How to Break In a Stiff Backpack: Tips for Comfort and Fit 

 May 12, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

You can tell when the time is right to break in a stiff backpack for comfort and fit because it will feel like a heavy load on your shoulders. Struggling with a rigid backpack is not only inconvenient, but it can also become uncomfortable if left unchecked.

Stiff backpacks can be softened by slowly breaking them in and gradually. Over time, the straps will become worn in, making them more comfortable and easier to adjust.

Luckily, we have a few tips and tricks for you so that you can integrate your backpack into your life as a supportive companion rather than an unbearable burden. By the time you finish this post, a previously stiff backpack will seem like an old friend!

Adjusting the Strap and Padding

Adjusting the straps and padding is an important step in breaking into a stiff backpack. Although adjusting the straps and padding is simple, it can make a big difference in terms of comfort and fit. As a rule of thumb, placing the padded straps higher on your back will distribute the weight of the backpack evenly across your body and make the load feel lighter.

Many people debate whether the hip belt should be tightened or left loose unless you are carrying an extreme amount of weight in a backpack. However, most agree that if you can redistribute some of the weight from your shoulders to your hips by tightening the hip belt, you’ll reduce the overall load on your upper body. Adequate padding is also key to good support.

Many modern backpacks have extra padding in the straps and back area, making them more comfortable for longer hikes. If you’re using an older backpack without much padding, you should invest in an upgrade kit or additional straps that allow you to adjust your individual comfort.

Regardless of how you adjust your backpack's straps, padding, and hip belt, make sure all areas are snug but not too tight as this can cause discomfort over time. When finished making your adjustments, Once you have made all the adjustments, take a few minutes to test how the backpack feels when loaded and make any further adjustments if necessary before you set off. With a few small changes, you can ensure that the backpack you’re breaking in is comfortable enough for long days on the trail.

Now that you have adjusted the straps and padding for optimal comfort and fit, we can turn to fine-tuning our backpack to make it even more comfortable on the trail.

Adjust the Straps for Comfort

Once you have adjusted the padding and straps of your backpack it is time to adjust the straps for optimal comfort. One of the best features of a backpack is the adjustable straps. This allows each wearer to customize their backpack, which can greatly increase comfort.

It is best to try on the backpack with just a few items in order to get an accurate feel for where the weight will rest on your back and shoulders. This can be done in a few simple steps.

First, put the shoulder straps on in a V-shape — with one slightly higher than the other — so that they hit your shoulder blades or mid-back directly. When adjusting a strap, start at the shortest point and go from there. If you start with a belt that is too long, chances are you will not tighten it enough for it to fit properly. Be careful not to overtighten the belt — this could lead to an uncomfortable fit and unnecessary strain on your body.

Lastly, adjust the sternum strap across your chest until you find the best position and comfort. This will help keep the shoulder straps in place while providing support as well. However, make sure it is not too tight as this could make movement difficult and uncomfortable, especially if you plan to carry the bag all day.

Once everyone has their straps properly adjusted, they can wear their backpack around town! With a properly fitted backpack, you should feel comfortable while walking, jogging or cycling, with the durable materials it is made of that provide extra support.

Wear the Backpack Around Town

After adjusting the straps for maximum comfort, it's time to put them to the test. Carrying your backpack around town for a few hours will give you a better feel for how well it fits and how comfortable it feels after prolonged use.

When trying out new backpacks, wear them as if you were hiking so you can get a feel for the fit and features of the backpack. If possible, bring things such as water bottles or extra clothes to pack so that the weight of the items helps to simulate how it feels when the backpack is fully loaded on a trail.

To ensure a comfortable experience when wearing a new backpack around town, make sure it does not rub or pinch at any time. Check for parts digging into your back, shoulders, chest, or hips as this can cause discomfort during long hikes. Also, look out for parts of the fabric that rub against your skin as these can cause painful friction blisters.

Apart from checking for comfort, it's also important to use this urban inspection period to ensure that all the backpack's pockets, straps, and buckles are functioning correctly and are in their intended positions. Take note of any straps that are crucial for managing the weight of your contents, and ensure that they are fastened securely and do not slip out of place once worn. This check-up will help give you peace of mind prior to taking your backpack out for more intense activities.

After you have worn your backpack around town for at least an hour or two and tested  all its features and capabilities, it’s time to slowly introduce yourself to carrying heavier loads before you set out on hikes. Being well prepared for the gradual increase in weight will help ensure that everything fits and remains comfortable even under strenuous conditions.

