Tips to Properly Wear/Adjust a Hiking Backpack – EXPERT ADVICE

Adjust a Hiking Backpack

In the beginning, the pain was in your shoulders but has gradually moved down to your lower back. As you grasp for any strap that you can reach, you pull it down. It may help for a few minutes, or even for an hour, but after that, the pain returns with a vengeance. 

Paying attention to how you wear a backpack can help you prevent back and shoulder pain. In contrast, wearing a backpack incorrectly can increase the pressure on the neck, shoulders, and back. It’s never too late to start developing good backpacking habits if you’re experiencing backpacking injuries or you just want to start backpacking.

Fitting and adjusting your hiking backpack correctly is not only crucial for a comfortable hike, but also for your health and safety. How you carry your pack determines how much strain you feel and how much weight it distributes on your body.

In this guide, I’m going to help you with how to pack and wear a hiking backpack without Hurting. I will divide this guide into two parts. The first and most important consideration is selecting the correct size pack for your body and the second is making the correct adjustment.

Let me discuss how to choose the right hiking backpack and how to properly wear it:

Choose a Perfect Pack for Hiking

1. Get the Right Size Pack for Your Body

So step one, and the most important step is choosing the correct size pack. The right size before you play with the straps. Because one size doesn’t fit everybody. You should always go to a specialty retailer when you want to buy a pack. The staff measures your body and recommends the right pack for you using well-trained techniques.

Surprisingly the backpack size is not based on your height but rather the length of your back, specifically your torso length. Once you have a backpack that is the right torso size, you can then adjust it to your body further with the straps.

However, if you’re shopping online, it’s important you get your torso measured correctly. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to properly measure your torso. 

2. Right Torso Length

When selecting a best-fit hiking backpack, focus on your torso length, not your height.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how you can measure your torso length.

  • To measure your torso length, get a friend and tape measure.
  • Stand up straight and tilt your head forward.
  • Place your hands on the top of your hip bones with your thumbs pointing backward.
  • Measure from the bony knob (vertebra) where the slope of your shoulders meets your neck to the imaginary lines across the small of your back between your thumbs.

Measure from your iliac crest to the C7 vertebrae. The iliac crest is the very top of your hip bone, and the C7 vertebrae are the base of your neck. Most packs have a rail or Velcro and loop system to make it easy to lengthen or shorten the pack on the frame.

Below are general sizes that you can according to your torso length.

  • 18–21 inches is Medium
  • 20–23 inches is Large
  • 15–17 inches is an XS
  • 16–19 inches is a Small size

It will give you an idea of what size pack to get based on your torso length in inches. Packs usually come in small, medium, or large sizes based on your torso length.

Credit: Outdoorguru

3. Check Shoulder Strap Padding

Get a backpack with proper padding in the shoulder straps. Shoulder straps play the most important role in easy and comfortable backpacking. The shoulder strap should be adjustable according to your torso length.

4. Check the Hip Belt Padding and Width

When selecting a hiking backpack, it is important to check the hip belt with enough padding and a proper width. It will help to maintain your posture comfortably.

Read also: Does Carrying a Heavy Backpack Make You Shorter?

5. Should have Load Lifters

A backpack with proper load lifter straps. This is essential in maintaining your body posture while hiking.

Tips to Properly Adjust & Wear a Hiking Backpack

Here is a step-by-step guide on correctly wearing a hiking backpack that helps you avoid any injuries and carry it for longer hours. After choosing the perfect hiking backpack for your body type, you need to learn how to adjust everything around the backpack to fit properly.

First Step: Fill out the Backpack

To create a realistic pack feel, you’ll need some weight to complete the adjustment. To simulate a typical trip, add around 10-15 kilograms (or your usual pack weight if lower).

A common misconception among hikers is that most of the weight should rest on your shoulder straps, which can lead to pain shortly after starting a hike. It is recommended to carry 80 percent of your weight on your hips and 20 percent on your shoulders. Using this principle will enhance your hiking experience!

