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Re: Properly Fitting Backpacks

This is going to be a long one folks...

On Sun, 10 Mar 1996, Bryan Gene Cable wrote:

>      I've seen a lot of advice on this list saying to have a backpack
> properly fitted, but none explaining *how* to properly fit a backpack.  I'm
> a novice so these things aren't obvious to me like they might be to many of you.
>      So how do you do it?  How do you to fit a backpack to a body?  Any and
> all suggestions are welcome!

In my experience, a properly fitted backpack can mean the difference 
between a great trip and the most miserable experience of your life.  If 
a shoulder strap is digging in and ripping your shoulder apart or the 
hipbelt is pinching a nerve and making you limp, your friend won't be 
able to appreciate the beautiful views.  Who wants to talk about the 
majesty of the wilderness after carrying a torture chamber for 15 miles?
More times than I can count, the source of a horrible trip for someone 
could have been easily solved be tightening a strap a quarter inch.

I worked in outdoor retail and used to do this all the time.  Keep in 
mind that each backpack is different, but here are some general guidelines:

#1) Make sure you have the right size, many packs (both internal and 
external frame) come in different sizes, including many geared for women.  
It is easy for a salesperson (especially one who is inexperienced or in a 
hurry) to pick up the wrong size, so double check it, there is usually 
some tag hidden somewhere with a marking.  If the pack comes with product 
literature or something attached, the model and size is often on that.

Remember that your pack size is determined not by your height, but by your 
torso length.  People of different heights can have the same pack size if 
they have the same torso length.  Pack manufacturers generally have 
guidelines for torso lengths if the packs come in different sizes (ie: 
Mountainsmith, Gregory), if they don't they usually have a more 
adjustable suspension (ie: Lowe) but if you are on the extreme ends of 
the adjustments, it might not be the pack for you.

You can get your torso length from using a tape measure (like the fabric 
ones tailors use) and have a friend measure your spine from the 7th 
vertebrae (the bump where your neck meets your shoulders) to in between 
your hip bones).

You can do most adjustment with the pack empty, but it will ride 
differently with weight in it, so make sure to readjust it with a full 
Remember also that the goal is to put the weight of the pack on your hips 
(the weight bearing bones of your body) and get it off your shoulders 
(which are mostly there for balance).


General guidelines- the shoulder straps should meet the pack about 2 
inches below your shoulder.  There is often an adjustment to change where 
the shoulder straps are anchored to the pack.  This is the major 
		   - the straps that go from the shoulder straps up and to the 
back of the pack are called the 'load lifters' or 'stabilizers' for that 
reason.  Their major function is to lift up from the shoulders and take 
any weight from there and put it on the frame of the pack.  They also 
stabilize the top of the pack to help minimize sway.  The bottom part of 
the strap should be anchored to the shoulder strap at about collarbone 
level.  It should join the pack at around earlobe height.  You should 
look for about a 45 degree angle on it.  If the angle is too high 
(pulling almost straight up) or too (pulling straight back) low it won't do 
the job right.  This is often the major problem encountered when fitting 
a pack to someone who is on the extreme end of the spectrum (very tall or 
very short for the packframe size).
		    - The hipbelt is the most important part of the pack 
it is supposed to take around 80% of the weight.  Make sure it is snug, 
but not too loose and not too tight and that you have room to layer 
clothing under it.  Make sure it will ride high enough to transfer weight 
down onto the hips.  I have pretty scrawny hips and have had problems 
with the pack slipping too low.  There also might be straps that pull the 
bottom of the pack in close to the hipbelt ('hip stabilizers') and can be 
adjusted for comfort and ride.
		      - The sternum strap goes across your upper chest 
connecting the shoulder straps.  This helps keep them on and often goes a 
long way toward making the fit work for you.  Make sure it does not 
constrict your chest and interfere with breathing. 	

	In putting the pack on, loosen all the straps first and then put 
the pack on.  In order tighten the Hipbelt, shoulder strap (the length 
adjustment, usually at the bottom of padding), and the shoulder load 
lifters.  Then work with the other adjustments to tweak out a comfortable 
fit.  Remember to loosen the straps in the reverse order before taking 
the pack off (and loosening the hipbelt buckle will make sure when you 
unbuckle, it won't snap back, this eventually wears down the corners of 
the buckle that engage when it closes).

	Experiment, get a balance that works for you between hips and 
shoulders taking weight once your out on the trail.  Remember that the 
pack will feel different on the trail than in the store.  Most internal 
frame packs require a modest break in time, both for the pack and for 
you, so be a little patient.


Most of the same applies.  If you don't have the shoulder load lifters, 
then the shoulder straps themselves should anchor to the frame at that 45 
degree level to make sure that they don't dig down into your shoulders.  
This may entail a little more work, you might have to take out a pin and 
change some spacers around (this was a huge pain to do in the store 10 
times a day, but you will only have to do it once).

In general, your external frame pack will ride higher than your friend's 
internal frame.  That's OK, it is supposed to be like that, don't try and 
make yours ride like his.

General Guidelines To Remember When Buying a Pack:
Try it on with weight in it!  Every pack feels good empty.  If the 
salesman doesn't want to do that for you, tell him to piss off and go 
somewhere else!  You wouldn't buy a car without test driving it.
As someone else on the list mentioned, bring in your own stuff and out it 
in.  (preferably in stuff sacks)
Also discuss with the salesman what way to pack you gear will work best for 
you (there are a few different schools of thought on the issue) discuss the 
pros and cons of each.

No matter how good the demo model feels in the store, if you don't make the 
same adjustments to the one you get, it won't feel right!!  If you don't 
remember how do do it, have the salesperson do it before you leave the 
store.  Tons of people came into our store saying "well, I bought this 
pack at store X and when I got on the trail it didn't fell right."  
Usually it took under 3 minutes to solve the problem.

Well, that's most of it, remember that sometimes a pack model just won't 
fit you.  That happens.  People are built differently and some brands 
just don't fit certain people.  Don't despair, keep looking.  
Fortunately, most pack manufacturers are making a larger range of shapes 
and sizes. For a long time women had to just bear with using packs for 
short men, recently though the designers have finally realized that there 
are some physiological differences between the two sexes and most now 
make at least one line of packs designed for women.
Women - make sure to ask if the pack you like is make in a model for 
women (often stores don't stock those models because fewer women buy 
packs so it is not as profitable to stock them).

It sounds complicated, but it really isn't.  If I have been unclear, let 
me know.

Good luck!


Standard Disclaimers Apply

Jeff Mosenkis,                                                   
University at Albany - Psych, Anthro, Judaic Studies             

"Welcome to the psychotherapy hotline.  If you are obsessive-compulsive, 
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