What do camping, hiking, and backpacking all have in common? They all end in -ing! Also, you need a backpack for all of them. This guide is less about -ing’s and more about backpacks, though. If you love doing any or all of these -ing activities, this guide will tell you how to pick, pack, and wear one. Of course, nothing beats an in-person fitting, so come into any Sports Basement store for your personal backpack fitting. Our handy backpack rulers (that’s right, there’s equipment to size your equipment) and staff experts will make sure that you get the right fit. Here’s a rundown of backpack fitting basics with some great advice from Bill Manger and Chelsey Peat, two wise backpacking experts at Sports Basement in Berkeley.
One of the first things to think about is the type of trip you're taking. Are you backpacking for a week? A month? Forever leaving civilization as you know it? The type and length of your trip will determine the carrying capacity (usually measured in liters) of your pack.
To find the right pack, you gotta have the right fit. A pack that’s too big will have you toppling over and a pack that’s too small will make you want to drag it up the trail rather than carry it. Your pack should fit squarely on your torso between your hips and the top of your spine (as seen on the ruler Chelsey is wearing, below). Our staff can measure your torso for you and ensure your backpack is the right size for your body and trip.
Find your torso length and get sized like Chelsey did in our store!
Picking Your Backpack
Now that you know your torso size, you can narrow down which packs are the right size for you. Our buyers have picked top-of-their-class brands and packs, so all you have to do is find your size and style! Check out some of their favorite styles and brands modeled by Chelsey and Bill:
Osprey and Gregory are excellent for getting a fit that’s close to your specific torso measurement. You can easily find a size that’s closest to your measurements and then make smaller adjustments. (They’re also our rental favorites!)
Deuter and The North Face packs are top-sellers for a good reason. They’re all durable and stylish backpacks. Their sizing is a bit more general but there are plenty of ways to adjust them so you can still find your fit. This is especially handy if you’re taking turns carrying the load with your hiking buddy.
Mystery Ranch is one of the newest brands we’re excited to have! Dana Gleason, co-owner of Mystery Ranch, invented one of the first internal-frame packs, a concept that changed the face of backpacking. These backpacks are especially great for mountain hiking and backcountry camping.
Packing Your BackpackBefore you pile everything in your bag, remember that weight distribution matters. We recommend following Bill’s Golden Rule: “Your sleeping bag always goes in first!”
Pack your sleeping bag first!
Don't get a thumbs down from Bill.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t want to put your heaviest stuff on the bottom.
“You probably wouldn’t be able to go more than a mile or two, like that,” says Bill, “But putting the heaviest stuff on top will make you topple back and forth. Place your heaviest stuff in the middle of your torso. It’ll keep you and your back happy.”
Less is More
“Don’t over-do it,” Bill advises, “Pack stuff that’s light and multi use. The more stuff you have, especially if it’s hanging off your pack, the slower you’ll move. Your trip will be more fun with a lighter pack.”
If you’re not sure what you should (and shouldn’t) pack, just come into our store and ask! Not sure how much is too much? Bill has a great rule for that too: “If you have extra stuff, you either need a bigger bag or less stuff.”
Wearing Your Backpack
Once you’re ready to put your pack on, follow Chelsey’s methodology for adjustment:
“Start from the bottom and work up. First, ensure the top of your hip bone is centered into your hip belt. Then tighten your shoulder strap. Now, adjust your sternum strap so it’s sitting right on top of, well, your sternum. A lot of people have it too low across their chest, so make sure it’s in the right spot. Finally, adjust your anchor straps and you're done.”
1. Hip Belt
2. Shoulder Straps
3. Sternum Straps
4. Anchor Straps
If you’re not ready to commit to the perfect backpack yet or you’re trying it out for the first time, you can always rent one! Our buyers selected our Osprey rental backpacks for their versatility in both torso size and volume capacities. Our awesome staff can help you find the right size to rent.
Got any backpacking tips? We’d love to hear them! And if you’re in our Berkeley store, make sure to say hi to Bill and Chelsey!