Understand The Anatomy of a Trekking Backpack

Definitive Guide You Must Know before buying a Trekking Bag


The Basics: Anatomy of a Trekking Backpack

To understand the anatomy of a trekking backpack, a good place to start is with the most basic parts of a backpack. These are the universal terms that can be applied to any backpack regardless of style, use, size and brands.

Backpacking and backpacks are based on a pretty simple concept; that is, going out in the nature and getting away from your home at the same time being able to carry everything you need with you. However, you may find that the options available to backpackers aren’t that simple to understand. There are a lot of terms and specific jargon related to backpacking that can make it more complicated. Here in this article we will try to discuss those jargons in simple terms so that it can be easily understood.

Trekking Backpack Straps Explained

Let’s take a closer look at the various trekking backpack straps and how they affect your carry.


Shoulder straps help evenly distribute your load between both shoulders. Most shoulder straps are adjustable to help correctly position the trekking backpack on your back. Width between shoulder straps also determines comfort. One of the main differences between men’s and women’s backpacks is the width between shoulder straps.


Also sometimes referred to as a waist strap, a hip belt is a padded strap that goes around the top of your hip bone to help redistribute the backpack’s weight from your shoulders to your hip. Hip belts are most common in outdoor and travel or terkking backpacks that are designed to carry large and heavy loads.


The sternum strap, or chest strap, is a strap that clips across your chest to help alleviate strain from your shoulders. Think of it as a bridge between shoulder straps that improves the stability of the load. Sternum straps also help shoulder straps from sliding off your shoulder and prevents heavy backpacks from swaying back and forth when on the move.

Unlike hip belts that are usually reserved for travel and outdoor backpacks, sternum straps are also common with many daily carry trekking backpacks that are meant for heavier loads such as school book bags.


Types of Access and Opening Styles

When we talk about “types of access” we are describing the different ways you can enter a main compartment to get to your stuff. It’s important to note that the best type of access changes with the purpose of the trekking backpack.

An example would be choosing the best backpack to wear for bicycling to work in a rainy city. Going with a rolltop trekking backpack would be a good choice since rolltops are more water resistant than regular zippers.

There are dozens of main compartment access designs but here are some of the most common.


Backpacks with top access allow you enter the main compartment from the top of the bag. Most backpacks with top access have what is called a lid which is the top piece of the backpack that allows you to zipper or buckle the trekking backpack shut. While many trekking backpacks with lids are zippered shut, others can also be cinched with a drawstring or buckled shut as outlined below.



Some backpacks include front zipper access to the main compartment in addition to or in lieu of top access. Front access trekking backpacks have grown in popularity with gym and travel backpacks that are used for storing clothing in the main compartment. Front access allows the backpacks to be opened up like a traditional duffel bag when in use.



Side access allows for entry into the main compartment through the side of the bag. This is usually in addition to another form of entry. Side access is popular with photography backpacks for faster access to cameras and lenses. The style allows the wearer to sling the backpack to the front of their body and access the main compartment without having to take off the backpack.


Loops and Attachments Explained

You may have noticed that many backpacks have a variety loops, straps and elastic cord attached to the outside. Although most of these elements find their origins in outdoor bags for hiking, rock climbing and snow sports they have seemed to creep their way into everyday backpacks for work, school and commuting.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common backpack loops and attachments and explain their purpose so you can finally answer the burning question what are the loops on my backpack for?


Lash tabs, also known as “pig snouts” are small leather patches usually found on the front of a backpack. These patches are attachment points for gear such as velcro straps, carabiners and bike lights. The most common shape of a lash tab is in the form of a tilted square or diamond shape but lash tabs can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It’s most defining feature is two skinny slits that makes it resemble a pig’s snout.

While lash tabs were originally only found on outdoor bags, it’s now common to see lash tabs on everything from designer backpacks to school book bags as a decoration. It’s also common to see lash tabs made out of rubber or plastic for increased durability or water resistance.



Gear loops are common with outdoor backpacks used for climbing, backpacking and camping. Their original purpose is to attach long items such as ice picks, axes and trekking poles but they can also be used as a general attachment loop for anything from carabiners to rock climbing quick draws. Gear loops are commonly made of straps of nylon material that form a closed loop and are sewed into the body or waist belt of a backpack.

Much like lash tabs, gear loops can be sometimes found in fashion backpacks to give it an outdoor-inspired aesthetic.




Tie out loops are small fabric loops that are sewn on to the sides or front of a backpack. They are just big enough to loop through elastic or bungee cord so that you can configure your own external attachment setup. Some backpacks only come with tie out loops while others come with an elastic cord already looped through.

The purpose of the elastic cord is so that it can be cinched down for secure attachment of anything that is too large or bulky to fit inside of the backpack such as a jacket, bike helmet or extra gear.


Usually made of nylon webbing sewed into the backpack to create loops, daisy chains allow for things like carabiners, clips and external pouches to be attached to the outside of the backpack for extra storage. Daisy chains are mostly found in outdoor backpacks where external gear attachments are important but they can also be found in daily carry backpacks as a design accessory. Daisy chains are commonly found on the front and side of a backpack or on the shoulder straps.


