How should a backpacking pack fit? Although any item in your backpack is likely the most vital piece of gear you will bring, selecting the right (or wrong) fit can make or break your trip. It all begins with nailing down the size, which may then be fine-tuned and adjusted to hug your physique. In this article, we will go through the steps you need to follow when measuring and fitting your backpack, as well as how to measure your torso length, make adjustments to the straps, and customize fit. Also, see our article on the best backpacking packs for all of our top picks in one spot.
We have all been there. It happens to everyone. The agony began in your shoulders, but it is now spread throughout your back. You grab for any strap you can reach and yank it down, hoping that will help for 30 minutes or perhaps longer.
However, the suffering soon returns with a vengeance. Adjusting your backpack correctly may appear to be straightforward, and it is easy to ignore until you are straining down the path regretting the day you did not make the effort to dial in the fit. Do not let yourself become that person. Here are some pointers for getting off to a good start.
Sizing Your Backpack
Torso Length Measurement
You will need a soft measuring tape (a ruler and string) and a partner to take your measurements. The first step is to find two features of your body: your C7 vertebrae and your ilium crest. Bend forward at the base of your neck, grasping for the first significant bump, which is your C7 vertebrae. Put your hands on your hips and draw an imaginary line across your back from hip to hip, representing the midpoint along your iliac crest. Then measure the distance between C7 and the iliac crest. This is how long you are tall.
Customize Your Hipbelt
Pack sizes are generally determined by your torso length, which means you must pick a torso size but are restricted to the hipbelt size. Some packs, on the other hand, include adjustable hipbelts, allowing you to choose both a torso and hipbelt size.
If you have a tall or lanky build, this can be a simple method to fine-tune your fit. Simply wrap a soft tape measure or rope around your waist at the level of your iliac crest to take your hip measurement. If you are between sizes, it is probably best to try them on multiple packs.
Select Your Pack Size
The number used to determine your pack size is your torso length. Matching numbers to the manufacturer’s sizing chart may be as simple as it gets—for example, a guy with a 22-inch torso will fit a large Osprey Atmos AG. When you’re between sizes, though, things get complicated: an 18-inch torso is considered either a size small or medium.
If this is the situation, we recommend taking both sizes into account in order to determine which one feels best. It is also worth noting that certain budget brands are only available in one size but they often have a large adjustment range for both torso size and hipbelt.
Fitting Your Backpack
It is only half of your battle in getting an ideal fit; selecting the correct size is just half the task. Every individual is unique, but most backpacking gear provides a variety of fittings, so you can get a good fit.
The first stage, whether you are trying on a backpack at the shop or putting it together at home, is to make sure it is weighted down with 15-20 pounds to represent a real burden. Second, ensure that all straps (hipbelt, load lifters, shoulder straps) are unbuckled. Then wear the bag and start at the bottom and work your way up as follows:
Measure Your Torso Length
A friend and a flexible tape measure are required to accurately determine this key feature.
- Tilt your head forward and search for the bone where the shoulders meet your neck. This is your seventh cervical (or C7) vertebra—and the top of your body length.
- Slide your hands down the ribcage to the top of your hipbones on each side of your body. Draw an imaginary line between your thumbs with thumbs pointing backward and index fingers pointing forward. The bottom of your torso measurement is defined by this location on your spine.
- Raise your arms to shoulder height and have your friend measure the distance between the C7 and the line that runs between your thumbs. That is how long your torso is.
Lean slightly forward with the majority of the weight on your hips and give one firm yank on the shoulder straps. Now that you can stand up straight and feel about 20% of the load on your shoulders, it is time to move on to step 2. On the first pass, don’t go too tight—you may always tighten these later.
Load lifters are attached to the shoulder straps at the pack’s connection point and work to draw the weight of the pack toward your body. Give each load lifter a tug after you have adjusted your shoulder straps (we like doing both at once).
The load lifters will connect to the top of your pack at a 45-degree angle, allowing them to drop down and meet your shoulder straps. If you feel a lot of strain on either the front (too loose) or rear (too tight) of your shoulders, you may need to adjust the load lifters.
Finally, fasten the sternum strap around your chest. The purpose of the sternum strap is to keep the shoulder straps from sliding off your shoulders and to assist the shoulder straps and load lifters in keeping the pack firmly against your body. You want this to be taut but not too tight—it should not be pushing the shoulder straps inwards.
The load lifters and sternum strap are the final two adjustments you will make to your backpack. Pull down on the tab until the straps form a 45-degree angle, then adjust your load lifters. If you have tightened your straps too much, the top of your shoulder straps will pull away from your body.
Then, adjust the sternum strap along the rails until it lies one inch below your collarbone. Tighten the strap by tugging on the loose end and gripping it lightly until the strap slips through your fingers.