Backpacks are absolutely insane these days.
A few years ago solar cell backpacks blew our minds. We could charge our phones while we hiked. I know. Next came backpacks that lit up at night to keep you safe while you cycled and backpacks fitted with megawatt speakers to keep your beach bash bumping.
It was a simpler time.
That Was Just The Beginning
These days companies make backpacks that transform into mountain bikes—or even an entire inflatable kayak. Some backpacks have embedded personal servers for wifi on the go anywhere. Heck, there’s even a backpack with freaking radar in it to let you see through walls and detect…stuff up to 150 miles away.
Backpacks look more like Ghostbuster proton packs everyday.
Backpacks have come a long way since their origin in the trenches of WWI. But all those expensive gizmos, gadgets, and gimmicks don’t mean a damned thing if your bag weighs you down.
Fit Is All That Matters
At the end of the day, fit is all that matters.
So let’s breakdown the simple, five-step process—in the right order—you need to follow make your backpack to fit like a glove.
Author’s Note: Packing your bag the right way is super important to fitting your backpack, and even the packing experts differ on the exact order of adjusting your backpack.
The sequence below are our 5 steps to get the perfect backpack fit:
- Loosen Up
- Hip Belt
- Shoulder Straps
- Sternum Strap
- Load Strap
Start by loosening all the straps on your backpack straps. All of ’em. If this is your first time fitting your backpack, add 10-15 pounds of weight to the bag. A water gallon works great. Now, put it on.
The whole point of finding the perfect fit for your backpack is to maximize the amount of weight that rests on your hips. If you adjust the backpack just right you can carry as much as 80-90% of the weight on your hips. And that feels awesome.
- With your backpack on, lean forward a little
- Clip the belt strap together and fasten it tight
- Leave an inch of material on either side of both buckles. If you have to tighten the hip belt further than this, the bag is probably too big for you
- Jiggle and wiggle—I prefer the Macarena—to settle the weight on your hips just above the iliac crest
Science Term Alert: Iliac Crest: the superior border of the wing of ilium and the superolateral margin of the greater pelvis. Don’t you feel smarter now?
The top of the hip belt should be about one inch above the iliac crest. The iliac crest is basically the top of your hip bone—that curvy bit that sticks out on a skeleton model. You can find it easily with your thumb.
Now that you’ve got your hip belt adjusted to carry the load, it’s time to tighten the all important shoulder straps and snug that weight against your back.
- Pull down on both straps simultaneously and tighten until your backpack fits snugly along your back
- A good shoulder strap fit is all about contour—you want the straps to make contact with your whole shoulder—the front and back—not just the top.
Your shoulder straps should be snug but not uncomfortable…obviously.
A lot of people neglect the sternum strap, but it’s crucial for long-term comfort and wearability. A great backpack fit starts with the hip belt, but you’ll notice a poorly fit shoulder strap waaaay faster. The sternum strap does one thing—keep the shoulder straps where they’re supposed to be—a.k.a. on your shoulders.
If the sternum strap is too loose the shoulder straps will slide down. Ever see people “hitching up” their bags over and over again? Loose sternum strap.
If the sternum strap is too tight, the shoulder straps will ride up and can pinch the delicate blood vessels in your neck. Trust me, you don’t want that to happen. You’ll get a headache and could even pass out. Don’t pass out.
Extra Credit: Load Strap
Some bags—traditionally hiking backpacks—have an additional strap called the load strap or load lifter. This little connecting strap at the top of the shoulder strap functions as a lever to take weight off your shoulders. When adjusted properly it pulls the load on your shoulders up and back, meaning even more weight rests on your hips.
This is the one strap you can set and forget. You want it to stay at a clean 45° angle. If it’s not the exact fit you want, tweak it a little at a time. You’ll feel the difference right away.
Once it’s settled, move around. Do some lunges. Jump. Twist. Feel the weight move with you. If there’s a lot of jiggle, tighten accordingly, starting again from #1—the hip belt.
The perfect backpack fit is about little adjustments. Just like life. Hey-oooooo!
The best backpack in the world will feel like a sack full of dead possums duct taped to your shoulder blades if you don’t adjust the straps to suit your body. Use these steps—in order—and you’ll be able to carry the weight of the world as you travel every inch of it.
- Pack your bag the right way
- Loosen Up
- It’s all in the hips
- Contour those shoulder straps
- The sternum strap is at the heart of a great fit
- Figure out what the load strap actually does
If you have any tips that I missed, I’m all about learning more. Tweet your own sweet backpack dance gif to me @leftyscissors.
Image: Amanda Sandlin (Stocksnap)