For many of us, running is hard enough. Add a backpack, and things get tricky, fast. While there’s a pack that fits most every body, it’s still extra weight on your frame. The silver lining is that running with a pack strengthens your core and shoulders in a way that will only benefit your running when you drop the weight (literally).
Here’s what you need to know about choosing a pack and running with it:
1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT PACK
“Depending on the distance, you will first figure out what size you need,” says Jax Mariash, the first woman to complete the Four Deserts Grand Slam Plus, which required carrying all her gear over multiple marathons. This can be tricky, since bag sizes are measured in liters, and we don’t always have a sense for the volume gear takes up. That means when you head to the store to choose your pack, consider bringing the gear you want to stuff in it. You want it to be as close to full as possible, so your gear isn’t bouncing around.
“From there, it is critical to figure out fit,” Mariash adds. “For women, it is a bit more difficult. It needs to fit really snug but not cause chafing. We struggle with our little backs to fit into some of the packs, so you really have to take the time to try them on and test them out.” (Her personal favorite is the OMM Classic Marathon 25L pack.) Most stores — if you ask nice and leave your license or credit card with the cashier — will let you take a pack out of the store and do a quick jog around the parking lot. Do that before committing: Often, a pack feels great inside but out in the wild, it bounces or chafes.
2. FOCUS ON FIT
Every time you head out to run with your pack, take an extra 10 seconds to perfect your fit. “I focus on how it it sits on my back first and then also that it is snug around my waist and fits snug everywhere. I don’t do well if a pack is sloshing around and isn’t fitted enough,” Mariash says. There are often a few straps that need to be fastened and adjusted, so make sure each is in the right place.
3. START LIGHT AND SHORT
Don’t try to do a grocery run right off the bat, or bring your whole workspace to and from the office. Rather, start with a few test runs where you grab an item or two at the store, or leave your laptop at work and just bring a change of clothes in with you. Gradually, you can add more weight, but you might end up with odd muscle soreness if you go all-in on your first runs.
4. TRAIN YOUR BACK
If you have a long run coming up, or you’re trying to get used to a run pack and you’re having trouble, take a page from Mariash’s book and wear your pack while working at a standing desk, or while you’re strength training. “You have to train with the pack to alleviate this stress and do strength training,” she says. “This is why it is so critical: If you don’t, your body is so sore on Day 1 that you really suffer all week. I recommend running two days a week with the pack on and doing a lot of work and errands in it in addition.”
5. RECOVER RIGHT
Don’t neglect your upper back and shoulders when you’re hitting the foam roller pre- and post-run. Take a few extra minutes to release some of the pressure that may have built up from hauling your gear around all day — and revel in the smugness of those bonus calories burned from carting your library books back to the book drop.
6. … AND NEVER RACE WITH A NEW PACK
To add to this last rule, Mariash says she runs with a new pack for weeks in advance of an ultra. “The pack is actually totally packed three weeks out and I work with it and then also do two runs a week with it packed,” she explains. “It is important when choosing one to spend time running in it and also full of gear.”