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Backpacks | Fitting tips | For the familyPhoto: Anja Koehler for Messe Friedrichshafen.
September 2015

Recommending backpacks

for the family

Because men, women and children are anatomically different, there are different things to look at when recommending a backpack for each. RHIANAH RHODE found out what retailers should pay attention to when recommending a technical backpack for mom, dad or the little one

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus is an expression that not only describes the differences in their communication style and emotional needs, but is also apt for expressing the differences in their natural body shape. The physical and personal needs of the customer will also influence the decision of what the best backpack option will be and does not allow a one-size-fits-all approach when recommending backpacks.

Size and weight

The most important thing to determine when recommending a backpack — whether for a man, woman or child — is the activity it will be used for, which will give you an indication of the carrying capacity that is needed.

Probably the most common question they are asked is: I’m doing a five day hike, is this bag big enough? says Leo Rust of Adventure Inc., local distributor of Osprey. But it’s a question that he quite honestly cannot answer as he has no way of knowing what the customer will be carrying on that hike. When recommending the bag size for your customer there is no right or wrong answer, as it will depend on how much food, clothes, luxuries, etc. he wants to take with him on his trip, says Rust.

The carrying capacity needed by your customer will increase as the duration of the activity increases. Therefore, you will find that one needs a smaller bag for shorter day hikes, explains Jamie Owen, local distributor of Thule backpacks.

Generally, retailers can work with this guideline: day packs up to 35L are ideal for day walks, weekend packs that hold 35-55L are suitable for holding items for overnight trails of approximately one to two days, and trekking packs, which hold more than 55L, are designed for multi-day trails where customers will carry heavier loads of equipment.

Of course, the size (and strength) of your customer will also play a role in the size of the backpack that he can use.

On average, men produce ten times more testosterone, which stimulates muscle development, than women. This makes men stronger and able to handle heavier loads.

Younger children are physically incapable of carrying 20kg on their backs. Osprey’s rule of thumb for children is that they should not carry more than 20% of their body weight on their back, says Morne Strydom of Adventure Inc.

When recommending a backpack for children for longer trips, where they will require more items to fit into the backpack, retailers should remind them to select gear wisely i.e. lightweight sleeping bags, tents, etc., advises Rust.

Even if the items that the customer selects are bulky, ensure they are not too heavy. If the weight is too much for the child, it could cause strain on joints and muscles, which can lead to injury or bad posture as their bodies are still developing.

Finding the right fit

After establishing the customer’s volume requirements, a retailer needs to ensure the fit is right for the customer. This is not about your customer fitting the pack, but the pack fitting him or her, explains Rust. That mind-set will ensure that mom, dad and the children all have the right backpack for their needs.

The first thing to look at is your customer’s torso length, as this will determine the size he requires. Generally, a man and woman of the same size will not have the same shape in this area. A woman’s torso will be shorter than a man’s of the same height and she would therefore require a pack with a shorter back length.

To compensate, Osprey developed a women-specific fit with a shorter back length, yet with a harness system similar to men’s, in their top end packs. They give the following tips for retailers to ensure that the pack will fit correctly:

  • The torso length of the wearer will determine the backpack size. In order to determine this size, measure the customer’s back from the iliac crest (situated above the hip bone) until the C7 vertebrae, which is the knobbly bone at the base of the neck. Make sure the customer is standing straight when taking the measurement and should his measurement fall in between two sizes let him fit both packs in order to find what suits him best.
  • It is advisable to measure the circumference of the hips around the iliac crest to ensure the belt is centred and fitted around the hip bone. The hipbelt needs to fit snugly with the padding wrapped well around the customer’s hips with a gap of 7-15cm between the tips of the hip pads once securely tightened.
  • When properly fitted, the backpack’s harness system should end 5-7cm under the armpit and no webbing should touch the customer’s body below the padding. Any padding that is on the harness must make full contact with the top of the customer’s shoulders as well as slightly down the back side. There should also not be any gaps near the top of the customer’s shoulders.

Supports and padding

A backpack needs to fit perfectly and allow the body to move easily, says Owen, and this is determined by the backpack’s harness system, which consists of the shoulder straps and hipbelt.

