Camping With a Bad Back: The Dos and Don’ts


Camping is always a fun time unless you’re stuck with a bad back. Everything from hiking to cliff diving seems limited when you’re not able to move around without experiencing pain. However, you can still manage to have an exciting time and enjoy the great outdoors by following a handful of helpful suggestions.

So, do you want to learn the dos and don’ts of camping with a bad back? Here’s a quick list:

  • DO bring a sleeping mattress or a cot.
  • DON’T force yourself out of your comfort zone.
  • DO pack a chair that you can relax in without having pain.
  • DON’T forget to bring a good backpack if you’re hiking.

Throughout this article, you’ll also learn what to pack for the camping trip, how you can sleep without waking up with back pain, and stretches that you can try out while you’re on the trail. Camping should be interactive and relaxing, so get ready to find out how you can still have a blast without hurting your bad back.

What Should You Avoid When Camping with a Bad Back?

There’s no denying that camping can be a bit limited if you’re dealing with a bad back. Whether it’s a permanent condition or a momentary strain, you won’t be diving off the rocks any time soon. That’s not to say that you can’t have a good time, but there are definitely a few activities and other things that you should avoid.

Here’s a list of five don’ts when you have a bad back at your favorite campground:

  1. Don’t try to push yourself too far. Some of us can get a bit risky when we’re out having fun with friends and family. Even if you’ve been able to get away with hiking uphill, you shouldn’t go so far that you further your back pain. The fun is momentary, but the effects can last a lifetime.
  2. Don’t try to sleep on the ground as the cowboys did. Cowboy camping is thrilling, but you’ll end up with horrible back pain the next morning. If you’re out there for several nights in a row, there’s no telling how bad it can get by the time you pack up and head back home.
  3. Don’t leave your medical equipment or medication at home. Some people prefer to leave everything behind to take a break from the madness, but they’re prescribed for a reason. If you have to wear a brace or walk with a cane, then pack them. If you’re bound by daily pills, then bring them along.
  4. Don’t walk in the mud or near loose rocks. Mud can cause you to slip around and lose your footing, as do loose rocks and gravel. If you’re in a bind, take short steps and firmly plant your foot before you lift the other one. Best of all, avoid those places altogether. You don’t want to make your back even worse by twisting it.
  5. Don’t overload your backpack. If you’re hiking to the campsite or you’re carrying a backpack for your gear, don’t put too many items inside. Even if you have supportive padding and buckles, too much weight can compress your spine and cause an immense amount of pressure.

What to Do When You’re Camping with Back Pain

Now that we’ve gotten all of the restrictions out of the way, it’s time to find out what you’re still able to do when you’re camping. Rather than looking at it as a limited vacation, you’ll be able to do most of your favorite activities, as well as a few other fun suggestions.

Here are five fun ideas that you can do when you’re camping with a bad back:

  1. Float on the water. Light swimming and floating have been shown to improve back pain by removing the stress of muscle tissue surrounding your spine. When it loosens up, your back will feel much less tense. You can have a blast while relieving pain, what’s better than that?
  2. Sit and relax by the fire. Place your favorite comfortable chair by the side and enjoy the crackling flames that are so classic to camping. You can roast marshmallows, cook hot dogs, or simply enjoy the stories shared by friends and family. There’s no reason that you can’t partake in this camping tradition.
  3. Go on a short walk in the morning, noon, and evening. Walking is another exercise that, when done lightly and in short bursts, can relieve back pain and muscle tension. Rather than sitting still and letting your muscles constrict, you can loosen them up a bit while soaking in the fresh woodsy air.
  4. Sleep in a tent under the stars. As long as you have supportive sleeping equipment (more on that later), you can still throw off the fly and watch the stars at night. Along with hiking and fireside chats, stargazing is one of the most popular camping activities around.
  5. Cook, play catch, sit by the lake, and enjoy camping as it should be. Having back pain is undeniably limiting, but it can’t stop you from trying slow-paced, low-stress activities. The biggest concern about camping with a bad back is the bedding situation, but you can learn all about that in this article as well.

What to Pack for the Trip

Before you head out to your destination, it’s important that you have all of the right gear with you. If you’re not packed as you should be, you might run into some problems. Fortunately, you can refer to the list below to make sure that you’ve brought everything that you need prior to heading out on the road.

Check out this quick camping checklist to prevent unwanted back pain:

  • Back braces are crucial if you want to save your spine from pain.
  • Good hiking shoes or boots will prevent harsh pounding that could hurt your back.
  • A good sleeping mattress, pad, or cot will elevate you off of the hard ground
  • An equally comfortable sleeping bag will add another layer of cushion.
  • Creams, sprays, and medication can soothe an aching back wherever you go.
  • Don’t leave your favorite pillow behind! Your neck will feel much better.
  • If you have stretching or resistance bands, pack them up as well.
  • Bring a comfortable cushioned chair to sit in throughout the day.
  • Consider packing a booster chair to add another layer of comfort below your spine.
  • There’s no shame in bringing a cane, regardless of your age.
  • Compression socks, knee braces, and back support can all help increase blood flow.
  • A lightweight backpack will reduce muscle tension and pressure.

As you can see, there are plenty of items that you could pack to make your back pain less severe. You might not need all of these suggestions depending on how bad your back feels at the time. Pick and choose whatever works best for you. Whatever you do, don’t leave everything behind to escape the pain.

How Do You Sleep with a Back Pain While Camping?

As mentioned earlier in the article, sleeping is usually the biggest topic of discussion and concern when people with back pain think about camping. The first thing that comes to mind is bumpy dirty, dense sleeping mats, and narrow beds.

However, you don’t have to suffer through it anymore. There are plenty of modern options to let you camp and sleep wherever you want without stressing your back muscles. Let’s dive into the best solutions.

