Forty percent of hikers buy a backpack that is the wrong size. Incredible, huh? It’s no wonder that so many hikers suffer from ill-fitting backpacks, especially beginner day hikers and backpackers who get the wrong pack at the start of their hiking careers.
The main reasons hikers buy the wrong size pack are as follows:
- They don’t understand how to measure their torso length (see how to fit a backpack)
- They buy packs that are “on sale” because they think they’re getting a bargain.
- They buy a backpack based on its features, volume, or color instead of fit.
- They believe (or want to believe) that their body is a different size than it really is.
As an American consumer, I can understand why people many of these mistakes when buying a backpack because they’re the same mistakes I’ve made when buying personal apparel. But there is a way to minimize the heartache of buying the wrong backpack if you stick to buying backpacks with adjustable frames that can be easily sized to fit your exact measurements.
I recommend adjustable frame backpacks to all of the new day hikers and backpackers I teach because it’s such a simple way to ensure that they have a good experience with their first backpack.
Backpacks with Adjustable Torso Sizes
There are two kinds of backpacks you can buy – ones with fixed torso lengths and one with adjustable torso lengths. Fixed torso length packs tend to be a little lighter weight than packs with adjustable torso lengths, but they either fit you or they don’t. Backpacks with adjustable frame systems can be sized to fit your exact torso length. They also make it possible for people with two different torso sizes to share the same backpack because they can be re-adjusted for each person.
When you adjust the torso length of an adjustable frame backpack, you’re increasing or descreasing the distance between the shoulder harness from the hip belt, so that most of the weight in the pack is carried by your hips and not your shoulders. If the distance between your shoulder straps and your hip belt is too short, you’ll feel the weight on your shoulders, it will be uncomfortable, and it will quickly fatigue you. If the distance between your shoulder straps and your hip belt is too long, your backpack will pull you backwards and off-balance. Ideally, your shoulder straps should be touching the tops of your shoulders and back to provide better lateral control and load transfer to your hip belt.
Different backpack manufacturers have different adjustable frame systems but they all do the same thing. For example, Granite Gear uses the slots in the plastic framesheet (above) to raise or lower the point where the shoulder straps connect to the backpack’s frame behind your shoulders. Other backpack manufacturers like Osprey (below), use a velcro-based “rip and stick” system that let’s you slide the shoulder straps up or down the backpanel of your pack, but is slightly easier to adjust.
Best Backpacks with Adjustable Frames
Most backpack manufacturers make backpacks that have adjustable frame systems, but the manufacturer with the best selection of adjustable internal frame backpacks based on volume, features, pack weght, and price is by far Osprey Packs. They have at least a dozen men’s and women’s backpack models with adjustable backpack frames including the Kestrel, Kyte, Aura, Atmos, Volt, Viva, Aether, Arial, Xenith, Xena and Talon, including the Ace and the Jib which are sized for kids and very small adults. Deuter, REI, Gregory, and Granite Gear also make excellent backpacks with adjustable internal frames.
Another popular option, especially for kids, scouts, and small adults, is to buy a backpack with an adjustable external frame. Kelty has the best selection available for this style of pack.
Adjustable Frame Backpacks: Pros and Cons
If you are new to day hiking or backpacking, buying an adjustable frame backpack is a safe way to ensure that you get a backpack that fits you and is comfortable. These packs are very reliable, durable, and can carry heavy loads if you need them to. The only downside to adjustable frame backpacks is that they can be a bit on the heavy side (over 3.5 pounds) if you need a higher volume model over 50L in capacity. If you need a backpack bigger than 50L , I’d advise you to find the lightest weight backpack that will fit your body type and size. Some adjustable frame backpacks are unnecessarily heavy (7-8 pounds) and there are lighter weight alternatives available that will likely meet your needs.
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