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  1. #1
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    Backpack question: shoulder straps + waist straps

    Hello folks:

    It is a snowy day here in washington...just absolutely gorgeous! Of course, being washingtonians, everyone is running scared! Having lived in the midwest, including Minnesota, I am loving it!!! Maverick: I hope to see gorgeous pictures from you!

    So this thread is about backpack straps: I have long been told that padded waistbelt straps are absolutely crucial to carrying loads well. They distribute the weight between shoulder and hip, and avoid damage to the shoulders. I am NOT talking about serious hiking or weeks-long European tour backpacks. About a decade ago, I would be hard pressed to find backpacks that had a waist strap. Now, with our increased daily loads even--after all with the average laptop, charger, books, and accessories, not to mention coats, lunch etc--we all seem to have become mules of the world and carry an average of 15lb weights a day.

    So this is a serious question to Tom: is there a reason (other than aesthetic) that you do not use even minimally padded waist belts even on a bag like the Brain Bag (large by all measures), or the Aeronaut? I can imagine that with all the new padding materials available, that you could easily design a 2inch neoprene padded waistbelt that would take the weight off the shoulder. As it currently stands, the waist straps are more "retainers" than anything else.

    Maybe the whole "weight distribution" thing is an urban myth and sold to us by backpack makers. I don't trust our average marketing blitz. So Tom, I would really like to be educated about this.

    Thanks, Shiva

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shiva View Post
    Hello folks:

    It is a snowy day here in washington...just absolutely gorgeous! Of course, being washingtonians, everyone is running scared! Having lived in the midwest, including Minnesota, I am loving it!!! Maverick: I hope to see gorgeous pictures from you!
    hi shiva,

    we had plans to have company this afternoon. one of the families lives in the neighborhood, so i know that at least they are coming. i'm not sure about the rest.

    i was sorting through some travel plans yesterday evening, and it got too late (bedtime / near closing time for stores), so i didn't get all of the groceries i needed. whole foods decided to close today for the snow. my neighborhood giant is open, but they don't stock everything i need.

    i went to giant this morning - it's beautiful out there, not too many cars out. but the drive back was a bit tougher than the drive there. the snow is still falling, and it will continue throughout the day.

    i will get out there and get some pictures tomorrow...

    by the way, i like my subaru - it did great out there!

  3. #3
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    Hi, Shiva.

    This is a really interesting topic. I too would like to hear from Tom on this. In my limited experience (urban daypacking), the waist belt does transfer some of the weight from the shoulders to the pelvis, as it rests on the pelvis. Weight above 15 pounds calls for a padded hip belt.

    These people (http://www.arcteryx.com/pack-fit.aspx; Arc'teryx is the gold standard for backpacks) go into detail about how to fit a true backpack, with a frame. Load lifters! Hip stabilizers! With load lifters, the weight doesn't even rest on the shoulders.

    This page (http://www.backpacker.com/gear/ask_kristin/199) says: "With daypacks, the hipbelt’s purpose is not so much load support and load stability—it keeps the pack from flapping up and down or side-to-side on your back. That’s why daypack hipbelts are often just webbing and buckles or un-padded fabric panels, whereas bigger capacity packs have beefier, padded hipbelts."

    There's a video (I think; at http://www.backpacker.com/videos_siz...pack/videos/8; it won't load right now) that shows how to adjust a backpack. The procedure (also detailed at http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/arti...sting+fit.html): Lean forward to position the waist belt; close it. Tighten the shoulder straps. Adjust the load lifters on the shoulder straps. Tighten the hip belt load stabilizers. Close the sternum strap. Finally, loosen the shoulder straps a little. At the end, she says, smiling, that the most important thing is to frequently readjust all the straps throughout the day, as soon as the backpack starts becoming uncomfortable. I concluded that we were not meant to carry things, except infants. Tom needs to set to work on antigravs. In the meantime, perhaps a padded add-on that wraps around the waist straps.

  4. #4
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    I can only speak about the Brain Bag, the waist strap is not padded but it is wide.

    The back padding mold into one's back, even more tightly when the waist strap is buckled.
    The bag literally becomes part of the body.
    I sat, uncomfortably, a couple of time in public transport, rushing for a seat with the bag still on my back, I had forgotten it was there.

    At the time, I had the most annoying mini backpack purse which was always in the way but very hard to use, (I ditched it for a pair of passport pouches and eventually a Large Cafe Bag) but I had to keep an eye on it at all times since it held my valuables.


    I am 5.7, I think the straps are really adequate, too much padding would make the bag look too sporty. Maybe an extra cover, like the one available for the Small Cafe Bag Strap, can be engineered for people who want padding on top of their waist strap.

