The idea of sleeping under the stars sounds like heaven to most of us. However, the morning after doesn’t always feel so heavenly for our backs. That’s because camping out can make our back pain act up. The simple reason is that outdoor sleep gear simply doesn’t offer the same support as the cushioning we’re used to from our beds at home. What’s more, our backs are not used to the feeling of the cold, hard ground under our bodies. Luckily, there are some things you can do to save your back this summer if falling asleep under the pale moonlight is on your agenda! Take a look at seven tips for saving your back from camping pain this summer.
1. Test Your Camping Equipment for Comfort and Functionality Before Your Trip
It’s not a bad idea to set up a “mock” campsite in your house or yard before the big trip! If you’ve just purchased new camping gear for an upcoming trip, you have no idea how the gear will actually perform in a real-world scenario. The best way to test your camping gear for comfort is to actually give it a test drive.
Set up your sleeping situation exactly how it will be when you camp. Next, lay down to take a nap. As you nap, you’ll be able to experience what an eight-hour night will actually feel once you’re out there in nature. This test run presents a great opportunity to see where you may need to add some extra padding or cushioning to make your overnight experience more pleasant. While it may seem like a big task, testing out all your sleeping gear ahead of time could save you from several nights of misery and discomfort during your trip. What’s even more important is that it could protect you from weeks or months of pain caused by strains and injuries that occur due to a bad camping arrangement.
2. Drink Tons of Water
This is the tip that surprises people the most. When you’re out having adventures in the sun, you’re very likely to become dehydrated must faster than you would during a normal day. If your camping trip involves hiking, this becomes even more important. What does drinking water have to do with keeping your back free from pain during a camping trip? One thing we know about dehydration is that it can be horrible for your tissue. When we’re dehydrated, our blood circulation actually slows down. This causes pain and stiffness throughout the body. It can also make our muscles feel tired. The fact that your muscles are already depleted from dehydration paired with the fact that you’re sleeping on a bed that offers much less support than your usual bed is a recipe for some very serious back pain.
3. Spring for an Air Mattress If You Can
Being as elevated from the ground as possible is going to help your back tremendously. While sleeping bags provide some support, your back is essentially right over the ground. In addition to being hard, the ground presents another problem. Very few patches of natural ground are perfectly even. That means that you’re battling against grooves, bumps and indentations all night long. Even things like pebbles and rocks can irritate your back all night. While not perfect, an air mattress is going to provide you with support that protects your back much better than a thin sleeping bag. It’s also going to put some distance between your back and the cold ground. This is important because being cold while you’re sleeping in your tent can cause you to “clench” your muscles all night long to create tension and pain. A warm, soft sleeping arrangement that provides support for your spine and neck is considered ideal when camping. You should also try to maintain the same sleeping position that you use at home. Ideally, this means sleeping on your back with your ears, shoulders and hips in alignment.
4. Remember That Getting Your Campsite Ready Isn’t a Speed Competition
It’s really easy to hurt yourself when setting up your campsite. Lugging your tent, coolers, folding tables and more from the car to the site can be grueling. Be very intentional about every move you make during this process! Here’s a quick guide to lifting all of the objects needed for your campsite without hurting your back:
- When preparing to lift something, get as close to the object as possible. You should never be reaching for a heavy object as you lift. It’s good to have your feet about shoulder-width apart before you cling to the object.
- When lifting, squat down while bending only your knees and hips.
- You should always be looking in the forward direction with a puffed chest and straight shoulders.
- When you’re ready to set the object down, only your knees and hips should be bent.
Don’t forget to ask for help when an object is too heavy for you to carry alone! It’s much easier to ask for help carrying an object than it is to ask your camping companions to carry you if you hurt yourself using bad practices. You should avoid any type of twisting motion as you carry the object. Always keep a straight line. If you need to switch directions for some reason after you’ve already picked up an object, take “baby steps” in the new direction until you can align your hips toward where you need to go.
5. Invest in a Good Hiking Backpack
The importance of a high-quality, ergonomic hiking backpack for a camping trip cannot be overstated. A standard “school” backpack won’t cut it if you’re serious about protecting your back, neck and shoulders from pain. Here’s a look at the features to look for in a back-friendly backpack.
- Straps that adjust.
- Wide straps that distribute pressure evenly.
- Padded straps.
- A belt that fastens to your waist or chest.
- A mix of different pockets and compartments throughout the bag that help to break up the weight of the objects you’re carrying.
- If possible, splurge on a bag that has an internal frame that creates structure and support.
A hiking backpack isn’t meant to be fashionable. Any features that help to keep the bag fully aligned with your spine without shifting around while you move are going to be very desirable. This will allow you to control the backpack as though it’s “part of your body” as you move.
6. Wear Hiking Shoes That Absorb Shock
While you may not be going on a hiking expedition when setting up camp, you’re still going to be covering a lot of terrain just going between the car and campsite. Time spent at your campsite is also going to require your feet to maintain contact with raw, uneven terrain. This is not a place for flimsy sandals or tennis shoes. Make sure you’re using hiking shoes with decent shock absorbers. When shoes don’t have good shock absorption, the pressure from the hard ground is felt right in your lower-back area.
7. See a Chiropractor Before and After Your Camping Trip
If you know you’re planning a camping trip that’s going to cause you to spend time in unfamiliar scenarios, it’s a good idea to have a chiropractor take a look at your spine before you depart for your trip. One of the best ways to prevent a camping injury is to make sure you’re in proper alignment before you spend a few nights sleeping in a tent! You can also benefit from a visit when you return from camping to work on any tension or stress caused by sleeping a tent, setting up your campsite, lugging heavy equipment or walking long miles on uneven terrain.
Camping Doesn’t Have to Hurt Your Back
A camping trip can be excellent for your physical and mental health! What’s better than unplugging from the stress of the world, taking in natural sunshine, breathing fresh air and bonding with friends or family over a campfire? Of course, you don’t want to accidentally set yourself up for pain by making some common camping mistakes that can leave your back in bad shape. Follow the seven tips above to ensure that you’re squeezing every bit of wellness from a camping trip!