Over the years, I’ve literally spent thousands of dollars on gear and it makes me want to yarf a little. Tents of all shapes, jackets of all colors, boots of varying stiffnesses, a stove that weighs a mere 3 oz, cameras that eventually die or become obsolete, quick-dry this, breathable that, and packable the other.
Now, much of my gear is of decent enough quality to last a dozen years more, which is good because I’m kind of done buying stuff. (Unless its wool…more on that later). Last year, after my trekking poles gave up the ghost, I hiked pretty much the entire year without external support, which is something I thought I could never do again given a previous 22 years of trick-knee (that’s the technical term, of course). This is because I improved my internal support.
I mean what good is all that comfort and protection if you get that burning, throbbing, locking, stabbing, or just plain aching pain while miles from nowhere? What’s the point of all that wilderness exploration if you’ve got to then spend the next 4 days recovering and popping NSAIDs?
So, how do we get and stay durable?
For starters, let’s examine this from a bio-mechanical standpoint. In backpacking, there are tremendous loads placed on the body in specific places. 10-40+ pounds on the shoulders, back (as in not the front), and hips. Various angles of impact from the ground up. I argue, that these loads (or any loads for that matter) are not inherently bad, but can cause trouble if they are not balanced out by opposing loads.
The standard fitness model is about calories, heart rate, VO2 max and stuff like AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible). Let’s just examine everyone’s favorite exercise, the push-up. The push-up is great for strengthening/toning the front line, or, the mirror muscles, if you will. But, at what expense? Well, the back line of course! So, enter its opposite, the pull-up. Actually it would be more like reverse table, but you get the point.
So, when backpacking/hiking, what is missing? There’s little spinal extension or twisting. There’s not a whole lot of ground-level activity going on unless you find yourself scrambling. You are not bending your hips or knees all the way. Your arms are almost never overhead.
Wolff’s Law states, in essence, that the body’s tissues will respond to forces placed upon it by reinforcing where the load was placed. So, if I always carry a bag (think 5 pound purse), for example over my right shoulder, that side of the shoulder and neck will become overdeveloped and lead to compensations elsewhere. Try this: interlace your fingers. Then, do it the other way. You know, the way you’ve never done it before.
Your “repetitive stress” injury is not an injury at all. It is a completely natural response to a repetitive demand. So, what shape you are in, is quite literally how you shape yourself – every moment of the day.