The 5 best backpacks for back pain
Whether you’re an avid hiker, a student with a ton of books to lug around, or a commuter with a heavy load, aches and soreness can be an unfortunate side effect of carrying a backpack. The best backpacks for back pain can help solve this problem by evenly distributing weight with the help of adjustable shoulder, sternum, and hip straps. Ventilated back panels and lightweight designs also make them more comfortable to wear.
According to Matt Pippin, an NSCA-certified strength and mobility coach, "A loaded backpack should not weigh more than 20 percent of your body weight — this usually refers to people who are doing day long hikes. For normal day to day use like commuting around the city or to school, lower that to between 10 and 15 percent."
With that in mind, consider the size of a backpack in relation to your own body. Pippin recommends fitting a backpack to the length of your torso rather than your height, since a taller person can still have a short torso, and vice versa.
"The top of your bag should be in line with the top of your shoulders. The lower the bag sits on your back, the more stress on the lower back," Pippin adds. He also notes that it's important to make sure that there's not too much space between your spine and the backpack, as that could put additional stress and tension on your lower back.
Other factors you might want to consider include compression straps if you plan to carry a lot of weight, and whether you’d prefer an option with or without a frame. A backpack with a frame will typically offer the most support. The tradeoff is that it will likely be heavier and more rigid than a frameless model.
In general, you’ll want a backpack that isn’t too heavy on its own, since you’ll be adding additional weight when you pack it. Also, look for wide, adjustable straps that curve away from the neck (all of the options below have this feature). Of course, if you have chronic pain or are recovering from a back injury, you should talk to your doctor to get more tailored recommendations.
With all of this in mind, read on for five backpacks on Amazon that are comfortable and supportive. And, after you purchase your new backpack, make sure to adjust the fit.
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1. The tried and true one
Capacity: 27 liters or 28 liters
Weight: 3 pounds
The North Face Borealis is a solid all-around frameless backpack that's especially great for commuters thanks to its thoughtfully designed interior with padded sleeves for both a laptop and a tablet. Available in a 27- or 28-liter capacity, it offers plenty of space for books, electronics, snacks, and even a pair of gym clothes. It has padded mesh back and lumbar panels for extra comfort, as well as hip wings, a hip belt, and a sternum belt to ensure that the weight is evenly distributed. Side compression straps and front bungee cords are helpful for those who carry a lot around in their backpacks.
One reviewer says: "This is my 2nd North Face Backpack in 20 years. This one is Comfortable, lots of compartments, decent size for day hike. It has hip and chest harness, elastic pockets on side with additional clips on side. Good air flow on back of pack, sturdy and comfortable. Web on front of pack for loose items. Easy access to pockets with bigger zippers. Backpack Material is thicker and tough. Smaller pockets inside backpack for a few items. Looking forward this one lasting me another 20 years of good outdoor memories!"
- Available colors: 30
2. The budget backpack
Capacity: Roughly 40 liters (according to reviewers)
Weight: 1.9 pounds
If you're looking for a backpack that's comfortable to carry and comes at an affordable price, this frameless lightweight travel backpack is a great find for under $25. It has adjustable curved, padded straps and a ventilated, padded mesh back panel to not only reduce aches but help keep you from getting too sweaty when carrying it around. Side compression straps, a built-in USB charger, and a top-handle make this backpack versatile enough to use as a carry-on, too. It even has a shockproof interior belt to protect your laptop.
One reviewer says: "It is comfortable and holds so much stuff! I have been working from home half days and carry my laptop back and forth. I had surgery on my neck a couple of years ago and carrying something on one shoulder was painful. This backpack has saved my neck! I recommend it to anyone who has to pack their computer around."
- Available colors: 6
3. The lightweight one
Capacity: 20 liters
Weight: 12 ounces
If you like to travel light, the Deuter Speed Light backpack is one of the best options on the market — and at $75, it's also a great value for the price. Its ultra-lightweight, flexible U-frame design offers structure and support, yet the whole thing still weighs less than 1 pound. This backpack has curved straps, hip wings, and both hip and sternum belts to further even out weight distribution.
Designed with a 20-liter capacity and side compression straps, it's noted by the brand as being best for low to medium weight loads. If you're going on a day hike, it's also compatible with the brand's hydration systems, so your water will always be easy to access.
One reviewer says: "I found this pack to be great. It is lightweight and very comfortable. The straps easily adjust and pocket placement is great. The side pockets hold my water nicely within reach without having to dislocate my shoulder to get it out or place it back. Plan on buying another as soon as we can decide on the second color."
- Available colors: 4
4. The heavy-duty travel backpack
Capacity: 40 liters or 65 liters
Weight: 3.5 pounds
Available in both 40- and 65-liter capacities, the Eagle Creek Global Companion is an excellent choice if you've got a lot to carry around. Its book-style opening makes it an ideal suitcase alternative, and it will help keep your belongings organized. It's especially useful for travel, as at 22 by 14 by 9 inches it meets the carry-on size restrictions of most major domestic airlines.
This backpack has a frameless design with side straps that allow for compression or extra expansion, with a padded laptop sleeve in the main compartment. Adjustable curved, padded shoulder straps and hip pads, along with a mesh back panel and hip and sternum belts, help to evenly distribute weight.
One reviewer says: "Great backpack. Used it to travel around the UK for two weeks. It was super comfortable and had enough space for two week's worth of clothes for my trip. I want to add that I am pregnant and the backpack's weight was distributed comfortably."
- Available colors: 3
5. The one for hikers
Capacity: 34 liters or 36 liters
Weight: 2.6 pounds
The Osprey Sirrus is a great hiking backpack that offers frameless support and even weight distribution, with features like wide, adjustable S-shaped straps, a fully ventilated back panel, hip pads with zippered pockets for extra storage, and a hip belt and sternum strap. With a 36-liter capacity, it also boasts side and bottom compression straps, and it's compatible with a 3-liter reservoir so you can stay hydrated while you hike. There are a number of other outdoor adventure extras, as well, including a trekking pole attachment, an integrated rain-cover, a sleeping bag compartment, and an ice tool loop.
While the Sirrus is described by the brand as a women's backpack, this essentially just means it's designed for a smaller frame. If you're looking for similar features for a larger frame, consider the Osprey Stratos.
One reviewer says: “I love how it is off your back, off your spine, especially with a number of herniated and degenerate discs in my lower back. I love that there was air ventilation, air flow, along the back too! Both were a big deciding factor for me. All other packs laid right on the back, on the spine. I like the storage and the small storage packs on the hip.”
- Available colors: 4
Matt Pippin, SCA-certified strength and mobility coach