How Should a Backpack Hip Belt Fit?

How should a backpack hip belt fit
The hip belt of your backpack should cover front of your hip bones as well as the back.

When buying a backpack you want to make sure that the hip belt is long enough so that it transfers most of your pack weight off your shoulders and onto your hips so that you can use the biggest muscles in your body, your legs, to carry most of the weight.

It sounds obvious, but I see many hikers and backpackers who wear hip belts that are far too short to properly cover back and front of their hip bones. If you have a hip belt that is too short and doesn’t cover the front of your hip bones, you won’t experience full load transfer from your shoulders to your hips and it won’t be as comfortable. The pack won’t move with you as well and you’ll probably feel like it’s pulling you backwards a bit because the weight is concentrated on the back of your hip bones, not all the way around.

Unfortunately the hip belt length is non-adjustable. Note how the pockets and padded part of the hip belt are behind the centerline of my profile, and don't wrap all the way around the iliac crest (hip bones).
Osprey Packs Exos 58: Unfortunately the hip belt length is non-adjustable. Note how the pockets (and the padding under them) are behind the centerline of my profile, and don’t wrap all the way around the front of the hip bones.

The Problem with Fixed Length Hip Belts

While many backpack manufacturers sell adjustable backpacks where you can adjust the length of the torso, few make adjustable hip belts that can be shortened or lengthened to fit around your tummy (if you have one) and your hips. All to often, there’s only one hip belt size available for a given torso length and no way to replace the hip belt with one that’s shorter or longer to fit your needs. If the hip belt doesn’t fit, return the backpack and find one that does fit you.

The Granite Gear Lutsen 55L backpack features the adjustable length Refit hipbelt system.
The Granite Gear Lutsen 55L backpack features the adjustable length Refit hip belt system.

Several manufacturers sell packs with replaceable hip belts in multiple sizes including: Granite Gear, ULA, ZPacks.com, and Granite Gear also has a new pack called the Crown2 60 which has an excellent adjustable hip belt system – the best I’ve ever tried. Osprey Packs also has a few backpacks with adjustable hip belts including the Atmos AG (50L, 65L) and the Volt (60L, 75L).

Backpack Hip Belt Construction

Backpack hip belts have three components:

  • padded wings designed to cover your hip bones
  • webbing straps that begin at the end of the padded wings
  • buckle

The padded wings should fit over the bony part of your hips. You can find the bony part of your hips next dropping your arms along your sides, and digging your finger into your side next to the inside crease of your elbow. The hip bone, often referred to as the iliac crest, is a bony ledge, that starts near your spine and runs around your side to the front of your body.

The front end of your hip bones is located below your collar bones and the rear end is located towards the rear of body.
The front end of your hip bones is located below your collar bones and the rear end is located towards the rear of your body.

You can usually find the front of your hip bones, by running a finger down the front of your body, between your collar bone and shoulders (narrower on men, often a bit wider on women). The front edge of your hip bones will be located above the middle of your thighs, approximately 2 inches lower than your belly button.

When fitting a hip belt, you want the padded wings to cover your front hip bones completely. It’s ok if they extend and inch or so beyond the inside edge of your hip bones toward your belly button, but you definitely don’t want the pads touching each other or too close together. That introduces too much slack into the fit and limits the extent to which you tighten or loosen the webbing, as you remove or add clothing layers under the hip belt.

Antomical view of the hip bones. You want the padded wings of the hip belt to fit over the top of the hip bone highlighted in red
Anatomical view of the hip bones. You want the padded wings of the hip belt to fit over the top of the hip bone highlighted in red

Anatomically, the top edge or shelf of your hip bones is about 2 inches higher in the back than in the front, which is why most hip belt pads are at least two inches wide. You can see this is the diagram above, where the iliac crest is highlighted in red.

When adjusting your hip belt, make sure the front hip bones are centered on the hip belt padding, while the top of the rear hip bones are covered with the upper half of the padding. This will give you maximum load transfer to the hips and a proper fit.

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9 comments

  1. HOW MANY MILES WIL I HAVE TO WALK TO EASE THE HIP PAIN i FEEL AFTER ONLY 1000 STEPS?

  2. Is there a recommended allowable minimum distance between the hip belt wings (at the buckle)?

    • No. You just want the pads to cover the front of your hip bones. They don’t have to cover the bones a lot, just a bit. I actually find I get a better carry if the interior edge of the wings are about an inch beyond the hip bones. Make sense?

  3. Philip, Sometimes the bottom of my backpack overlaps my waistband and pushes my pants down. Does this mean that my backpack is too long for my torso? I see in the picture that the pack is riding well above the belt. Is that what I should be looking for?

    Great site!

    • Not necessarily. You shouldn’t judge hip belt-positioning based on your pants, but your hip bones. Get the padded backpack wings to cover your hip bones, not above, not below. My backpack belt also pushes my pants down sometimes. I just pull them up.

  4. Q1. What about the height of the pads. REI suggests covering half above and half below the iliac crest. Right now the top my Osprey hip belt is in line with the top of my hips. To be completely clear can you describe in your typical layman’s terms what this means.

    Q2. Does your fit change with higher pack weight? I’m as low as I can go at 23% body/pack on long training hikes. Finding the bottom of pack digs in after a few hours. Relates to Q1

    Great site. I find tremendous value in the comments section.

    • Q1 Your hips bones and your illiac crest are the same things. Ideally, you want *your* pads to be lower so half is over the top edge and half is below of top of the illiac crest/hip bone. But it’s not the end of the world if they sit on top of your hip bones if you prefer it that way. Tne reason you might want it higher is that bodyfat over your illiac crest makes it hard to keep them over your crest and not on top of it. What is important that the top of your hip belt doesn’t slip below the crest because that means the weight will be carried by your shoulders. You want most of it on your hip bones.

      Q2. It can depending on the frame and your torso length. But 23 pounds is nothing. Try redistributing your load (sleeping bag on bottom) or get a different pack.

      • This was super helpful, thank you! I have a long torso for my height and am having trouble finding a pack that fits. The one I just got to try sits more above my hip bone, which seems an inch or two short according to most guidelines, but honestly it’s pretty comfortable as there is no weight on my shoulders at all. The alternate for me has been to go to a much bigger pack with an adjustable torso length, but I really didn’t want a big pack. I’m only looking for something to carry 15-20 lbs on day trips without hurting the small of my back or neck. I’m going to try this one out for a few days to make certain it’s comfortable, but your explanation about the hip bones made a lot of sense. Appreciate you taking the time. Definitely going to check out your shop!

      • I don’t have a “shop”. But you’re welcome. :-)

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