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Luggage Transfer Correos

The Shoulder Harness System: the first essential component for a good backpack

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davebugg

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Frances (2018)
Camino Ingles (2019)
One of the most common, essential, and functional pieces of gear for pilgrims on Camino are backpacks. Most Forum members have read untold numbers of threads and posts about favorite makes and models and sizes of backpacks, along with their pros vs. cons. For this thread’s backpack-related topic, I wanted to take a bit of a different tack. I promise that I won’t discuss any specific recommendations, likes or dislikes. . . or even whether the color red is too vivid for a backpack. :)

It occurred to me that when someone is wanting to know what look for when purchasing a backpack, it might be helpful to look at just one part of the whole, and to discuss and describe how that one part needs to fit and to function properly.

So for this Thread, I decided to focus on the backpack's shoulder harness system.

What is the shoulder harness?

Simply put, the shoulder harness is the system of straps, pads, and hardware that is attached to backpack’s bag. It is what allows the user to put on and to wear the backpack.

What Does a Shoulder Harness Do?

A well-designed shoulder harness will effectively and evenly carry, distribute, and balance the weight of the pack’s load to the wearer. “Wait, hold on a second”, you may be thinking, “Isn’t it the hipbelt which carries the load”?

Well, yes and no. A predominant myth exists which states that a hipbelt should carry the total weight of the pack. The reality is different. For the best performance and long-term comfort, the shoulder harness should carry between 5 to 10% of the weight, and the hipbelt will have 90 to 95%.

In order to have the best balance and control while carrying a backpack, it requires that the backpack be drawn close to the body. To accomplish this, there needs to be a slight loading onto the shoulder straps. A good shoulder harness system is designed to do this in the most comfortable method possible. Additionally, a good shoulder harness system works in concert with the hipbelt system, so that the hipbelt functions properly.

A good shoulder harness system will avoid impacts to your body’s ability to function properly. It will help to eliminate compression to the chest which can affect the volume of air-uptake in respiration. It will absolutely minimize or eliminate localized nerve compression which can cause numbness to the arms, and pain to the neck and shoulders. It will also help prevent undue stress to the core muscles caused by imbalances to the body.

Parts and Characteristics of a Well-Designed Shoulder Harness
  • Shoulder straps. The straps should not be too narrow and made of a synthetic material which will not degrade with exposure to sun, sweat, and weather. The material should have a texture to keep it from slipping when adjusted.
  • Padding. The pad on your shoulders should feel comfortable AND supportive. Good pads are made of dual density foams or EVA, or similar. Good pads should have a contoured shape for comfort and to reduce muscle fatigue. The two basic shapes are “J” and “S”.
  • Sternum strap which can be adjusted by height and length.
  • Stabilizer / load-lifting straps.
  • Attachment points to the backpack’s frame and bag that are reinforced, efficient, comfortable, and useful for the load’s weight disbursement.
  • Buckles that allow quick, easy, and intuitive operation for harness and strap adjustments.
Shoulder Strap Pads

The shape of the shoulder strap padding is readily noticeable. The pad's shape will affect the backpack’s comfort and feel while being worn. The shapes you’ll likely see on backpacks are either straight or contoured.

A ‘straight’ shaped pad is, well, straight. It is a singular, shapeless, straight line from the top attachment point on the strap to the bottom point on the strap.

A ‘contoured’ shaped pad is generally one of two basic shapes. These shape chosen will make a difference to the individual in both the overall fit of the shoulder harness, as well as its comfort. Contoured straps can reduce the amount of rubbing between your body and the straps, and reduces pinching to your muscles by shaping around them, instead of going over them
  • “J” shape: The J shape has been the most common shape on both men’s and women’s backpacks for quite a while now. For upper body shapes that are more slender to regular, the J shaped strap pads work very well.
  • "S" shape: The S shape pads are a fairly new innovation. These pads curve inward just above the sternum, then back outward below your arms. This shape works very well for women due to the shape and unique anatomy of their chests (OK, ok, I'm referring to breasts). This pad shape also works well for men who have large and/or muscular chests.
A Backpack Should Have Sternum Straps

A sternum strap helps to evenly distribute the weight of the backpack through the shoulder harness. It helps by preventing sore shoulders. As even long-time backpackers will tell you, carrying a full backpack, even with a hipbelt properly adjusted, is going to put some strain on your shoulders. By using a chest strap, you will be able to ease the pressure on your shoulders, essential when you’re trekking for long distances

The sternum strap also helps maintain the placement of the shoulder straps on your shoulders so that they do not slide off your shoulders. The tighter the sternum strap is, the more weight is displaced. BUT, if a sternum strap is too tight, it can constrain your breathing. It can also cause your neck muscles to become pinched, as well as other areas like the Trapezius muscle.

