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March 2008 Backpacks Review: Start Smart

Try Before You Buy

To find the perfect pack, test-hike a bunch in the store. Here’s how:

1 Load it up An empty pack always feels good. When shopping, fill yours with at least 20 pounds, or preferably as much weight as you intend to carry; ropes and tents work well. Complete steps 2, 3, and 4, then walk around the store to assess comfort.

2 Loosen up Release all the straps when you throw it on–load lifters, shoulder, hipbelt, and hipbelt stabilizers.

3 Shrug your shoulders Lift the pack until the belt is even with the top of your hips, then buckle it tight. Cinch the shoulder straps and load lifters. The pack’s lumbar pad should snug into the small of your back. Weight should feel evenly distributed between your shoulders and hips, and the shoulder straps should wrap over your shoulders with no visible gap at the top.

4 Check fit A general rule: The load-lifter straps, which run from the shoulder straps up to the top of the pack (they usually attach just under the lid pocket) should rise at a 30- to 45-degree angle. If they don’t, try adjusting the pack’s suspension or moving up or down a size.

5 Make on-trail adjustments Don’t hesitate to experiment with straps on the trail, or to make constant refinements as you hike. Small changes can release pressure or eliminate rubbing when a sore spot crops up. On-trail adjustments are especially important with a new pack.

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