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Correct Backpack Fitting and Backpack Adjustments

davebugg

A Pilgrimage is time I spend praying with my feet
Year of past OR future Camino
2019
There have been more frequent mentions of equipment and gear purchases lately as preparation continues for the Caminos opening up again. I thought I would re-post information I had written as a guide about how one goes about making sure that a new backpack purchase is properly sized and fitted.

There is also a bit of a guideline for beginners which details a sequence to use when first putting on a backpack - - adjusting it for wearability and comfort. Then some further information about adjustments to the backpack as you are walking.

If anyone feels a need for additional help, I can also be contacted by private message, and will be happy to help in any way I can.

---------------------------------

Things are sometimes a series of trade offs and compromises.

Cost vs weight seems to be the most obvious trade-off when considering backpacking gear :). For example, IF you are planning to do hundreds of miles a year backpacking or hiking, then the trade off might lean more toward lighter and better manufactured gear.

If one is not going to become a serious backpacking junkie, then the best strategy is to go with gear that may weigh a bit more, but is also less expensive. Because I have, until now, averaged 600 to 900 miles of hiking in high mountain areas from Spring until late Fall, all of my gear is either very light or ultra light.

The one other thing that is personally important to me: All of my backpacks, regardless of make or capacity, must be able to take aboard an aircraft as a carry on. Thus far, I have never had to forgo purchasing or using a backpack because it does not meet carry on restrictions.. . . even my 60 liter Gossamer Gear Mariposa.

I had a past a bad experience of an airline losing all of my gear, having checked my backpack as luggage. This was one day before I was due to start a month long backpacking trip. Now, I always carry on my backpack which is also carrying my gear.

That's my preference because most of the gear I have is ultralight gear that is not easily replaceable at a lot of sports stores. Please note too, that a lot of others prefer to check their packs and have yet to experience any issues at all.

I mention all of the above as a consideration to keep in mind when selecting a backpack. Is it important to have a carry on sized pack? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't?

As you become used to packing and unpacking your pack, all of those strange straps will become familiar, and their use will become second nature. And that is an important focus with a new backpack: frequently practice packing and adjusting your pack. This backpack is your 'house' while you are on Camino. It will contain your closet, your bedroom, your kitchen, your storage pantry, and the bathroom. Get to know the layout of your new house well enough that you can negotiate its floor-plan, and its rooms, with ease.

Backpacks have a lot of straps. Some makes and models have more than others. Most manufacturers will make sure that each strap is far longer than what you will probably need.

New backpacks worn by inexperienced novices are sometimes fun to observe, especially on a breezy day. As they walk by, you see large numbers of long, strap-ends furiously slapping and flapping around in the wind. You can almost pretend that the outside of the backpack has a crowd of small puppies attached, their tails all furiously wagging and whipping around helter-skelter.

Keep in mind that once you know just how much strap you need for your various adjustments, it is OK to cut them to a more appropriate length. It's a normal thing for experienced backpackers to do. It gets rid of annoying dangley and flappy bits, which can become as annoying as stalker mosquitoes. Just remember to use a lighter to lightly melt and fuse the freshly cut ends, so that the strap doesn't go all unravely on you. ;)

Correct Sizing of a Backpack

The size of the pack is determined by the length of your spine, not by how much the pack can carry.

Measuring for a correct fit involves determining your spine's proper length. That measurement is done by using a tape measure and measuring from the protruding 'knob' on the back of your neck which is at the base of the cervical spine, to the place on your spine that is even with the top of the crest of your hips.
  1. Tilt your head forward and feel for the bony bump where the slope of your shoulders meets your neck. This is your 7th cervical (or C7) vertebra—and the top of your torso length.
  2. On each side of your body, slide your hands down the rib cage to the top of your hip bones (aka the iliac crest). With index fingers pointing forward and thumbs pointing backward, draw an imaginary line between your thumbs. This spot on your lumbar is the bottom of your torso measurement.
  3. Stand up straight and measure - or have your friend measure - the distance between the C7 and the imaginary line between your thumbs. That’s your torso length.
1621527437526.png
(The above picture courtesy of REI)


60881



Once you have that measurement in inches or centimeters, you can then look at the backpack manufacturer's sizing guide. This guide will be used to match your spine length, to their stated size range.

