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How to adjust rucksack straps – Tip #20

By 20th September 2018February 4th, 2021Expedition, Resources, Summer, Tips, Walking, Winter, Winter Walking

How to adjust rucksack straps

Why it’s important to adjust rucksack straps properly

It’s often interesting to see how much discomfort people will go through before learning how to adjust their rucksack straps properly. Hopefully this tip will save you from that uncomfortable learning period.

If you are unfamiliar with carrying a rucksack then maybe you are just getting into walking/hiking/trekking for the first time. If so, then why not come on a skills course where you can learn more about this subject, and much more.

It’s so important to get your rucksack straps adjusted right for you. It’s not just about minor short-term comfort either. It can make a crucial difference in various circumstances. This is especially true if the weight being carried or the terrain are significant factors. Carrying a very heavy rucksack when it’s poorly fitting can cause short-term or even long-term injuries. Or, while scrambling, a badly fitting rucksack could unbalance you and cause an accident.

An expedition team cross the Amphu Lapsta pass in Nepal, where having properly adjusted rucksack straps is essential. © Patrick Hickie

Buying a well-fitting rucksack

It’s worth emphasising how important it is to buy the right rucksack in the first place. First of all, you have to choose a size and design that are appropriate for the purpose. Do you want a large backpack for multi-day wild-camping trips? Or one for moving fast and light for day trips only? What features are most appropriate or match your personal preferences?

Having narrowed down the options, it’s vital not to be swayed only by characteristics such as colour, brand or cost. Of course these are all factors, but we all need to realise that our bodies are unique. Our shapes, sizes, and dimensions all vary from person to person. The rucksacks on the market vary in design too. Not least, they often come in different back lengths or have adjustable back lengths built in. So it’s worth putting in the time and effort (and maybe extra money) to buy one that fits your body as well as possible. The way to do this is to visit shops, try on several designs, and get the advisors in the shop to help identify the best fitting one for you.

Never buy a rucksack purely because it’s what your friend, colleague, partner, or guide has.

How to adjust rucksack straps in sequence

To adjust the rucksack straps properly, either in the shop when buying, or to fine tune it every time you put it on, there is a sequence to follow.

  • Slacken all the rucksack straps off. There’s no need to go too far with this, but just enough so that there is plenty of play all round.
  • Next, load the rucksack with the typical weight and volume that you expect to carry. This is more tricky in a shop, but perhaps they can lend you a packed up tent or sleeping bag, or a climbing rope etc.
  • Now comes the important sequence. First, adjust the hip belt. Fasten and tighten (not too much) it so that the weight of the sack is transferred through the pelvis and hips into the legs. This is important because in the end we  want our hips, not our shoulders, to be carrying much of the weight. So many people just don’t realise this.
  • Second, tighten (slightly) the shoulder straps to bring the load closer to your back. This should keep the load stable so that it isn’t swaying about, but shouldn’t put the load on the shoulders nor restrict arm movement.
  • Thirdly, fasten the sternum chest strap that links the two shoulder straps. This will keep the shoulder straps from slipping off the shoulders and upsetting the overall adjustment and balance.

Many rucksacks will have additional straps that affect the adjustment of the hip belt and shoulder straps. You should always read the manufacturer’s instructions, but in most cases adjust the other straps after step three above. There are usually shoulder tensioner straps that you can reach over your shoulders. These will bring the upper part of the sack closer to the body. Similarly, on larger rucksacks there are sometimes tension straps at the base of the sack that bring the sack closer to the hip belt and therefore the hips.