The packing can be divided into three zones, plus peripheral storage:

  • Bottom zone: Good for bulky gear and items not needed until camp.
  • Core zone: Good for your denser, heavier items
  • Top zone: Good for bulkier essentials you might need on the trail
  • Accessory pockets: Good for essentials you’ll need urgently or often
  • Tool loops and lash-on points: Good for oversized or overly long items

These tips are primarily for adventure backpacks used for hiking, camping, and other outdoor backpacking adventure bags only. Your everyday carry work or school bag may not have a lot of these features. 

Learn: How to Pack a Backpack

Step Two: Tighten Your Hip/Waist Belt

After filling up your adventure backpack properly, you need to put it on and adjust the straps to make it fit perfectly. The goal is to adjust your straps so that the majority of your weight rests on your hips because your legs have some of the strongest muscles in your body.

There are several straps on your new backpack so you can adjust the load for maximum comfort. You should begin with the hip straps wrapping around your hips about two or three inches in front of your iliac crest. The hips are where most of your power is concentrated and where your center of gravity is located. Use this to your advantage.

  • Adjust the position of the waist belt by buckle
  • Starting with positioning the middle of the hip straps directly on top of your iliac crest(hip bone)
  • Give them a good strong tug, and make sure they’re tight

Note: Hip belts should not sit directly on top of the hip bones – doing so puts pressure on your diaphragm, which restricts your breathing, and the pack will also sit at an abnormal height.

Step Three: Adjust and Tighten Your Shoulder Straps

Shoulder Straps have a very important role while lifting heavy backpacks and can help you avoid a lot of shoulder and back pain. Pull the straps forward away from your body and then down toward your hips to get a natural fit. Be careful not to overtighten here, as the straps can dig into your shoulders.

The shoulder straps should hug your shoulders from front to back without allowing any gaps between the straps and your back when properly fitted. If you move the hip belt too far away from its correct position, all the weight will be on your shoulders instead of your hips. 

Important! If there is too much space between your shoulders and the shoulder straps, or if the anchor point of the shoulder straps is too high or low even though the hip belt is in the right position, the backpack may be the wrong size or the torso length needs to be adjusted.

Ideally, you should still have most of your weight on your waist belt to avoid straining your neck and back. You should put 80% of your weight on your hips.

Step Four: Adjust the Load Lifters

Adjust the load-lifter straps to bring the upper part of your backpack closer to your back. You should pull down the tab of the load lifters until the straps form a 45-degree angle. If you overtighten, you will notice the top of the shoulder straps pulling away from your body.

Important Note: Make sure the load lifters are not too tight. If you feel that the shoulder straps are pinching your armpits or shoulders, you probably overtightened them.

Step Five: Adjust the Sternum Strap

Using the sternum strap, adjust the strap so that it rests one inch below the collarbone. Once the strap is in place, buckle it and tightly pull the loose end until you feel a snap.

You’ll be able to move your arms freely, and the shoulder straps won’t slip out of place while reducing the stress on your shoulders.

Important Note: Sternum straps shouldn’t be too tight! If your sternum strap is too tight, you’ll notice that your shoulder straps begin to lift off your chest. If your sternum strap is too tight, you may not be able to breathe.

Step Six: Make Proper Hiking Posture

The best way to carry a backpack is to lean forward just a little, bending at the hips. This is how you’ll normally carry a backpack. It’s your body’s way to maintain balance by positioning the load over your own center of gravity. Straightening up rigidly would uncover the bottom of the pack pressing too much against the lower back’s lumbar region.

Ready to Go?

Once everything is fitted properly, start moving. You may have to make a few adjustments here and there to stay comfortable, but the key is comfort. When you move, most of the weight should rest on your hips.

When you remove the shoulder straps and the sternum strap, the waist belt will hold up your backpack. The quadriceps and other leg muscles can withstand the weight of the backpack much longer than the back and shoulders can.

