Blog » Backpacking 101: How to Fit Your Backpack (Part 1/4)


Backpacking 101: How to Fit Your Backpack (Part 1/4)

Last week we hosted an evening session, called Backpacking 101, with the help of Wild & Raw Juice Bar and Mountain Equipment Co-Op.  Jenn from Wild & Raw educated us on some powerful super-foods ideal for hiking and backpacking.  Maddy from MEC brought in all the essential gear needed for a backpacking trip, and demonstrated how to pack it all. It was a huge success, and because not everyone who wanted to attend could, I thought I would share the information that was discussed that night on here! Because there was a lot covered, I will publish a four part series on Backpacking 101; how to fit your backpack, how to pack your backpack, what to pack for a 1-2 night trip and some beginner backpacking trip recommendations. As well, because the interest in this event was so big, we have decided to host more of them in the spring time, in time for the 2016 hiking and backpacking season, so stay tuned to the blog for those details. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to email or comment below! All pack fitting and packing information was kindly provided by the MEC representative (Maddy Kwan, my sister) from our Backpacking 101 night, and can also be found on the MEC website.

Fitting Your Backpack

Ensuring proper fit is the most important step when you select a pack. It’s hard to take in breathtaking vistas if your pack leaves you hunched over or racked in pain.

Pack size and suspension systems are the key considerations in fitting a pack.

Finding Your Backpack Size

Finding the right pack size for you depends on your back length, not your overall height. A short pack can fit taller people with shorter backs, and vice versa.

backpacker3_v2_m56577569831495199To find your back length, have a friend measure your spine:

  1. Find the most prominent vertebrae at the back of your neck. It’s the large bump at about the same level as the top of your shoulders (point A).
  2. Find the top of your hipbone. Follow this point around in a straight line to your spine. (point B).
  3. Lay a measuring tape directly against your spine, and measure the distance between points A and B.

Suspension System

Wearing a loaded pack should feel as though your body has become somewhat heavier, not as though you’re shouldering a sumo wrestler. If the suspension system is doing what it’s supposed to, most of the pack’s weight will be comfortably transferred to your hips.

packadj_v2_m56577569831495750If possible, try the pack on in person. First, loosen the straps on the pack’s harness, then try it out:

  1. Load the pack up with 10 to 15kg (22 to 33lb.).
  2. Put the pack on, place the hip belt directly over your hip bones, fasten the buckle, and tighten the hip belt. The padding should wrap right around your hip bones.
  3. Snug in the shoulder straps. They should be far enough apart that they don’t squeeze your neck. The strap ends should be no more than 10cm (4in.) from your armpits.
  4. Adjust the top stabilizer straps to a comfortable position. They should be at about a 45-degree angle.
  5. Fasten the sternum strap and adjust the lower stabilizing straps until comfortable.
  6. Finally, walk around and play with the adjustments to fine-tune the fit. A pack that fits correctly should feel like an extension of your own body. Remember that if the pack doesn’t feel right now, it certainly won’t feel right after hours on the trail.

Note: If you buy your pack by mail or online, you’ll have to test the fit at home. If the pack you ordered doesn’t fit or feel quite right, return it. How your pack fits will make or break your trip.

Here is myself, in my old yet trusted MEC backpack.  It is what is considered a minimalist backpack with few bells and whistles.  I’ve probably used it for over 10 years and have never had an issue with it.  Once you find a backpack that fits and works for you, it’s almost like it becomes a part of you and it’s hard to imagine yourself with something different! The point is don’t let brand names or fancy components persuade you, stay true to what feels best for your body and intended use.


If you’re looking to just try a trip and not ready to fully commit to buying the gear, not to worry! MEC and the University of Calgary Outdoor Center (check your local outdoor stores if you’re not in Calgary) rent backpacks as well as other equipment. Just keep these fitting guides in mind when trying rental packs on.