Sometimes, a manufacturer's sizes are expressed as Small to Extra Large. Sometimes that size scale will combine the sizes like: S/M, M/L, L/XL. When the sizes are combined, it usually means that there is a good amount of adjustability to the frame of the pack to customize the fit. That will usually be in the shoulder harness and the hipbelt so that a fine tuned fit can be achieved.

Here is a good video which will help with fitting. Ignore the reference to the manufacturer as the method is pretty universal.


Fitting The Shoulder Harness

First, let me mention that there are differences in the shapes of shoulder straps. The standard shoulder strap shape has been what some manufacturers describe as a "J" shape. This shape tends to fit the chest shape of the male better than the female due to the lesser fullness of the chest. However, even with some men who have bigger chests, the J strap shape can be uncomfortable.

A few manufacturers, ULA and Six Moons Design are the most notable, have developed what is called an "S" shaped strap. This shape has solved many of the fit issues for women, allowing for the straps to properly sit on the shoulders without the uncomfortable compression and chafing due to breasts of larger chests. Here is a link which shows the difference between the two strap shapes:


The shoulder harness should wrap around over your shoulders and sit slightly below the top of the shoulder. The shoulder straps should sit comfortably toward the middle of the shoulder girdle, although that may vary a bit. It should not feel like they are going to slip off your shoulders or sit tight against the base of your neck.

The sternum strap should NOT be required to keep the shoulder straps in place. The sternum strap does connect the shoulder straps, but it is designed to help control where the straps sit on the shoulders with excess pack movement; it is not meant to overcome a poor fit and placement of the shoulder straps.

After fastening the sternum strap in place, pull the adjustment strap until you feel a bit of tension.

The sternum strap on a good pack can adjust up and down on the shoulder straps. The usual placement is somewhere just below the collar bone, but body types and builds will cause a variation of where the sternum strap placement feels best.

Hip Belt Adjustments

For the hip belt, the pad of the belt should sort of 'cradle' the crest of the hip bone: the top of the pad should be slightly above the top of the crest while the bottom of the pad should be slightly below the top. Again, the belt, when it is snugged down, should cradle. The belt should not entirely sit above your hips so that the pad compresses your waist, nor should the entire pad sit below the crest of your hips totally squeezing the hip bones.

There is a lot of misinformation about how a pack's load is distributed between shoulders and hips. It is NOT true that the waist/hip belt carries the entire load of the pack. It definitely CAN do that, but doing so is undesirable.

There are reasons which make it necessary to keep the shoulder harness unweighted with the full load weight on the hipbelt. These include damage or injury to the shoulder girdle. There are folks who prefer a total load on the hipbelt even though their shoulder girdle is healthy, but it is a practice which has potential complications associated with it. Even so, it is up to an individual to decide.

If the Hip/waist belt carries the entire weight of the pack
  1. it means the shoulder harness is unweighted and there can be significant pack movement which, during difficult walking terrain, can create problems with your center of gravity. I have seen people lose their balance and fall as a result.
  2. It also can result in your core muscles being overworked, stressed and fatigued trying to compensate from that extra movement.
  3. All of that weight on the pelvis can create significant compression forces by requiring the hipbelt to be over-tightened in order to prevent it from slipping down. This can cause numbness and pain as blood flow and nerve compression is experienced.
  4. All of the weight on the hipbelt will also place additional strain to the hip sockets and knees.
The load ratio will be about 5 to 15 percent for the shoulders and 85 to 95 percent on the hips. This will allow for the proper engagement of your core muscles to help carry the backpack.

Steps To Adjusting a Backpack Before Walking

I'll add a link to a video (ignore the manufacturer) that shows the best steps to follow when putting on a pack and adjusting it. The basic steps are these:
  1. Loosen all of the straps on the shoulder harness and hip belt.
  2. Put on the pack and very slightly tighten the shoulder straps so that the hip belt is slightly below the hips.
  3. Shrug your shoulders up, and then fasten the waist belt as you are getting it roughly into position.
  4. Slightly tighten the shoulder straps to assist with the hip belt adjustment.
  5. Position the hip belt padding to let the padding sit half above and half below the crest of the hips. The padding of the belt should never sit entirely above the hips. The padding should sort of wrap itself over the top of the hip bone and hug the hips.
  6. Tighten the belt just enough to keep it in position. At this point, nearly 100% of the packs weight is resting on the hips.
  7. Snug the shoulder straps to take up 5 to 15 percent of the packs weight. You will feel just a slight unloading of the weight off the hips.
  8. At the top of the shoulder straps and toward the pack, are smaller straps called 'load lifters'. Grasp them and pull to your front. You will feel the weight of the pack lift up slightly and pull more snugly toward your back. This helps with center of gravity and balance. You can experiment with how snug or how loose you want to pull on the straps. A properly adjusted load lifter strap will form a sort of 45 degree angle when viewed from the side.
  9. On some waist/hip belts there can be a small strap connected to each side of the belt. Again, pulling forward on those straps will bring the bottom of the pack closer to your back, helping with balance as you are walking.


