Why You Should Carry a Travel Backpack With a Hip Belt

Laura Lopuch

Pausing for a second, you fasten your travel backpack’s hip belt and stand a little taller.

Your flight is still listed as delayed, airport food shops are slowly shutting for the night, and you just spent $5 more than comfortable on an admittedly okay airport beer with a floating orange slice that was supposed to class it up.

Heading back to your crowded gate to wait for a delayed flight, after walking across two terminals to try your chance at catching a different flight out of the fog-entrenched airport, the options are dwindling.

You’re tired.

Your flight is still delayed.

But, you stand taller. You feel strong, and the weight of your bag is manageable as you stride with your travel backpack’s hip belt snug above your hips.

At least you’re not worrying about a checked bag.

When You Need a Hip Belt

When you’re traveling with a full sized carry on travel backpack, you need a hip belt.

Here’s why:

According to REI and Outdoor Gear Lab, a hip belt transfers up to 80-90% of your backpack’s weight from your shoulders to your hips. For a 22 lb travel backpack, that means 17.6 lbs is magically lifted from your shoulders.

This means you’ll feel lighter on your travels and arrive with fewer knots in your tender neck and shoulders. That’s a win.

Powerful leg muscles were made to power through long miles, carrying weight. Your delicate neck — threaded with your body’s main connector cords of nerves and spine — and your shoulders, were not.

Ease the load on your back by choosing a travel backpack that transfers the weight away from your neck and shoulders and settles it squarely on your hips, allowing your leg muscles to do the work.

Hip Belt Material Matters

Now that you’re eying travel backpacks with hip belts, think carefully about their purpose and what they are (or should be) made of.

Pick a travel backpack with a solid, functional hip belt.

In other words: not made of mesh or woven strapping.

Adding a flimsy strap to a travel backpack and calling it a “hip belt” doesn’t do much for weight transfer. Those kinds of belts are just for stabilizing your backpack against your back so that it doesn’t flop around while you’re walking. This improves the carry experience on a daypack, but doesn’t actually transfer any weight. 

For a travel backpack that you are going to load up and carry, look for a hip belt well padded with foam for and thick enough to actually transfer the weight, while remaining comfortable on your body.

A good hip belt needs to feel sturdy.

As Jimmer, on this backpacking light forum, says, “But, all things being equal, the wider belt is going to feel more comfortable and spread the load weight better, thus transferring it to the hips and not just the lower back.

Small webbing hip belts are provided more for control of the backbody on the torso than for any real load transfer to the hips. Bottom line: no matter what the frame composition, a wider belt is going to be more effective than a narrow web belt.”

Look for a hip belt that:

  • Is at least 2” wide
  • Has plenty of foam padding to improve comfort
  • Has pockets (keep reading)
  • Has thick, sturdy straps and buckles

How to Fit a Hip Belt

A properly fitting hip belt will rest above your hips and roughly in line with your belly button.

This positioning is key in transferring your backpack’s weight down to your powerful leg muscles, and not just to your lower back. Ouch. Be sure that your hip belt has a snug — not too tight — fit.

The padded sections of your hip belt should rest on top of your hip bones and extend a little beyond them towards your stomach.

You’ll know when you find the sweet spot because your backpack will suddenly, amazingly, feel lighter.

Boom, baby.

Hip Belt Pockets 

Some hip belts have pockets. Others don’t. Choose one with pockets.

Why?

Think of the pockets on your jeans. The moment you wear pants without pockets, like yoga or running pants, is when you need them. 

That, my friend, is why your hip belt needs at least one pocket. For your “most precious preciouses” as Smeagol would say, like your boarding pass, passport or driver’s license, chapstick, and smartphone.

Keep those items handy so that you’re not whipping off your backpack every two seconds to dig furiously into its dark depths, cursing your inability to find what you need.

Choose a travel backpack with zippered pockets on the hip belt that are large enough for your passport, cell phone and necessary items. 

The Biggest Myth About Hip Belts

Many travelers believe that every “proper” backpack needs a hip belt. That simply isn’t true.

 A lightweight daypack or school-style backpack doesn’t need a hip belt.

So, how do you know if you should get one?

The weight of your bag is the biggest factor. Usually, bags that are 27L and under can be carried comfortably without a  hip belt. Bags that size aren’t usually heavy enough to warrant needing to transfer the backpack weight down to your hips.

That being said, some people might want to transfer weight off of their shoulders sooner than others. Every person is different in their body type and strength, so there’s no one size fits all rule for carrying a backpack. However, your carry experience matters, so if you’re on the fence, choose a backpack with a robust hip belt and err on the side of comfort.

TL;DR

A properly designed hip belt on a travel backpack lifts 80-90% of your pack’s weight off your shoulders and onto your hips, allowing your powerful leg muscles to do the work. Meaning your delicate shoulders will arrive at your destination knot-free and ready to party. Instead of aching.

Choose a hip belt that:

  • Is at least 2” wide
  • Has plenty of foam padding to improve comfort
  • Has pockets (keep reading)
  • Has thick, sturdy straps and buckles

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