How to Measure a Backpack

How to Measure a Backpack
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Everyone knows how to measure the sides of a backpack. But not everyone knows how to pick the right size to fit their bodies.

If the backpack is too tall, neck pains are almost guaranteed.

If it’s too short, there’s a high chance of putting extra strain on your shoulders.

Sure, not everyone carries a lot of weight around all day, but hikers and outdoorsmen in general need specific features and sizes in order to feel as comfortable as possible and retain maximum mobility on harsh terrain.

This article lays out the steps needed in measuring a backpack. It also provides some extra tips for whenever you need to make such an important purchasing decision.

Length Measurements

The first mistake that most people make?  Believing that height has everything to do with finding the proper backpack size. In reality, only a torso measurement will suffice. This is how it’s done.

First, you should tilt your head forward. Then find the bump between the shoulders and the neck (which is also known as the C7 vertebra). That’s the highest point of the torso. Doing this on your own isn’t easy so you might need a helping hand.

The next step is to place both hands on the edges of the iliac crest. For those with less anatomical knowledge, here’s the trick. It involves sliding both hands along the ribcage until you reach the hip bones.

Measure the distance between the thumbs or whichever fingers you’re using. The final step involves getting back into a straight position and measuring the distance between the C7 and the imaginary line on your lumbar section. This gives an accurate torso length measurement.

Width Measurements

If you want to exercise extra caution, feel free to measure the waist too. Although it’s rare for a proper backpack that fits your torso length to come with side measurements that are off, ideally you should support most of the weight on the hips.

Getting a good hip belt fit saves you a lot of pain in the long run.

How Is Volume Measured

This is where things get tricky. Not all manufacturers use the same charts or perform the measurements the same way.

Most of them determine the volume of a backpack by calculating the volume of each individual compartment. The total sum becomes the volume of the backpack.

However, some people find this misleading at times. The reason is simple. Adding the volume of multiple small exterior pockets and sleeves doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the capacity of a backpack.

And from a marketing standpoint, it doesn’t always pay to put separate numbers on the label.

Furthermore, depending on the backpack design and interior layout, the LWH measurements don’t always correspond to the actual volume. The frame, the elasticity of the fabric, and the number of pockets and separators are hard to account for in the equation.

So How Do You Choose a Backpack?

It depends on your particular needs. Generally speaking, volume matters to a lot to campers, hikers, frequent travelers, etc. They need a particular amount of storage capacity for many items and survival gear.

On the other hand, the perfect backpack size for your torso doesn’t always come with enough volume. But it is important to note that not all backpacks share the same design. Some are shorter but still bulky enough and spacious enough for large loads.

It’s still best if you find a good balance between comfort and capacity, especially when carrying a lot of weight. If you don’t end up with an optimum weight distribution, you can easily injure yourself when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

General Guidelines

If volume is a main priority, here’s something worth remembering. A 20L backpack is often referred to as a daypack. It’s enough for carrying books, work papers, or maybe a change of clothes.

If you’re going camping, especially in the winter, a general rule of thumb is to shoot for 80L or higher volume. That’s because everything is bulkier though not necessarily heavier.

The weight difference between a 20L and an 80L backpack is not that big either, at least for someone in decent physical condition.

​Final Thoughts

Although measuring a backpack ranks high on the list of priorities before making a purchase, there are a lot more features worth considering. The capacity, the quality of the fabric, even the protection against the elements should be just as important.

Some people are lucky and get by with just using the strap adjustments to ease the excess strain. But that’s not a good idea.

Also, keep in mind that sometimes comparing two similar backpacks may be like comparing apples to oranges in terms of viability even if the measurements are nearly identical.

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