It is important to remember that after you make the first pack adjustment before starting to walk, that you will frequently be changing those adjustments while walking: tightening, loosening, pulling, having the pack higher or lower....

Pack adjustments are a dynamic thing, not a static thing. As you walk, how the pack feels, pressure points, center of gravity, etc WILL change. This is why it is important to become so familiar with your pack that making adjustments becomes second nature as you walk, requiring no real thought or consideration.

A good pack, loaded and adjusted properly, will be so integrated to your body while walking that you sometimes forget you are wearing it. Now, nothing will make a weighted load in a pack disappear, but it will help keep that load from becoming an agonizing exercise in torture :)
 
Camino Cups
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Camino Way Markers
Original Camino Way markers made in bronze. Two models, one from Castilla & Leon and the other from Galicia.
Year of past OR future Camino
2019
Bookmarked for future reference. Thank you, Dave, for this fantastic post.
I bought and fitted my present pack without knowing any of this, and it fortunately fulfills your criteria:
A good pack, loaded and adjusted properly, will be so integrated to your body while walking that you sometimes forget you are wearing it.

But dumb luck is not reliable.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances 2017
Planning for 2021
So many thanks for this Davebugg, it is a particular problem for me as I have a very long back, so weight is of no concern to me when put on the mark versus comfort. Since I do a lot of long distance walking a correct fitting rucksack helps me avoid longer term body stress.

I posted a link the other day with guidance in this respect.

For those who love Osprey rucksacks they have an app which helps not only with fitting but also shows how to adjust those rucksacks that can be to ensure they fit much more accurately.

Again thanks for this DaveBugg.
Ivar should file your posting in the Resources section, in my opinion.
 

James P

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
CF Sep/Oct 2015
C Primitivo Sep / Oct 2016
Portugese Sep/Oct 2017
VdlP, Muxia 2018
I can write here without any doubt that properly fitting around your waste is most important for your body and backpack. My personal experience of that first day from SJPDP to Roncesvalles was bordering on a disaster due to poorly fitting and setup of the waist straps that resulted in excruciating pain and almost unable to walk. I was facing a difficult choice as medical nursing assessment indicated that I might not be fit to continue.
Luckily for me I met John, a recently retired doctor from the US 🇺🇸 whose advice and help saved my Camino. He instructed me in the necessary adjustments of the straps and proper distribution of the weight load in my backpack. This help and a couple painkillers from the Nurse sorted my problem. By Pamplona I was skipping along like a young fella!
I met John again in Portomarin. He was pleasantly surprised to see me. He told me that he didn't think I would make it because of the state I was in back at Roncesvalles.
My backpack was just 8kg! Take the good advice and technical assistance offered in this post. It just might save your camino!
PS Of course shoes / boots is the other important choice!
 
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cindyjo

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances 2012
Camino del Norte /Primitivo (2014)
Chemin la Puy (2016)
Camino Portuguese (2017)
Thanks Dave for this detailed and clearly written post. My beloved Arn pack which has faithfully served me through my previous caminos may need to retire soon so I’ll be looking for a new pack. I’ve bookmarked this post and it will certainly help with my new pack selection and adjustments. Thanks again and I’m looking forward to the Levante with my “new house”.
 

dick bird

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Plata, Ingles, Madrid, Norte, Primitivo, Invierno, Aragones, Olvidado, Chemin D'Arles
There have been more frequent mentions of equipment and gear purchases lately as preparation continues for the Caminos opening up again. I thought I would re-post information I had written as a guide about how one goes about making sure that a new backpack purchase is properly sized and fitted.

There is also a bit of a guideline for beginners which details a sequence to use when first putting on a backpack - - adjusting it for wearability and comfort. Then some further information about adjustments to the backpack as you are walking.

If anyone feels a need for additional help, I can also be contacted by private message, and will be happy to help in any way I can.

---------------------------------

Things are sometimes a series of trade offs and compromises.