Ideally, the sternum strap will be adjustable, both in terms of the strap’s length, and allowing for vertical positioning up and down the shoulder straps. This means that you can place the sternum strap at the best height on your chest, around your chest’s unique anatomy. Then when you fasten the sternum strap across your chest, you can properly ‘dial in’ the desired tightness for the best function.

A few different systems are used for the height adjustment. If you are unsure of how to do the adjustments, check with the manufacturer’s website. Oftentimes there will be instructional videos.

When trying out a new backpack, make sure that the sternum strap can be properly adjusted to fit YOU comfortably.

As a rule of thumb, your sternum strap should be roughly an inch below your collar bone. One neat feature that some bags have is the ability to stow away sternum straps when they’re not in use through clips on the shoulder straps that hold them in place or lash points that can hold them down so that they’re not flapping all over the place when not in use.

Many backpacks Have Stabilizer Straps

Some, but not all, good backpacks have a set of adjustable straps connecting the upper portion of the shoulder straps, to an attachment point near the top of the backpack. These are called by two common names: stabilizer straps, or load-lifting straps.

These straps serve a couple of primary purposes.
  • Support for your shoulders. When pulled tight, they pull the pack bag closer toward your back. This tends to take a bit of pressure from the top of the shoulder straps.
  • Balance and stability. Because the pack bag is closer to your body, it further stabilizes the balance of the backpack’s load by keeping it closer to your center of gravity.
While load lifters can be extremely helpful for long hikes or carrying heavier loads, their usefulness is dependent on proper adjustment. Proper adjustment is also important to avoid negative effects that could be caused by improper use of load lifter straps.

Effectiveness requires that the load lifter straps are anchored to the proper locations on the backpack. Usually, that is not an issue with the major backpack manufacturers and the cottage manufacturers. It is the backpacks which are cheaply made in places like China, that load lifters can be worse than useless. They are added to these cheap backpacks as a cosmetic mimic of the high-quality backpacks. The cheap backpacks do this in order to fool consumers as to usability.

Pulling load lifters too tight can put excessive pressure on your shoulders. It can also force the top of the backpack's bag so close to the back of your head, that you have a hard time if you want to tilt your head up to look around or at the sky.

When under proper tension, the stabilizer straps will form an angle of 35-degrees to 50-degrees while looking at the backpack in profile as it is being worn. When the stabilizer straps are very long, they can start swinging all over the place as you move. Lash points that keep the excess straps out of the way are easy ways to prevent them from driving you insane.

Adjustability: How easy are the straps to adjust?

During your treks and hikes, you will make frequent and tiny adjustments to the straps as you are walking; it becomes second nature as you and your backpack develop a relationship. Adjustments are done to alleviate pressure in one area, to get a better feel of the pack, to help center its gravity-induced movements on difficult terrain, etc. You are doing small adjustments because it just feels good to do so.

A well-made harness system should allow for easy adjustments and not give you any problems. Straps should be easy to tension and just as easy to let the straps out and make them a bit longer. The strap’s material is one factor in this, but the hardware and buckles that a backpack manufacturer uses will be the biggest factor in the ease of performing that task.

When choosing a backpack, make sure that it isn’t a struggle to adjust the various straps on the harness and the hipbelt. You will be doing adjustments thousands of times during the life of your backpack and you want that process to be simple, intuitive, and easy. If it isn’t, you will start to loath your backpack.

A backpack is your ‘house’. Inside that house (depending on whether you are walking a Camino or on a wilderness backpacking trip) are your bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, closet, and attic. A great backpack is exceedingly usable (and lovable). However, without a good shoulder harness system, no backpack will meet those goals.
 

falcon269

no commercial interests
Camino(s) past & future
yes
The Aarn system puts all the weight on the hips. You can slide your hand under the shoulder strap at all times. Straps are for balance and occasional weight shift, not for load bearing. I think it is a better system.
 

davebugg

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Frances (2018)
Camino Ingles (2019)
The Aarn system puts all the weight on the hips. You can slide your hand under the shoulder strap at all times. Straps are for balance and occasional weight shift, not for load bearing. I think it is a better system.
I appreciate your concern.

