How Should a Hiking Backpack Fit? (Proper Fitting And Sizing Guide)

Whether you are going on a hike or picking one for everyday use (when you have too much stuff to carry around), you don’t want to get the wrong kind of backpack for hiking. So how should a hiking backpack fit to avoid any back pain issues later down the road?

Back problems are increasing among people of all ages, and it takes a lot to undo prolonged damage.

Believe it or not, this part of your body is quite sensitive and deserves more attention than is often given to it. So, if you are outdoorsy or carry heavy stuff with you daily, you want to get the right fit. There are a few things to note before buying the right backpack. Here’s all you need to know.

Finding The Right Fit

hiker with backpack on top of a peak

Step 1: Measure Your Torso

You must start this endeavor by measuring yourself. You will need flexible cloth tape and a friend to help you with the measurements.

You will need to measure your torso length from your neck to the hip. But in some precise detail.

Locate the C7 vertebra, which is at the base of your neck. Then you should locate the top point on your hip, the iliac crest. This is the length of your torso. Based on this, you should determine the size of the backpack. 

The measurement should be exact. So, stand straight and bend your head forward to determine the exact point at the base of your neck and the top of your hip.

Step 2: Measure Your Hips

The second step is to measure your hips to make sure that the backpack matches the torso length. This measurement will also help you get the correct hip belt, which helps keep the backpack steady on your body.

The same measuring logic you applied to your torso must be used for this too. First, find the bottom-most part of your back. That is at the top of your pelvic bone.

Then, using your fingers, determine the point on your stomach where the pelvic bone is protruding. Then, follow your fingers to the bone just below the ribcage.

Use your thumbs and fingers to hold your hips on both sides. Your fingers should be at the point on your pelvic bone that you just determined. Find the corresponding side on the back where your thumbs have landed.

Place the tape at the center of your back, right between your thumbs, and align it with the top part of the hip bone you previously located. Measure the width of your hips along this line.

Try a Bunch of Backpacks

friends hiking down a trail

Once you have both these measurements, you should go to a store and try out different backpacks. Then, look into the construction, weight, and breathability of the backpack’s fabric. Now you are ready to match them to your measurements.

Step 1: Adjust Your Hips

You should check for fit starting at the hips. That’s because your hips will be carrying the weight of the backpack. You want to make sure that the straps are on top of the hip bone you located while taking measurements.

This is the perfect spot, and the backpack should hug it tightly. If it does, you have a good foundation for the bag. Often, hikers focus on shoulder straps because they want their shoulders to be comfortable. But since they didn’t focus on their hips, the pain starts to set in sooner than it should.

Now, you should go by the 80-20 rule here. That means that your hips should take 80 percent of the backpack’s weight, and 20 percent is the shoulder’s responsibility. That’s because your body’s center of gravity is at the hips, where you have the most power. You should cash in on this.

Step 2: Adjust the Shoulder Straps

After fixing your hip situation, you should check the shoulder straps. Almost everyone knows that these are not optional. You must make sure that they fit tight too. So, pull them away from your body on the front. Then pull them downwards from your hips. They should be in perfect sync with your body.

Be sure not to pull them too tight because that will hurt your shoulders. When the fit is perfect, the straps will hug your shoulders without a gap between your back and the strap. If there is a gap, the torso length of the backpack is more than what it should be. So, pick a bag about an inch shorter and repeat the process.

Other Adjustments

It would be best if you also made sure that the load lifters were aligned at 45 degrees. To do this, you should pull the tab downwards. It can be anywhere between 30 degrees and 60 degrees. That’s why 45 degrees is ideal.

If the load lifters are too tight, the shoulder straps will move away from your body. So, find that balance.

Then check the sternum strap. Buckle it, so it is no more than one inch under the collarbone. Do this gently to make sure the strap moves through the fingers easily.

If you make it too tight, it will disrupt the fit on your back and might even cause breathing problems.

Walk Around

Like you do with shoes, it is very important to walk around the store after fitting the backpack on your body. This will give you a sense of what it’s like when you move with it.

You want to lean forward when you walk because that is how you would do it on a hike. Ideally, you should do this with more than one backpack to find the one that’s most comfortable.

That’s also why some stores have a fake hiking trail. That’s very helpful.

Final Thoughts

guy wearing a backpack on a trail

Having the right fit will help ease the load while hiking. It’s also important to learn how to properly pack your belongings the right way to help with the load balance.

And finally, always make sure you check the return policy because you don’t want to walk out of the store with a pack that might not work. So you don’t want to abuse this option and return it after the hike.

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