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How to Bend Backpack Frame Stays

Frame Stays are lightweight metal rods that can be bent to fit the shape of your back. They're often used by ultralight backpack manufacturers as a lightweight alternative to a heavier backpack frame.
Frame Stays are lightweight metal rods that can be bent to fit the shape of your back. They’re often used by ultralight backpack manufacturers as a lightweight alternative to a heavier backpack frame.

Backpack frame stays are aluminum rods that many ultralight or specialty backpack manufacturers use in their backpacks instead of full frames. They usually slot into pockets that run down the inside of the backpack along your back and slot into the hip belt or lumbar pad to help transfer load to your hips. Backpack companies use them because they’re very lightweight, much less expensive than sewing in a full frame, and easy to assemble when filling orders.

But one of the biggest benefits of a backpack with frame stays is that you can bend them to create a personalized fit to make your pack more comfortable and efficient to carry. Backpack makers such as Hyperlite Mountain Gear, ULA Equipment, Gossamer Gear, Six Moon Designs, and Superior Wilderness Designs (among others) all sell packs with frame stays that you can bend to fit the shape of your back. Some of these manufacturers ship pre-bent frame stays and others don’t. If you buy one of these packs and it doesn’t fit well out of the box, bending the frame stays to fit your body shape may make a world of difference.

If your backpack has two frame stays, you’re going to want to bend them in the same way so they have the same shape. Your bends will be focused on making the area behind the head and in the lumbar area more comfortable. The purpose of the head bend is to give your head more space to lean back so that it doesn’t touch the top of your pack when you move it around. The purpose of a lumbar area bend is to match the curvature of your lower back so that your load is positioned closer to your hips. This can reduce the amount of rear hip belt slippage you experience with heavier loads and result in better load transfer to your hips.

If your pack’s frame stays are pre-curved, take a moment to trace their shape on a big piece of paper or cardboard. If you make a change that doesn’t work out well, you can bend them back into their current shape using this pattern.

Press the stay against your back to identify gaps or pressure points where a bend is needed
Press the stay against your back to identify gaps or pressure points where a bend is needed.

Place the stays against your back, slotting them into a hip belt as shown above, if your pack has a removable one. It’s best to perform the next step with a partner if possible. Press on the stay to see if there’s a gap between it and your back or if it digs into your back uncomfortably. This will probably be a good place to bend it towards or away from your back. You want the stay to follow the contour of your back as closely as possible to bring the load over your core muscles.

When bending the stay, go slow. Make small changes, rather than big ones to see if they improve the backpack fit. The best way to make the bends is over a rounded surface, like your knee. The aluminum rods are usually very soft and malleable, so it doesn’t take much pressure to bend them.

If bending two stays, make the same bend to the second one as the first. Once bent, put the stay(s) back in your pack to assess whether they improve or worsen the fit. Make sure to have a representative load in your pack when making this assessment. Bending stays is time-consuming, but you only need to do it once, and it can pay big dividends.

Make small changes and keep testing them until you get a good fit
Make small changes and keep testing them until you get a good fit.

If you have questions about bending the stays of your backpack, be sure to contact the manufacturer for help and advice. And if you completely botch the original stays up, rest assured that they’re easy and inexpensive to replace.

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  1. Walter Underwood

    These instructions came with my Lowe Alpine Expedition Pack in the early 1980’s. Still an awesome pack.

    If you’ve had a shoulder injury, like me, the stays might not be symmetrical. Just sayin’.

    Customizable stays are great. My Six Moon Designs Starlite is basically a lightweight version of my Lowe Expedition pack. Two stays, ladder torso length adjustment.

  2. I bent the stays in my SMD Fusion 50 so it fit my back perfectly. Very comfortable pack. Then, I promptly over-stuffed it causing the stays to bend a different way. Not so comfortable. Something to watch out for. Your gear needs to actually fit in the pack to begin with. Used a larger pack and all was well.

  3. I’ve cut Corflute (corrugated plastic) sheets into long strips, reinforced with superglue & tape, to replace my aluminium stays. Although slightly flexible, they are surprisingly strong & do the job, reducing the weight of the stays from 11oz to 2oz.

    • and how do you bend them to personalize the fit of your backpack?

      • I don’t – they are straight but because they’re slight flexible, they seem to conform to the curves of my back once the pack is loaded, but are strong enough to transfer the loads to the hip. I’ve used them for a few hikes now with an 18kg (40lb) pack & haven’t noticed any real difference over the aluminium stays.

    • Interesting choice of material…

      I see it comes in different thicknesses, as thin as 2mm. What if you laminated two strips of 2mm together (using epoxy or maybe superglue) using the already custom bent aluminum stays as a mold. The result would be stiffer, likely less flexible *and* curved.

  4. This remind me about the first use experience of my old SMD Comet. Though I can’t remember if the stays are pre-curved, I carried it for a 3 days hike without curving the stays by myself. Maybe because the pocket for the stays are directly sewn on the back, and there is no cushion between the stays and my back, I felt the stays hit against my back. This discomfort became acceptable after I curved the stays to fit my back. Besides, though there are 2 stays to keep the shape of the pack, the pack sometimes become like a log resulting in more stress on my chest. For heavier load, an additional horizontal stay might be needed?

  5. Great article, thxs. Just took delivery of a HMG SW 4400. Took it out on a 10 mile hike today and quickly noticed pack was not supported my my lower back. After reading this article, tracing the original stay pattern, then started bending, closer to what I need now. Will hit the trail to test b4 more bending.

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