Slowly Build Up to Hiking Weight

Once you have worn the backpack around town and broken it in, it is time to slowly move up to a heavier weight. Many hikers and adventurers prefer backpacks that are suitable for more intensive hikes and overnight trips. Backpackers of all levels should gradually add more weight to their backpacks before embarking on a backpacking trip. There are two approaches to this: carried weight and pre-filled containers.

When it comes to carrying weight, most experienced hikers recommend starting low and working up from there. You can use light objects such as books, water bottles or empty glasses that you find at home or nearby to estimate the basic weight of your backpack. Gradually increase the weight by adding heavier items such as canned food or boulders until you reach a comfortable hiking level. This way, you will get a better feel for the weight of your backpack and avoid loading it with too much weight at once.

If you have access to containers such as weights or sandbags, you can use these instead of household items to increase the weight of the backpack evenly making it much easier to adjust the weight to your needs. With either approach, however, be careful not to increase the load too much as this can cause discomfort and unnecessary strain on your body.

Before you head out into nature with your beloved new backpack, it is important to slowly increase its weight over a period of time so that you can enjoy maximum comfort and fit during your adventure.

With step-by-step preparation, you can find out what kind of commodity best suits your needs for a safe and fulfilling experience in the wilderness that awaits you. At this point, you can learn how to distribute the contents of your backpack accurately for optimal balance and padding — a crucial step in any backpacking trip.

Key Point

Gradually increasing the weight of your backpack before a backpacking trip is important. Start with lightweight items and add heavier ones, like canned goods or boulders, slowly. For consistency, use containers such as free weights or sandbags. Be careful not to increase the weight too quickly to avoid discomfort or strain. Make sure to distribute the contents evenly within the bag for optimal balance and padding before setting out.

Distribute the Weight Within the Bag

Once you’ve settled into your backpack by slowly loading it with weight, it is important to distribute the weight evenly across the bag. This will ensure a comfortable and balanced fit. In particular, try to distribute the weight on both sides of the backpack so that one shoulder does not have to bear more pressure than the other. You should also pack heavier items closer to the body for more stability and safety when going on an adventure.

Whether you are using a hiking backpack or a daily commuter backpack, even weight distribution ensures maximum comfort and reduces fatigue over long periods of time. An added benefit of weight distribution in your backpack is improved balance, which keeps you stable on poor terrain or in any situation that requires quick reflexes or sudden movements.

Don’t forget the support provided by other components such as hip belts, chest straps and insulating pads, which can help optimize comfort and secure important items while providing much-needed balance and relief. Keeping all these factors in mind, you should quickly move on to packing heavy items in the backpack's pockets.

This is important to ensure that weight stays in the right places and is not distributed indiscriminately as this can provide little relief from fatigue and discomfort at best, and can be a safety hazard at worst.

Put Heavy Items in Pockets

Now that you have distributed the weight in your backpack, you should think about where you want to store your heavier items. If you are carrying a stiff backpack, items like textbooks and water bottles can easily press on the material if they aren't properly stored. To prevent this, it's best to place the heavy items in the pockets. These pockets provide additional padding and support when you're on the move.

When you weigh up the pros and cons of placing heavy items in pockets versus other areas of a bag, one advantage is that pockets can help distribute the weight of a backpack evenly. This makes it easier and more comfortable to carry heavier items throughout the day. Pockets are also easy to access, so you can quickly grab or store items without having to rummage through the whole backpack.

One potential disadvantage, however, is that too many things in the pockets can be uncomfortable and lead to an awkward fit. A full pocket could expand or affect the fit of the backpack against your body. Large and heavy items such as laptops could also weigh down on the small fabric of a bag, affecting the performance of the backpack in cushioning the rest of your luggage.

To ensure maximum comfort, take measures such as putting only lighter objects in the pockets and using multiple layers of clothing when packing away heavier items to distribute the weight evenly among the various sections of the bag.

By considering both sides of this debate, you can ensure that you find solutions that provide both comfort and convenience for carrying your gear in your stiff backpack!

Now that we have discussed some tips on how to balance heavier contents in your backpack, let’s look at some more ways to customize your backpack to meet all your needs — including material break-in options!

Understanding Material Break-In

When it comes to breaking into a stiff backpack, it is crucial to know the materials that make up the construction. Depending on the material of your backpack, breaking in may be slightly more difficult or easier. Nylon backpacks, for example, are often found in modern bags and usually require less work to “break in” than leather or canvas backpacks.

