Game controller with dead pac man ghosts. Text block: Backpacking with health issues. Game over?

Backpacking with health issues. Is it game over?

Author: Tina Eckerlin

Whether it is age, injury or disease you may feel unable to explore the backcountry for fear of pain or physical confidence.

As someone with chronic pain, I fully understand the difficulties of trying to backpack with health issues. I suffer from small fiber neuropathy and fibromyalgia, among other ailments.

I am always in pain. If I sit still... I have pain. If I push myself...I have pain. 

Pain is overwhelming and spirit-breaking.

Pain is exhausting. I can be difficult for some to push themselves to get out for a lack of energy.

I have personally discovered that when I am hiking, I don't think about the pain. It is my happy place where I am free of stress and pain - mostly.

Plus, we all know that nature is good for the mind and spirit. More importantly, physical activity boosts the production of our brains neurotransmitters, called endorphins. These feel good chemicals our body produces can reduce the perception of pain.

I remind myself that it is mind-over-matter and that I will feel great once I am out there. It really is about momentum. 

It can be hard to have confidence when you are not 18 years old anymore and when your body does not respond to the instructions your brain sends. Once upon a time I could function on 2 hours of sleep, run my body ragged and bounce back - no problem. Now, I can put my back out with a sneeze.

So what can we do?

Talk to your Doctor

Talk to your health care provider. Do they feel that you are physically well enough to go on a backpacking trip?

Do you require a different medication, a brace, special shoes, or a regiment of stretches and exercises to do everyday?

Perhaps a physiotherapist can help you plan your road to recovery and strengthen your body?


The best way to get fit for a backpacking trip is to walk, hike and just get out there on a regular basis.

You will need a specific level of fitness for your designated trail. Try to hike on terrain similar to what you will see on the trail. 

Take notes of how far you can comfortably travel, if certain movements cause issues. Work your way towards a trip slowly, listening to your body.

Know your limits

You know your body better than anyone else. Know your limits.

If you are comfortable hiking 10 kilometers a day but feel pain after 15 km, then don’t plan to hike 30 km a day! There is no right or wrong here, only what works for you.

Maybe you need to take more frequent and longer breaks? Maybe you need to lengthen your trip by an extra day or two. That's fine, there are no rules! 

Frequent breaks, slower, longer, and more days or easier terrain may help you get out there. 

Perhaps, taking time during your day to stretch or do prescribed exercises will help you extend your trip.

I like to take bum breaks. I make myself stop, elevate my feet and sit on my bum for at least 30 minutes to mid-day. I have found this to be the key for hiking long distances for my body. Some hikers break and elevate their feet every hour for 5 minutes to refresh their bodies. 

Find a routine that works for you.

Lighten your pack weight

I have found that after adopting an ultralight to lightweight pack mindset, I have decreased a lot of my pain.

Lightening my pack weight has been easier on my joints and muscles. And more importantly, it allows my body to move naturally with more fluidity. In doing so, I am able to travel much further and much faster without the added strain from a heavy pack.

The important thing is to do what feels right and good for your body. You may end up being surprised that in time you are able to get out for longer and go further.

Happy Trails!

Image of author Tina Eckerlin. Text block: Author Tina Eckerlin is a hiker, owner and a maker at Terrain UL.

Do you suffer from health issues or have overcome health obstacles? 

Make sure to leave us a comment below and share your thoughts!



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