For backpacks, photographers seem to typically investigate capacity, flexibility, zippers, flap pockets, tripod mounts, rain protection, axillary handles, security, and other features.
Unfortunately, by the end of the first day using their new backpacks, despite their research, far too many photographers, immediately relegate them to a closet, learning the hard way, the one attribute they never considered was whether the backpack would fit them well, allowing them to comfortably carry their gear hour after hour, day after day.
Regardless of its capacity and feature set, a photo equipment backpack has to fit the photographer's body well. A poorly fitted backpack, will result in sore shoulders, and/or a sore back. It can turn a great photo hike/walk into misery and exhaustion.
A photo equipment backpack, first and foremost, must be designed as a great backpack, with a well designed harness, and must fit its user properly.Many photographers don't understand their height means very little in choosing a backpack which will fit well, as people of the same height have different length legs, and upper bodies. In order to purchase a backpack which will fit well, photographers must determine their torso length.
To measure torso length, you need a “Tailor's” tape measure, so the measurement accurately follows the contour of your back. You can substitute a string or cord, if you must.
Looking at the photo above for guidance, stand comfortably with your feet about hip length apart, upright, but relaxed. Measure from your C7 vertebra. It's easy to find C7. It's the one which sticks out at the base of the neck when you tilt your head forward. The end point of the measurement is the top of your iliac crest. Place your hands on your hips with your thumbs pointing back, at the top of your hips. The invisible line between your thumbs is at the top of your iliac crest.
The length of your back from your C7 vertebra to the top of your iliac crest is your torso length.
The most comfortable backpack will be one which closely conforms to your torso length. Don't get a backpack which exceeds that length.Pay attention to the backpack's shoulder straps. The shoulder straps should naturally lay as close as possible to halfway between the sides of your neck, and the edges of your shoulders. You have some leeway, but you don't want the shoulder straps to cut into your neck, or lay on the end of your shoulders.
Some photographers insist that chest (sternum) straps can adequately handle shoulder straps set too wide by pulling them together. It's not true. Pulling in the straps beyond their design limit tends to pull their edges into the wearer's shoulders, reducing their comfort. Shoulder straps need to lie flat.
Properly fitted shoulder straps should end 2–3 in. (5–7.5 cm.) below the armpits. Their extended webbing should not touch the side of the body below the padding. The padding itself should make full contact with the top of the shoulder and to an extent, down the back.
Hip belts on backpacks are critical to anyone's comfort using backpacks, as a properly fitted hip belt will carry the bulk of the backpack's weight. Therefore, any photo equipment backpack should be equipped with an integrated hip belt. The hip belt should be located on the backpack so it goes centered, around the hips, not the waist. If it's around the waist, it will not provide necessary support.
Hip size, like torso length, has nothing to do with your height. You want the hip belt to be centered directly on your hip bones. When the backpack's hip belt is pulled tight, it should have a few inches of space on either side of your belly button, for best fit and maximum comfort.
A photo equipment backpack, like any backpack should be tried on before purchasing it, if at all possible. When trying it on, make sure it has weight in it, to simulate the photo equipment you expect to carry in it.
For some photographers, an online store purchase is the only option available to buy a quality photo equipment backpack. Anyone purchasing a photo gear backpack online, should make sure they can try it on at home, and if it's not the right fit, be able to return it to the store, for full credit.
Next week in Part II, I'll discuss backpacks in-transit use vs. backpacks worn while out shooting.