Are you looking for a new backpack? With an almost saturated market of backpacking gear, it can be a challenge to find the perfect backpack for you. Knowing how to fit a backpack is key when trying out backpacks in the store.
One of our big goals here at The Adventure Junkies is to help make your hiking experience as enjoyable as possible. Making sure your backpack fits great and is comfortable is just one step. We’ve put together this step-by-step guide to walk you through the process of fitting a backpack, whether it’s in a store or while on the trail.
Learn how to plan & prepare for your own overnight hiking adventure.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT BACKPACK FOR YOU
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?
Forget about colors, features, capacity and weight. The one and 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.
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HOW TO MEASURE YOUR TORSO LENGHT?
Measuring your torso length is quick and easy, you just 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), Backcountry.com says that you shouldn’t worry. Many backpacks have a shoulder harness that you can reposition to fit your needs.
Here’s a guide to find 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. When you’ve adjusted this and found the right setup, keep it that way.
VIDEO: HOW TO MEASURE YOUR TORSO LENGTH
In this video by REI, an employee explains briefly and clearly how you have to measure your torso length.
HOW TO FIT A BACKPACK: 7 STEPS
Now that you’ve found a backpack that’s right for you, let’s go over the steps to fit it properly. 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.
STEP 1: 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. Aim for at least 20 lbs.
At this point, it doesn’t matter what you put in your backpack. Bottles of soda, clothes, shoes, anything is fine. If you can, try to distribute the load according to the principles listed in this article about how to pack a backpack. The closer you get to what your backpack will feel like when actually hitting the trail, the better.
STEP 2: 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, load lifters and sternum strap. We’re going to fasten all of them properly in the next few steps.
STEP 3: PUT YOUR BACKPACK ON
Hoist your backpack on your back.
VIDEO: HOW TO SAFELY HOIST A BACKPACK
Here’s another great video by REI that shows you precisely how to hoist a backpack. Knowing how to do this well—you’ll do this countless times on a long hike—protects both your body and your gear.
STEP 4: FASTEN THE HIP BELT
Now, you’re ready to actually 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, also known as the iliac crest. Make sure the belt is not entirely above or below your hips. According to EMS, the top of the belt should be one inch above your iliac crest.
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.
STEP 5: 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. This is illustrated well on Backpacker.com. Also, the anchor points of the load lifters should be level with your collarbones.
STEP 6: 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.
STEP 7: FASTEN THE STERNUM STRAP
The last step is fastening the sternum strap. When fastened, 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 TRAIL…
As well as you’ve fitted your backpack and adjusted its straps beforehand, on the trail you’ll need to keep adjusting things. A heavy backpack will eventually feel heavy, no matter how perfect your packing method and strapping skills are.
During your hike, you’ll have to tweak your straps and belts to keep everything comfortable. And that’s okay. After a number of 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. Every body 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.