Did you get gloves, hiking boots, or a backpack this holiday season? Now’s the time to closely evaluate whether it fits correctly. To help you with this important task, here’s a quick review of fit basics for these three items. If you do find that the fit falls short (or long, or wide, or narrow), definitely exchange it for a version that matches your physique–you’ll thank yourself for it many miles and years down the trail.
In a properly fitting glove, your fingers should almost, but not quite, touch the tips. The goal is to maintain a tiny air pocket around your fingertips to trap warmth. If your fingertips push against the end of the gloves, they will compress the insulation and make cold digits much more likely. If there is too much of a gap, you’ll lose a significant amount of dexterity in the affected fingers. The glove should otherwise fit snugly across your palm without restricting motion, not pinch the webbing between your fingers.
If your gloves don’t fit, return them and try on a range of different styles to compare. Note that every manufacturer uses a different hand model for their glove designs, and fit is often surprisingly consistent across any given brand’s product line. Try on a variety to determine which manufacturer creates gloves that match your hand shape.
To check fit, first don whichever socks you expect to wear with your new boots. Next, identify your longer foot (most people have one foot larger than the other). Loosen the laces of the corresponding boot and slide your foot inside. Leave the boot unlaced, stand up, and push your foot forward until your toes touch the end.
At this point, you should enlist the help of a friend or family member. Stand upright and have them check how much room you have behind your heel. In a properly fitting boot, they should be able to get roughly one finger between your heel and the back of the boot. If they get significantly more or less than that, the boot is too large or small. (Note that you can’t check this yourself; your foot and heel lift forward when you bend over.)
Now lace up your boot and evaluate the boot for width. If your toes or the sides of your feet are painfully crunched, the boot is too narrow. If you can slide your foot from side to side inside the boot, then the boots are too wide and may cause blisters on the bottom and sides of your feet. If they boots are snug, but not uncomfortably so, then you should be fine—most boots will stretch enough to ensure a comfortable fit.
Next check the heel. It should be locked in position inside the boot and not slide up or down as you walk (the number one cause of blisters). When lacing your boots, leave the area over the top of your foot loose but cinch down tightly across your ankles to secure your heel in place. Walk around and stand on your toes to check for heel lift. Ideally there should be none, though a small amount of movement (quarter-inch or less) is considered acceptable.
When it comes to properly fitting a backpack, no element is more critical than the waistbelt. You should be carrying the vast majority of the weight (80+%) on your hips and lower body, which makes a good waistbelt fit essential. What should you be looking for?
When you’re trying on the pack, loosen up the shoulder straps, put the pack on, and position the waistbelt so that the tops of your hips—the bony knobs of your iliac crest—are in the middle of the waistbelt. Cinch the straps tight and check for fit. The waistbelt should wrap snugly around your hips to evenly distribute weight. With an ideal fit, there should be no gaps anywhere, which can lead to increased pressure at other points on the waistbelt.
Most packs feature waistbelt adjustment straps that can moderately affect the shape and fit. If you have a few minor gaps, tightening or loosening these may help you fine-tune the fit appropriately. If you have major gaps, or are unable to close smaller gaps by adjusting the straps, the pack is not right for you.
The size of the waistbelt is also important. The padded section should extend forward a few inches past your iliac crest, so that the most padded portion sits atop the boniest—and most sensitive—part of your waist. Too short and you won’t get enough cushion. Too long and the padded portion of the waistbelt will extend across your stomach, digging into your gut when you lean forward or bend over.
After evaluating — and correctly positioning — the waistbelt, take a look at the top of the shoulder straps. They should attach to the backpack at, or slightly below (an inch or so), the top of your shoulders. If they’re higher or lower than this, move the straps up or down accordingly (method and adjustability vary by brand and style). If you can’t move the straps far enough, it’s not the right pack for you. (For more on fine-tuning shoulder strap fit, see Backpack Shoulder Straps: Honing Fit.)
“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.