Western big game hunters are masochists.
No other sport combines such effort and exhaustion in pursuit of an animal - that is in exponentially better shape than you - with the foreboding certainty of suffering through a packout if successful.
When hunting the high country you pay to play, and you pay again when you win. The currency is sweat - and sometimes, pain.
A good backpack, properly fit, can make the difference between misery and good memories.
The keys to hunting backpack fit:
- A frame that transfers weight to the hips.
- A hipbelt that doesn’t slip.
- A frame tall enough to give proper load lifter angle.
Pretty simple right? You can dive into the minutia of backpack design and complicate things, but if you have the above, comfort will take care of itself.
Hipbelt & Frame
The largest and strongest locomotive muscles in your body are in the legs. Your back and shoulders will wear down far sooner than your legs will give out.
Transferring weight from your shoulders to the legs is the one crucial thing that a hunting backpack must do in order to be comfortable with heavy loads.
How do you accomplish that?
The frame must be stiff enough not to buckle under a 100+ lb load of meat and gear. If the frame climbs this hill it will transfer that weight to the hipbelt, which then transfers it to your hips.
So the weight has arrived at the hipbelt. If the hipbelt now slides down your rear end then all the weight is left hanging from the points of your hip bones and your shoulders.
This is a recipe for a miserable, terrible, painful packout (can you tell I’m speaking from experience here?).
The hipbelt absolutely MUST stay put. If it slips, it’s done.
Our frame and hipbelt work together to accomplish these must haves very well. The frame works with the belt and actually provides some horizontal support to the belt that allows us to use a more flexible, articulating belt that is very grippy.
In short, our frame puts the weight on your hips, and the belt keeps it there.
Hipbelt Sizing & Position
Hipbelts need to be long enough to wrap around the front of your hip points, but not too much longer.
A belt that is too big runs the risk of running out of adjustment span if you lose a few pounds while out on a long hunt.
Where you wear your belt is highly personal, but most experienced users have their belt centered over their hip points. This gives excellent grip to the belt, allows for good leg and hip flexor movement, and transfers weight well.
Men with a bit of a paunch may wear their belts lower, while some women prefer a higher belt position based on anatomical differences, so some trial and error should be expected until you find what works best for your body.
Frame & Torso Height
The frame height you need depends on torso length and expected loads.
|Torso Length||Up to 30 lbs||30-50 lbs||Over 50 lbs|
|15-16”||24"||24"||24 or 26"|
|17-19”||24 or 26"||26"||26 or 28"|
|20”+||26"||26 or 28"||28"|
The chart above ballparks the frame height needed in most situations. For more detail and fine tuning, read on.
Frame height needed depends on torso height (the length of your back or torso), and the expected loads you’re going to carry.
You can get by with a shorter frame for light loads, while heavy loads tend to be more comfortable with a taller frame.
Remember, the backpacks one job is to take weight off your shoulders and put it on your hips. It can’t do that well unless the frame is tall enough to pick up on the shoulder harness instead of pulling down or back.
This action is called shoulder lift.
Our backpacks use a unique method of changing frame height on the fly. A user can change from a 24” frame to a 26” or 28” frame within a couple minutes, in the field, and without tools.
Torso length is the distance between the protruding vertebrae at the base of your neck - known as C7 - and the bottom of your back.
To measure, recruit some help. Take a soft tape and hold it in the center of C7. Next find the top points of your hip bones and draw an imaginary line across your back between those points.
The distance between C7 and the line that connects the iliac crests is your torso length.
For reference, a 15” measurement would be a short torso, 18” about average for an adult male, and 22” would be a very tall measurement.
That’s great, but what does it mean?
If you’re on the lower end of the torso length scale - say 15-16” - then you’ll probably be very happy with a frame height of 24”.
If you’re in the middle of the scale - 17-19” - then you can probably use all three frame heights depending on your expected load.
If you’re in the upper end of the scale - 20”+ - you will probably be happiest with either a 26 or 28” frame.
How do expected loads affect frame height?
Backpack hunters are faced with the prospect of carrying extremely heavy loads approaching or exceeding the century mark.
Under these conditions I much prefer a 28 inch frame that extends up to mid or upper ear level. Other users prefer low to mid ear even with heavy loads due to the increased head movement the shorter frame allows.
When packing, it is important to distribute the load so that 70% is centered over the shoulder blades. This arrangement gives you good balance without being “tippy”. Proper load distribution is far more important than most know, yet receives too little attention.
Putting it together:
Given a stiff frame that transfers weight to the hips, a hipbelt that doesn’t slip, and a frame tall enough to get shoulder lift, most of the battle is won.
Past that, make sure your hipbelt is the correct size, the shoulder harness is adjusted comfortably, and there you have it, your pack is fitted and should be comfortable under any loads.
On your next hunt you’re prepared to build some good memories...instead of building "character".
For an in depth look at backpack fit, check out our Backpack Fit Video:
Backpack Hunting Series
Want more articles on Backpack Hunting? Read more in this series: