Fitting your backpack. It all begins with picking the right backpack. If you start off with a pack that’s too big or too small for you, no matter what you do, it will never feel comfortable. So what are the most important things to consider when buying a new backpack?
The only characteristic that determines whether a backpack will be a good fit is its size. To find out which size is best for you, you need to measure your torso length—not your height.
MEASURE YOUR TORSO LENGHT
Measuring your torso length is quick and easy, you need a flexible tape measure and a friend.
1. Tilt your head forward and have your friend feel along the base of your neck for a bony bump. This is the top of your torso length (aka C7 vertebra). The bottom of your torso length is at the top of your hip bones. An easy way to find this spot is to put your hands comfortably on your hips; it’s where your thumbs point to on your back.
2. Have your friend measure between these two points – this is your torso length.
All modern hiking backpacks have a recommended torso length. In case yours falls between sizes (small, medium, large), you shouldn’t worry. Many backpacks have a shoulder harness that you can reposition to fit your needs.
Here’s a guide to finding the right size for you:
Extra Small: up to 15 ½”
Small: 16″ to 17½”
Medium/Regular: 18″ to 19½”
Large/Tall: 20″ and up
When trying out backpacks in a store, it’s vital to make sure the shoulder harness is in the right position for you.
FITTING YOUR BACKPACK
Now that you’ve found a backpack that’s right for you let’s go over the steps to adjust it appropriately. You’ll want to fine-tune your new backpack’s fit to make it as comfortable as possible. The shoulder harness should still be in the position it was in when you bought it.
It might be smart to double-check this before adjusting all the other straps and belts, though. If the shoulder harness isn’t positioned well, the other adjustments won’t be able to compensate for it. Torso length and the position of the shoulder harness are the most important things when fitting a backpack.
PUT WEIGHT IN YOUR BACKPACK
Before you start adjusting the straps and belts, put some weight in your backpack. Ideally, this would be the amount of weight you expect to carry on your hikes.
At this point, it doesn’t matter what you put in your backpack. Bottles of water, clothes, shoes, anything. The closer you get to what your backpack will feel like when on the trek, the better.
LOOSEN ALL BELTS AND STRAPS
Next, before putting on your backpack, make sure to loosen its straps and belts. That includes everything—the hip belt, shoulder straps, and sternum strap. We’re going to fasten all of them correctly in the next few steps.
PUT YOUR BACKPACK ON
Hoist your backpack on your back.
FASTEN THE HIP BELT
Now, you’re ready to secure your backpack snugly and comfortably to your body. The first thing to tighten is the hip belt. Fasten the hip belt so that it hugs the top of your hips. Make sure the belt is not entirely above or below your hips.
Don’t overtighten the hip belt. It should feel snug while at the same time not pinching the skin around your hips. When done correctly, you’ll feel your hips carrying most of your backpack’s weight. Moving around should be comfortable, the belt should be secure.
TIGHTEN THE SHOULDER STRAPS
Once the hip belt has been adjusted, you can tighten the shoulder straps. Pull down on both ends of the straps until they feel tight and secure. The straps should be wrapped snugly around your shoulder.
If your backpack is the correct size for you and the shoulder harness is in the right position, there won’t be a gap between the shoulder straps and your shoulders/back. Also, the anchor points of the load lifters should be level with your collarbones.
TIGHTEN THE LOAD LIFTERS
The load lifters are the short straps on top of your shoulder straps. They connect to a point on your backpack slightly above shoulder level. When tightened, these straps should be at a 45-degree angle with the back panel. In case the angle is less than 30 degrees or more than 60 degrees, your backpack is not an ideal fit for you.
Take care not to pull the load lifters too tightly. This may create an extra pull on your shoulder joints, which can cause discomfort on the trail.
Your shoulders should not be carrying any weight at this point. If you feel your backpack pull on your shoulders, your hip belt isn’t tight enough.
FASTEN THE STERNUM STRAP
The last step is fastening the sternum strap. When fixed, this little strap crosses your chest and provides extra security and balance on the trail. It keeps your shoulder straps in place and helps with load distribution.
WHILE ON THE TREK
As well as you’ve fitted your backpack and adjusted its straps beforehand, on the trek, you’ll need to keep tweaking things. A heavy backpack will eventually feel heavy, no matter how perfect yo fit your pack.
During your hike, you’ll have to tweak your straps and belts to keep everything comfortable. And that’s okay. After some miles, you’ll feel pains and discover pressure points that weren’t there when fitting your backpack at home.
Loosen the hip belt a bit, tighten the shoulder straps or play with other adjustments. Everybody is different, so you’ll have to figure out for yourself what works best for you.
Whenever you stop for a break, make sure to take off your backpack. Allow your back and body some rest. While hiking, try to be aware of your body’s position. As a general rule, leaning a bit forward when hiking helps balance your load better.