Showing results for 
Show  only  | Search instead for 
Did you mean: 
Welcome REI Co-op Members!
We're glad you're here. If you can't access the Co-op Members section of the community,
click here for instructions on how to join the section that's just for you.

Backpack that puts weight on shoulders

I know the conventional wisdom is to put the weight on the hips. But I find I'm much more comfortable with the weight across my shoulders - I've had a ton of abdominal surgery and my stomach is just not that strong. I find the higher up the weight, the more it goes through my center and I'm not straining against it. I'm not carrying a lot - about 15 lbs. I'm using a Mardingtop Tactical Backpack now, and it's fine, but I'd love to find something that keeps the weight high and across my shoulders instead of low in the small of my back. Any thoughts? Am I tilting at windmills?

6 Replies


I would have thought that with a weak abdomen putting the weight on ones hips would work better.  If you have not done it,  I recommend that you get fitted and try various approaches rather than just focus on a shoulder only approach.

That said, most day packs are shoulder only and ~15lb is generally the max most people can bear to carry that way for any extended period.

There are ultralight packs that are more backpacking oriented.  Waymark is a good example 

Another option is a vest style fastpacking or running pack which distributes a lightweight load more broadly.  Here is an article that lists a bunch of packs that might be suitable.

It really depends what you want to do and what you need to carry to do it.  

@solmssen hmmm, this is an interesting concept, and not one we encounter often. Typically, our advice, as you add weight to a pack, is to find a way to distribute the majority of the weight onto your hips so your strongest muscles (in your legs) do the majority of the work while hiking.

At this time, we don't have any packs that are specifically designed to keep weight high across your shoulders...similar to @OldGuyot's advice, we'd recommend visiting your local REI store so one of our employees can try to help with a pack fit that'll work for you. You could also experiment with how you load your pack - for example, would it be possible to use packing cubes and attempt to nestle the heaviest things towards the top? Or maybe select a pack that has a bigger top compartment and put your heaviest items in there? Again, these suggestions aren't our recommendation on how to pack a pack and carry weight, but may be something to try to accomplish the weight distribution you're seeking. Good luck!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Thanks @OldGuyot & @REI-JenK for your replies - I know it seems odd. I just find I'm so much more comfortable with the weight across my shoulders (not hanging from my shoulders, like a day pack) but if I hitch the Mardingtop pack up as high as I can get it and the weight is below my neck between the tops of my shoulder blades it feels so much better. Jen, I've done some of what you said - I made a thing out of a piece of cardboard and old Gatorade bottles that I put in the hydration bladder pocket to keep the bladder as high in the pack as possible and that helps a lot. I'll look at the links you send OldGuyot - thanks!


Other packs that may be of interest...

These packs try to balance the load front and back. Not sure if they have a small pack.

A lumbar pack might also be worth a try.   Some of these can have an added shoulder harness which should help center the weight... Depends if the issue is just weight or is also sensitivity to hip belts...



@solmssen Look for an UL like Nero ..they are light and designed more for shoulders than hips...


Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

Hey @solmssen! You should definitely do what's best for your body! While your request isn't very common, there are packs out there that are designed for ultralight loads. Some thru hikers or endurance athletes that are looking to go ultralight will use frameless packs, and some hikers have gone so far as to cut their hip belts off to save that 2.1 ounces, haha. (This method isn't recommended as it'll probably void any warranty the pack comes with.) Ray Jardine, an ultralight thru hiking guru, kind of normalized hiking without a hip belt. Like @Gary2 mentioned, Zpacks has an option for one such pack. Here's a good article that reviews a few ultralight options that would probably be comfortable without using the hip belts. 

Are you backpacking with this setup or doing extended day hikes? If you're backpacking, here's a book that may help you lighten your load and make your hikes more comfortable, one gram at a time. 🙂 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.