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.

Repackage food

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!

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Comments 9

  • Ben : Jul 26th

    Love the trail name.

    Reply
    • Mighty Mouse : Jul 26th

      Thank you! It was bestowed on me by a group of REI employees 🙂

      Reply
  • Ellen R : Jul 26th

    Thank you for the thoughts! For me, not only being short, but older, has posed issues with proper clothing and boot fit in addition to pack, sleeping bag and pad. I’m definitely not in childrens sizes! Many items come in “petite”, but not everything. For boots/trail runners, I have extra wide feet (that widen as I hike!)…so that is challenging as well. Patience and a sense of humor help as I continuously adapt my “kit”.
    Having a good group of cheer-leaders and companions is a wonderful addition! (and you can share gear to lighten your load!)

    Reply
    • Mighty Mouse : Jul 26th

      Thank you for your comment! I’ve found that altras are great for wide feet and are even better if you put sports inserts inside, so comfy and efficient!

      Reply
      • Spike’ Mom : Jul 28th

        Please note that Altras have a wide toe box, but are not wide through the instep (I’ve been to too many stores and I tell them I have wide feet and the first thing they try to put me in are Altras and they are too narrow for me). I’m a short woman with wide feet hiking the AT right now. I learned that a men’s regular width equals a women’s wide, so if I can’t find a women’s wide, I sometimes can get the men’s version. The problem is most stores don’t carry men’s sizes small enough and sometimes I have to actually get a men’s wide! I still haven’t found a shoe system I’m happy with.

        Reply
  • Sheree : Jul 27th

    Thank you for the tips! I am older and 4’101/2 inches! I found Lowa’s boots with a good insert to fit my wide foot works well. What backpack did you end up with? And do you have a day pack you would recommend? Thank you for your post.

    Reply
    • Mighty Mouse : Jul 27th

      I have a Granite Gear Crown 2 60liter, weighs less than 2 pounds after I removed the lid. For dayhiking I use an osprey daylight with a 2 liter bladder, I love it. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  • Steve Futrell : Jul 28th

    I would love to know the pack you use. My daughter is 100lbs and 5 foot tall. We are having a hard time finding her a pack that fits properly!!! Thanks. She and I loved the article!!!

    Reply
    • Mighty Mouse : Jul 28th

      Granite gear crown 2 60, removed the lid to save some ounces. It is a super comfortable, lightweight pack. I tried a Gregory and a Deuter and I hated them both lol. I’ll never go back 🙂

      Reply

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