Updated: May 9, 2019
A seriously underrated essential for a thru-hike.
I'm sharing with you one of my favorite pieces of gear - A massage ball. Right out of the gate, I'm predicting this ball to have the highest value-to-weight "index". Yes yes, this is considered a luxury item, but for its benefits, I think it may be more important than most equipment for both regular and Ultra Light (UL) backpackers...especially for UL goers.
Cutting pack weight is nearly an illness...obsessing over every ounce is somewhat fun, a HUGE advantage, and can be expensive. If you are willing to cut your toothbrush in half to save weight, then this little ball should be a priority. And it's only $15. So let's dig into why.
For the Good of Your Legs and Feet
Let me start with talking about the purpose of reducing weight. Less weight in your pack means less strain on your body, especially your back, legs, and feet...which means you can endure more mileage without wrecking yourself. In a way, it is kind of cruel...carry less for reduced pain so you can beat yourself up some more. But more importantly, massaging will significantly help prevent injury.
It can work on tight muscles and tendons that are hard to reach. My IT band needs this...my thumbs simply are not enough.
So what does the massage ball do? Well, it massages. It relieves tightness, pain, muscle soreness, and can prevent several injuries if used properly. Massaging and rolling encourages blood to circulate which helps in muscle recovery. It is similar to icing your legs in a cold lake and has an equivalent recovery result. In short, when you get out of your tent in the morning, it can be the difference between tight sore legs and feeling somewhat loose and ready.
In a way, it is similar to reducing 5 to 10 lbs from your pack...at least the affect of an extra 5 to 10 lbs on your body. This is my estimate and I have no scientific data to support it. If you have questions or doubts though, I encourage you to talk to runners (#running). Long distance hiking has a similar affect on the body as running several miles a day.
There's plenty of debate for and against physical maintenance, like stretching, massaging, and icing...let's carry that discussion here. I have been on both sides of the coin at one point or another; clearly I'm an advocate now for physical maintenance. I also think it feels good...in a "it hurts so good" sort of way. But I'd like to hear from you, so share your thoughts and experiences below whether you are a thru-hiker, runner, walker, or any venture of life that brings you to talk about a massage ball.