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How to Properly Size Your Hunting Backpack

How to Properly Size Your Hunting Backpack

I have been hunting and hiking through the deserts of Arizona since I was about 6 or 7 years old. It wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I realized I had been wearing my pack wrong for damn near my entire life. 

When I was young, hunting with my father, I would wear a little blue knapsack that was basically filled with lunch, snacks, and these little cards that had pictures of what different animal tracks looked like.

As I got older, that knapsack started becoming heavier as I accumulated more and more gear. Eventually, I graduated to a larger pack with a hip belt. The lunch and snacks remained in the pack, but the cards turned into a field dressing kit. I also added some survival gear, a first aid kit, and a water bladder.

My pack got heavier, but I’m a big dude so it shouldn’t have been a problem, but it was. After a full day of hunting, my shoulders were a bit sore and my lower back was always tight.

A few years ago, while hunting with a good buddy of mine, he mentioned that I was wearing my pack wrong. He told me that I should cinch my hip belt buckle basically over my belly button, placing that belt on top of my hips rather than around them.

I’ll tell you, that’s made all the difference in the world for me.

The Fit

One of the most common things we see when customers are looking for the right pack, customers will come in, try on our packs and just let that hip belt rest basically around their hips. Or we get calls from people wanting to know how to make our pack carry better or fit better, because they’re getting a little back or shoulder pain. 

The first thing I tell them when it comes to setting up a hunting pack is to get that belt on top of their hips. 

What this does is puts the lumbar pad of your hip belt, actually against the lumbar region of your back. It takes the weight of your pack and rests it on top of your hips, releasing the pressure off your shoulders. 

A lot of the time, when you make this adjustment, you’ll find that you have a ton of space between the top of your shoulders and your shoulder strap. That’s fine, tighten down your harness and adjust your load stabilizers and that will bring your pack a bit closer to your body.

For me, I carry the Outdoorsmans Palisade 90 which is about 5500 cubic inches. My pack is consistently sitting at about 30-35 pounds with my tripod, optics, camera gear, 3-litre bladder, and other essentials, (a lot for a day pack, I know). It’ll be even heavier if I get something down. The only time I complain about feeling the weight of my pack is when I am grabbing it off the ground or out of the truck. Once I get it on my back, I’m good to go. 

Sure, I feel that heavy load in my quads when I’m hiking up hills, but that’s nothing a few squats can't cure.

Hunting Pack Sizing and Fitting

The Process

Now, I’ve taken the time to properly adjust and fit my pack for me and my torso length, and that’s what really matters when it comes to getting your gear situated in the most comfortable position. 

Fortunately, Outdoorsmans packs, whether it’s the old Optics Hunter or our Palisade and Long Range pack systems, are pretty much a one size fits all kind of deal. For example, Mark, our general manager, is, let’s say 5’10”, our top salesman, Blake, is 6’4”. They can wear the same pack with minimal adjustments needing to be made.

The very first thing we recommend is to start with all your straps loose, (hip belt, shoulder harness, load stabilizers, and sternum strap). Put the pack on your back and hinge forward. In this position hoist the pack up on top of your hips and buckle your hip belt so that the buckle is over your belly button. 

Now, before you start straightening up, cinch down your shoulder straps. This will help keep that pack up on your hips. Continue to cinch as you stand upright. Now that you’re standing up straight, you should feel like the top half of your pack is falling away from your body. 

Go ahead and tighten those load stabilizers. This will bring that pack back closer to your body. Once everything is cinched, that pack should feel like it’s an extension of you rather than something that’s strapped to you.

You might feel the top of our frame on the back of your neck, that should lower once you put weight in the pack. If not, it shouldn’t impede any movement whatsoever. 

Load Stabilizers

Now, if your pack still feels a bit loose against you, you might want to modify how those load stabilizers are attached to the frame.

If you see where those load stabilizers connect to the frame, they’re pushed through the top slot. I’ve loosened mine, pushed them through the top slot, then out through the third slot.

This is a pretty decent adjustment as it pulls that frame a lot closer to your body. 

I’m 6’0”, about 235lbs, fairly broad shoulders, average height and build, and this is the extent of any adjustments I have had to make to my pack. It’s also the extent of any adjustments any of my customers have had to make to their packs. 

The biggest thing going forward is to loosen your straps (belt and harness) every time you take your pack off, and cinch down everytime you put it back on. Yeah, it takes a little time, but in doing so, you’re re-adjusting that pack to fit you at that current moment. 

For example, you park the truck and start hiking in, it’s 30 degrees out, but when you’re ready to move after glassing all morning, it’s pushing closer to 50 degrees. You’ve shed some layers, now your pack fits differently. You need to adjust your pack to fit with less clothes on.

Or my favorite, since I’m pretty much always hunting through the holidays. Before Christmas, I’m in pretty good shape. But being Italian on Christmas means that my pack, as well as my clothes, fit a bit differently on December 27th. (thank you Mamma Mannino’s 22 pound lasagna...). So re-adjusting my straps really goes a long way to ensuring that my lungs are the only thing struggling when I’m climbing up those hills.

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