I've reviewed instructions and videos from Aarn on fitting and adjusting their packs, and they do not leave the shoulder straps unloaded. As far as I can tell, what they instruct is very similar to what I've posted. The amount of shoulder strap loading I talked about is extremely small and also allows one to slip a finger underneath.

I should also point out that regardless of the brand of pack, you can allow the hipbelt to take on 100% of the weight so that the shoulder straps have a complete gap above the shoulder.

 
Camino(s) past & future
May 2020
One of the most common, essential, and functional pieces of gear for pilgrims on Camino are backpacks. Most Forum members have read untold numbers of threads and posts about favorite makes and models and sizes of backpacks, along with their pros vs. cons. For this thread’s backpack-related topic, I wanted to take a bit of a different tack. I promise that I won’t discuss any specific recommendations, likes or dislikes. . . or even whether the color red is too vivid for a backpack. :)

It occurred to me that when someone is wanting to know what look for when purchasing a backpack, it might be helpful to look at just one part of the whole, and to discuss and describe how that one part needs to fit and to function properly.

So for this Thread, I decided to focus on the backpack's shoulder harness system.

What is the shoulder harness?

Simply put, the shoulder harness is the system of straps, pads, and hardware that is attached to backpack’s bag. It is what allows the user to put on and to wear the backpack.

What Does a Shoulder Harness Do?

A well-designed shoulder harness will effectively and evenly carry, distribute, and balance the weight of the pack’s load to the wearer. “Wait, hold on a second”, you may be thinking, “Isn’t it the hipbelt which carries the load”?

Well, yes and no. A predominant myth exists which states that a hipbelt should carry the total weight of the pack. The reality is different. For the best performance and long-term comfort, the shoulder harness should carry between 5 to 10% of the weight, and the hipbelt will have 90 to 95%.

In order to have the best balance and control while carrying a backpack, it requires that the backpack be drawn close to the body. To accomplish this, there needs to be a slight loading onto the shoulder straps. A good shoulder harness system is designed to do this in the most comfortable method possible. Additionally, a good shoulder harness system works in concert with the hipbelt system, so that the hipbelt functions properly.

A good shoulder harness system will avoid impacts to your body’s ability to function properly. It will help to eliminate compression to the chest which can affect the volume of air-uptake in respiration. It will absolutely minimize or eliminate localized nerve compression which can cause numbness to the arms, and pain to the neck and shoulders. It will also help prevent undue stress to the core muscles caused by imbalances to the body.

Parts and Characteristics of a Well-Designed Shoulder Harness
  • Shoulder straps. The straps should not be too narrow and made of a synthetic material which will not degrade with exposure to sun, sweat, and weather. The material should have a texture to keep it from slipping when adjusted.
  • Padding. The pad on your shoulders should feel comfortable AND supportive. Good pads are made of dual density foams or EVA, or similar. Good pads should have a contoured shape for comfort and to reduce muscle fatigue. The two basic shapes are “J” and “S”.
  • Sternum strap which can be adjusted by height and length.
  • Stabilizer / load-lifting straps.
  • Attachment points to the backpack’s frame and bag that are reinforced, efficient, comfortable, and useful for the load’s weight disbursement.
  • Buckles that allow quick, easy, and intuitive operation for harness and strap adjustments.
Shoulder Strap Pads

The shape of the shoulder strap padding is readily noticeable. The pad's shape will affect the backpack’s comfort and feel while being worn. The shapes you’ll likely see on backpacks are either straight or contoured.

A ‘straight’ shaped pad is, well, straight. It is a singular, shapeless, straight line from the top attachment point on the strap to the bottom point on the strap.

A ‘contoured’ shaped pad is generally one of two basic shapes. These shape chosen will make a difference to the individual in both the overall fit of the shoulder harness, as well as its comfort. Contoured straps can reduce the amount of rubbing between your body and the straps, and reduces pinching to your muscles by shaping around them, instead of going over them
  • “J” shape: The J shape has been the most common shape on both men’s and women’s backpacks for quite a while now. For upper body shapes that are more slender to regular, the J shaped strap pads work very well.
  • "S" shape: The S shape pads are a fairly new innovation. These pads curve inward just above the sternum, then back outward below your arms. This shape works very well for women due to the shape and unique anatomy of their chests (OK, ok, I'm referring to breasts). This pad shape also works well for men who have large and/or muscular chests.
A Backpack Should Have Sternum Straps

