Posted by: ryanbailey03 | July 28, 2010

The Right Fit: How to properly fit your backpack

Once you are hiking the trails with your pack of gear strapped on your back, you will be glad that you took the time to make sure you had the right fit. Fitting your backpack is a very important step, and it will help make your trip more comfortable, and consequently, more enjoyable.

The steps you take to fit your pack depend on whether you are using an internal or external frame pack. Follow these easy guidelines to ensure the right fit:

1. Before you do anything else, determine your torso length. It is best to get a friend to help with this part. Using a soft tape measure, have your friend measure from the 7th vertebrae (tilt your head down and feel for bump at the bottom of your neck) down along the contour of your spine to the shelf of your hips. Slide your hands along your sides (fingers forward, thumbs behind you) until they hit the top of your hips. There will be an invisible line connecting to the point where your thumbs would meet. This is your finishing point. So you will measure from the base of the neck to this invisible finishing point. Your measurement determines the suspension size you will need. If your torso length is 18″ or smaller, you will need a size small; 18 – 20″ torso length requires a medium; 21″ torso length or larger will need a large.

2. Before you put the pack on, loosen all straps. You have to tighten the straps in a specific order to get a good fit, so if you leave one strap partially tightened, it’ll affect the fit of the other straps.

3. Now load the pack with the gear that you intend to take on your trip. If you fit the pack while it’s empty, you’ll just have to readjust and refit it once you load it with gear. You should avoid using sandbags or weights as a filler when fitting the bag. It’s better to use the actual gear you’ll be hauling so that you can get a realistic idea of the density and volume. After the bag is filled, put it on.

4. Adjust the hipbelt first. Remember, it’s a hipbelt, so it should rest on your hipbone, not your waist. Position it so that your hipbone is centered in the middle of the belt. Then tighten it as much as possible. If the hipbelt bunches when you tighten it, it may be too small.

5. Next, adjust the shoulder straps so they’re at the correct height for your torso length. The straps are designed to wrap over and back down your shoulders by at least 1 ½” to as much as 3″ down the back. The straps need to be snug against your body with no gaps. Shoulder straps should rest comfortably around the crest of your shoulders.
6. Put the pack back on. Retighten the hipbelt. Then tighten the lower shoulder strap webbing. The straps should conform to your body shape. If not, reposition them.

7. Adjust the load lifting straps. They pull the weight towards your shoulders and help keep the load balanced. The load lifting straps should leave the shoulder straps either directly from the top of the shoulder or just slightly forward, toward the collar bone. Ideally, the load lifting straps will form a 45 degree angle with the shoulders and the top of the stays. Pulling on the load lifting straps will pull the load closer to your center of gravity, but it puts a lot of weight onto the shoulders. Loosening the straps will put more weight onto the hips. When hiking, you’ll regularly tighten and loosen these straps to shift the weight around, so make sure you’re familiar with how they work.

8. Tighten the compression straps on the hipbelt. This will prevent swaying.

 Once pack is fitted properly you are ready to begin the trip and will be thankful that you took the time to adjust your pack.



  1. Very good info here Ryan. I learned a few tips that I will take out to the trail!

  2. I really needed help with my pack and this is showing me how to fix some stuff. Thanks for the info Ryan

    • Jenny, glad that I could help you out. Keep checking back if you want to put that pack to use.

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