This week, make your pack more comfortable and more efficient with some simple fitting tips.
This week's tip is about adjusting a pack to suit you and in the process, maximising both comfort and efficiency - it's worth taking a bit of time both to make sure your pack is the right size for you in the first place and then tweaking the adjustments to suit your body. And the bigger the pack and heavier the load, the more important it is to get things right.
When fitting a pack, the crucial measurement to bear in mind isn't your overall height but primarily your back length and, possibly, after that, the size and shape of your hips and the width of your shoulders.
There are two basic approaches to pack sizing. One, as used by the likes of Osprey and Gregory, for example, is to produce packs in several different back sizes, sometimes with a fine-tuning back length adjustment as well, sometimes not. The other approach is a one size fits all take with an adjustable length back, which allows you to move the shoulder strap attachment point relative to the hip-belt.
As long as the pack fits you, it doesn't really matter which approach you take. The crucial thing to understand is that the most efficient way to carry weight is to transfer it through the hip-belt rather than the shoulders. A pack that is too tall for you will mean that when the hip-belt is sitting snugly on your hips, the shoulder straps will be too high up. If the pack is too short, the hip-belt will be too far up your waist to transfer the load efficiently.
A good shop will load up a pack so it sits properly and make sure the pack size is right for you.
You may, if you're a woman, also benefit from a women's-specific pack design. Women generally have longer legs and shorter backs for a given height relative to men. They also tend to have wider, more defined hips and narrower shoulders as a rule.
That doesn't mean you must buy a women's pack. If your body shape fits a men's pack, then that's the way to go, but it's worth knowing that there's more to a good women's pack than just a few pink flashes and some flowery graphics.
Once you have a pack that's the right size for you, it's important to take some time to adjust it for optimum fit. What adjustments you can make depends on the specific pack design. You may, for example, have a choice of hip-belt sizes or it may simply come down to tweaking straps and adjusters to suit.
Whatever you do, make sure the pack is loaded up to carrying weight before adjusting it. A load will make the pack sit slightly lower, compress the foam in the hip-belt and so on. Start with fine-tuning length if you have that option. You're looking to transfer the bulk of the weight through the hip-belt, but with the shoulder straps and back system holding the pack stable and comfortable.
Loosen off the straps and then fit the hip-belt so it's sitting comfortably over your hips, that's your basic starting point and where you should adjust back length from. You'll get various advice on what angle the shoulder straps should sit at, but we've always gone by feel and advice from experienced fitters.
Next, you can adjust any other fine-tuning options to suit. Top straps will pull the pack into the shoulder behind your head and improve stability by stopping your pack from flopping back and swaying around on uneven ground.
Chest staps can usually be moved up and down to where they're most comfortable and don't restrict breathing, hip stabiliser straps will pull the lower part of the pack in towards your hip-belt and, again, increase stability.
Finally bear in mind that, other than the back length adjustment, you can and should tweak these minor adjustments as you walk to optimise stability and comfort. You may, on rough terrain, tighten things up to keep the pack as stable as possible, or loosen one adjustment off if you start to get a sore spot.
And finally, if you simply can't ever get your pack to feel comfortable, consider moving on. It may simply be the wrong size, a poor design, or simply not compatible with your body shape.