A sternum strap helps to evenly distribute the weight of the backpack through the shoulder harness. It helps by preventing sore shoulders. As even long-time backpackers will tell you, carrying a full backpack, even with a hipbelt properly adjusted, is going to put some strain on your shoulders. By using a chest strap, you will be able to ease the pressure on your shoulders, essential when you’re trekking for long distances

The sternum strap also helps maintain the placement of the shoulder straps on your shoulders so that they do not slide off your shoulders. The tighter the sternum strap is, the more weight is displaced. BUT, if a sternum strap is too tight, it can constrain your breathing. It can also cause your neck muscles to become pinched, as well as other areas like the Trapezius muscle.

Ideally, the sternum strap will be adjustable, both in terms of the strap’s length, and allowing for vertical positioning up and down the shoulder straps. This means that you can place the sternum strap at the best height on your chest, around your chest’s unique anatomy. Then when you fasten the sternum strap across your chest, you can properly ‘dial in’ the desired tightness for the best function.

A few different systems are used for the height adjustment. If you are unsure of how to do the adjustments, check with the manufacturer’s website. Oftentimes there will be instructional videos.

When trying out a new backpack, make sure that the sternum strap can be properly adjusted to fit YOU comfortably.

As a rule of thumb, your sternum strap should be roughly an inch below your collar bone. One neat feature that some bags have is the ability to stow away sternum straps when they’re not in use through clips on the shoulder straps that hold them in place or lash points that can hold them down so that they’re not flapping all over the place when not in use.

Many backpacks Have Stabilizer Straps

Some, but not all, good backpacks have a set of adjustable straps connecting the upper portion of the shoulder straps, to an attachment point near the top of the backpack. These are called by two common names: stabilizer straps, or load-lifting straps.

These straps serve a couple of primary purposes.
  • Support for your shoulders. When pulled tight, they pull the pack bag closer toward your back. This tends to take a bit of pressure from the top of the shoulder straps.
  • Balance and stability. Because the pack bag is closer to your body, it further stabilizes the balance of the backpack’s load by keeping it closer to your center of gravity.
While load lifters can be extremely helpful for long hikes or carrying heavier loads, their usefulness is dependent on proper adjustment. Proper adjustment is also important to avoid negative effects that could be caused by improper use of load lifter straps.

Effectiveness requires that the load lifter straps are anchored to the proper locations on the backpack. Usually, that is not an issue with the major backpack manufacturers and the cottage manufacturers. It is the backpacks which are cheaply made in places like China, that load lifters can be worse than useless. They are added to these cheap backpacks as a cosmetic mimic of the high-quality backpacks. The cheap backpacks do this in order to fool consumers as to usability.

Pulling load lifters too tight can put excessive pressure on your shoulders. It can also force the top of the backpack's bag so close to the back of your head, that you have a hard time if you want to tilt your head up to look around or at the sky.

When under proper tension, the stabilizer straps will form an angle of 35-degrees to 50-degrees while looking at the backpack in profile as it is being worn. When the stabilizer straps are very long, they can start swinging all over the place as you move. Lash points that keep the excess straps out of the way are easy ways to prevent them from driving you insane.

Adjustability: How easy are the straps to adjust?

During your treks and hikes, you will make frequent and tiny adjustments to the straps as you are walking; it becomes second nature as you and your backpack develop a relationship. Adjustments are done to alleviate pressure in one area, to get a better feel of the pack, to help center its gravity-induced movements on difficult terrain, etc. You are doing small adjustments because it just feels good to do so.

A well-made harness system should allow for easy adjustments and not give you any problems. Straps should be easy to tension and just as easy to let the straps out and make them a bit longer. The strap’s material is one factor in this, but the hardware and buckles that a backpack manufacturer uses will be the biggest factor in the ease of performing that task.

When choosing a backpack, make sure that it isn’t a struggle to adjust the various straps on the harness and the hipbelt. You will be doing adjustments thousands of times during the life of your backpack and you want that process to be simple, intuitive, and easy. If it isn’t, you will start to loath your backpack.

A backpack is your ‘house’. Inside that house (depending on whether you are walking a Camino or on a wilderness backpacking trip) are your bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, closet, and attic. A great backpack is exceedingly usable (and lovable). However, without a good shoulder harness system, no backpack will meet those goals.
As I have yet to buy my backpack for next year’s Camino this information is invaluable. Thanks so much.
 