Sleeping Mattresses

They might not work if you’re camping out of a hiking backpack, but you can definitely bring a twin-sized mattress in the car as long as it fits. Purchase a memory foam topper and you’ll be sleeping as good as you did back at home. The only thing you should remember is that the floor of your tent needs to be as wide or wider than the mattress.

Camping Cots

Cots are one of the most stereotypical solutions for camping, but they’re not nearly as uncomfortable as they used to be. Remember sleeping on thin canvas stretched over lumpy metal bars? Those nights are long gone. You can get a cot that’s pulled tightly enough to set a 6-inch mattress right on top without adding too much weight.

There are also cots that sit high or low, as well as varying lengths and widths to choose from. Now that you can basically customize your camping cot, you’ll be able to have a great night of sleep every time you go camping.

Air Mattresses

Mattresses are nice, but you might not want to lug one around. If you’re solo camping, then they could be a bit too heavy for your back in the first place. Bring an air pump along for the ride and blow up your favorite air mattress to sleep under the stars in luxury.

You can make an air mattress even more comfortable by putting a memory foam mattress topper or a few cushiony blankets on top to add a layer of fluff. Don’t forget to inflate or deflate it to your personal preferred air level.

Camping Stretches for a Bad Back

There are countless stretches to relieve the pain in your neck and back. The best way to know which exercises and stretches you need to perform is to locate the source, i.e. the lower, middle, or upper back. Once you’ve figured out where the pain is coming from, you can try one of the following stretches when you’re camping:

  1. Chin-to-chest stretches will allow you to relieve the tension in your neck and upper back. It loosens the tension on your spine and the muscles surrounding your neck, which can actually create relief throughout your back when combined with other stretches.
  2. Stretching your fingertips down to your toes will bring pain relief to your lower back. It’s not easy, especially if you’re dealing with a lot of muscle stress. Go slowly, and don’t get frustrated if you can’t reach all the way down.
  3. Knees-to-chest is another exercise that’ll bring relief to your middle and lower back. Lay down on your back and bring both of your knees as close to your chest as you can. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, then release.

These three stretches will be enough to relieve muscle tension and spinal pressure from the top to the bottom of your back. Do all of them for 20 to 30 seconds each, with 30-second brakes in between to prevent yourself from muscle exhaustion. Feel free to repeat steps #1 through #3 in the morning, noon, and nighttime.

Hiking vs. Driving to the Campsite

There are two options for camping: Hiking and driving. If you’re not driving to a site, you might have to deal with a strenuous walk. On the other hand, sitting in the car for too long could cause back problems. There are pros and cons of each, so let’s review each to see which one is best for you.

Pros of Hiking to a Campsite

  • Enjoying the scenery is amazing, but it’s also good to get loose by walking to your site and wearing a good pair of supportive hiking boots.
  • Even a short walk from the car to the campground can familiarize you with the area, which is crucial if you experience severe back pain and have to know where to go for help.
  • You’ll be able to find all of the swimming spots and flat sites along the way, giving you multiple places to find out where the best area will be for your back.

Cons of Hiking to a Campsite

  • Walking for too long can cause more harm than good, especially if your back pain is severe.
  • If you’re hiking to a campground, you have to wear a backpack, which could cause even more issues since your back will be stressed the whole time.
  • You won’t be able to carry as many supplies, including braces, medicine, and more. Fewer supplies could prove to cause even more back pain.

Pros of Driving to a Campsite

  • Getting right to the campsite without having to put any extra stress on your back is a win in anyone’s eyes who experiences back problems.
  • If your pain gets too bad to handle, you can hop in the car and take off to your home or the nearest medical facility.
  • Having a car with you also allows you to carry more supplies to support your back, including a large mattress, a tent, and even a trailer towed behind.

Cons of Driving to a Campsite

  • Some campgrounds simply don’t allow you to drive a vehicle to them. Although they’re not too common, you’ll definitely be limited in your search.
  • Driving on gravel-covered bumpy roads can send sharp pain up your spine every time you hit a rock. You should map the route to ensure that the driving roads aren’t too bumpy.
  • When you drive to a campground, it leaves you less space to set up your tent. This basically means that you won’t be able to find the perfect flat spot if it’s sitting underneath your vehicle.

Additional Suggestions for Camping with a Bad Back

Camping with a bad back isn’t so bad after all. Now that you’ve seen all of the various methods, stretches, and dos and don’ts, you’re almost ready to head out to your favorite campground this weekend. Before you go, there are three more suggestions to keep you protected from worsening your bad back.

  1. Consider making an emergency kit. Load it up with medical supplies, additional braces, rubbing solutions, and more. You might already have everything you need, but an emergency kit can come in handy if you run out of something.
  2. Make a map of rest stops and stores along the way. You never know when you’ll need to pull to the side of the road to give your back a break from sitting in the same spot. Hop out of the car and try out a few of the stretches mentioned in this article.
  3. Rent a motorhome. If you don’t want to have to worry about your bed situation, you can rent an RV that has everything already made inside. Make sure that you scope out the bedding setup, but you should be living in complete comfort and luxury with a modern motorhome rental.

Final Thoughts

Contrary to popular belief, camping with a bad back is entirely doable. Not only that, but you can also actually have an amazing experience throughout the vacation. Campfires, smores, floating in the lake, early morning walks, and other classic camping activities don’t have to be postponed to prevent pain from coming back.

With that being said, here’s a quick recap of everything from the post:

  • Choosing a good mattress, cot, or sleeping pad will help your back relax.
  • Don’t forget to bring your medication and back brace when you leave your house.
  • Remember the three stretches that were covered for your back.
  • Take breaks when you need to; Never overstress your back.
  • Consider the pros and cons of hiking into a campground vs. driving to it.

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