Is Running With A Backpack A Bad Idea?

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As runners, we want our limbs to be as free as possible to maximize running efficiency. Naturally, wearing a backpack seems to go against this logic.

Is running with a backpack a bad idea? Is it likely to cause a drop in performance, or worse – injury?

Running with a backpack is not a bad idea when you do it correctly. In fact, many runners use this as a form of weight training due to the benefits it offers. Provided you follow the right tips, an appropriate backpack will allow you to keep your essentials handy during runs while improving your posture. 

Regardless of why you want to run with a backpack, we’ll outline ten fantastic tips to ensure you maximize your efficiency while wearing your backpack on runs.

Let’s get started!

Is It A Bad Idea To Run With A Backpack?

Is running with a backpack a bad idea?
Is running with a backpack a bad idea?

Running with a backpack is much like running with a weight on your back.

To a lesser extent, a backpack will shift your center of gravity while you run. Overloaded backpacks can alter your posture and result in an injury, which is why some people are hesitant about running with additional weight.

Well, the good news is that you don’t have to worry if you are careful.

Unless you’re careless or use a poor-quality backpack, running with a backpack isn’t a bad idea at all. In fact, there are many advantages so long as you choose an appropriate backpack.

For one, running with a backpack allows you to store all the essentials you might need during your run or at your destination, from water to a pair of clean socks. 

Many runners train with backpacks on to better prepare for marathons and other events. Furthermore, many runners have found that backpacks are more comfortable to run with than handheld water bottles – especially if you choose the right version and fit it properly.

When a backpack is used properly, it can actually improve your running posture  

Let’s take a look at some key tips to follow:

10 Tips For Running Safely With A Backpack

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#1: Choose An Appropriate Backpack 

Arguably the most important tip for running with a backpack is to choose one suited to running.

Running with a poor-quality backpack can negatively impact your posture and efficiency. Choose the smallest backpack that can fit all your necessary gear as a golden rule.

There are backpacks designed specifically for runners that have been created with the sole intention of being as unnoticeable as possible.

Ultimately, your backpack must sit flush against your back for maximum running comfort. You should also ensure the backpack you choose has adjustable straps, as these will allow you to properly adjust your backpack’s fit. 

If you are only carrying liquids and a few small essentials, ask yourself: would a hydration vest be a better choice?

#2: Adjust Your Backpack’s Fit 

While running with a backpack isn’t the optimal setup for beating your personal best in a speed race, it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. By ensuring that your backpack is adjusted properly and fits snugly to your body, you’ll be able to optimize your running performance. 

When adjusting your backpack, you should ensure you pack it properly. You should also ensure your straps, including the shoulder, load lifter, and sternum straps, are properly adjusted. Finally, you should find a comfortable placement for the backpack’s hip belt. 

This is a prime chafing spot, so placement and fit is everything!

#3: Pack Your Backpack Properly 

When running with a backpack, it’s crucial to properly pack your gear beforehand. You should ensure that there are no heavy, loose items that could bounce around while running. These items, like water bottles, can annoy you and even cause an injury. 

Ideally, the weight in your backpack should be centered.

When your backpack’s weight is concentrated on one side, it will negatively impact your running technique. Uncentered weight can also lead to a back or spinal injury. 

Think of it like running on a permanent camber. You wouldn’t want to complete an entire run on a camber, and that’s exactly what it feels like if your bag slumps to one side.

In short: not fun!

While packing your bag, you should ensure your chosen items are packed tightly. Softer items like rain jackets should be packed against your back to ensure your backpack fits comfortably. Heavier items in your backpack should be backed towards the middle and bottom of the bag. 

#4: Don’t Overload It!

It goes without saying: weight lost = time saved.

The key to preventing an overloaded backpack is to focus on only including essential items.

We can’t tell you exactly what to pack for your next run, as it will depend entirely on the conditions of the course, the duration of the race, and so on.

