How to adjust the straps on your camping backpack

Adventure beckons in the great outdoors, and your camping backpack is your steadfast companion. But an uncomfortable pack can turn an exciting journey into a burden. That’s why properly adjusted backpack straps are your secret to a satisfying outdoor experience.

Straps, when correctly adjusted, evenly distribute the load, reduce strain, and prevent injuries. But achieving this perfect fit isn’t always straightforward; it requires understanding the various straps and their functions. Whether you’re a seasoned explorer or a rookie adventurer, mastering the art of adjusting camping backpack straps is an essential skill.

This guide will demystify the world of shoulder straps, sternum straps, hip belts, load lifters, and compression straps. We will provide step-by-step instructions, tips for fine-tuning, and advice on strap maintenance. We’ll also delve into considerations for different body types, clothing layers, gear loads, and activities.

So gear up and let’s embark on this journey together.

Measure Your Torso Length

Embarking on a journey to find the perfect fit for your backpack is an adventure in itself. You’ll need a trusted accomplice and a flexible tape measure as your tools of the trade. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to accurately determine your torso length, a vital element of a well-fitted, waterproof backpack.

Begin by adopting a gentle forward tilt of the head, guiding you to a notable bony prominence where your neck gracefully meets the slope of your shoulders. This point is your 7th cervical vertebra, or the C7, a natural landmark marking the start of your torso length.

Next, allow your hands to glide down each side of your body in a captivating dance, tracing the contours of your ribcage until you reach the high point of your hip bones, also known as the iliac crest. Arrange your index fingers to point forward and your thumbs backward, crafting an imaginary line between your thumbs. This spot on your lower back, much like a secret map, marks the end of your torso length measurement.

Standing tall and proud, like an adventurer facing a new challenge, have your friend measure the distance between the C7 vertebra and the imaginary line drawn between your thumbs. Voila! You’ve just accurately measured your torso length, a crucial step towards a comfortable journey with your well-adjusted, waterproof backpacking companion. Adventure awaits!

Measure Your Hip Size

While the correct backpack size typically ensures an accurate fit for your waist and hips, it’s imperative to confirm your hip measurement. After all, your hips bear the brunt of your pack’s weight, making a well-fitted hip belt absolutely crucial for a comfortable trek.

To measure your hip size, gently encircle the top of your hips with your tape measure, aligning it with the iliac crest you located while determining your torso length. Remember, this line sits a bit higher than your regular belt line, meaning your hip-belt size may vary slightly from your pant-waist size.

We highly recommend cross-verifying your waist/hip measurements with the specifications on for your chosen backpack. If there seems to be a discrepancy, don’t hesitate to reach out to your nearest REI store. They offer interchangeable hipbelt options, ensuring that your backpack is not just a gear, but a tailor-made companion for your outdoor adventures.

Adjusting Torso Length

Many backpacks today come with an innovative feature known as adjustable suspension. This remarkable design allows a backpack to cater to a broad spectrum of torso lengths, ensuring a custom fit for each individual user. While different brands employ different mechanisms, the majority are pretty intuitive to use. If you opt for a pack with adjustable suspension, remember that the first and foremost adjustment to make is the torso length.

However, if you find other fit adjustments are not aligning as they should, it’s a good idea to revisit your torso length setting. Adjustment straps alone cannot rectify an incorrectly configured adjustable suspension system. If you’re encountering difficulties, don’t hesitate to take your pack to an REI store. Their experts are equipped to provide professional assistance, ensuring your backpack fits you like a glove, enhancing your comfort and overall outdoor experience.

Fit Adjustment at Home

Your new backpack is equipped with a host of adjustable straps, all designed to provide you with maximum comfort by optimally distributing your load. Given that your legs house some of the strongest muscles in your body, the primary aim is to adjust the straps so the bulk of the weight settles comfortably on your hips.

Your backpack features four main adjustable straps:

  1. Hipbelt
  2. Shoulder straps
  3. Load-lifter straps
  4. Sternum strap

To simulate a realistic load, begin by filling your pack with approximately 15 pounds of weight. You’ll also need a trusty friend or a mirror to help you verify the fit after each adjustment. Prior to starting, slightly loosen all of the adjustment straps.

The adjustment process unfolds in two key stages:

  1. The Main Event: Adjusting the shoulder straps and the hip belt
  2. The Finale: Fine-tuning the load-lifters and sternum strap

Additionally, seasoned hikers know that fit adjustment is an ongoing process. To alleviate pressure points during your hike, you’ll need to continuously adjust the tension in your straps – think of this as the encore to your initial adjustment performance.