    I suspect that the Synapse works the same hugging way but higher up on people my height and like the Brain Bag on shorter people.
    Last edited by backpack; 12-20-2009 at 12:13 AM.

  5. #5
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    Hi Shiva,

    I'm one of the people who removes the waist straps from messenger bags like the ID, etc. I think it's a question of how much load there is, since I certainly find that the waist straps on the Tri-Star, for example, make it more comfortable to carry. The point is, a lot of people use the alternative carry formats for these bags (in hand, or with an Absolute strap). I know some people who never use the backpack straps with these travel bags, or at best, only occasionally. In those instances the waist straps are used more as retainers rather than for active load bearing, and more bulky straps would be considered a nuisance, since this is a temporary function. We've even had some forum posters inquire about the possibility of removing the backpack strap features to save weight and space.

    I personally don't use this carry option on the Western Flyer, since I got one of the first production models with the sling strap. I expected to love this design, because the sling strap design of the orginal model (smaller) Buzz is a favorite of mine. But one of the things I like about Tom's designs is that they're not only brilliantly usable, but they're scalable to work for a wide range of frames. The sling strap works fine; it's just not --- brilliant, at least on my frame (maybe for taller or larger people?).

    If I were buying a backpack for heavy, loaded use, then I would want the padded waiststrap. If I wanted my travel bag to be optimized as a backpack, then I'd probably buy a backpack, or a bag whose primary use is to function as a backpack. I've always considered that the Brain Bag would be too large for my frame, so I don't have one. But I'm three inches shorter than backpack.

    YMMV

    moriond

  6. #6
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    Moriond: You might be able to use the Brain Bag depending on where the "shorter by 3 inches is".

    For people interested in the Brain Bag, I recommend measuring yourself from shoulder to natural waist, since it would be better if the measurements were taken on the back, help or a mirror will probably be needed.
    Record the measurements and compare them to the length of the Brain Bag to find out if it is within comfortable range.


    I encourage people in need of a backpack, to do that step then order the bag(s) with the closest lengths to the measurements taken above.
    Once the bag(s) arrive, try them on with your usual load; books, textbooks, notebooks and/or laptops to test for weight and clothes or other light items to test for balance.

    A Tom Bihn bag is best tested when loaded, unlike all evening clutches, most purses, many totes and even travel bags, it is not meant to be a display eye candy, it works best when carrying stuff one uses in real life. Imagine that!



    As far as the backpack carrying options added to the Western Flyer, Tristar and Aeronaute, they are here to help travelers who want to distribute heavy loads on their backs and shoulders instead of one shoulder for a short period of time and/or when in a hurry.

    Running to a gate, a train platform or a bus stop, is much easier with a backpack than with a cross shoulder travel bag or a hard case hand held luggage. I speak from experience.
    It seems that many Tom Bihn customers felt the same as I do or had the same experiences because many asked for the backpack shoulder and waist straps options in all the travel bags.

    Because the waist strap is an option, it needs to be integrated into the design in the least obtrusive, this way, people who wouldn't be caught anywhere near a backpack still buy the Aeronaute, Tri-Star and Western Flyer.


    People who need more padding for the waist strap on their Aeronauts, Tris-Stars and Western Flyers should consider asking if the Ultrasuede Shoulder Strap Wrap will fit this waist strap.


    PS: Even if Tom Bihn bags are not display only eye candies, I still want to visit the store and factory.
    Last edited by backpack; 12-20-2009 at 02:24 PM.

  7. #7
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    I think this would make a good question for the "Ask Tom" feature in the next newsletter.

    This has me thinking about the customer pictures of soldiers, journalists, and field scientists with their Brain Bags. When carrying a fully loaded pack, how much difference in comfort is there between a Brain Bag and a frame-supported backpack with load lifters and a padded hip belt?

    I'd like to hear Tom's thinking on this. Meanwhile, does anybody have the relevant experience to share—someone who has used both?

  8. #8
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    Brain Bag

    For the time I use the Brain Bag as a backpack it seems to fit my 5'4" body very well. I have it well weighted down. Items normally carried are: 17" PowerBook ina Brain Cell. 2 Snake Charmers w/snakes, Kensington Turbo Mouse, power supply, many cables-the snakes, an Apple wireless keyboad with numberic keypad or parger keyboard, a Freudian Slip to hold the many customers files that I have to carry, pens, pencils, iPod &/or iPod Touch, a couple extra 2.5" hard drives to run & store files on & many more items. With this load there is a lot of weight that seems to to stay where I want it.

    Because most of my work is here in town I like to carry my bag over one shoulder. This means that at least half of the straps are in the way. At the present time the Brain Bag is the largest bag that a #1 Brain Cell can go in.

