A Comprehensive Guide To Choosing And Fitting The Right Backpack

Group hiking through a mountain trail

A Comprehensive Guide To Choosing And Fitting The Right Backpack

Have you ever found yourself on a backpacking trip and within one hour of leaving the trailhead you are already cursing the heavy load on your back? 

One of the most likely reasons for this discomfort, besides packing way too much, is that your backpack is not fitted properly for your size. 

If you’re a seasoned hiker, you probably know the struggle all too well. And if you’re just taking up hiking or trekking, consider yourself in luck that you can learn from our mistakes. 

A well-fitted backpack not only makes carrying your belongings easier but also ensures that your back is protected from unnecessary strain.

You’ve probably looked online or even in-store, and you’ve become overwhelmed at the range of choices. 

Sure, you can just search for “best backpack on the market” but that doesn’t mean any of those backpacks are going to be right for you. 

While it probably got great reviews, or looked perfect in the store - backpacks are not a 1 size fit’s all accessory. There is a lot to think about, and your backpack needs to be the right fit for YOU. 

That's why I’ve created this comprehensive guide to help you find the best fit for your needs.

We'll walk you through every aspect of selecting and fitting a backpack – from understanding different features to adjusting straps so that everything sits comfortably on your body.

So let's dive in and find you the ideal travel companion!

Deciding What Type Of Backpack You Need

On the journey to finding the perfect backpack, you need to first determine what type you actually need. 

A backpack is more than just something that goes on your back and holds your belonging, there are various types available in the market, each designed for specific purposes or specific activities.

Some of the more common types include daypacks, travel bags, hiking and trekking packs, or specialized sports packs. 

Think about your primary use for the backpack – whether it will be used for weekend getaways, extended trips abroad, outdoor adventures such as camping or hiking, multi-day treks, or even a combination of these.

As a rule of thumb, the average size backpack that is needed for multi-day backcountry trips is between 50-70 litres.

After deciding on your primary use, then take into account any additional features that might come in handy. 

When you’ve figured out your primary use for the backpack, it’s time to start thinking about features.

Finding The Right Features

By identifying whether you'll mainly be using your backpack for hiking, camping, or trekking, you’ll now be able to prioritize what features you need. 

Backpacks designed specifically for hiking, camping, or trekking often have unique features tailored to each activity.

For instance, if your goal is an outdoor adventure such as hiking or trekking, you’re going to need a backpack with a focus on weight distribution and comfort.

A hiking backpack may prioritize lightweight construction and ventilation for comfort on long day hikes. 

On the other hand, a camping or trekking backpack might focus more on providing ample space and organization options to accommodate gear and supplies.

If you're an avid hiker or camper, look for a pack designed specifically for outdoor adventures that have features like hydration compatibility, external attachment points for gear, and adjustable suspension systems.

Also, think about your personal preferences. If you tend to carry multiple gadgets and accessories, opt for a bag with plenty of organization pockets and compartments. 

If you’re an avid photographer, you're going to need to keep your camera safe, so look for a bag with padded compartments specifically designed to protect those kinds of devices.

Weather resistance might be important if you live in or intend on traveling to an area prone to heavy rain or snowfall – in which case water-resistant materials and zippers are must-have features.

For personal preference, some people prefer bags with easy-access front-loading panels instead of top-loading ones for easier packing and unpacking.

Check The Backpack's Capacity And Organizational Features

The right capacity ensures that you can carry all of your necessities comfortably, and well-designed organizational features make it easy to locate specific items without rummaging through the entire bag. 

When looking at different backpacks, consider the following organizational features:

> Multiple compartments: Having separate areas in your bag makes organizing easier and helps distribute weight evenly.

> External pockets: Quick access pockets on the outside of your bag are perfect for storing frequently used items like a water bottle or sunglasses.

> Internal organization: Look for bags with built-in organizers such as zippered mesh pockets or sleeves specifically designed to hold electronics.

> Compression straps: These help keep gear secure and prevent shifting during movement.

Measure Your Torso

Now you’ve identified your primary use, and the features you need, you have a great starting point. 

However, don't let this newfound clarity be short-lived; one of the most important steps is finding the right fit.

A well-fitting backpack ensures comfort and reduces strain on your back and shoulders. 

Really, when you think about it, finding a backpack that fits your body type and size is as crucial as finding the perfect pair of shoes.

If it doesn't fit you well, every step of your journey will feel like an uphill battle against discomfort.

So, to get a better idea of which size will work best for you, follow these steps:

> Locate your C7 vertebra: Tilt your head forward and feel for the bony bump at the base of your neck where it meets your shoulders - that's your C7 vertebra.

> Find your iliac crest: Place both hands on top of your hip bones with fingers wrapped around towards the front and thumbs pointing towards each other along the sides of your spine. The imaginary line connecting them marks the top edge of your iliac crest.

> Measure between points: You will need help with this part. Ask someone to measure from just below the C7 vertebra straight down along the curve of your spine until they reach that imaginary line marking the top edge of your iliac crest.

> Compare measurements with manufacturer sizing: Check out individual manufacturers' sizing charts because specific ranges may vary slightly by brand. 

Remember Rome wasn't built in a day! Just like finding that ideal pair of jeans, discovering a comfortable-fit backpack tailored to your size while feeling snug is absolutely worth all effort put in. 

With a well fitting backpack, you can take on any journey with confidence knowing your trusty travel companion has got your back.

