their primary carryon, I don't want to spend part of my vacation in bed with a hot water bottle, waiting for my back to get better. I bought a Samsonite luggage cart for a wheeless suitcase I really liked but decided it was too fussy a system. The suitcase would come off the cart too easily. A wheeled carryon and a small personal item make the most sense for me.

I still always pack a hot water bottle, just in case.

There is absolutely no apology needed for taking care of oneself.

Posted by
21 posts

My wife will use her suitcase with wheels. No apologies will be made.
Me thinks that Rick Steves is so good at selling his products that a lot of travelers have bought the backpacks and regretted purchasing them later. Unfortunately it is too close to our travel date to trade either of them in for the wheeled version. Since I am using mine on this trip, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to trade it in!

Posted by
31524 posts

Kalzak,

I'm late getting into the discussion, but have a few comments to add......

The most important aspect of using backpacks is to buy a model with a robust hip belt that allows for torso range adjustment! Most of the weight should rest on the users hips and not their back. Even if a particular model has a hip belt, it needs to be adjustable.

Backpacks are divided into two main types - panel loading and top loading. The panel loading models (with zippers) tend to be more practical for travel, while the top loading models are often used for mountaineering. Some travel backpacks have other features such as a detachable daypack (good for carry on) or stowable harness (so the straps don't get damaged by airport baggage handling equipment).

If you have an REI or similar outdoor store in your area, have a look at the models they have in stock. Some stores used to allow potential buyers to load up a pack and try it out for a few hours (after taking a credit card imprint, of course).

You may find these websites interesting.....

I have a few "back issues" but still use backpacks when travelling, and don't have any plans to switch to a wheelie bag.

Good luck!

Posted by
11462 posts

Kalzak....you are making a smart decision. Do what is best for your wife and yourself. Contrary to what many people write, wheels will not be a hinderence. Sure, some of the non-wheel mafia will make you think that using a bag with wheels is short of heresy and crimes against humanity or having to carry a bag up one flight of stairs for ten seconds will ruin your trip. It won't. In the end, it's all about your preferences and happiness. Not what anyone here or some travel "expert" thinks.

I once tried the backpack/luggage cart combination on a short trip. Thank goodness it was only a short trip as it was one of the worst travel experiences I ever had. The bag kept shifting and falling to the side taking the cart with it.

Posted by
1220 posts

I screwed up my back throwing shot put back in college. I can do a day backpack if it's well made to distribute weight properly but trying to put a week's clothes and supplies on my back is right out.

Glad she went with the wheeled suitcase. Vacation's too short to be hauling something around that causes you pain

Posted by
155 posts

Wholeheartedly agree with Frank II. It all boils down to personal preference and one’s own physical characteristics. My back is still in pretty decent shape at 61, but I’m not in top physical condition either, so comfort is a primary consideration with luggage. No way would I try to lug around a fully loaded travel pack for more than a couple of blocks. But we’re all different, so go with whatever works for you.