  9. #9
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    Waist straps don't take the weight off the shoulders and transfer them to the hips. It's the frames that do so. Waist belts are there to make sure the frame is properly seated on your hips. Tom can put all the padding in the world into the best waist belt possible, but your shoulders will still be bearing a lot of weight.

    Your typical waist strap on a North Face backpack is really just there to stabilize the load on your back and does almost nothing for weight distribution. A properly loaded pack, complete with internal frame and belt (yes, there do exist day packs with these features), is able to sit on your hips without the need of shoulder straps. With such packs, the weight distribution is the other way around, with shoulder straps really just there for stability.

  10. #10
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    Thanks, Akilae. Much food for thought.

    . . . I just put on the Synapse and lengthened the shoulder straps so the waist belt was just above the hip bones. I slid out of the shoulder straps, so the belt took all the weight. Of course, the top of the bag swung away from the trunk, so I put the shoulder straps on and repositioned the sternum strap and closed it. With the shoulder straps loose, most of the weight still went to the belt. It makes me think that a pack designed to sit on the hips could get away with lightly padded shoulder straps, without needing a frame (the foam-stiffened back might be enough structure).
    Last edited by gmanedit; 12-25-2009 at 11:29 AM. Reason: typo

  11. #11
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    I believe most people refer to those as... lumbar packs :P

    Missed out on your question on experiences with both types of packs:

    It really depends on how much weight you expect to be hauling.

    I just recently came back from a vacation where I used a small-ish backpack (~800 cu. in.) for daily use. The pack is quite bare bones, basically just a satchel with seatbelt material shoulder straps. It held two bottles of water, a few Larabars, some TB Organizer Pouches with boo-boo kit and what not, guidebook, pocket dictionary, batteries and mem card holder, and a second lens. Weight was distributed evenly on my shoulders and I experienced no shoulder or back fatigue after five days of continuous use, except for the first day where I was being stupid and hooked the water to one side of the pack, and developed a sore shoulder...

    My internal frame main pack (~2300 cu. in.), however, carried everything I needed, including one week's worth of winter clothes, camera, netbook, a very full TB Snake Charmer, and few books. Whenever I was making short jaunts, such as from airport security to the gate, I just used the shoulder straps. Usually by the time I reach the gate my shoulders are feeling the weight. When walking from the airport to the train station I attach the small pack to the main pack and buckle up the belt and sternum strap so that weight sits on my hips. My shoulders barely feel a thing and by the time I'm out the train and at my hotel the only reminder of the weight I just hauled is a slight pressure on my hips.

    For reference, I used to have a North Face 2000 cu. in. pack, which was frameless and held up by a stiff foam padding and had a basic belt. In general it carried quite well, however the lack of a frame and proper belt is evident when I pack it full. The shoulder straps, as finely padded as they were, simply dug into my shoulders too much.

    I wouldn't use a 2300 cu. in. internal frame pack for daily use (well, I do, but my job requires hauling laptop + trimmings, textbooks, student papers, teaching aids, etc...), since it's rather inconvenient. On the other hand, I've used 2500 cu. in. *frameless* packs before on long haul walks, packed full of books, water, and other low-volume high-weight items, and by the time I drop the pack usually I can expect to see ruptured micro blood vessels on my shoulders. These days my rule of thumb is: If it's smaller than 1500 cu. in., I can go frameless. If it's larger than 2000 cu. in., I need a frame. Caveat: The larger the pack capacity, the more tempting it is to fill it up, the more weight you carry, the more damage you do to your back if carried improperly.

    Addendum: I've also used the Aeronaut via back carry. It's great for short walks to the airport, but if I had to use it for back carry all the time over long distances... well, there's a reason I have an internal frame pack :P. To add a hip belt that carries serious weight on the Aeronaut would mean adding some sort of frame, which bulks up the Aeronaut.
    Last edited by Akilae; 12-25-2009 at 08:13 PM. Reason: Addendum

  12. #12
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    Thank you so much, Akilae—this is incredibly helpful. May I ask, which internal-frame pack do you carry? And is there a representative lumbar pack? Both these categories are new to me, and I'd like to read up on them. (Off to search now, but anything specific you could offer would be great.)

    I appreciate the time you've taken to provide a thoughtful, informed response.

    Addendum: I'm back, after a quick tour of the Internet.

    Lumbar packs don't hold enough, unless they're so big they look like little picnic coolers. I might as well carry the large cafe bag by the waist strap (which is what I did when the weight on the shoulder became uncomfortable).

    What I've quickly learned about backpacks: Bring the weight into the body as much as possible, to carry it close to the vertical axis of the body. Use compression straps. On stable terrain, pack the heavy stuff toward the top or middle of the bag, not down at the bottom. Waist/hip belts should distribute the load in the front as well as the back (I still think the waist belt does, to some extent—it feels to me as if it does). And, as you said, don't carry a lot of stuff.