Telboyo

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
I intend to leave the UK the day Before Brexit and walkMarch -April 2019 Camino Frances
Excellent article, I don't think you mentioned height of the wearer. Rucksacs come in different sizes, if you are a taller person it is important to get the longer pack so that all your adjustments are somewhere in the middle of their range. If you get a medium some of the adjustment will be at the end of their range.
 

Dani7

Stop wishing, start doing.
Camino(s) past & future
(2020) Camino Frances
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article David. I am in the process of choosing my « house » and finding the task a bit daunting.
 

davebugg

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Frances (2018)
Camino Ingles (2019)
Excellent article, I don't think you mentioned height of the wearer. Rucksacs come in different sizes, if you are a taller person it is important to get the longer pack so that all your adjustments are somewhere in the middle of their range. If you get a medium some of the adjustment will be at the end of their range.
Thanks for the observation. You are right, I did not talk about backpack sizing; it is a separate topic that is not essential to the information in this thread.

I absolutely agree with you about the necessity of properly fitting a backpack, which is based on an individual's spine length. I have posted guides on how to properly fit a backpack in previous instructional threads. Once the proper sized backpack has been determined, the shoulder harness adjustability will already be factored in by the manufacturer.

The information in this thread focuses on the qualities and functions one should have in a shoulder harness. The information applies whatever the size of the backpack or wearer.
 

davebugg

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Frances (2018)
Camino Ingles (2019)
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article David. I am in the process of choosing my « house » and finding the task a bit daunting.
If I can be of further help, just send me a PM. :)
 

Turga

Camino tortuga
Camino(s) past & future
CF (Aug/Sep 2017)
CF (Aug/Sep 2018)
Great stuff!

Just a couple of (personal) observations about the loadlifters that you may find useful or not:

I adjust the loadlifters regularly when I walk. When walking uphill you have a natural tendency to lean slightly forward, so I loosen the loadlifters a bit to allow a little more freedom of movement. Likewise, when walking downhill, you tend to lean slightly backward, so I tighten the straps a bit to bring the center of gravity closer to the body. When walking on level ground I also loosen the loadlifters sometimes and let the pack “dangle” a little just to allow for better air circulation/cooling on the back.

By the way, check that the loadlifters are attached well to the top of the frame of the backpack. If just stitched to the fabric they are of little use. This is generally not an issue with quality backpacks but better safe than sorry.
 

kelleymac

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
March/April 2015, Late April 2016, Sept/Oct 2017, April 2019.
I am a woman, 5' 3.5", and am slight across the shoulders (14", shoulder to shoulder). I've had a difficult time finding a pack that has shoulder straps that are set narrowly enough on the pack so the straps sit on my shoulders and are not sitting half off, restricting my arms, and placing any strap weight on the outer section of my shoulder. -- The only answer is to try on different packs, and see what fits. Also some youth packs are an option. I am currently using an LL Bean pack -- which fits well, and has a trapeze back, allowing for air circulation.
 
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jmcarp

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances, 2013
Camino del Norte a Chimayó (USA), 2015
Camino Portugues, 2017
Thanks for the observation. You are right, I did not talk about backpack sizing; it is a separate topic that is not essential to the information in this thread.
...
As you say, Dave, the overall backpack size is important -- in fact, if a backpack is improperly sized it will propably be impossible to achieve that 90/95% to 10/15% weight distribution. Some, but not all, Osprey packs have a system which can adjust the overall height adjustment as much as two or three inches (50-75mm) by way of a large, velcro-secured "sliding" panel. Perhaps other manufacturer's have something similar.

Another thing to note is the length of the adjustable portion of the hip belt with the clasp. There should be enough length in the adjustable portion of the hip belt to accommodate changes in one's body to keep the belt tight on your iliac crest. Otherwise, the pack will slide down and put more weight on your shoulders as you shed pounds or kilograms while walking such long distances. Trust me, I speak from experience on this one.
 

davebugg

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Frances (2018)
Camino Ingles (2019)
A couple of posts have expressed concerns about sizing issues not being covered in the Original Post. Let me try to clarify why I did not do so. :)

I wanted to focus on the qualities which a good shoulder harness system needs to have in order to incorporate a good function for the user. These traits of a shoulder harness' design, usability and quality -- on whatever size of backpack is chosen -- are universal. In other words, for this specific topic, size doesn't matter.

