How to Fit a Backpack
The Search for the Perfect Pack:
Finding a well-fitting backpack is the most important step towards having an enjoyable backpacking experience. The process of finding the right backpack takes a little bit of time and energy, but your efforts will undoubtedly pay off in the long run. Most gear stores have experts who can help you in this process, however, it’s good to know a few key points about backpack fitting before you begin looking for the perfect pack.
If you ask any backpacking enthusiast or gear junkie, they’ll tell you that the number one mistake people make in fitting backpacks is correlating height to frame size. In fact, backpack frame size doesn’t have a whole lot to do with a person’s height. Rather, it’s directly related to torso length. A tall person with a short torso may need a small frame, and conversely a large frame might best fit a short person with a long upper body.
Take a tape measure (preferably a soft sewing one) and find the distance between the top of your hips and the 7th vertebrae (big nob at the top of your back). Sizes vary depending on the manufacturer, but typically 15-17 inches is a small, 18-20 a medium, and over 21 is a large. Some companies make x-small and x-large, but most bodies fit into a small, medium, or large backpack.
Sizing Hip Belts:
Once again, this has nothing to do with how tall you are, but rather how big or small you are around your hips. Most backpacks can have interchangeable hip belts so any hip size/torso length combination can work. Put the hip belt on and tighten it. You want it to be centered directly on your hip bones. When the backpack hip belt is pulled tight, it should still have a few inches of space on either side of your belly button.
Trying on Packs:
Once you find the right size, you can narrow your search down to style and fit preferences. You should always try on a backpack before you buy it to make sure it’s comfortable. Go to the store wearing hiking shoes and even some of the clothes you plan to backpack in. Next, fill the backpack with weight (see Packing a Backpack), so that you can get a realistic idea of how it will feel. Put the pack on and tighten the hip belt first. Next, make sure the shoulder straps are the right tension. They should be taut without pulling the hip belt up and without digging into your shoulders. There are also tension straps on the hip belt that should be tight. They can be used to pull the backpack closer to your hips. The load lifter straps (at the top of your pack), can be cinched to a 90 degree angle. They are used to stabilize the pack but they will make your backpack uncomfortable if you pull them too tight. When the backpack is on and fully strapped down, most of the weight should rest on your hips.
The Whole Backpack:
Many backpacking and gear stores have ramps to walk on or will let you demo the pack outside. Walking on different terrains with your backpack on can help you determine if it will be comfortable outside of the store.
Keep in mind that bodies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and that the most important thing about fitting a backpack is to find one that is comfortable for you!