    This site—http://www.aarnpacks.com/principles/index.html—is the only one I've found while looking at backpacks that addresses the biomechanics of carrying. I'll do further searching; meanwhile, I'd be grateful to anyone who can post links to more information.

    I'll experiment with the Synapse: trying a compression strap, hanging a lightweight bag against the back wall to contain the heavy items (TB pouches that clipped on both sides might come in handy), padding the waist strap, etc. The idea will be to keep the weight in against the back.

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge.
    Last edited by gmanedit; 12-26-2009 at 12:58 AM. Reason: Addendum

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by gmanedit View Post
    Lumbar packs don't hold enough, unless they're so big they look like little picnic coolers. I might as well carry the large cafe bag by the waist strap (which is what I did when the weight on the shoulder became uncomfortable).

    What I've quickly learned about backpacks: Bring the weight into the body as much as possible, to carry it close to the vertical axis of the body. Use compression straps. On stable terrain, pack the heavy stuff toward the top or middle of the bag, not down at the bottom. Waist/hip belts should distribute the load in the front as well as the back (I still think the waist belt does, to some extent—it feels to me as if it does). And, as you said, don't carry a lot of stuff.

    This site—http://www.aarnpacks.com/principles/index.html—is the only one I've found while looking at backpacks that addresses the biomechanics of carrying. I'll do further searching; meanwhile, I'd be grateful to anyone who can post links to more information.
    Gmanedit, I think you have covered all the bases! I remember posting a similar thread about this a long time ago, and I think the conclusion I reached from everyone's feedback was pretty much the same.

    I will say this from personal experience: the overall design of the pack (whether framed or not) seems to be the key to how well the load is balanced. I had back problems for a number of years, and I used to carry a big ol' Targus notebook backpack that was a big contributor to my problems. The big reason was that cargo in the bag naturally shifted down and away from the body based on how the bag was designed, no matter what you did to try and correct it. My Brain Bag is just as big (if not bigger), but the bag design allows me to control this problem (shape of the bag, two compartments to control the cargo, cinch straps, positioning of the shoulder straps, etc.). I have smaller backpacks that I use on occasion that are less comfortable than the Brain Bag for these reasons, so I will use the BB and just adjust appropriately for smaller loads.

    When I am carrying a heavy load (i.e. textbooks, laptop, etc.), I go by three basic rules:

    (1) Keep the heavy stuff as close to the body as possible, and as high as you can arrange it.

    (2) Use the cinch straps, sternum strap and waist strap to keep the load from shifting and as close to the body as you can (see #1).

    (3) Keep your load centered with respect to your body... this is something many people forget. I always use both shoulder straps and would rather carry one big backpack than a smaller pack and a messenger bag if both are filled with heavy stuff because it throws your balance way off. My doctor told me that one of the biggest reasons he sees people with back problems is because of this issue: favoring heavy loads on one shoulder is just murder on your back over time, regardless of the bag you use.

    I think the big message I have seen in the responses to your question is right on: you have to try things out. What's uncomfortable in the first five minutes will be uncomfortable all day.

    Hope this helps!
    ----------------
    Bob P.
    Magic Tiki Studios

    Empire Builder (black/steel), Brain Bag (steel), Small Padded Organizer Pouch, Clear Wallet, Soft Cell, Snake Charmer (cayenne) and assorted trimmings.

  14. #14
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    Thanks, Bob. Now the two-compartment structure of the Brain Bag makes sense to me (I don't carry two computers). So: Pack all the heavy stuff in the against-the-back compartment, resting on something lighter at the bottom; or pack everything in that compartment, if that's all you've got. Cinch tight.

    "What's uncomfortable in the first five minutes will be uncomfortable all day." Works for shoes, too!

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by gmanedit View Post
    snip.
    I use a Kifaru Molle Express as my main pack when not traveling with my Aeronaut/Imago combo. The "frame" isn't so much a frame but two aluminum stays bent to your back profile.

    For use when I want to dump the main pack, I have a Kifaru E&E. It buckles onto the Molle Express.

    I also have a Dana Design traveling pack that has a true internal frame, bought in the waning days before Dana Design was sold. I have to say, the Dana Design yoke is a true joy to use. You really don't feel anything on your back once that thing is adjusted to your body. If I bought all my stuff all over again, I might go with Mystery Ranch (Dana's new company) just for the yoke.

    Lumbar packs are really limiting and don't pack much. Add too much and they become more uncomfortable than a good backpack.

    Shoes are another one of those things that people don't pay enough attention to. It pains my own feet when I see people wearing improperly fitted shoes...

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