I really had no intention of discussing sizing issues, which are about the fit of a backpack. That does not mean that there is a lack of concern or that I have overlooked the fact that without a properly fitted backpack, the shoulder harness' usability can be compromised. It is simply a whole separate topic for a different thread.

I had hoped that by focusing on just this one component of a backpack, that it would be easier for a beginner to understand what to look for in the shoulder harness. That by knowing what qualities to look for while shopping for a pack, s/he can better decide on whether to consider or reject a backpack.

It is sorta like having the topic of 'What goes into a good quality paint job for a car'. The vehicle size, whether a mini-van, mini-cooper, or SUV, is not relevant to the techniques and qualities of paint used to get a great and durable paint finish on the vehicle.

This is where I was coming from in a thread which describes the qualities needed for a good shoulder harness.

Below is a repost of a guideline I wrote which DOES deal with the methods used to correctly size and fit a backpack; plus how to properly put on and adjust a that fitted backpack.

Hopefully, this will address concerns about getting a good fit from a backpack.

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

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.

59589


(The above instruction set and picture courtesy of REI)

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 the 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 contoured 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 10-15 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 :)
 

Walton

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2016 Sjpp to Sdc. 2018 Lisbon to Sdc to Finisterre. Next up hopefully VDP or Del Norte.
I have an Aarn backpack and have completed two Camino's using it. Hate it.

It was supposed to be professionally fitted but after I bought it, the fellow that sold it to me became in a hurry to get his lunch during the supposed professional fitting and well - it's never been shoulder comfortable, let's just say that.

I have had a lot of trouble with the shoulder straps, often preferring to push them down my upper arms.

Now, I'm going to use all of the above information - thanks to you lovely posters, and see if I can readjust the whole thing. Either that, or it's in the community donations bin for someone else and I won't be buying another Aarn or from the retailer that I bought it from.

Thanks again to all the posters - your experiences really shines through!

Cheers
 

davebugg

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Frances (2018)
Camino Ingles (2019)
I have an Aarn backpack and have completed two Camino's using it. Hate it.

It was supposed to be professionally fitted but after I bought it, the fellow that sold it to me became in a hurry to get his lunch during the supposed professional fitting and well - it's never been shoulder comfortable, let's just say that.

I have had a lot of trouble with the shoulder straps, often preferring to push them down my upper arms.

Now, I'm going to use all of the above information - thanks to you lovely posters, and see if I can readjust the whole thing. Either that, or it's in the community donations bin for someone else and I won't be buying another Aarn or from the retailer that I bought it from.

Thanks again to all the posters - your experiences really shines through!

Cheers
Let's talk a bit about a differential diagnosis :) That's just a fancy medical way of saying 'let's rule out the cause of a problem'.

Before taking a potentially lengthy period of time fiddling with adjustments, it is helpful to first double check the actual measured length of your spine, as described above. Having someone assist you will make it easy to do and help with the accuracy of the measurement. Without having the correct size, you will not have success in adjusting the backpack to its most comfortable potential.

Once you know how long your spine is in inches or centimeters, go to Aarn's website and find their sizing guide or chart (here is the link). Note what Aarn recommends for your backpack's size in order to fit with your spine's length. With that information, check your backpack to see if you have the correct size.

  • If the pack is actually the wrong size, then check to see if your model has the ability to adjust its length to match your needs.
  • Sometimes, such an adjustment is made by moving the yoke (which attaches the shoulder harness to the pack's frame or bag) to a spot higher or lower on the attachment point of the backpack.
  • Sometimes it also incorporates re positioning the hipbelt up or down at its attachment point on the backpack.
Once you have either confirmed, or corrected, your backpack's size, then you can fully and successfully adjust the shoulder strap and hipbelt systems for a terrific fit and comfort.

If the backpack size is too big or too small, it is not really possible to effectively adjust the harness and hipbelt for the best and most comfortable fit.
 

falcon269

no commercial interests
Camino(s) past & future
yes
I've reviewed instructions and videos from Aarn on fitting and adjusting their packs, and they do not leave the shoulder straps unloaded.
The balance pockets have a rigid aluminum bar that mounts on the waist belt, transferring the weight of the pockets to the belt instead of the shoulder strap. Straps can be adjusted to put some load on the shoulders, but I do it only to shift around for variety. Pulling the load closer to the body, or letting it sag helps on going up and down hills. But in the end, the shoulder straps are just to make the backpack and balance pockets ride comfortably as they balance each other. The Aarn packs are just another backpack if used without the balance pockets!!!;)
 

jmcarp

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances, 2013
Camino del Norte a Chimayó (USA), 2015
Camino Portugues, 2017
Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Dave. You're a valuable resource for this forum. Now, how about a discussion about the effects of scoliosis and how to properly adjust the straps for someone like me who has a bit of this spinal curvature, which results in one shoulder being slightly lower than the other. If you look closely at my avatar photo, you'll see what I mean.
 

alhartman

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2005 2007 Frances
2016 Leon to Santiago
Great article and wisdom!!

