Tech Talk: Pack Fitting 101

The North Face Hiking Backpack Sardinia

New backpack! It’s exciting, thinking about all the adventures you’ll go on together. And a good pack can make those adventures better, helping you bring along whatever you need to make your time in the outdoors more enjoyable.

But before you go on those adventures, you need to put the pack on. And if you’ve already done that you’ve probably noticed that it isn’t quite as comfortable as you’d hoped. But don’t worry! The difference between a comfortable and uncomfortable backpack is usually just the adjustment of the straps. So, follow these simple steps and we’ll have you ready to go in no time-

1. Loosen EVERY strap

This one is simple. If there is a strap on your pack, it needs to be loose. So, take the pack off, take a look, and go to town. Unbuckle every buckle, and take every strap, from the hip belt to the sternum strap, all the way to its loosest setting. It’ll take a few seconds to do, but it makes setting up the rest of your backpack much easier.

2. Load the pack

Don’t worry, you don’t need to put a whole weekend of camping on your back just yet. But putting some mass in your bag can help you get a better feel for how the bag should feel on your back.

Find some stuff like books, canned food, whatever you have on hand weighing about 10 lbs. (4kg). But before you put that in the pack, put a pillow in first. This will keep the weight high in the pack, which is where you’ll want it on the trail so it’s where you want it now.

Osprey Hiking Backpack AetherPro

3. Put the pack on your back

Now’s a great time to start building good habits, so do not pick the pack up by your shoulder straps. Instead grab the middle haul loop, the sewn bit of webbing between the two shoulder straps that you’d use to hang the pack on the wall. This loop is designed to carry the full weight of the pack, and using it to pick the pack up won’t damage the straps or the rest of your bag.

4. Place the hip belt over your hips

With both arms through the shoulder straps, the pack should still fit loosely. But leave the shoulder straps alone, because first, you have to adjust the hip belt. Lift the pack up until the hip belt is right over your hip bones. And then simply tighten the belt until the weight of the pack rests comfortably on your hips. If the belt is affecting your breathing, you’re wearing it too high. If it prevents you from walking normally, you’re wearing it too low.

5. Snug the shoulder straps

While the hip belt should be carrying most of the weight of your pack by now, the extra-loose shoulder straps are still pretty uncomfortable. So, go ahead and tighten them now, but be careful not to tighten them too much. You want them just touching your shoulder, back, and chest, holding the pack in place without taking the weight off your hips.

Osprey Hiking Backpack Telluride

6. Engage “load lifters”

Even after adjusting your shoulder straps, your pack may still feel a little off behind your back. But that’s okay! If your pack feels that way it’s likely equipped with what is known as “load lifters”. They run from the top of your shoulder straps to the top of the pack frame and tighten simply by pulling the loose end forward while wearing the pack. When adjusted properly they should form a 45° angle from your shoulder to the pack frame, and you’ll be able to actually feel the pack coming closer to your back as you tighten them.

7. Position your sternum strap

Unlike the other straps we’ve talked about, the sternum strap is not a load-bearing part of your pack harness. Running across your chest from one shoulder strap to the other, the sternum strap is simply there to help you fine-tune your fit and ensure a comfortable position for your shoulder straps. To adjust your sternum strap simply click the buckle together and tighten to comfort. Most packs also have a vertical adjustment as well, letting you fine-tune the fit by sliding the strap up or down.

But if none of them feel right, don’t worry about it! Since the sternum strap isn’t load-bearing not using it won’t have a negative effect on the pack’s performance.

Osprey Hiking Backpack Appalachian Trail

8. Hit the trail!

And that’s it! Whether you're through-hiking or just heading to the terminal, a well-fitted backpack makes almost any load easier to carry. But don’t feel like you can’t make adjustments. Depending on the terrain, the load, or even the weather you may find different adjustments to your pack more or less comfortable. So, you should never be afraid to loosen a strap, adjust a fit, or do whatever you need to do to make the pack feel right for you.

If you’ve followed these steps and the pack still doesn’t feel right, just loosen everything up again and start over. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting the hip belt just right, or changing how the shoulder harness sits on your pack. But if that doesn’t do it, don’t be afraid to get in touch with us here and Peter Glenn and we’ll be happy to help you work through your perfect fit.