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.
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.
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.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.