Throwing all of our stuff into a backpack and rushing out the door is what many of us do on a daily basis. In this post, we're making a case for taking a few extra minutes to be mindful about how the weight within a backpack is distributed. It can make a huge difference, especially if you're going to spend the whole day out and about—whether that's on dirt, trail, or pavement.
And it's super simple:
- Pack medium-weighted items and things to which you don't need quick access at the bottom of your pack. That can include items such as chargers, a rain jacket, first aid kit, and other miscellaneous stuff.
- Heavier items go in the middle: think stuff like your computer, water bottle, and bicycle lock.
- Lighter items and things you want easily accessible go on top and in the outer pockets. We're talking about things like snacks, keys, lightweight layers, phone, wallet, notebook, pens, pencils, gloves, hat, sunglasses, bandanna, and lip balm.
[caption id="attachment_12460" align="aligncenter" width="629"] From "Light Weight Camping Equipment and How to Make It" by Gerry Cunningham, 1959.[/caption]
You can often tell if the weight in your backpack is not distributed correctly by how your body feels when you are wearing the bag. If you feel like you are being pulled over backwards or like you want to sit down, that's a sign there is too much weight on the bottom, or that the weight is not close enough to your back. If you feel like it is hard to stand up straight and you need to hunch over, there's too much weight on the top. A well-packed backpack will allow you to stand up relatively straight and not feel unbalanced.
If your pack doesn't have a frame (internal or external), it's advised to pack flat items like your laptop or tablet against your back. If you are not packing anything flat, you can use a jacket, some clothes or packing cubes to make a nice barrier between any pokey or pointy-shaped items and your back.
Sternum straps help spread out some of your pack weight across your chest, stabilizing the straps and allowing for a more secure fit. Many people find that the sternum strap is best when it's adjusted to ride about 2 inches lower than armpit height, though it's best to experiment to see what's best for you. It's a good idea to make micro-adjustments to your pack straps during the day as you walk; think of how many times we shift and move our bodies in a day. Micro-adjusting your pack straps can help prevent any one contact point—where the pack meets your body—from becoming over-stressed.
Regular (webbing) waist straps help stabilize your bag and keep your load centered on your back, which is particularly relevant if you're riding a bicycle or running. Load-bearing waist straps, which have extra padding, can help carry the weight of your pack on your hips, alleviating some of the strain on your shoulders. Both of these straps should fit right above your hipbones and below your belly button.
Of course, some people will prefer their own variation on this general scheme: as with most things in life, it's best to try it different ways until you find your sweet spot.
Will following the above guidelines make your the world a better place and solve all of your problems? Probably not, but our hope is that they will make carrying all of your gear around more comfortable, which counts for something in our book.