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How to Add Extra Padding to Backpack Shoulder Straps

How to add padding to backpack shoulder straps

Have you bought a backpack, only to discover that the shoulder straps made your shoulders sore or rub you the wrong way? I’ve certainly owned a few backpacks that needed some extra padding on the shoulder straps.

While you can stuff socks or clothing under your straps for temporary relief or wrap foam pipe insulation around them, I prefer a more permanent and cleaner-looking solution. Here are a few alternative methods that I’ve used to address this issue, from simple hacks to ones that require a little sewing.

Fleece Wrap w/ Safety Pins

Safety pins and some fleece can work as a test
Safety pins and some fleece can work as a test

Take a piece of fleece, wrap it around a shoulder strap, and use safety pins to secure it. You can cut fleece from retired clothing, or buy a piece at Walmart or fabric store. It doesn’t need to be a fancy brand name fleece. You could replace the safety pins with some quick and dirty hand sewing if you find fleece to be a reasonable solution.

Fleece Wrap w/ Sewing Machine

Shoulder straps with fleece padding
Shoulder straps with fleece padding

If you have a backpack with adjustable length shoulder pads that connect it to your pack with a webbing strap and buckle, it’s pretty simple to slide a fleece tube onto your straps.

Measure the distance from the top of the strap to the sternum buckle, which will determine the length that the padding needs to be. Then measure the circumference of the shoulder strap with a flexible measuring tape at its widest point. Add ½” to this measurement for a seam allowance. For example, if you measure around your straps and get 6”, add ½” to this. If you determine that you need them 12” long, then you would cut a rectangle that is 12” by 6 ½”. Fold the fabric lengthwise. Stitch the edges together with a ¼” seam allowance. This will result in a fabric tube. For a clean finish, you can turn the tube inside out so that the unfinished edges don’t show. (Shoulder straps w/ fleece padding picture) Slide your tube onto the strap then re-attach the webbing to the strap buckle.

If you can’t get the strap through the buckle or the bottom of the shoulder strap is sewn onto the pack and won’t come off, you’ll have to sew the fleece while it’s wrapped around the strap. This is can be a little awkward, but it’s not a showstopper.

Spacer Mesh w/ Sewing Machine

Shoulder straps with spacer mesh padding
Shoulder straps with spacer mesh padding

I’ve found that 1/4″ Spacer Mesh (sold at Ripstop by the Roll) is superior to fleece for padding because it maintains its cushion longer over time and picks up less dirt. This material is used by pack manufacturers for breathable, padded areas on backpacks. It comes in 60” width and is sold by the linear foot. I found that 12” was enough for my project.

Over sewing the edges to prevent fraying
Oversewing the edges to prevent fraying

However, you will want to overstitch the edges on the top and bottom of the tube so that the fabric doesn’t fray or stretch out. Fleece does not need this treatment.

About the Author

Wanda Rice has been backpacking since the late 1980’s. She has climbed the New Hampshire 48, the New Hampshire 48 in winter, the New England 67 and is working on the New England Hundred Highest and the Four-Season 48. Wanda also teaches for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Mountain Leadership School, the AMC New Hampshire Chapter Spring and Winter Schools as well as the AMC NH Winter Hiking Series. She leads day and overnight trips for AMC NH year round and loves mentoring new leaders. She is a gear junkie, a self-proclaimed Queen of Gear Hacks and loves sharing her tips and tricks with others. Wanda lives in southern NH and is looking forward to moving closer to the mountains in the next few years.

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10 comments

  1. You can buy sheepskin (faux or real) car seat belt pads that use velcro to attach to your pack straps. I bought my first ones from J.C. Whitney over 30 years ago. Amazon has tons of them.

  2. I’m with you there Dick. You got in before me. They work a treat and no effort needed

  3. My brother and I used GoLite Speed packs in the past. The shoulder belt padding was minimal. He used car seat belt pads for a while and then found some half inch (12 mm) memory foam and cut inserts for both his and my packs. The inserts worked far better than the extra pair of wool socks I crammed into the straps. Those wool socks just made a giant ball… convenient storage but not much help as far as comfort went.

  4. I hadn’t thought of it before, but mail carrier shoulder bag pads might be the ticket (not superlight, these are tough foam and leather). These are wedge shaped with the lateral side thicker than the medial side. I have this pad sold under the Domke (camera bags) label. It makes carrying my one-strap traditional style (not a cross-body strap) shoulder bag much more comfortable for the typical 10 pound load in my and likely would be tolerable for far heavier loads. I don’t know how it would feel with a cross-body sling strap.

    manufacturer’s site: https://tiffen.com/collections/domke-accessories/products/domke-fa-031-u-s-post-office-shoulder-pad

  5. Any suggestions along these lines for beefing up hip belt padding?

    • I’ve already got WAY too much padding there! I could share some if you’d like…

    • I haven’t had a whole lot of luck there. It kind of depends on the hip belt and where the problem is. You could do something like this for the ends. I did that for one of my kids once to take up extra space on the hip belt because it did not adjust small enough for him.

  6. These are great suggestions, thanks!

  7. ZpPacks sells should strap pads, for those who don’t want to make their own: https://zpacks.com/products/pair-of-shoulder-strap-pads

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