Cost vs weight seems to be the most obvious trade-off when considering backpacking gear :). For example, IF you are planning to do hundreds of miles a year backpacking or hiking, then the trade off might lean more toward lighter and better manufactured gear.

If one is not going to become a serious backpacking junkie, then the best strategy is to go with gear that may weigh a bit more, but is also less expensive. Because I have, until now, averaged 600 to 900 miles of hiking in high mountain areas from Spring until late Fall, all of my gear is either very light or ultra light.

The one other thing that is personally important to me: All of my backpacks, regardless of make or capacity, must be able to take aboard an aircraft as a carry on. Thus far, I have never had to forgo purchasing or using a backpack because it does not meet carry on restrictions.. . . even my 60 liter Gossamer Gear Mariposa.

I had a past a bad experience of an airline losing all of my gear, having checked my backpack as luggage. This was one day before I was due to start a month long backpacking trip. Now, I always carry on my backpack which is also carrying my gear.

That's my preference because most of the gear I have is ultralight gear that is not easily replaceable at a lot of sports stores. Please note too, that a lot of others prefer to check their packs and have yet to experience any issues at all.

I mention all of the above as a consideration to keep in mind when selecting a backpack. Is it important to have a carry on sized pack? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't?

As you become used to packing and unpacking your pack, all of those strange straps will become familiar, and their use will become second nature. And that is an important focus with a new backpack: frequently practice packing and adjusting your pack. This backpack is your 'house' while you are on Camino. It will contain your closet, your bedroom, your kitchen, your storage pantry, and the bathroom. Get to know the layout of your new house well enough that you can negotiate its floor-plan, and its rooms, with ease.

Backpacks have a lot of straps. Some makes and models have more than others. Most manufacturers will make sure that each strap is far longer than what you will probably need.

New backpacks worn by inexperienced novices are sometimes fun to observe, especially on a breezy day. As they walk by, you see large numbers of long, strap-ends furiously slapping and flapping around in the wind. You can almost pretend that the outside of the backpack has a crowd of small puppies attached, their tails all furiously wagging and whipping around helter-skelter.

Keep in mind that once you know just how much strap you need for your various adjustments, it is OK to cut them to a more appropriate length. It's a normal thing for experienced backpackers to do. It gets rid of annoying dangley and flappy bits, which can become as annoying as stalker mosquitoes. Just remember to use a lighter to lightly melt and fuse the freshly cut ends, so that the strap doesn't go all unravely on you. ;)

Correct Sizing of a Backpack

The size of the pack is determined by the length of your spine, not by how much the pack can carry.

Measuring for a correct fit involves determining your spine's proper length. That measurement is done by using a tape measure and measuring from the protruding 'knob' on the back of your neck which is at the base of the cervical spine, to the place on your spine that is even with the top of the crest of your hips.
  1. Tilt your head forward and feel for the bony bump where the slope of your shoulders meets your neck. This is your 7th cervical (or C7) vertebra—and the top of your torso length.
  2. On each side of your body, slide your hands down the rib cage to the top of your hip bones (aka the iliac crest). With index fingers pointing forward and thumbs pointing backward, draw an imaginary line between your thumbs. This spot on your lumbar is the bottom of your torso measurement.
  3. Stand up straight and measure - or have your friend measure - the distance between the C7 and the imaginary line between your thumbs. That’s your torso length.
View attachment 100639
(The above picture courtesy of REI)


60881



Once you have that measurement in inches or centimeters, you can then look at the backpack manufacturer's sizing guide. This guide will be used to match your spine length, to their stated size range.

Sometimes, a manufacturer's sizes are expressed as Small to Extra Large. Sometimes that size scale will combine the sizes like: S/M, M/L, L/XL. When the sizes are combined, it usually means that there is a good amount of adjustability to the frame of the pack to customize the fit. That will usually be in the shoulder harness and the hipbelt so that a fine tuned fit can be achieved.

Here is a good video which will help with fitting. Ignore the reference to the manufacturer as the method is pretty universal.


Fitting The Shoulder Harness

First, let me mention that there are differences in the shapes of shoulder straps. The standard shoulder strap shape has been what some manufacturers describe as a "J" shape. This shape tends to fit the chest shape of the male better than the female due to the lesser fullness of the chest. However, even with some men who have bigger chests, the J strap shape can be uncomfortable.

