How to Fit a Hiking Pack
Forget about the colour or the features for a moment, what really matters when selecting a new pack is making sure that it's a good fit for your body. Your pack is a major investment in your outdoor equipment collection. A good pack should make your adventures more comfortable and more achievable, not cause pain and discomfort.
When a pack is well fitted the majority of the weight in your pack should be transferred through the hipbelt onto your hips. This improves your posture and balance as it puts the weight at a lower center of gravity. Importantly it also means your pack isn’t bouncing around on your shoulders, which prevents your upper back and shoulders from becoming too fatigued and sore.
Most manufacturers make gender specific packs to help customise the fit of the pack. These designs take into account that women generally have shorter torsos, wider hips and narrower shoulders than men. Osprey have taken this concept further and developed a heat molding system. Drop in to a Paddy Pallin store to see how it's done.
Back length is a crucial measurement, for your hips to be carrying the weight most effectively your pack must be the appropriate size for your back. It is important to distinguish between your height and the length of your torso. Just because you are a certain height — say a 6' female or 5' 9" male does not mean you automatically need a "large" or "tall" pack. Your back length, not your height, determines your pack size. A heneral scale to establish what size range your back length falls into is below:
- Small: 40cm to 47cm
- Medium/Regular: 46cm to 52cm
- Large/Tall: 51cm to 57cm
Note: Pack manufacturers typically use general terms (small, medium, large) to identify their frame sizes; look at each pack's technical specifications to find the actual numeric range.
Fitting your pack
Once you have established that the back length of your pack is correct you will need to adjust the various straps and buckles on your pack. These adjustments will help change the directional pull of the pack load. Here are a few tips:
- Make sure the hip belt sits firmly on your hips with the center of the hip belt padding coming in line with the top of the hipbone known as the iliac crest. Tighten the hip belt firmly when in the correct position.
- Tighten the shoulder harness by pulling the straps down and behind you, be careful not to pull so tightly that the bag is pulled off your hips and onto your shoulders
- The “yoke”, the place where the shoulder harness comes out of the pack, should be about 5 cms below the C7 vertebrae, the bone that sticks out at the base of your neck.
- The padded sections of the shoulder straps should wrap around the crest of your shoulders comfortably. The point at which the straps attach to the back of the frame at the top of the bag, should be sitting approximately 2cm below the crest of your shoulders when the bag is on. There should be no gap between your shoulders and the straps.
- Check the load-lifter/top tension straps. These straps can be found attached to your shoulder straps at a point just above your collarbone and just below the top of your shoulders. Tension the straps so they rise up to join the bag’s frame at an angle of 40 to 50 degrees. If the angle is greater than 50°, your frame is too long. If the angle is less than 40° your shoulders will carry too much of the load.
- Check the sternum strap length and height. The height of the strap should be far enough below your armpit that it won't chafe. The strap should be lengthened so it doesn’t compress your chest, but short enough that the shoulder straps are held in place.
- Check for a good torso fit. If the pack fits you correctly, you should be able to redistribute the weight of the pack between your shoulders and your hips simply by loosening and tightening your shoulder straps slightly.
Final Questions for the Perfect Pack Fitting
Before you settle on you bag, run through this checklist of questions to be certain you have made the right choice:
- Does the pack feel good on your back?
- Does it pinch or bind or unusually restrict your movement?
- Is the pressure in one area greater than any other?
- Can you look up without hitting the pack with your head?
- Can you squat down without cutting off the circulation to your legs?
- Is the weight more distributed onto your hips than your shoulders?
Ideally, make your first trip with your new pack a short one. You can make some modest adjustments during rest stops. Over time, with regular wear the padded hip belt will conform to your body shape.