Short Tips for Short Backpackers
If you ask the DMV, I’m five feet tall. If you ask anyone else, well, if I stretch really hard, I stand at four feet eleven and a half inches. And yes, I hold onto that half an inch as tight as I can, no matter how many people laugh at it. Being short—or vertically challenged—creates some unique challenges when it comes to backpacking for both brief and extended trips. Challenges include miles covered in a day, finding the right-size sleeping bag and sleeping pad, water crossings, pack weight management, and food packaging. Here are some short tips for short backpackers to help the small niche of short hikers out there, informed by my own experiences.
Cut weight, not comfort
You’ll hear me say time and time again how important it is to keep weight down because of how much weight impacts our ability to hike comfortably. However, just as important as managing pack weight is maintaining comfort. My most recent adjustment to my essentials was cutting a foam sleeping pad down to exactly the size I need for my sleeping position (on my side), but also adding in a lightweight inflatable pillow. I also replaced my Jetboil stove with a Snowpeak.
If you don’t want pain, you’ve gotta train
This next tip comes from my own terrible experience in the 100-Mile Wilderness. A lack of both cardio and strength training resulted in injuries to both of my legs, leading to weeks of being sidelined from any activity after I returned. A combination of long distances, rough terrain, and extreme ascents and descents can only be explained through picturing me crawling at a half a mile an hour coming down White Cap Mountain, tears streaming down my face.
I would recommend strength training exercises like squats and cardio at least three times a week. Training hikes with a weighted pack and a trail with varying terrain and grades are a bonus.
Trekking poles are your friend, and essential for water crossings
Trekking poles help ease the impact of rough terrain, and also come in handy at water crossings. I found this to be true in the 100-Mile Wilderness, as what was easy for my taller hiking partner was a sometimes terrifying and precarious endeavor crossing seemingly harmless bodies of water. Trekking poles were my savior. I would suggest facing the current at an angle, placing your feet on or between sturdy rocks, before taking small, measured steps. If your goal is to keep your clothes dry, shorts are an essential part of your wardrobe during water crossings.
Don’t compare yourself, or push too hard to keep up with taller hiking partners
Our legs aren’t as long, so we take a longer time to cover the same distance as taller hikers. Stay consistent with your own pace and don’t get down on yourself because you either aren’t keeping up, or it feels harder to match pace with your friends.
Being smaller can mean fewer caloric needs, so get adept at repackaging food. I will typically take a meal and split it into three; that way it lasts longer and hey, using less equals money saved! However, it is essential to know your own caloric needs to make these determinations. Know your own needs and remember that everyone is different.
Know your water sources
Keeping pack weight down is essential, and stopping often at water sources helps keep it as low as possible. I have found that maintaining a liter and a half of water (dependent on distance between water sources) keeps my pack weight manageable and with my filtering system, time spent at the water sources themselves is minimal. I use a modified in-line filtration system suggested to me by a fellow hiker. When I filter water, I do so using a Sawyer bag and squeezing the water through the in-line. That way I never have to remove my bladder from my bag and the only “dirty” water I have to deal with goes in the Sawyer bag. This is a big time saver.
Get out there and have fun!
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.