A few manufacturers, ULA and Six Moons Design are the most notable, have developed what is called an "S" shaped strap. This shape has solved many of the fit issues for women, allowing for the straps to properly sit on the shoulders without the uncomfortable compression and chafing due to breasts of larger chests. Here is a link which shows the difference between the two strap shapes:


The shoulder harness should wrap around over your shoulders and sit slightly below the top of the shoulder. The shoulder straps should sit comfortably toward the middle of the shoulder girdle, although that may vary a bit. It should not feel like they are going to slip off your shoulders or sit tight against the base of your neck.

The sternum strap should NOT be required to keep the shoulder straps in place. The sternum strap does connect the shoulder straps, but it is designed to help control where the straps sit on the shoulders with excess pack movement; it is not meant to overcome a poor fit and placement of the shoulder straps.

After fastening the sternum strap in place, pull the adjustment strap until you feel a bit of tension.

The sternum strap on a good pack can adjust up and down on the shoulder straps. The usual placement is somewhere just below the collar bone, but body types and builds will cause a variation of where the sternum strap placement feels best.

Hip Belt Adjustments

For the hip belt, the pad of the belt should sort of 'cradle' the crest of the hip bone: the top of the pad should be slightly above the top of the crest while the bottom of the pad should be slightly below the top. Again, the belt, when it is snugged down, should cradle. The belt should not entirely sit above your hips so that the pad compresses your waist, nor should the entire pad sit below the crest of your hips totally squeezing the hip bones.

There is a lot of misinformation about how a pack's load is distributed between shoulders and hips. It is NOT true that the waist/hip belt carries the entire load of the pack. It definitely CAN do that, but doing so is undesirable.

There are reasons which make it necessary to keep the shoulder harness unweighted with the full load weight on the hipbelt. These include damage or injury to the shoulder girdle. There are folks who prefer a total load on the hipbelt even though their shoulder girdle is healthy, but it is a practice which has potential complications associated with it. Even so, it is up to an individual to decide.

If the Hip/waist belt carries the entire weight of the pack
  1. it means the shoulder harness is unweighted and there can be significant pack movement which, during difficult walking terrain, can create problems with your center of gravity. I have seen people lose their balance and fall as a result.
  2. It also can result in your core muscles being overworked, stressed and fatigued trying to compensate from that extra movement.
  3. All of that weight on the pelvis can create significant compression forces by requiring the hipbelt to be over-tightened in order to prevent it from slipping down. This can cause numbness and pain as blood flow and nerve compression is experienced.
  4. All of the weight on the hipbelt will also place additional strain to the hip sockets and knees.
The load ratio will be about 5 to 15 percent for the shoulders and 85 to 95 percent on the hips. This will allow for the proper engagement of your core muscles to help carry the backpack.

Steps To Adjusting a Backpack Before Walking

I'll add a link to a video (ignore the manufacturer) that shows the best steps to follow when putting on a pack and adjusting it. The basic steps are these:
  1. Loosen all of the straps on the shoulder harness and hip belt.
  2. Put on the pack and very slightly tighten the shoulder straps so that the hip belt is slightly below the hips.
  3. Shrug your shoulders up, and then fasten the waist belt as you are getting it roughly into position.
  4. Slightly tighten the shoulder straps to assist with the hip belt adjustment.
  5. Position the hip belt padding to let the padding sit half above and half below the crest of the hips. The padding of the belt should never sit entirely above the hips. The padding should sort of wrap itself over the top of the hip bone and hug the hips.
  6. Tighten the belt just enough to keep it in position. At this point, nearly 100% of the packs weight is resting on the hips.
  7. Snug the shoulder straps to take up 5 to 15 percent of the packs weight. You will feel just a slight unloading of the weight off the hips.
  8. At the top of the shoulder straps and toward the pack, are smaller straps called 'load lifters'. Grasp them and pull to your front. You will feel the weight of the pack lift up slightly and pull more snugly toward your back. This helps with center of gravity and balance. You can experiment with how snug or how loose you want to pull on the straps. A properly adjusted load lifter strap will form a sort of 45 degree angle when viewed from the side.
  9. On some waist/hip belts there can be a small strap connected to each side of the belt. Again, pulling forward on those straps will bring the bottom of the pack closer to your back, helping with balance as you are walking.


It is important to remember that after you make the first pack adjustment before starting to walk, that you will frequently be changing those adjustments while walking: tightening, loosening, pulling, having the pack higher or lower....

