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George Fisher How to fit a rucksack Jon Wickham

Written by George Fisher

Image for article How to fit a rucksack

I was out walking the other day when I saw a group of youths (probably D of E) labouring up a hillside, doing great impressions of snails with their huge rucksacks.  It looked like a highly unpleasant experience that might well put them off walking for life.  Aside from the fact that these teenagers appeared to be not only carrying the kitchen sink but all the washing up as well, the rucksacks they had were an array of shapes and sizes, hanging off their backs like Father Christmas’ sack of presents. It occurred to me that what you carry and how you carry it has a huge impact on your day. 

A correctly fitting rucksack can make the difference between being weighed down like a pack animal, and having a comfortable day out. 

If you come into the shop one of our members of staff can give you a rucksack fitting service but here is a bit of information for you to think about before you come in.

The most important thing about buying a rucksack is to try it on with some weight in it.  Much like footwear, rucksacks come in a whole variety of fits, and finding the one that is comfortable for you is really important.  You need some weight inside the pack to simulate the sort of loads you will be carrying.  Trying on an empty pack can give the impression that it is comfortable and fits well, but once you have added some weight, pressure points and a poor fit quickly come to light!

Many rucksacks come with different back lengths and sometimes hip belt sizes. 

It is important to try on a variety of lengths from a few brands, as the size medium from one brand may not compare to a medium from another.  Also although height is a good guide for back length, it’s not uncommon for people to have long legs and short backs or vice versa, so you may not be the back length you expect.

There are also men’s and women’s specific packs, and they vary in more than the just colour

Just like clothing they are designed for different shapes.  Typically women’s packs will have shorter back lengths than men’s, and hip belts which are angled differently.  However, don’t get drawn into the idea that you must have a gender specific pack, as sometimes a man’s pack will fit a woman better than the female version.

  1. Before putting the pack on make sure all straps that tension the load are tight, so that the contents of the pack are one solid weight that is close to your back.  This keeps your centre of gravity as near to normal as possible and stops everything inside getting jumbled about!
  2. All the other straps and buckles should be fully loosened to prevent any faff with putting them on. 
  3. Once on your back start by tightening the hip belt so that it grips the hip bones, with the hips about mid way up the belt on men, or a little bit lower on women.  Most of the weight of the pack should be carried on the hip belt (assuming it has some padding), and so it is key that this feels comfortable and is effectively transferring the load.
  4. Next tighten the shoulder straps, allowing them to follow the shape of your shoulders, and bring the pack in towards your back.  The shoulder straps should join the top of the pack at a similar or lower height to the top of your shoulders.  If there is a gap between your shoulders and the straps, then the back length is probably too long. We have some full-length mirrors next to our packs so you can see what the sales assistant sees, and allow you to check the fit.
  5. Most packs come with a chest strap which can help prevent the shoulder straps from sliding off by pulling them together.  The strap can be moved up or down to give greater comfort, but should not be positioned so high as to encroach on your neck.  It’s a rucksack not a cape!
  6. At the top of the shoulder straps there are often some tension straps that are attached to the top of the pack.  Tightening these when you are wearing the pack helps to stabilise the load and prevent it from moving around.  Some people will choose to alter the tension on these dependent on the steepness of the terrain, but generally they can be kept in the same position all day.
  7. There may be similar straps attaching the bottom of the pack to the hip belt.  These also need to be tensioned to pull the pack in to your hips, keeping your centre of gravity as close to normal as possible, and stopping the pack from shifting around as you walk.

Once you have done all this, spend a while with the pack on.  Feel free to walk around the shop, and up and down stairs to see what it feels like.  Also be sure to try on at least one other pack to give some comparison. 

The ideal rucksack should be comfortable to wear, and make the load feel like and extension of your body rather than an uncomfortable burden.

All of our staff in the rucksack department are fully trained in how to fit rucksacks, so spend some time talking to them and they can help create a short list that that may be right for you. 

We stock many different brands including Osprey Packs and they have created this handy video of the fitting process:


Photo Featured: One of our staff members Claire recently went to Sweden, she wrote this about her adventure 'Hilleberg Outdoor Academy'