We all know that backpacks can end up a bit overstuffed before setting off for a trip, there’s so much to remember to bring with you. One of the bulkiest items a backpacker needs is a sleeping bag, almost all campers need to travel with one of these, but they take up an enormous amount of space inside backpacks. To combat this, many backpackers choose to attach their gear to the outside of their pack, saving space inside for smaller items.
Plenty of the best backpacking backpacks come with all sorts of loops and attachments for adding gear to the outside of your pack, from sleeping back to trekking poles. This can be a very economical way to travel, as you can put lighter weight but bulky items on the outside of your backpack. There are several other reasons to pack your gear outside your main backpack too; extra supplies can find a home here, as well as gear that you need to be easily accessible. It’s also a great way to carry any wet clothing or other equipment, to keep it separate from dry clothes inside your pack.
Learning how to attach your sleeping bag to your backpack, as well as other sorts of gear, is a valuable skill for any backpacker to possess. We’ll explain the best ways to do this throughout our article, as well as some information on the best and most efficient way to pack your bag. Armed with all this knowledge, you’ll be ready to take on the wilderness on your next backcountry adventure.
How to attach a sleeping bag to your backpack
There are a number of different ways you can try connecting your sleeping bag to your pack, it’s best to find the right one that works for you. Some methods use the loops on your backpack and sleeping bag’s stuff sack, whereas others require building your own webbing system. We’ll go through each so you can be sure that you can employ the best method possible to attach your sleeping bag to your backpack.
If your backpack has loops for connecting gear on its back panel, and your sleeping bag has external straps on it carry bag, you can connect the two items using these. Pull the sleeping bag straps through the loops on your backpack, and tighten until the sleeping bag is secure. Your sleeping bag should be secured tightly to your pack, not loose or swinging around in any way. This is the easiest way to attach your sleeping bag to your backpack, however, not everyone’s equipment features these straps and loops.
The compression straps on your backpack are also an excellent way to attach extra gear. These straps serve to secure your load, once your backpack is packed then you tighten the straps to prevent any sway and improve stability when wearing your backpack. These compression straps also serve as a highly convenient way to attach gear. These straps are usually found on the sides of the bag, they’re buckles that are easily tightened. Using two compression straps, you can pass them over your sleeping bag and connect the buckles. Then, use the loose straps to tighten as much as possible, securing your sleeping bag well and preventing any moving around or potential slipping. This method doesn’t require your sleeping bag case to feature any straps, to it’s handy if you lost the stuff sack. Be aware though, if you’re carrying a sleeping bag without any waterproof cover, there’s a serious risk of damage from the rain.
If you don’t have any straps or loops on your sleeping bay, but your backpack has plenty, you can try building your own attachment system. Purchase some twine or another appropriate material from Amazon, you’ll need four pieces. Two should wrap around your sleeping bag or sack, while these other two attach to your backpack loops. Make sure to securely tighten and fasten this system, you don’t want any gear falling off on the trail.
Many bags made for backpacking feature a top-open system. This makes for more inconvenience and digging around when you’re trying to reach something at the bottom of your pack, but it’s better for your back and less prone to failure on the trail. These backpacks usually feature a lid that is secured with two vertical straps, and this is another ideal place to store your sleeping bag. You can place your sleeping bag under the bag lid, then simply connect and tighten the straps. This is a secure way to carry your sleeping bag, and it evenly spreads the weight which we like. However, having a sleeping bag in the way can mean gaps in the top of your backpack, where water can drip into your gear. If your backpack has a waterproof rain cover, then the problem is solved. Otherwise, you can use another waterproof cover, or even a plastic bag, to help your stuff stay dry.
External frame backpacks are popular for their increased support and improved rigid structure. The external frame makes for easy attachments, giving them a stable and secure frame to directly connect to. Many external frame backpacks feature a tie point at the bottom, using stronger straps than the loops of internal frame backpacks. Attaching these secure points helps prevent a swinging sleeping bag, which can cause back pain. Just make sure you pay attention when tightening up, and your sleeping bag should be well secured.
How to attach other equipment to your backpack externally
If you learn how to properly attach outdoor equipment to the outside of your pack, it’s a skill that will benefit you for years to come. Utilizing the space on the outside of your back can help you carry more gear, keep your gear in good condition, make certain things easily accessible, and it’ll just make you a better backpacker in general.
As we mentioned before, using the side compression straps is a popular way to add extra gear to your pack. While they aren’t featured on every single pack, most bags made for backpacking, climbing, and other expeditions have side compression straps. The function of these straps is to compress your backpack’s load, bringing it closer to your core muscles and making it a more stable load overall. Most people use these straps to carry gear like sleeping pads, snowshoes, trekking poles, and even small tents. The main thing to remember when utilizing these straps is to balance the weight on both sides of your pack, so you remain stable on the trails. In most instances, you’ll want to use at least two compression straps on a single piece of gear, so you know it’s tight and secure.
Some backpacks feature reversible compression straps, so you would attach your gear to the back of your backpack rather than the side. This way, you won’t lose the use of the side pockets for water bottles and similar items. Other models, like the Granite Gear Virga 2 Backpack, have an ingenious system where compression straps run through the side pockets, beneath your water bottle. This excellent design choice means you can get full use out of both features.
The shoulder straps on many backpacks are equipped for attaching extra hardware, like cameras and GPS units. Horizontal keeper cords and plastic clips can be found on most backpack shoulder straps, and these are incredibly useful for storing items you need to access easily. The shoulder straps on your backpack could hold a camera case or an extra pocket from snacks. Many backpackers don’t make use of these extra features, which is a shame because they’re super handy and convenient.