Find A Backpack That Fits Your Body Type And Size

Now that you’ve got a better idea of the size you need, it’s time to search for the perfect fit.

To find the ideal backpack to complement your body, here are the 3 most important things to get right:

> Torso Length: Backpacks come in various sizes based on torso length, so knowing yours will help narrow down options. 

> Hip Belt Size: Your hips bear most of the pack's weight, so having a comfortable hip belt is important. Make sure that it wraps snugly around your waist without pinching or digging into your skin.

> Shoulder Strap Design: Look for shoulder straps with ample padding and adjustability since they'll carry some load too. They should sit comfortably on your shoulders without causing strain or pain.

Keep in mind as well, that there are also lots of backpacks on the market that are gender-specific.

All of this extra effort will pay off by providing you with comfort and ease on countless adventures ahead. 

Remember, it's not just about how good-looking or feature-rich a bag is; what truly matters is its compatibility with YOUR unique shape and needs!

Now, the next step is to go and try some on!

What To Look For When You Try On A Backpack

I know its so easy to order online, but it’s well worth going to a store and trying one on that fits within your own measurements. Then you’ll have a better idea of what feels comfortable to you.

Here are a few important things to check when you try on a backpack:

Hip Belt

Hip belts help transfer some of the pack's weight onto your hips, alleviating pressure from your shoulders – so look for one with good padding and easy-to-adjust buckles.

The waist belt should cover the entirety of your hipbones and feel snug, but not restrictive. It should also stay in place, and not shift up and down on your hips.

Shoulder Straps

Start by looking for padded shoulder straps that will evenly distribute weight across your shoulders. A good option might be straps with an S-shape design since they follow the natural curve of your body better than straight ones.

The shoulder straps need to fit your body properly. When adjusting the shoulder straps, pull the adjustment straps down until the straps feel nice and snug. 

The straps should rest gently on your shoulders little to no space showing between your shoulders and the strap. 

Make sure the shoulder straps don’t touch your neck, as the constant rubbing would be very annoying and would most likely cause skin irritation.

Chest Strap

A backpack with a sternum/chest strap is a great addition if you plan on taking long hikes.

A chest strap provides extra support and takes some pressure off the rest of your body. It also helps keep your shoulder straps in place and the overall load on your back more balanced. 

Don’t worry if the backpack you buy doesn’t have a chest strap, you can purchase them separately and easily install it on the pack.

Take note of each bag's fit around your hips and shoulders; ensure it evenly distributes weight across your torso.

Back Padding

Ensure that there is sufficient padding on the back panel as this helps reduce pressure points and provides ventilation.

Also, a mesh back panel is not a must-have but is definitely a nice-to-have, as it will feel cooler on your back while carrying the pack.

Most importantly, be mindful of how adjustable straps complement your body shape and size. 

The right backpack will feel less like a burdensome load and more like an extension of yourself.

Additional Features & Accessories For Adventure Travel

Here are a few extras are designed to make your travels more convenient, organized, and enjoyable. 

While not all of them may be essential for every trip, they can certainly add value depending on your specific needs and preferences.

> Rain cover: A rain cover is a waterproof shield that encases your backpack during rainy weather or water crossings. It helps keep your belongings dry and protects the material of the bag from getting soaked.

> Travel pouches & packing cubes: To keep your items well-organized within the main compartment of your bag, invest in travel pouches or packing cubes. They allow you to separate clothing by type or activity so you know exactly where everything is when it's time to unpack.

> Hydration reservoirs: For those adventurous treks where access to clean drinking water might be limited, hydration reservoirs come in handy as an integrated system within the backpack itself. Fill them up with water before you hit the road, then sip through a hose while keeping both hands free.

> External attachment points & straps: Having external loops or straps on a backpack makes it easy to attach extra gear like trekking poles, sleeping pads, helmets, or even wet clothes without taking up valuable space inside the main compartment.

The Biggest Mistakes That People Make When Choosing A Backpack

One of the biggest mistakes people make when choosing a backpack is not considering their body type before buying one, and end up making a purchase based on good reviews. 

As a result, they end up with an ill-fitting pack that causes discomfort or even injury during use. 

Another mistake I see a lot is focusing solely on style rather than functionality. While it's perfectly fine to want a bag that looks good, sacrificing practicality can lead to frustration down the line when you realize your stylish new pack doesn't have enough pockets or isn't built for long-term durability.

Remember that form should follow function – first ensure your chosen backpack meets all your needs in terms of capacity, organization features, weight distribution, and comfort; only then should appearance come into play as a deciding factor.

Wrapping Up

Finding the perfect backpack for your adventures may seem like a lot of work, but it's definitely worth the effort.

Remember, it's essential to prioritize comfort and fit before anything else, as you'll be carrying this pack on your back for extended periods of time.

Happy exploring!

About The Author

Trish Sare owner of bikehikeTrish Sare is the owner of BikeHike and a passionate outdoor enthusiast with over 30 years of experience as a world traveler. She's lived, traveled, and guided extensively in North, South and Central America, Europe, Oceania, Africa, and Asia. She has guided and helped to develop every one of our multi-sport holidays. In her spare time, Trish is usually outdoors either mountain biking, hiking, sea kayaking, trail running, or climbing. Trish has a passion for the world and all of the amazing cultures that inhabit it and does her best to immerse herself directly into their distinctive lifestyles.