Basically, I have one large backpack and if I end up going for a much shorter trip, say for 3 days instead of 2+ weeks, I am going to end up with empty space in the backpack.

From a stability and comfort point of view, am I better off leaving the side compression straps completely undone until I am completely packed resulting in a pack that is short and fat, or should I pack it with the side straps partly taken in so that the backpack ends up being taller and thinner?

  • 1
    I prefer the weight higher up in my pack so a slight stoop forward puts my total center of mass directly above my hips. So I vote tall/thin. Your mileage (and knees) may vary...
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 19, 2017 at 18:48
  • 3
    I really like this question (+1), but I presume this could get pretty opinionated...
    – knitti
    Apr 19, 2017 at 22:09
  • 1
    For some reason I always have a full pack no matter if its 2 or 20 nights.
    – user5330
    Apr 20, 2017 at 0:32
  • I pack flat against my back as much as possible. It may result in thin and tall.
    – njzk2
    Apr 20, 2017 at 1:08

3 Answers 3


I prefer to pack tall (not much above shoulders though) and thin for better weight distribution and balance, easier maneuvering though bush and general freedom of movement. I find short and fat tends to put weight too far behind you, and makes the pack unbalanced. It also encourages sloppy packing of the pack, and the light weight (compared to longer trips) means I pay for being a little less disciplined than needed....

When in this situation, I pull in the lower compression straps, pack the pack and once packed, pull in the top ones. First pack before the trip I maight unpack a few times to get them just right, but after a few trips, you get pretty good as guessing just how much you need.


Neither. It's important to pack your bag so that it is balanced. If you pack it too tall, you're going to be top heavy and using your core a lot to keep you balance. If you pack it low and fat, then you're going to be hunched over because your bag is going to be pulling you back. You want to pack your bag so that when it's sitting on the ground, it falls forward. You accomplish this by putting your bulky things in the bottom, then your heavy things closest to your body up behind your shoulder blades.

I have an 80L single compartment bag that I will often take on weekend trips. When I pack it, I adjust the straps so that it emulates a 50L bag.

Don't make your bag too tall, or too fat. Pack it so that its all proportionate to the size of the bag you would need for the amount of gear you're carrying.

  • 1
    Good advice, but i think it really amounts to "tall & thin" (not "neither").
    – Martin F
    Apr 20, 2017 at 18:09
  • @MartinF The thinner it gets, the harder it is to keep stabilized. You need your bag wide enough to distribute the load evenly across the breadth of your back and shorten up those stabilizer straps.
    – ShemSeger
    Apr 20, 2017 at 20:10

Tall and thin.

There are 2 rules in weight distribution with a backpack.

  1. As close to your back as possible
  2. As high as possible (if not traveling in steep terrain, such as mountains where it is safer not to be top heavy)

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Both of these rules will bring the center of the mass on a backpack as close as possible to your own without the excess need of leaning forward.

It may feel awkward at first to travel with a top-heavy backpack but the problem goes away with a decent backpack adjusted properly.

  1. Ensure the backpack is suitable for your anatomy (torso length and hip size)
  2. Have a decent backpack with good compression capabilities
  3. Pack the backpack properly
  4. Adjust the backpack properly

Backpack fitting

  1. Adjust the torso length
  2. Adjust the vertical metal rails (if available) to the curvature of your back
  3. Adjust the hip belt to your hip size

Backpack adjustment - from https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/backpacks-adjusting-fit.html

Step 1: Hipbelt

  • Put the pack on. Move the hipbelt until the padding hugs the top of your hip bones (your iliac crest). If it sits too low or too high, tighten or loosen the shoulder straps to raise or lower the hipbelt.
  • Fasten the hipbelt buckle and tighten it. Be careful not to overtighten the belt: It should be snug and secure without uncomfortably pinching your hips.
  • Check the padded sections of the hipbelt to make sure they sit on the top of your hips; if not, readjust your shoulder straps and hipbelt. Try different tensions until you find the sweet spot.
  • Belt padding should extend slightly beyond the front point of your hipbones. You also need at least one inch of clearance on either side of the center buckle: If you have less, call REI to see if a smaller belt is available.

Step 2: Shoulder Straps

  • Pull down and back on the ends of the shoulder straps to tighten them.
  • Shoulder straps should wrap closely around your shoulders, but they should NOT be carrying significant weight. If they are, you'll be putting undue stress on shoulder, neck and upper-back muscles.
  • Check to see that the shoulder strap anchor points on your pack are 1 to 2 inches below the top of your shoulders, roughly at the top of your shoulder blades. If not, then either your hipbelt is at the wrong level or your pack’s torso length is incorrect.
  • Vary shoulder-strap tension by tightening and loosening the straps. Learn how to adjust the straps in small increments so you can relieve any pressure points or pain during your hike.

Step 3: Load Lifters

  • Load-lifter straps connect the top of the shoulder harness to an anchor point near the top of the back panel. When tensioned, they should angle back toward the pack body at roughly a 45-degree angle.
  • Don’t overtighten the load lifters! Excess tension that feels great initially can pinch shoulder joints and create discomfort. Strive for snug—not stiff—tension. If you notice a space at the top of your shoulder harness, loosen the load lifters and try again.

Step 4: Sternum Strap

  • Slide the sternum strap until it’s at a comfortable height across your chest: roughly an inch below your collarbones.
  • Buckle and tighten the sternum strap to set the shoulder straps at a width that allows your arms to move freely.
  • Avoid the common mistake of overtightening the sternum strap. This can distort the overall fit of your harness, constrict your chest muscles and restrict your breathing.
  • 6
    Jani - plagiarism is not tolerated here. I'll edit it correctly for you this time, but do not post up content from other sites without correct references!
    – Rory Alsop
    Aug 23, 2017 at 21:44

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