Step 1: Hipbelt

Slip into your backpack. Adjust the hip belt until its padding gently cradles the top of your hip bones, also known as your iliac crest. If it doesn’t sit comfortably, manipulate the shoulder straps to elevate or lower the hipbelt as required.

Secure the hipbelt buckle and tighten it. However, be mindful not to overdo it. The belt should feel snug and secure, hugging your hips without causing any discomfort or pinching.

Double-check the positioning of the hip belt’s padded sections. They should nestle comfortably on top of your hips. If they don’t, revisit the adjustment of your shoulder straps and hip-belt. Play around with different tensions until you discover the perfect balance.

The belt padding should extend slightly beyond the front point of your hipbones. Additionally, ensure there’s at least an inch of clearance on both sides of the center buckle. If the clearance is less, consider reaching out to REI to explore the possibility of a smaller belt size. Remember, the goal is a comfortable, custom fit for optimum hiking pleasure.

Step 2: Shoulder Straps

  • Grasp the ends of the shoulder straps and pull them downwards and backward to secure them.
  • The shoulder straps should hug your shoulders comfortably, without bearing a significant portion of the weight. If they do, it could lead to unnecessary strain on your shoulder, neck, and upper-back muscles.
  • Verify the anchor points of your shoulder straps on the pack. They should be positioned 1 to 2 inches below the top of your shoulders, roughly aligned with the top of your shoulder blades. If they aren’t, it may indicate an incorrect positioning of your hipbelt or an unsuitable torso length for your pack.
  • Experiment with the tension in your shoulder straps by tightening and loosening them. Master the art of making minor adjustments to the straps. This will enable you to alleviate any pressure points or discomfort during your hike, ensuring a seamless outdoor adventure.

Step 3: Load Lifters

Load-lifter straps are crucial components that link the top of the shoulder harness to an anchor point near the top of the backpack’s back panel. When properly tightened, they should create roughly a 45-degree angle, directing back towards the body of the pack.

However, a word of caution – avoid overtightening the load-lifter straps. While high tension might initially feel reassuring, it can actually result in pinching the shoulder joints and introducing discomfort over time. The golden rule is to aim for a snug, yet flexible tension.

If you spot a gap at the top of your shoulder harness, it’s a signal to loosen the load lifters and readjust. The goal is to achieve a balance between support and comfort, enhancing your overall backpacking experience.

Step 4: Sternum Strap

Shift the sternum strap until it rests comfortably across your chest, positioned approximately an inch below your collarbones.

Fasten the sternum strap and adjust its tightness. It should hold the shoulder straps at a width that offers unrestricted arm movement, contributing to a comfortable and efficient hike.

However, remember not to fall into the common trap of overtightening the sternum strap. Doing so can disrupt the overall fit of your harness, constrain your chest muscles, and potentially inhibit your breathing. Striking a balance between support and ease is key to ensuring your backpacking journey is both enjoyable and effortless.

Fit Adjustment on the Trail

Even after logging ten miles, maintaining an optimal fit isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’s a task. Achieving that perfect fit is an ongoing process that demands your attention throughout your journey.

Familiarize yourself with your pack’s adjustments by experimenting with all the straps when you first acquire your backpack. This hands-on understanding will serve you well on the trail.

Memorize your ideal fit at home, so you can always return to your preferred comfort setting, even amidst the wilderness.

Don’t hesitate to tweak your adjustment straps mid-hike to alleviate any emerging aches, discomfort, or pressure points. The process is very much one of trial and error, helping you understand what suits your body and your pack best.

One common strategy to manage load fatigue is to alternate between tightening the shoulder straps and loosening the hip-belt, then flipping the adjustments later on.

Pay attention to your body posture: A slight forward lean can make the load feel more balanced and manageable.

And lastly, whenever you pause for a breather, take the opportunity to remove your pack. This simple action allows your back a well-deserved rest, letting your muscles breathe and recuperate, ready for the next stretch of your adventure.


In conclusion, your backpack is more than a tool – it’s your adventure companion. Perfectly adjusting and maintaining, even repairing when needed, ensures your comfort and prevents strain during your journey. Remember, tuning your backpack is an ongoing process, responding to your body’s needs. So, gear up, fine-tune those straps, and let the outdoor magic unfold!

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