Backpack Fitting Part I: A Guide for Fitting Beltless Bags

This week’s write-up is the 1st part of our backpack fitting starter guide. It aims to cover how to select and fit a backpack that does not have hip and chest straps. For our part II guide (Backpack Fitting Part II: A Starter Guide for Fitting Backpacks with Hip Belts) click here.


Many of us use our backpacks extensively this time of year. Whether it be for traveling back and forth to school, enjoying a lovely Fall bicycle commute, or squeezing in a few more short hikes before the snow flies, there are a lot of excuses to dust off the old back pack. Most people throw their pack on their back, tighten the straps a bit, and off they go. Did you know that you might be able to adjust your pack to be more comfortable? You also might be able to save yourself from unnecessary aches and pains associated with an improperly loaded and or ill-fitted bag. Today, I will outline a few tips for fitting a regular backpack that does not have any other straps beyond the shoulder straps.

Before we get to fitting, let’s have a brief chat about weight. For kids, the most common rule of thumb is to limit bag weight to 10% of the child’s body weight. For example, if your kid weighs 75 lbs, then you should limit the weight of the bag contents to 7.5 lbs. Adults can carry quite a bit more, but you should still limit a beltless backpack to roughly no more than 25 lbs. as they do not offer as much support as a bag with a belt and a sternum strap.

For fitting, you will perform several steps:

  1. Make sure the bottom of the backpack sits at just above the hips. Avoid extremely low slung bags as this will cause you to lean forward with bad posture.
  2. Load the bag with most of the weight towards the bottom and back of the pack (closer to your body). This will lower and centralize the center of gravity and make the weight less cumbersome.
  3. Pull the shoulder straps tight enough that the bag sits close to your back and it does not easily move around. Be careful not to to over tighten these straps – a couple of fingers should easily be able to fit under the strap once it has been tightened.

Beltless backpacks are not intended for long trips or heavy weights and should be limited to light commutes or day trips only. If you happen to own a bag that looks like a standard backpack but has additional straps for around the torso and/or  across the chest, please come back next week for tips on how to use that bag. I will also cover ways to fit a standard backpacking bag. I encourage you to take a few moments next time you are planning on wearing your backpack to ensure that you have the proper amount of weight for your bag, your bag is properly fitted, and you are using it for the correct activities. To do so will help avoid unnecessary strain on your body and will make it easier to to be out, doing the things that you enjoy. See you all outside!


Dr. Kelly