The most common mistake beginners make when lifting a pack is to lift it with one shoulder strap. This can damage your shoulder harness and make it harder for you to control your pack on your back when trying to wrestle it.

Readjust Your Pack (If)

If the straps have been adjusted, it is important to do this each time the backpack is put on. For instance, if you loosened the straps when removing your backpack from the backcountry and reattaching it, you will have to adjust them in this order. It is also important to adjust the pack again if the weight is decreased or increased.

Safety Tips for Hiking Backpacks:

  • If you are not used to carrying a heavier pack, it is wise to gradually decrease the load weight or train your muscles before a backpacking trip.
  • The weight of the backpack shifts your center of gravity backward, so leaning forward slightly can help you stay balanced during the trek. Leaning backward too much may cause back strain and the backpack’s weight will fall on your back.
  • When wearing a backpack, shrug your shoulders while tightening the waist belt so it reaches your hips. Once you release your shoulders, the backpack should fall onto your hips.
  • Always remember to pack larger heavier items near your spine. This will make your trip more comfortable.
  • When you’re on the trail and you take a break, take the backpack off.
  • Give your muscles a break and stretch out. Put lighter items on top of heavy ones if you need to.
  • If you feel your shoulders are getting too tired, shift more weight onto your waist belt (tighten slightly) and loosen your shoulder straps.
  • The shoulder straps should be wide, padded, and adjustable.
  • Never wear a hiking backpack on one shoulder because only one strap can cause a ton of problems with body posture, muscle pain, as well as back pain.
  • Never wear the backpack too low or too high on the back.
  • Consult your doctor if you suffer from arthritis before hiking. The pressure and load from climbing up a slope can aggravate the condition.
  • Finally, do not forget to stretch before going on a hike. Well-prepared exercises will bring you better outcomes.

Final Thoughts

In this guide, we are focusing on outdoor adventure packs, where you’ll be carrying 35 lbs of gear for days at a time. This guide is less applicable to EDC bags since these do not have adjustability or are only available in one size. The main advice is to Get the Right Size Pack for Your Body with enough padding and tighten all the straps properly. Furthermore, follow the safety tips for a hiking backpack.

Read more: Can Carrying a Heavy Backpack Cause Headaches – [Solutions]


Can I use a Regular Backpack for Hiking?

You can use a regular backpack for hiking, but it may not be as comfortable or have all the features that you need. Hiking backpacks are designed to be comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and often have features like a hip belt and a frame to help distribute the weight evenly.

Why does my Backpack Hurt my Hips while Backpacking?

Your backpack may hurt your hips if it is too heavy or if you are carrying it in an incorrect way. Try to distribute the weight of the backpack evenly and carry it so that it rests in the middle of your back.

Why does my Hiking Backpack Hurt my Shoulders?

If your muscles are aching, especially the muscles in the center of your shoulder blades, tighten your sternum strap. Your load is likely riding too far out from your body and torquing your shoulders back.

How do I keep my Posture while Wearing a Backpack?

Try to keep your shoulders back and your chest up. Additionally, tighten the straps on your backpack so that it is close to your body.

How to Wear Your Backpack for Back Pain Prevention?

Wearing your backpack with the straps over both shoulders can help distribute the weight evenly and prevent the backpack from pulling you forward and causing back pain. Additionally, be sure to adjust the straps of your backpack so that it fits snugly against your body and does not sag down your back.

What if a Backpack Doesn’t Feel Comfortable?

If a hiking backpack does not feel comfortable, try adjusting the straps. The straps should be tight enough so that the backpack does not move around, but not so tight that it is uncomfortable. Also, make sure that the backpack is not too heavy. A heavy backpack will make it more difficult to hike and can cause back pain.

How can I make my Hiking Backpack more Comfortable?

Make sure your shoulder straps are more comfortable. try using a padded shoulder strap or a strap with a built-in cushion to help distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly. Synch down the shoulder straps by pulling down and back until they’re snug. Connect the sternum strap and slowly synch it down to a comfortable position.

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