Once the customer’s pack size has been determined, retailers may move onto fine tuning the fit of elements such as the hipbelt, shoulder harness, etc. A well-fitted pack will not have any pressure points or gaps. Osprey gives the following tips:

  • When fitting the hipbelt to a customer, make sure the backpack’s compression straps are tightened, but all other elements such as the shoulder harness, sternum straps, hipbelt, etc. are loose. Buckle up the hipbelt over the customer’s hipbones with the padded portion wrapping around the front of his hips.
  • Tighten the shoulder straps by pulling the ends down and behind the customer. If he is doing the fitting himself, his hands should point toward the back pockets of his pants as he pulls. The shoulder straps should make full contact with the customer’s shoulders.
  • The sternum strap should be buckled and sit approximately 5cm below the collarbone. It should pull the shoulder straps comfortably away from the customer’s armpits and centre them over the shoulders. Warn your customers that the sternum strap should in no way disrupt regular breathing.
  • Lastly, tighten the load lifter straps in order to draw the weight against the back and take pressure off the shoulder straps.

A backpack’s shoulder straps, hipbelt and frame are the most important factors to look at to determine comfort and functionality, emphasises Deidre Pieters from the local Black Diamond distributor, Ram Mountaineering. The award-winning Black Diamond active suspension system offers unparalleled comfort, efficiency and load transfer, as the straps move with the customer, without restricting movement in any way.

Many brands offer adjustable harness systems, which allow for the lengthening and shortening of the space between the hip belt and shoulder straps to accommodate a variety of torso lengths.

Hipbelts: Whether fitting a pack for a man, woman or child, a retailer should ensure that most of the weight is resting on the hips and not the shoulders, explains Owen.

The hipbelt is therefore the most important part of the backpack, as it carries most of the weight, and has to fit properly, agrees Rust. Retailers should be careful not to fit the hipbelt in the waist area, but on the hip. Many beginner hikers want to wear the belt in the narrowest part of the body, but that is not correct. It should sit on the hip, he says.

Hipbelts for women: Women’s hips are more curved and their hipbelts should conform to their frame shape. For this reason the hipbelts of Osprey’s women-specific backpacks are more angled and conical shaped to give the customer a more customised fit, explains Rust.

Shoulder straps for women: Because of characteristic differences in men’s and women’s shoulders, their backpack straps should have different shapes.

Men generally have broader and more muscular shoulders than women and therefore men would benefit more from wider shoulder straps, whereas narrower strap designs are more ideal for most women.

Shoulder straps should be wide enough to avoid contact with the neck, but not too wide so that they easily slip off the shoulders. Women may also benefit from a sternum strap that will prevent shoulder straps from sliding off the shoulders.

Women have a more protruding chest area than men and therefore shoulder straps with a more aggressive curve that avoids this area, are more recommendable.

Straps for children: Children’s backpacks should have padding on the shoulder straps and be carried symmetrically on the back, as too much weight on one side of the body may lead to injury. Children’s backpacks should have narrower shoulder straps than adults’ and a shorter back length.

Baby and child carriers

Moms and dads might want to take their child or baby along on their adventure. A baby or child carrier is not only designed to enable an adult to carry a baby’s weight over long distances, but can even accommodate a toddler who is unable to keep up with adults or walk over difficult terrain.

Baby carriers are frameless and allow customers to carry their little one in front of them. These can hold approximately 15kg so the baby and other gear can be accommodated.

For older and heavier children, you may, on the other hand, recommend a child carrier, which has a built-in frame and allows customers to carry the child behind them. To use this type of carrier, the child must sit upright on his own and cannot weigh more than approximately 18kg — the weight the carrier can handle with gear.

Child carriers should fit similarly to a backpack. When fitting the carrier, retailers should know the child’s weight and make sure the customer that will wear the carrier can handle the child’s weight, says Owen.

The carrier should be as close to the wearer’s body as possible to prevent the weight pulling back on the wearer. As with a regular backpack, the hipbelt of the child carrier is important and should sit on the hipbone in order to carry as much weight on the hips as possible.

Retailers should ensure that the bag has space for other items the customer will want to carry and make sure the customer is able to load the child into the backpack, says Owen. The child should also be comfortable and protected from the sun or rain.

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