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Adjustable Length Backpacks 101

There are two kinds of backpacks you can buy – ones with fixed length torsos and one with adjustable length torsos. Fixed length packs tend to be a little lighter weight than packs with adjustable lengths, but they either fit you or they don’t. Adjustable length backpacks can be sized to fit your exact torso length and are much better for beginning hikers because you can dial in the exact torso length you need and experiment with different lengths to learn what feels best.

Backpacks with Adjustable Length Torso Sizes

When you adjust the torso length of an adjustable frame backpack, you’re increasing or decreasing the distance between the shoulder harness from the hip belt. The goal is to adjust the torso length 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 backward and off-balance.

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 lets you slide the shoulder straps up or down the back panel of your pack, but is much easier to adjust. The advantage of these rip and stick adjustment system is that you can dial in your exact fit even if it’s between sizes, usually measured in one-inch increments. This can matter a lot.

Osprey Kestrel 28 - Back
Osprey Airscape Adjustable Torso Length Frame

Best Backpacks with Adjustable Torso Lengths

Most backpack manufacturers make backpacks that have adjustable frame systems, but Osprey is by has the best available selection by a long shot the manufacturer with the best selection of adjustable internal frame backpacks based on volume, features, pack weight, and price is by far Osprey Packs. Deuter, REI, Gregory, and Granite Gear also make excellent backpacks with adjustable internal frames but they don’t have the variety that Osprey offers.

If you’re looking for a good multi-day backpack with an adjustable length torso, I recommend the following men’s and women’s models.

Make / ModelWeightPriceWomen's Specific Model
Osprey Atmos AG 504 lbs 3 oz$240Osprey Aura AG 50
Gregory Paragon 583 lbs 8 oz$230Gregory Maven 55
REI Traverse 704 lbs 14 oz$249REI Traverse 65
Deuter Futura Vario 50+104 lbs 9 oz$230Deuter Futura Vario 45+10
Kelty Redwing 503 lbs 11 oz$140Kelty Redwing 40
Granite Gear Blaze 603 lbs$270Granite Gear Blaze 60
Osprey Kestrel 483 lbs 9 oz$180Osprey Kyte 46
Gregory Zulu 553 lbs 9 oz$200Gregory Jade 53
Exped Lightning 602 lbs 9 oz$229Exped Lightning 60
Deuter Aircontact Lite 65+104 lbs 6 oz$220Aircontact Lite 60+10

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 Length Backpacks: Pros and Cons

If you are a new hiker or backpacker, 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 length 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 60L in capacity. If you need a backpack bigger than 60L, I’d advise you to find the lightest weight backpack that will fit your body type and size. Some adjustable length 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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One comment

  1. I purchased a Deuter Air Contact 50+10 pack for winter ski and snowshoe backcountry camping. It can (barely) fit my -20 F. LL Bean 800 fill down bag in the sleeping bag compartment and has plenty of room for other winter clothing like my -30 F. EB PEAK XV camp parka.

    Packed with all my winter gear and Tele skis strapped to the sides it carries comfortably but weighs over 3 pounds LESS than my oldie but goodie Dana Terraplane winter pack.

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