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.
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.
Several manufacturers sell packs with replaceable hip belts in multiple sizes including Granite Gear, ULA, ZPacks.com, while Granite Gear also has a pack called the Crown3 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)
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
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.
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.
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.