Yep, had to have surgery on my L4-L5 in my mid 30's. It started out as just a mild herniation, a bulge, but it ruptured and just got worse and worse. 9 months later I was risking permanent nerve damage and I was being debilitated by the disc herniation both in terms of functionality and the sheer excruciating levels of pain! I tried physical therapy (BIIIIG mistake, made me so much worse!), epidural injections, and pain pills, and chiro. The pain only increased as time went by, but I was very scared of surgery and just tried to fight through it. By month 9 I had developed full blown acute cauda equina syndrome, which is a medical emergency, and saw a surgeon who scheduled emergency surgery the next day. It was amazingly effective and I kicked myself for waiting so long. I still do have some back pain, several years post-op. But it is more manageable, and the debilitating symptoms I had before are gone. No sciatica whatsoever anymore. I regained all function that the equina syndrome caused. I'm fully functional again, and have been able to pick up my old hobbies of hiking, mtn climbing, skiing, and yes even backpacking.
The thing with back pain is everyone is different. And each person will react differently to different treatments. Be careful listening to advice of others. What works for one may not for you. People hear back pain and just think "big deal, I've had a sore back, or pulled a muscle. Everyone has back pain. Just take some meds, do some therapy, and you'll be fine". That INFURIATES me. I went through hell at work trying to get them to understand my situation. Back pain can range from mildly annoying to full-on debilitating, even to the point people consider suicide (as I myself did) to even committing it. I have also read that people with chronic back pain tend to lapse into long term depression. It can be very, very serious, and if you aren't careful you can make injury worse, and that can have LIFE-LONG repercussions.
I would recommend trying more conservative measures if you can stand it. My friend just this summer suffered an injury while riding a mountain bike, and his pain was approaching debilitating as well. However, he did well after receiving an epidural injection, which did nothing for me. But, he was able to delay or possibly even avoid surgery. The problem is if you are pinching the nerve to the point it is causing nerve damage, the longer you wait, the lower the likelihood of a favorable outcome after surgery.
Good luck, I know how hellish it can be. Every second is consumed with pain, it's depressing, and you can feel hopeless. Hang in there.