Pack adjustments are a dynamic thing, not a static thing. As you walk, how the pack feels, pressure points, center of gravity, etc WILL change. This is why it is important to become so familiar with your pack that making adjustments becomes second nature as you walk, requiring no real thought or consideration.

A good pack, loaded and adjusted properly, will be so integrated to your body while walking that you sometimes forget you are wearing it. Now, nothing will make a weighted load in a pack disappear, but it will help keep that load from becoming an agonizing exercise in torture :)
Re backpacks as carry on luggage, I think European airlines, especially budget operators, are much stricter about size limits (Ryanair used to come along the queue with a cardboard box. If your luggage didn't fit, 50 euros more), and forget about walking poles in your carry on - no airline will allow them onboard.

One way to get your backpack fitted is to buy it from a really good outdoor/hiking goods store. The good ones will help select and fit a new backpack for you. They tend to be more expensive because they hire staff who know (and love) what they do. You will pay a bit extra but think of it as added value.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
There have been more frequent mentions of equipment and gear purchases lately as preparation continues for the Caminos opening up again. I thought I would re-post information I had written as a guide about how one goes about making sure that a new backpack purchase is properly sized and fitted.

There is also a bit of a guideline for beginners which details a sequence to use when first putting on a backpack - - adjusting it for wearability and comfort. Then some further information about adjustments to the backpack as you are walking.

If anyone feels a need for additional help, I can also be contacted by private message, and will be happy to help in any way I can.

---------------------------------

Things are sometimes a series of trade offs and compromises.

Cost vs weight seems to be the most obvious trade-off when considering backpacking gear :). For example, IF you are planning to do hundreds of miles a year backpacking or hiking, then the trade off might lean more toward lighter and better manufactured gear.

If one is not going to become a serious backpacking junkie, then the best strategy is to go with gear that may weigh a bit more, but is also less expensive. Because I have, until now, averaged 600 to 900 miles of hiking in high mountain areas from Spring until late Fall, all of my gear is either very light or ultra light.

The one other thing that is personally important to me: All of my backpacks, regardless of make or capacity, must be able to take aboard an aircraft as a carry on. Thus far, I have never had to forgo purchasing or using a backpack because it does not meet carry on restrictions.. . . even my 60 liter Gossamer Gear Mariposa.

I had a past a bad experience of an airline losing all of my gear, having checked my backpack as luggage. This was one day before I was due to start a month long backpacking trip. Now, I always carry on my backpack which is also carrying my gear.

That's my preference because most of the gear I have is ultralight gear that is not easily replaceable at a lot of sports stores. Please note too, that a lot of others prefer to check their packs and have yet to experience any issues at all.

I mention all of the above as a consideration to keep in mind when selecting a backpack. Is it important to have a carry on sized pack? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't?

As you become used to packing and unpacking your pack, all of those strange straps will become familiar, and their use will become second nature. And that is an important focus with a new backpack: frequently practice packing and adjusting your pack. This backpack is your 'house' while you are on Camino. It will contain your closet, your bedroom, your kitchen, your storage pantry, and the bathroom. Get to know the layout of your new house well enough that you can negotiate its floor-plan, and its rooms, with ease.

Backpacks have a lot of straps. Some makes and models have more than others. Most manufacturers will make sure that each strap is far longer than what you will probably need.

New backpacks worn by inexperienced novices are sometimes fun to observe, especially on a breezy day. As they walk by, you see large numbers of long, strap-ends furiously slapping and flapping around in the wind. You can almost pretend that the outside of the backpack has a crowd of small puppies attached, their tails all furiously wagging and whipping around helter-skelter.

Keep in mind that once you know just how much strap you need for your various adjustments, it is OK to cut them to a more appropriate length. It's a normal thing for experienced backpackers to do. It gets rid of annoying dangley and flappy bits, which can become as annoying as stalker mosquitoes. Just remember to use a lighter to lightly melt and fuse the freshly cut ends, so that the strap doesn't go all unravely on you. ;)

Correct Sizing of a Backpack

The size of the pack is determined by the length of your spine, not by how much the pack can carry.

