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Whether you are day hiking or backpacking, learning how to fit and adjust your backpack properly is CRITICAL for a comfortable and injury-free adventure.
Getting the right sized backpack and properly fitting the straps for your body is key to getting the right weight distribution of the backpack's weight onto your body, where 80% of the weight is carried by your legs.
When I first started getting serious about hiking, I knew absolutely nothing about how technical a hiking backpack was and the importance of the fit. But after a few hikes, I soon realized that the way the backpack fits your body will literally make or break your hiking experience!
I bought my first pack online without ever being properly fitted. Even worse, I didn’t know how to adjust the backpack straps properly for a comfortable fit.
On my first backpacking trip to Havasu Falls, I threw that bad boy over my shoulders, “strapped in” and set off. Within the first hour my shoulders were KILLING me. I tried to alleviate the pain by tightening random straps on the pack, but nothing worked. Finally, my hiking partner walked me step-by-step on how to adjust the backpack for proper weight distribution. I immediately felt the difference in the way my body carried the load of the pack and how much more comfortable I was...TOO-DA-LOO shoulder aches!
I learned first-hand that there is no such thing as “the best hiking backpack” if you don’t know how to fit and adjust it properly.
In this step-by-step guide, you'll learn:
Once you find the right size hiking backpack and learn how to fit it correctly to your body, you'll hike more comfortably and minimize injuries on the trail so you can hike longer!
It’s important to realize that the best pack doesn’t depend on the brand name or how expensive it is -- it’s the one that fits YOUR body the best. So exactly how do you choose the right size hiking backpack for you?
Contrary to popular belief, backpack size (small, medium, large, etc.) is dependent on your torso length, not your height! So, what is torso length? It’s the distance from the top of your hip bone to the base of your neck (at the C7 vertebra).
Use your torso length to find the right backpack size. Before purchasing, I recommend going to an outdoor store to try on the bag and feel how it fits. Many of these stores even provide personalized backpack fitting services. At REI, you can even load sand bags into the backpack to see how the pack feels with weight in it.
“How can I carry a heavy backpack more easily?”
This comes down to not only the fit of the pack, but how the backpack straps are adjusted when there is weight in the pack. The number of straps may be confusing and overwhelming at first, but each strap allows you to customize how the weight of the pack is distributed on your body. I’ll walk you step-by-step on how to properly adjust your backpack straps for a comfortable hike.
The primary purpose of your hip belt is to transfer the weight of your backpack from your shoulders to your hips. Because your legs are the strongest part of your body, you’ll want to carry 80% of the load on your hips and the other 20% on your shoulders. Here’s how to adjust the hip belt for proper weight distribution:
Load-lifting straps are used to keep the top of your backpack from falling away from your back. which can cause improper weight distribution on your back during your hike.
The purpose of the sternum strap is to keep your shoulder straps in place and to transfer additional weight off your shoulders.
Understanding how to properly fit and adjust your hiking backpack to your body is not only critical for a comfortable hike, but also for your health & safety. The way you carry your pack affects its weight distribution on your body and the amount of strain you can feel. Avoid the aches, pains and discomfort by finding the backpack that fits YOUR body and learning how to adjust the backpack straps correctly. A proper fit will allow you to carry 80% of the weight on your hips and 20% on your shoulders, making your hike much more comfortable!
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