Choosing the Right Backpack for Life

My husband, Tony, and I love getting out into nature. It’s one of the central themes of our relationship, and we make sure to do as much of it as we can. From 10-day off-roading trips 4 states away to a quick drive to catch a sunset against our Las Vegas desert landscape, getting out into nature is one of our favorite things to do.

We have a couple of big trips coming up, including a rim-to-river hike at the Grand Canyon. The hike is strenuous, I’m anticipating it’ll take us about 8-10 hours to complete, and we’ll need to bring supplies to maintain our water, mineral, and nutrient levels sufficiently. We will each carry a backpack, and as we’ve been mentally preparing for this trip, I’ve been thinking about the backpacks we all carry around every day.

Each one of us moves through our daily activities and interactions carrying a metaphorical backpack. That backpack contains our thoughts, our dreams, our anxieties, our past grievances, our traumas, our responsibilities, our memories, our stressors, everything. So, like the ones we’ll be bringing to the Grand Canyon, these backpacks are pretty full.

Before I knew anything about hiking, I thought a regular school bag type backpack would be sufficient. I had a backpack for school, it did its job carrying books and homework and pencil cases and calculators every day for years, why would I have any reason to question whether the same kind of backpack would work for hauling snacks and sunscreen and extra socks on a hiking trail? None.

The thing is, with a standard school bag style backpacks, all the weight of the contents of the bag is carried on the shoulders. Several of my classmates actually have back issues because of this design, as our textbooks weighed approximately the same as a full grown golden retriever. With a standard school bag backpack, you can adjust the straps so the bag hangs lower, against your behind, or higher, so the bag sits against your lower back. And the coolest kids only wore one strap, so all the weight was on one shoulder and the spine was out of alignment.

Standard School Bag Backpack

Now, this style of bag is not typically an issue if you’re simply moving it from class to class, school to bus, a couple times a day for a few minutes at a time. It becomes a MAJOR issue if you were to, say, hike 20 miles with anything other than a sweatshirt inside it. Wearing this kind of backpack higher up results in a friction burn against your lower back, wearing it low results in a hunched spine and major back and neck ache, and both leave a serious mark on the shoulders.

This is why backpacking bags exist. These long-haul hiking packs are designed around a structural frame and have padded flaps on the sides that circle around your waist, so the weight of whatever is in the pack can sit primarily on the hips, with the bag sitting upright against the frame. This design allows the strongest muscles of your body, your legs and glutes, to carry the load, instead of your shoulders. You can even situate the bag to sit only on your hips, so the shoulder straps simply become a way to balance and steady the bag, carrying no weight on your upper body at all.

Long-Haul Backpack

So many of us go through life carrying pounds and pounds of mental and emotional weight in the equivalent of a standard schoolbag backpack, leaving us tired and sore at the end of each day. Our habits and thoughts and beliefs rub and chafe, diminishing our experience of life, and yet day after day, we pick the bag back up and trudge through the day assuming that this is just how life is supposed to feel.

What we don’t realize is that for this long, beautiful, adventure hike of life, we could be much better served with a better, more supportive "bag." How we carry around the contents of our life doesn’t have to weigh heavy on us, misshaping the body and creating wounds over time. We can restructure our beliefs and thoughts and habits in a way that serves our life-hime, allowing us to be present for the journey, to take in the experiences around us. We can choose the bag that's more supportive of the journey.

The way we move through life doesn’t have to be as hard as we have a tendency to make it out to be. There is an easier, more supported, healthier way to navigate this journey. From societal ills to heartbreak + loss to uncertainty + change, you are already going to encounter future challenges that will cause you to feel pain. Strive to find the proper metaphorical equipment that will help this journey be more manageable.

This looks like seeking out tools such as therapy + coaching, finding a supportive community, releasing beliefs and behaviors that no longer serve you, making choices that serve your physical health, doing things that bring you joy, and cultivating gratitude + fulfillment. When you realize you don’t have to lug that standard backpack through this incredible, challenging, wild hike through life, and you can trade it in for a more supportive one that’s designed for a trek like this one, you empower yourself to go that much further with such a more vibrant experience.

Happy trails!

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