Leather bags can require just as much work as canvas when it comes to softening and getting a “broken-in” feel. Both traditional materials often benefit from initial care that softens them and gives them more flexibility over time.

In addition, both materials benefit greatly from slow and repetitive movements that break up the fibers and reveal the natural oils in the material, giving it shine while maintaining flexibility without compromising durability.

Knowing the material and its recommended care will save you a lot of time, money, and effort when trying to break in a stiff bag. The next important step after understanding the type of material is to soften and break in bag materials.

Softening and Breaking in Bag Materials

Breaking in a stiff backpack involves understanding the materials it's made of. You can choose between a broken-in feel or the pure fabric texture. Softening the materials is essential for both options, and you can achieve this by rubbing the exterior of the pack with a soft fabric like flannel. It can also prevent uncomfortable abrasions on your back while loading up and hitting the trail. This gives your backpack a worn-in look that symbolizes a well-traveled bag, even if it's brand new!

However, others might argue that carefully wearing and creasing small sections of nylon and canvas fabrics can also soften them for comfort. In this case, load your bag lightly and carry it for a few hours at home or outdoors. This will result in slight bends and sharp creases along the outer material without favoring any particular spot. Note, however, that both methods should be done gently as too much pressure can damage the fabric itself.

Regardless of which option you choose to break in a stiff backpack, both methods offer great results if you invest some patience and time to make sure your backpack fits just right so you feel comfortable on all your future hikes.

Now that we've discussed different ways to soften and break in backpack materials, let's discuss some more tips to keep in mind if you want to break in your new outdoor backpack quickly and efficiently.

Other Tips for a Quick Break-In

After the materials of the backpack have softened and broken in, you can break in your stiff backpack even faster by using it frequently. This can help the fabric become softer and more malleable.

Carrying something heavy in your backpack could cause the fabric to wear just enough to wrap around your back and body even faster. Over time, this method should help the backpack become less stiff and you should feel much more comfortable wearing it.

It can also be helpful to stretch the fabrics slightly. This requires a little more effort as the fabric needs to be soaked or steamed before you can attempt to stretch it. Although you should not be too rigorous in doing so as this could damage or tear the materials of the backpack, a slight stretch with gloves can result in a looser fit that maintains structural integrity.

Although both methods can help stiff backpacks break in faster, it may not always be necessary. Some people prefer their backpacks to remain quite firm for better support. A stiffer structure helps to maintain the integrity of the material and increases longevity. This is useful for adventurers who want their backpacks to last longer during rough outdoor experiences.

On the other hand, those who prefer a softer feel often find it more comfortable to shrink the backpacks so they are a little looser without pressing too hard on the body when worn. It ultimately depends on personal preference whether you decide to continue soaking and shrinking or not.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I ensure the backpack remains comfortable when broken in?

The most important factor in ensuring that your backpack will still fit comfortably after breaking it in is the right fit. Make sure the straps are adjusted so that the backpack fits snugly against your back and the straps aren't too loose or too tight. Adjust the belt and sternum strap if the backpack has them so that they fit comfortably and don't restrict your freedom of movement.

Use a hip belt if your backpack has one as this can help take some of the weight off your shoulders.Also make sure you use the straps to fit the load. They take the weight off your shoulders and ensure that the backpack sits close to your body.

Lastly, make sure you distribute the weight properly and evenly across all compartments of the bag as this will ensure maximum comfort.

Is it possible to damage a backpack while trying to break it in?

Yes, it is possible to damage a backpack while trying to break it in. If you overuse the straps of a backpack, stretch it beyond its limits, or stuff toys and books too tightly into the main compartment, it can cause permanent damage. It is important to be gentle and patient when breaking in a stiff backpack.

Instead of forcefully stuffing items into the pockets, use slow and gentle movements to expand them until they are roomy enough for your items. This will help prevent any damage done to the materials the backpack is made of.

What materials should I use to break in a stiff backpack?

To effectively break in a stiff backpack, use materials that are designed to be soft and conform to the shape of your back. This includes extra padding such as foam inserts or sheets, or specialized straps and support panels for extra comfort.

Some backpacks also come with integrated flex panels and contour designs that ensure a good fit on your back. You can lubricate the inside of the backpack with leather oil or silicone oil to make the material even more supple.

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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