But I question how much really applies to the light loads we should have on a Camino; there is an implication that a modern suspension system is needed. I used an early Golite with no suspension whatsoever and was perfectly comfortable for 33 days. I even added an injured companions gear to it for two days (not comfortable at all for a 15kg load!!) Golite weighed 500 g (maybe less, I no longer have the numbers) and my total weight carried was 8 kilos.

I love my Aarn for comfort and adjust-ability, but at 2kg+ with its front pouches, I find it overkill for Camino style walking even though I have used it (Vezelay-SdC). Great for 3+ day treks in the Cascades where there is added weight for food, fuel, tent, etc.

Your fitting and adjustment tips apply even to a suspensionless Golite--waistband, straps, load levelers all need proper fitting, but I would argue that super-suspensions are not needed for Camino loads. One can choose a lighter pack with fewer features. Of course, still try with loads that match Camino weights.

I shared the double room in Azofra once with an American who was traveling very light and using the 18th century long blanket roll across the shoulder-- like Voyageur days. With no bags it was easy for me to see he only had a poncho, sleeping bag, one change of clothes, one extra pair of shoes, and a toothbrush. I was never clear on how he repacked the kit for those rainy days. But with under 5kg, he was comfortable with no suspension whatsoever.
 

davebugg

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Frances (2018)
Camino Ingles (2019)
Great article and wisdom!!

But I question how much really applies to the light loads we should have on a Camino; there is an implication that a modern suspension system is needed. I used an early Golite with no suspension whatsoever and was perfectly comfortable for 33 days. I even added an injured companions gear to it for two days (not comfortable at all for a 15kg load!!) Golite weighed 500 g (maybe less, I no longer have the numbers) and my total weight carried was 8 kilos.

I love my Aarn for comfort and adjust-ability, but at 2kg+ with its front pouches, I find it overkill for Camino style walking even though I have used it (Vezelay-SdC). Great for 3+ day treks in the Cascades where there is added weight for food, fuel, tent, etc.

Your fitting and adjustment tips apply even to a suspensionless Golite--waistband, straps, load levelers all need proper fitting, but I would argue that super-suspensions are not needed for Camino loads. One can choose a lighter pack with fewer features. Of course, still try with loads that match Camino weights.

I shared the double room in Azofra once with an American who was traveling very light and using the 18th century long blanket roll across the shoulder-- like Voyageur days. With no bags it was easy for me to see he only had a poncho, sleeping bag, one change of clothes, one extra pair of shoes, and a toothbrush. I was never clear on how he repacked the kit for those rainy days. But with under 5kg, he was comfortable with no suspension whatsoever.
:) You make a good observation. Before I add my two cents, I'll gently point out that the thread topic wasn't about the NEED for a suspension system, but what qualities to look for in a shoulder harness system IF one is considering a backpack purchase that incorporated that component.

Your point is valid. In fact, the trend in the backpack market today is to focus on exactly what you have stated about backpack function based on baseload weight and total weight carried. Because of the current state of technologies, and the trend toward very lightweight equipment, gear and clothing, serious backpackers have total load weights that are at least 1/4 of the weight that was carried 15 years ago.

Manufacturers are designing and building backpacks that function with these light loads. They do not incorporate frames or hyper adjustable shoulder harnesses or waist belts. As you have noted, they are not needed at this level, and these backpacks are exceedingly comfortable.

Two of the top rated, backpack cottage manufacturing companies can be used as examples.

Gossamer Gear has backpacks that are designed to carry load weights of from 25 to 50 pounds. These incorporate increasingly beefier suspensions and internal frame systems (The Mariposa, Silverback, and Gorilla).

They then feature at two backpacks that are frameless, that can be used for load weights of at least 25+ pounds (Ranger 35 and Kumo). Then they have several which are designed for loads up to 15 pounds. Given their capacities of 35L+, These backpacks were designed for ultralight backpackers and multiday trips, but are also used as overnight packs and daypacks, too.