Measuring for a correct fit involves determining your spine's proper length. That measurement is done by using a tape measure and measuring from the protruding 'knob' on the back of your neck which is at the base of the cervical spine, to the place on your spine that is even with the top of the crest of your hips.
  1. Tilt your head forward and feel for the bony bump where the slope of your shoulders meets your neck. This is your 7th cervical (or C7) vertebra—and the top of your torso length.
  2. On each side of your body, slide your hands down the rib cage to the top of your hip bones (aka the iliac crest). With index fingers pointing forward and thumbs pointing backward, draw an imaginary line between your thumbs. This spot on your lumbar is the bottom of your torso measurement.
  3. Stand up straight and measure - or have your friend measure - the distance between the C7 and the imaginary line between your thumbs. That’s your torso length.
View attachment 100639
(The above picture courtesy of REI)


60881



Once you have that measurement in inches or centimeters, you can then look at the backpack manufacturer's sizing guide. This guide will be used to match your spine length, to their stated size range.

Sometimes, a manufacturer's sizes are expressed as Small to Extra Large. Sometimes that size scale will combine the sizes like: S/M, M/L, L/XL. When the sizes are combined, it usually means that there is a good amount of adjustability to the frame of the pack to customize the fit. That will usually be in the shoulder harness and the hipbelt so that a fine tuned fit can be achieved.

Here is a good video which will help with fitting. Ignore the reference to the manufacturer as the method is pretty universal.


Fitting The Shoulder Harness

First, let me mention that there are differences in the shapes of shoulder straps. The standard shoulder strap shape has been what some manufacturers describe as a "J" shape. This shape tends to fit the chest shape of the male better than the female due to the lesser fullness of the chest. However, even with some men who have bigger chests, the J strap shape can be uncomfortable.

A few manufacturers, ULA and Six Moons Design are the most notable, have developed what is called an "S" shaped strap. This shape has solved many of the fit issues for women, allowing for the straps to properly sit on the shoulders without the uncomfortable compression and chafing due to breasts of larger chests. Here is a link which shows the difference between the two strap shapes:


The shoulder harness should wrap around over your shoulders and sit slightly below the top of the shoulder. The shoulder straps should sit comfortably toward the middle of the shoulder girdle, although that may vary a bit. It should not feel like they are going to slip off your shoulders or sit tight against the base of your neck.

The sternum strap should NOT be required to keep the shoulder straps in place. The sternum strap does connect the shoulder straps, but it is designed to help control where the straps sit on the shoulders with excess pack movement; it is not meant to overcome a poor fit and placement of the shoulder straps.

After fastening the sternum strap in place, pull the adjustment strap until you feel a bit of tension.

The sternum strap on a good pack can adjust up and down on the shoulder straps. The usual placement is somewhere just below the collar bone, but body types and builds will cause a variation of where the sternum strap placement feels best.

Hip Belt Adjustments

For the hip belt, the pad of the belt should sort of 'cradle' the crest of the hip bone: the top of the pad should be slightly above the top of the crest while the bottom of the pad should be slightly below the top. Again, the belt, when it is snugged down, should cradle. The belt should not entirely sit above your hips so that the pad compresses your waist, nor should the entire pad sit below the crest of your hips totally squeezing the hip bones.

There is a lot of misinformation about how a pack's load is distributed between shoulders and hips. It is NOT true that the waist/hip belt carries the entire load of the pack. It definitely CAN do that, but doing so is undesirable.

There are reasons which make it necessary to keep the shoulder harness unweighted with the full load weight on the hipbelt. These include damage or injury to the shoulder girdle. There are folks who prefer a total load on the hipbelt even though their shoulder girdle is healthy, but it is a practice which has potential complications associated with it. Even so, it is up to an individual to decide.

If the Hip/waist belt carries the entire weight of the pack
  1. it means the shoulder harness is unweighted and there can be significant pack movement which, during difficult walking terrain, can create problems with your center of gravity. I have seen people lose their balance and fall as a result.
  2. It also can result in your core muscles being overworked, stressed and fatigued trying to compensate from that extra movement.
  3. All of that weight on the pelvis can create significant compression forces by requiring the hipbelt to be over-tightened in order to prevent it from slipping down. This can cause numbness and pain as blood flow and nerve compression is experienced.
  4. All of the weight on the hipbelt will also place additional strain to the hip sockets and knees.
The load ratio will be about 5 to 15 percent for the shoulders and 85 to 95 percent on the hips. This will allow for the proper engagement of your core muscles to help carry the backpack.

