Backpacking Essentials- How to Fit a Pack

Outdoor retail employee teaches us the basics of pack fitting

You can’t go backpacking without a pack… with that being said, investing in a pack is a big (and expensive) step.  However, the fit and comfort level of your pack can really make or break your trip.  We sat down and talked to an outdoor retail employee about packs and pack fitting.  Here’s what she had to say:

When you walk into a store to buy a pack, where do you start?

“When someone comes in to the store looking for a pack, we first like to find out a little about them and what their plans are for the pack.  The pack we choose for a weekend backpackers and an AT thru hiker are going to be different.  Additionally, we like to find out if there are any physical conditions we should be aware of.  After that, it comes down to fit, comfortableness, size, frame style, features…and some people are really concerned with color.”

How do you know what size pack you wear?

“Well, after we determine the type of pack and the capacity needed we start the fitting process. The size of pack you will wear is determined by your torso length, rather than your overall height or weight.  We have women’s and men’s specific packs. 

To measure your torso length, we’ll have you look down and tilt your head forward. The bone where your neck meets your shoulders is called the C7 vertebra and is the top of your torso. The length of your torso runs from your C7 to the top of your hip bones, on your lumbar.  We measure that length, and that determines your pack size.

The other area to consider is your hipbelt.  The hipbelt should sit on the top of your hip bones.  This generally requires only minor adjustments.  Hipbelts fit most sizes – waist sizes ranging from about 20 inches to a little over 40 inches can usually be accommodated.  Either way, the hipbelt won’t change what size pack you need.”

So, once you know what size, how do you adjust?

“After we figure out what size pack and which pack to go with, we’ll put it on you and adjust it. We usually add weight to the pack—around 15 pounds—and have you walk around a bit. 

The first adjustment point is the hipbelt.  We’ll set the belt right at the top of your hipbones and tighten it to a comfortable point. The belt will be snug, but not pinching. 


The second adjustment point is the shoulder strap. We’ll tighten the straps down until they are snug, but the weight shouldn’t rely on your shoulders.  This will put pressure on your neck and back, and will become uncomfortable quickly.  Most of the support should come from your hipbelt. 


The third adjustment point is the load lifter. These little straps are connected from the shoulder strap to the top of the pack.  We usually look for a 45-degree angle in these, but it all comes down to comfort.  There is a sweet spot for these somewhere between snug and way too tight.


The fourth adjustment point is the sternum strap.  The sternum strap is usually most comfortable and inch to an inch and a half below your collar bones.  A sternum strap that is too tight can restrict your movement, as well as your breathing.”


What else can you tell us about pack fit?

“The biggest thing is to make sure you know how to move your straps around.  When you’re ten miles in to a trip, something is likely to feel uncomfortable.  Be sure that you know how to tweak your fit to alleviate pressure points. 

If you have a quality pack that is fitted well, but poor quality boots or trekking poles, you may be fighting a losing battle.  Make sure every piece of gear you are working with is fitted appropriately and supporting you.

Remember that how you pack your pack is going to change how your load feels.  Heavy stuff at the bottom is the easiest way to remember it.”


What are some tips you guys use in pack fitting?  Let us know and we’ll see you guys on the trail!!


nick provost