What we can say is you should be second-guessing every last item that goes in to your backpack. Do you really need it? Is it actually essential?

Anything related to fuel, water, safety or protection from the elements is a justifiable inclusion. Everything else? Ask yourself if it’s really necessary.

#5: Practice Running With Your Backpack On 

Practice makes perfect, especially when running with a backpack on.

It feels awkward at first.

Running with dead weight on your back can feel somewhat uncomfortable, especially if it’s bouncing up and down. You shouldn’t dive straight into the long runs when you start running with a backpack. Instead, you should start slowly and practice over shorter distances.

Adjust your fit accordingly until you are happy that the bag isn’t going to curse that extended long run.

By starting at a slow pace, you can work on refining and adjusting your running technique, which will require a subtle but distinct change. If you notice the weight in your backpack isn’t properly centered while running or something’s digging into your back, you can stop to repack your items.

Have a little patience and please, please, please…

Do not attempt to run with a backpack for the first time ever on race day.

#7: Focus On Strengthening Your Back Muscles  

Running is a great way of building lower body muscles, including glutes, quads, and hamstrings. However, runners aren’t known for having particularly strong backs or upper bodies. When you’re running with a backpack, your back muscles will be activated much more so than usual.

This is why it’s important to start slowly, both in terms of distance run, and weight carried.

To ensure that you run properly with the additional weight, focus on strengthening your back and upper body.

#8: Move With Your Backpack 

Even without a backpack, running requires a certain amount of balance and grace. Running with a backpack makes it even harder to find the perfect balance. However, a trick can help you in this regard: move with your backpack. 

Your center of gravity has shifted when you’re running with a backpack. However, despite this shift, runners should avoid compensating for the backpack’s weight by hunching forward. Instead, you want to find the balance between yourself and your backpack. 

In the same way that runners want their limbs to be free while running, you should try and let your backpack be free. Instead of trying to stabilize it, move with it. With some practice, you’ll be able to find the right balance between your rhythm and the bag’s bouncing rhythm. 

#6: Refine Your Running Technique 

Running with a backpack will shift your center of gravity and alter your usual technique, which is why refining your running technique for the extra weight is so important.

While wearing your extra gear, you should avoid hunching your shoulders or rounding your spine to offset the additional weight. This is a big no-no and can cause injury.

Ensure your shoulders are relaxed and that your gaze is kept up. 

#9: Use Running Tops With Backpacks 

While some of the guidelines on this list are supposed to help reduce the bouncing, running backpacks are still known to rub. All that friction can be uncomfortable, particularly towards the end of a long run.

To reduce the chafing effects of excessive bouncing, runners should use specialized running tops with sleeves. Ultimately, this creates a layered base between you and your backpack, which makes running with it on more comfortable and less likely to irritate your skin.

#10: Recover Properly After Running 

Whether you’re running with or without a backpack, your body needs time to recover and recuperate after a run. Each time you go running, your body adapts and becomes stronger. When running with a backpack, however, recovery is even more important. 

This is particularly the case during those first few test runs — where you are loading new muscles in a way that you wouldn’t normally use them.

In addition to stretching your quads and hamstrings after the workout, you should stretch your shoulder and upper back for a couple of minutes after each run, too.

A foam roller is the perfect companion to a running backpack, and it can go a long way to preventing lower back pain.

Just make sure you remember to use it!

Our Verdict On Running With A Backpack

For many athletes, it seems counterintuitive to run with a backpack.

However, when the correct tips and guidelines are followed, it is a safe compromise that ends up being the most practical way of getting all your necessary gear from the start to the finish line.

Just remember: backpacks should be properly prepared.

Focus on packing essentials to avoid overloading and burdening yourself with extra weight. While you’ll need to practice running with a backpack at first, you’ll soon be able to refine your posture and move efficiently.

And you won’t need to worry about all the gear that you used to leave at home!

Author Profile

Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

Revel SPorts Contributor

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