Steps To Adjusting a Backpack Before Walking

I'll add a link to a video (ignore the manufacturer) that shows the best steps to follow when putting on a pack and adjusting it. The basic steps are these:
  1. Loosen all of the straps on the shoulder harness and hip belt.
  2. Put on the pack and very slightly tighten the shoulder straps so that the hip belt is slightly below the hips.
  3. Shrug your shoulders up, and then fasten the waist belt as you are getting it roughly into position.
  4. Slightly tighten the shoulder straps to assist with the hip belt adjustment.
  5. Position the hip belt padding to let the padding sit half above and half below the crest of the hips. The padding of the belt should never sit entirely above the hips. The padding should sort of wrap itself over the top of the hip bone and hug the hips.
  6. Tighten the belt just enough to keep it in position. At this point, nearly 100% of the packs weight is resting on the hips.
  7. Snug the shoulder straps to take up 5 to 15 percent of the packs weight. You will feel just a slight unloading of the weight off the hips.
  8. At the top of the shoulder straps and toward the pack, are smaller straps called 'load lifters'. Grasp them and pull to your front. You will feel the weight of the pack lift up slightly and pull more snugly toward your back. This helps with center of gravity and balance. You can experiment with how snug or how loose you want to pull on the straps. A properly adjusted load lifter strap will form a sort of 45 degree angle when viewed from the side.
  9. On some waist/hip belts there can be a small strap connected to each side of the belt. Again, pulling forward on those straps will bring the bottom of the pack closer to your back, helping with balance as you are walking.


It is important to remember that after you make the first pack adjustment before starting to walk, that you will frequently be changing those adjustments while walking: tightening, loosening, pulling, having the pack higher or lower....

Pack adjustments are a dynamic thing, not a static thing. As you walk, how the pack feels, pressure points, center of gravity, etc WILL change. This is why it is important to become so familiar with your pack that making adjustments becomes second nature as you walk, requiring no real thought or consideration.

A good pack, loaded and adjusted properly, will be so integrated to your body while walking that you sometimes forget you are wearing it. Now, nothing will make a weighted load in a pack disappear, but it will help keep that load from becoming an agonizing exercise in torture :)
You are an angel to share all this. While I have done two Caminos, I am not sold that my pack is a correct fit. This will help me check all the details.
 

davebugg

A Pilgrimage is time I spend praying with my feet
Year of past OR future Camino
2019
Re backpacks as carry on luggage, I think European airlines, especially budget operators, are much stricter about size limits (Ryanair used to come along the queue with a cardboard box. If your luggage didn't fit, 50 euros more), and forget about walking poles in your carry on - no airline will allow them onboard.

One way to get your backpack fitted is to buy it from a really good outdoor/hiking goods store. The good ones will help select and fit a new backpack for you. They tend to be more expensive because they hire staff who know (and love) what they do. You will pay a bit extra but think of it as added value.

I have never had a problem with Ryanair, Easyjet, Lufthansa, Icelandair, Iberia, Condor, or Air France. Same with my trekking poles. Well, except out of the Santiago airport. It is like a trekking pole black hole there; no trekking pole escapes scrutiny and interdiction if they are brought through security. :)

Outdoor stores are hit and miss. Some are really good, some not so much. I have had to work with numerous individuals over the years to solve the incorrect fits on many backpacks sourced from both large and small outdoor shops. Holding small training sessions for various store's staff, it is eye opening at how frequently well-intended, yet incorrect fitting is done.
 
Learn how to Get "Camino Ready " 2nd Edition. In English, Spanish, German and Korean
Camino Masks
12 different designs, shipped world wide from Santiago.
Year of past OR future Camino
‘2004’, '2009', '2018 C. Frances (SJPD-SDC)
'2018' C. via de la Plata (Merida)
'2019' C. Portugues
Thanks Dave for this detailed and clearly written post. My beloved Arn pack which has faithfully served me through my previous caminos may need to retire soon so I’ll be looking for a new pack. I’ve bookmarked this post and it will certainly help with my new pack selection and adjustments. Thanks again and I’m looking forward to the Levante with my “new house”.
Thanks Dave always helpful advice. @cindyjo I love my Aarn packs as well, (I have 3... from day pack and up)
 

Lurch

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
looking at 2018-2019
At 6-7, my problem was to find a pack which didn't have a waistband around my midriff. Bought a Bergens of Norway 48 liter pack and it worked well my last Camino. The length is adjustable, but anyone under 6' would be better served with a different pack.
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances 2017
Planning for 2021
Yep I have a great deal of nostalgia for externally framed rucksacks as the distance between hipbelt and shoulder straps was so easy to adjust perfectly. With carbon fibre being as available as it is, now may be time for a comeback🙏.
 

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