sizing and fitting backpack for travel

Sizing and Fitting a Backpack for Travel – What You Need to Know

Sizing and fitting a backpack for travel and to be completely honest, I knew absolutely nothing about travel and outdoor backpacks.  I only recently started using backpacking packs as a form of luggage during my travels. Naively, I thought that you just picked one that you liked, threw it on your back and took off.  I was really wrong. 

Sizing and Fitting a Backpack for Travel – Our Experience with REI

I had no idea that there were so much technology and science involved with fitting a backpack and even choosing the best backpack for travel.  So when Josh recently told me that he wanted to set up fitting at REI, I was a little puzzled as to what the big deal was.

But by the end of the experience, I was so impressed and in awe about all the technology involved with sizing and fitting a backpack.  And I fully understood the importance of having a good fitting backpack but also knowing how to adjust it properly to meet your travel needs.

Get Started Adjusting Your Backpack 

Not many people realize that REI offers sizing and fitting backpack service (and you don’t have to buy your backpack there to get the service).  We actually set an appointment with Hayes, so that we could learn in detail all about our new backpacks functionality and get sized and fitted properly.  She was awesome!

Not only was she passionate about the outdoors and traveling, but she really knew all about our Mountainsmith Juniper & Mountainsmith Lariat backpacks and did a great job at explaining to us how everything on the packs worked, and why we would want to adjust different settings.

After only a few minutes, I realized that this was a pretty technical piece of equipment!  So I became even more curious and began asking tons of questions!

Read also What to look for in a Secondary Day Travel Bag

Picking Out the Best Backpack for Your Body Size

It is very important that you first pick out the right size and type of backpack for your body.  Not all packs are made the same, and there is a difference between men’s, women’s and youth backpacks.  There is a lot involved in choosing the best backpack for travel and for your needs.


sizing and fitting a backpack, REI travel backpack, mountainmisth backpacks,

How to Adjust Backpack Straps? 

First, Hayes explained to us that there is a certain method of putting on your pack and strapping up.  Again, I was clueless about this and had always been doing it completely wrong!

First, she showed us how to put on the pack by using our knee for support and then swinging it around so that we wouldn’t hurt our backs with the weight.  Then she told us that you should start buckling from the bottom and work your way upwards.

sizing and fitting a backpack, REI backpack fitting,

Your Hips Should Bear the Weight of Your Backpack

When sizing and fitting your backpack, so the first buckle you should fasten is the hip belt.  This is where we focused the first part of the fitting to be sure that the adjustments were set properly for our bodies.  Basically, Hayes explained to us that the weight of your bag should be resting on your hip bones.  So the strap should hug your hips.  Not too high, not to low, but right on those bones.

sizing and fitting a backpack, REI backpack fitting, mountainsmith,

The hip padded strap should wrap around just around the front of those bones, but not wrap all the way around the front of your body.  The buckle will extend across the front to fasten them.  You can test how the weight is resting by bending one knee at a time, back and forth and you will see that the pack actually bobs from side to side, indicating that your hip bone is bearing the weight.

Adjust Your Lower Straps of your Backpack:  Hip Stabilizers / Cinchers

Once you have the hip strap buckled, you should adjust the lower straps behind your hip belt, also known as your hip stabilizer or cinchers.  Again, I had no idea that these straps served any functional purpose.  But Hayes explained to us that these straps help pull the weight of your pack down toward your hips.

Download your FREE Southeast Asia Packing Checklist

Overall, you will want to balance the weight evenly on your back, top, and bottom.  This is how you adjust it on the bottom.  The closer the weight is against your body, the easier it is for you to move about without putting straight on your back and shoulders.

REI backpack fitting,

Adjust Your Upper Straps of Backpack – The Load Lifters

Many people would buckle the chest strap next, but that’s not what you should do.  You should actually go up to the top behind each shoulder and adjust those straps called your “load lifters.”

Basically, they pull the weight upwards and into your shoulders.  Again just like the lower straps, pulling the weight toward your body will help keep it secure.  As you pull on these straps, you can feel the weight of the pack literally lifting up off of your hips.

This is how you balance the weight between the top and bottom and balancing it to your preference.

sizing and fitting a backpack, REI backpack fitting, Mountainsmith backpack,

Reasons to Adjust Your Backpack Weight to the Top or Bottom

Another tip that Hayes told us was that there are times when you may want to adjust the weight of your pack to be heavier on the top or bottom.  At first, this sounded strange because I thought you would always want it to be balanced.  But she explained that when you are hiking uphill, you may want to pull your “load lifters” to balance the weight more heavily forward at the top of your body because it takes the weight off your hips to help you hike up, and keeps the weight from pulling you back down the hill.

The opposite is true when you are hiking downhill.  You should lighten the weight at the top of your shoulders and balance it lower on your hips, which will keep you from falling forward due to the weight. The way that you pack your backpack makes a difference in how these adjustments work too.

After she explained this, it made total sense!

Related: Tips on how to Check your Backpack at the airport

Your Backpack Shoulder Straps Should Not Bear the Weight!

After you have adjusted the hip straps and centered the weight with your load lifters and cinchers, you will notice that the bag already feels secure on your body.  In fact, your shoulder straps may not even touch your shoulders.  And that’s a good thing.

sizing and fitting a backpack, REI backpack fitting, Mountainsmith backpack,

Hayes said that your arms and upper body should still be free to move.  So having the shoulder straps tight on your shoulders may restrict your movement and make you feel uncomfortable.  These should strap can be adjusted through so that they aren’t too high or too low.

Ultimately, Hayes found the right adjustment for each of us after a bit of testing and moving our arms around.  It was crazy to feel how free my arms felt, yet the pack was totally secure.

I always thought that the pack should rest on your shoulders — totally wrong!

The Chest / Sternum Strap is Last for Sizing & Fitting your Backpack

The last item that you buckle is the chest or sternum strap.  This strap is really just to keep the pack from falling off either shoulder if you are moving extensively.  Although if the pack is tightened properly, this shouldn’t really be an issue.  So it’s really just a precaution because if the pack did slide off-center, it could throw you into a dangerous situation.

“So That is What All Those Straps Are For!”

This probably sounds silly to people who are well-versed in backpacking.  But I honestly never realized the purpose for many of the straps and adjustments on a backpack.  I would adjust some of the basics, but that was it.

Mountainsmith backpack, Thailand, Travel Thailand, Mountainsmith camerabag,

So after our personal sizing and fitting of our backpack for travel at REI with Hayes, I felt like I understood a whole new world.  I don’t even look at my backpack the same way anymore.  Rather than just a piece of luggage to haul my gear, I see it as a sophisticated piece of technology.

And instead of just tugging on straps or just ignoring them, I actually understand their purpose and I’m able to use them to my benefit.

It can be difficult to lug all this weight around with you, but now I know how to use my pack in a way that keeps me comfortable.  After all, what’s the fun of traveling if your back is killing you and you are in too much pain to go out and explore.

Now we are ready to take our Mountainsmith Juniper Mountainsmith Lariat backpacks all over the world!

* Being Mountainsmith users and fans for years, we were ecstatic to begin working with them.  However, while we did receive free products to test and review, all opinions are strictly our own. 

Did you find this useful?  Pin It to your Pinterest Boards and make sure to Follow Our Boards too!

REI fitting, Mountainsmith backpacks, Travel backpacks,

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top