Think about the last time you were out backpacking. How often did you adjust and readjust your pack? Once, before you headed out to the trailhead? Maybe you readjusted once just before heading down the trail the final day out? Most people tend to think of backpacks as a sort of “set it and forget it” piece of gear. Unfortunately, this leads many people to suffer through backpacking trips with an uncomfortable and poorly fitted pack. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve seen someone lumbering down trail with a loose hip belt and their pack listing dangerously to one side. This is no way to hike! Want to know the secret to efficiently and comfortably carrying a load on your back?

Well, it’s really easy and consists of two steps. Step 1: Obtain a comfortable and well-fitted pack with which to backpack. I won’t go into detail on this, but suffice to say that a trip to a decent outfitter that allows you to test out weighted packs will make all of the difference in the world. Step 2: Adjust/Readjust your pack frequently. (Secret Step 3: consider going ultralight to save weight and lessen your burden).

Now, this may sound obvious but let me explain. Most people could vastly improve the comfort of the their backpack by simply readjusting it throughout their day. On a typical day on trail, several factors begin to take effect on your pack, changing the way it carries:

  • The constant stepping motion, everpresent in hiking, tends to shift gear around and change weight distributions.
  • Every time you take something out of your pack,  or place an item in it, you are altering how your pack carries. Lunch and snack breaks are especially good at rearranging gear inside your pack.
  • While you may have a pretty solid re-packing routine in the morning, you’re pack is still going to vary slightly in its feel from day to day.
  • Straps and buckles on your pack have a way of loosening occasionally with the motion of hiking, introduction of moisture, and through chance encounters with brush.

Because of these factors, it makes sense to adjust your pack straps often. Keeping your pack fitted correctly (which is something you should learn to do if you don’t know how) will allow you to more efficiently carry the load on your back. This applies doubly so for frameless or sheet-framed packs, which are much more finicky about how they fit and how they must be packed. Now I’m not saying you should be walking down the trail with your shoulder straps in hand, ready to microtune them the moment you feel discomfort, but maybe consider giving your straps a little loosening and re-tightening in the morning before you just sling your pack on and take off. Your back will thank you later.

I’m not going to go into how to fit a pack in this post, but I will tell you how I normally readjust my pack. Just follow these steps:

  1. Loosen all straps, ties, and belts a couple of inches.
  2. Make sure the horizontal, pack-confining straps (that encircle your pack and keep gear from moving around) are as tight as necessary. These seldom need readjustment, so this step may be skipped most times. For many packs, these straps are found on the left and right sides of the pack and serve to compress the pack when it’s entire volume is not in use.
  3. Assure your hip-belt is situated comfortably on your hips, and retighten it.
  4. Secure your chest strap, and adjust it to a comfortable width.
  5. Tighten your shoulder straps until they just touch your shoulders. Remember your load should be sitting on your hips, the shoulder straps serve to keep that load vertical and stop it from shifting side to side.
  6. Now cinch your load lifters (which connect the shoulder strap to the top of the pack) down until you feel them lift your shoulder straps a bit. Back them off a centimeter or so to keep them from getting too tight.
  7. HIKE!

That’s it… simple. Many times, a full adjustment isn’t even necessary and you can just fiddle with your shoulder straps while you are on the move. I find that I readjust my pack in the mornings after packing everything up, throughout the day as I’m on the move, and after lunch (where I normally remove my food bag and some other gear).

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Joe B.

Joe is a triple crown thru hiker that lives for anything outdoor adventure related. He loves delving into a complex DIY project, testing out the latest and greatest backpacking gear, rock climbing, hiking, and much more.

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