In fact, I believe Trecile is using the Ranger on Camino.

ULA has a few frameless options for light and ultralight loads. Their CDT model is rated for just under 20 pounds for comfortable carry, and I have used it on two and three day trips and find it very comfortable.

The problem for Camino walkers, is that very few appear to have much, if any, experience backpacking. As a result they will naturally use gear, rather than knowledge and technique, as the primary agent for 'surviving'. That means a lot of extra unneeded and unnecessary weight.

Without the proper information given to the beginner, and a willingness by the beginner to incorporate that information on achieving lightweight loads, using a backpack like the CDT is not possible without a lot of discomfort to the wearer. They need a more supportive backpack to carry all that extra weight. And the irony is that that more supportive backpack, itself, ALSO adds to that extra weight.

One example has to do with clothing. With the proper knowledge and the confidence of experience, one learns to minimize the weight of needed clothing that must be carried, by using the layering of several very light pieces of clothing which will comfortably cover a wide range of temperatures. Most novices to the world of distance outdoor walking will incorporate two or three times the needed amount of clothing and weight because they lack that knowledge; and their inexperience means that they have no personal confidence in a layering system, only faith that what someone tells them may be true.

And the same holds true with the sheer amount of 'just in case' gear that is packed to cover every imaginable contingency due to fears of the unknown.

This Forum is a valuable service to convey the experience and knowledge of its members, like yourself, to help newbies benefit and move ahead of the learning curve.
 

falcon269

no commercial interests
Camino(s) past & future
yes
GoLite is back! Just 11.5 oz for 30 liter capacity.


If you want more structure, you can get it for 20 oz. and increased capacity to 35 liters.

 

Walton

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2016 Sjpp to Sdc. 2018 Lisbon to Sdc to Finisterre. Next up hopefully VDP or Del Norte.
Thanks Dave and others.

One question - I have read this thread carefully and may have missed this, so apologies in advance if I have.

Should I pack my backpack with the proposed pre-walk weight before adjusting the various straps and adjustments, or is it best to fiddle with the adjustments without the weight?

Putting the backpack on is so exciting. Makes me want to do another Camino ..... immediately! :) Backpack fitting well or not.

Cheers and thanks again.
 

davebugg

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Frances (2018)
Camino Ingles (2019)
Thanks Dave and others.

One question - I have read this thread carefully and may have missed this, so apologies in advance if I have.

Should I pack my backpack with the proposed pre-walk weight before adjusting the various straps and adjustments, or is it best to fiddle with the adjustments without the weight?

Putting the backpack on is so exciting. Makes me want to do another Camino ..... immediately! :) Backpack fitting well or not.

Cheers and thanks again.
Adjustments should be done with a load. :)
 

alhartman

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2005 2007 Frances
2016 Leon to Santiago
@davebugg No intention of hijacking your great thread. All you have said is absolutely correct.
Over the years, I have helped scores of miserable pilgrims adjust their packs--load lifter, waistband, and sternum adjustments seem to be off in that order.

And I would add that re-adjustment along the Camino is important--I wish the sporting good stores would do a better job of 'training'. At least your forum tips help a number of future pilgrims.
 

alhartman

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2005 2007 Frances
2016 Leon to Santiago
@falcon269 That UL35 does look like a GoLite of old!! And under 600 grams. My beloved Attus poncho with old GoLite rainpants weight 665.
 

davebugg

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Frances (2018)
Camino Ingles (2019)
@davebugg No intention of hijacking your great thread. All you have said is absolutely correct.
Over the years, I have helped scores of miserable pilgrims adjust their packs--load lifter, waistband, and sternum adjustments seem to be off in that order.

And I would add that re-adjustment along the Camino is important--I wish the sporting good stores would do a better job of 'training'. At least your forum tips help a number of future pilgrims.
No worries about the thread :)

Having someone with experience properly demonstrate backpack adjustment is something a novice to using a backpack needs. Most beginners will have no notion of how much better a backpack feels under load, when proper adjustments are applied.

Your point about re-adjustments is spot on. In fact, at then end of the day when removing the backpack, all straps should be loosened. It is easier to get the backpack readjusted for wearing the next morning. Plus, unpacking and repacking will shift the load a bit.

And even during the day, I am making frequent micro-adjustments here and there while I'm walking, which slightly shifts the pressure and weight of the backpack; it gets to be an almost automatic response.
 

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