Backpack frames and sheets

The purpose of a frame is to take the weight of a backpack’s load and help distribute it down to the hip belt. This is why backpack frames are usually reserved for technical outdoor backpacks that are made for carrying large bulky loads over long periods of time. For smaller bags such as daypacks, tactical and travel backpacks you are more likely to encounter frame sheets. Your typical daily carry backpacks are likely to have nothing at all.


External frames became popular in the 1960’s as a way to help carry heavy and uneven loads in outdoor and military backpacks. These frames are usually made of aluminum tubing that allow for large and uneven items to be carried. When paired with a hip belt, an external frame transfers the load weight to the hips for better stability and balance. External frames also offer amazing ventilation because of the air pocket between your back and the backpack that the frame creates.



A majority of today’s framed outdoor backpacks feature an internal frame. Unlike an external frame, internal frames are embedded into the backpack and the backpack will rest directly onto your back when worn.

Internal frames allows the backpack to retain its shape even when stuffed full for the proper distribution of weight and more stability under load. Modern internal frames vary in material, shape and size. Some are body-hugging fiberglass sheets that mimic the curves of your back while others are just aluminum stays that help keep the backpack’s shape.


There is mainly three compartments every modern day trekking backpack use to have. These various compartments have differents internal parts in it. You must know them in and out, before buying a trekking bag.

1. Upper Compartment

Upper compartment of a trekking consists of

Top Pocket

This pocket is used to keep things that is needed to access quickly and easily. Items such as Sunscreens, medicines, guide books, maps, etc are often stored in this pocket. Know how to pack  the top pocket is very crucial. It gives shape to the backpack and helps it to balance. So remember not to pack heavy items here.

Inner Top Pocket

This is on the inside of the top compartment. Usually this is the place used to keep your rain cover of your bag. So it is wise to put your light weight eltronics items such as your batteries, headlamps, camera wires and documents here.

**** Some bags have the feature of detaching the top compartment. Which make this top compartment a separate day bag. This is a very good feature and can be used to roam arround near the camp side.

**** Elastic starp on top of top-compartment to attach extra items such as sandals, wet clothes, solar panel, etc.

elastic strap



2. Middle Compartment

Backpack Handle

This needs to be sturdy and strong. Most airline handlers grab backpacks by this handle and throw your backpack around. If your backpack does not have this, then they will grab what comes next. So you can understand the importance of it. 🙂 Jokes apart, it is very useful for moving your bag from one place to other. So it should be storng enough to sustain the laod of the entire bag.

Load Lifter Straps

These straps are often ignored at their peril. These little busters help shift the load of the backpack to the right parts of your body. Tighten or loosen them to make the backpack sit snugly on your body. Without these, don’t buy a backpack. They are that important.

Shoulder Straps

These take the entire load of your backpack. All moder day backpack have these straps in a boomerang shape to help fit properly on your chest. They hold firm and have padding. They never bend over your fingers. Pay close attention to this. Without the shape and the padding, you will have tough time in trekking.

Shoulder Strap Adjuster

These keep the shoulder straps in place. They decide how the backpack sits. Too loose, the backpack slides towards your bottom. Too tight and the shoulder straps bite through your shoulders.

Tip: always readjust the shoulder strap adjusters after the first day’s trek. It takes a day for them to settle to the height and volume of the backpack.

Compression Strap

One of the least used straps by trekkers, yet very useful. They keep things together inside the backpack. These are the straps that keep backpacks in shape, which, when you trek, is very critical. An out of shape backpack is a hazard to trekking. This keeps the backpack balance in place.

Sternum Strap

Again, a load sharing strap that is rarely used by trekkers. Sternum straps ease the pressure on your shoulders. Without the sternum straps, a backpack can feel like a ton. With one, it magically spreads out. Use them.

Side Pockets

Terrific utility space to keep quickly needed stuff. Great for gloves, sunglasses, umbrellas, balaclavas, scarfs, medicine kits. Don’t overload or bulge the side pockets. It can affect the balance of the backpack.

Hip Belt

These help in reducing the load from your shoulders by almost 80%. It is the greatest suspension device in your backpack. Hip belts not only helps to transfer the weight of the backpack to your hip, the burden of carrying the load moves to your legs as well. These are strictly not meant to hang down on your legs.

Hip Pouches

Modern backpacks have now added hip pouches to keep quickly accessible stuff. Useful to keep pen knives, matchboxes, pens, candies, chargers.

Stabiliser Strap

This connects the hip belts to the main body of the backpack. It helps to adjust the load of the backpack to the hips.

Ventilation System

Any backpack worth its salt will need to come with a mesh-like ventilation system. It prevents your back from sweating, with air circulating around.

Lumbar Pad

This is the greatest asset for your spine. It keeps your spine straight, gives it cushion and prevents injury. The lumbar design makes a big difference. Avoid anything that is too spongy — those tend to push against your spine. Lumbar pads are another vital part of backpack design.

Written by Sudip Mitra

Not all those who wander are lost.


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