Some backpacks have an open pocket called a shovel pocket sewn into their back, useful for storing larger gear like snowshoes and crampons. These pockets are similar to the large stretch mesh pockets we see features on many backpacks, however, they’re made from a much stronger material to resist sharp points on equipment and other abrasion damage. If your backpack doesn’t have this pocket, you might see a criss-cross of elasticated cords on the back of your back instead. You can use these to attach a small and durable back to your pack, and then store the gear using the two.
Backpacks designed with climbers in mind usually feature tool holders for ice climbing. These attachments for ice axes give you a safe and secure way to store this tool, keeping it easily accessible, and also preventing any damage or dirtying of gear inside your pack.
The hip belts of backpacking bags are often equipped with a few extra loops and webbing straps. This easily accessible area of your pack is great to hang an insulated water bottle from, otherwise, it’s an ideal place to keep carabiners and quickdraws for climbing.
On ultralight backpacks, you’re most likely to find tie-out loops. These are small gear loops that make little impact on the trail weight of your pack. While tie-out loops alone aren’t enough to attach extra gear to your backpack, they allow the backpacker a lot of freedom to construct a custom attachment system. The loops are often found around the perimeter of the backpack; all you need is some cord and a few small cord locks. Using this method, you can attach extra gear in the most efficient and lightweight way possible.
In much larger expedition sized backpacks, made for mountaineering and multi-day adventures, you’ll often find rear loops hanging below the bottom of the backpack. While this hanging position means the gear can swing annoyingly as you walk, hitting against your legs, it’s still a convenient way to attach lightweight sleeping pads or similar items.
With so many ways to increase the volume of your backpack, you should have no problems when setting out for your next adventure. Many campers go years without realizing the useful functions of so many features of their backpack; there are endless ways to attach more gear externally. Making the most of even one of these features can make you a more efficient backpacker, so you can get proper use and enjoyment out of your gear.
The best way to pack a backpack
Efficiency is the main goal for most lightweight backpackers and adventurers, being in the backcountry for days at a time means you have to be smart about the way you pack your gear. As you now know, there are plenty of methods for attaching equipment to the external frame of your pack, but what’s the best way to fill up the inside? The best way to pack your bag may differ when hiking, read about the important differences between hiking and backpacking in our handy article. A camper who knows how to attach a sleeping bag to their backpack as well as plenty of other equipment, and knows how to pack their backpack in the most efficient way possible, is one well-prepared adventurer.
There’s no one right way to pack your bag, but if you employ a few space-saving techniques, you’ll be surprised about how much your pack can hold. Properly storing your gear also makes it easier to carry, with proper weight distribution there’s much less danger of back pain and longer-lasting problems. Packing your bag can be broken down into three main internal zones (bottom, core, and top) as well as external storage options (accessory pockets and loops).
At the bottom of your pack, you should first put the bulkiest and heaviest items that you don’t need until making camp. Here, your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, warm clothes for sleeping in and any additional shoes should be packed. Often there’s a bottom compartment in your backpack made for storing your sleeping bag. An additional benefit to packing all your soft and padded gear at the bottom is that it creates an internal shock absorption system that benefits both your back and your gear. You may also want to add your backpack repair kit to these items, so you’ll be prepared for any gear breakage on the trail.
In the core, also known as the center of your backpack, it’s best to store heavier and denser gear that you won’t need to easily access. Having most of the weight in the core of your pack is better for stability and makes you pack easier to carry for long periods. Lower-packed heavy gear can cause your backpack to sag, whereas using this method it sits comfortably on top of your squishy items. Placing heavy gear at the top of your bag can make you unbalanced on the trail, but in the core, a stable center of gravity is created.
The best things to store in the core area of your backpack are the bulk of your food supplies, your cooking equipment, and stove and water supplies. If you’re carrying a liquid fuel for your camping stove, make sure you pack the bottles upright and well-tightened. Consider wrapping these heavier and more fragile items in a softer piece of gear, such as your tent body or footprint. This way, you can prevent gear from shifting inside your pack, as well as protecting certain items from each other (for example, create a buffer between your water reserves and any electrical equipment).
At the very top of your pack, it’s best to store items you need easy access to on the trail. Your jacket, warm clothes, raincoat, first aid kit, water filter, and toilet supplies should all be stored in the top part of your backpack. All these items might be needed in a hurry on the trail, whether a small accident requires a first aid kit, or a sudden rainstorm means you need your waterproof coat quickly. Some campers also like to store their tent at the top of their backpack, so in case of a sudden rainstorm, they can set up a dry shelter quickly.
Most backpacks feature a handful of accessory pockets, what you use them for depends on their intended purpose and your own personal needs. Everyone has different equipment they like easy access to on the trail, and these external storage pockets are perfect. Smaller items you may want to carry here include:
- Map and compass
- Mobile phone
- Sunscreen and sunglasses
- Rain cover
- Wallet, ID, cash
Finally, there’s plenty of external loops and straps on most backpacks, we’ve already talked about all the different watch you can attach your camping gear. Here, trekking poles, tent poles, and other larger camping tools can all be easily packed, making use of all the space and features your backpack offers.
Whicher you have an external frame pack, a backpack made for ice climbing, or just a simple trail bag, there are a lot of ways you can optimize your packing technique. Every hiker can attach their sleeping back to their backpack, as well as loads of other tricky-to-transport pieces of gear. You can use gear loops, side compression straps, a floating lid, or any other external strap to tie on your sleeping bag. All you need to do it make sure everything is well tightened, so you know your pack is secure and your center of gravity remains stable.
Make sure you put heavy items in the core and bottom of the pack, leaving the top of the pack clear for easy access on the trail. Externally, carry wet items, irregularly shaped tools, or small accessories like cameras or maps which you need often on the trail. If you follow these guidelines, then efficiently packing your backpack will be easy. Having a secure load and a stable center of gravity makes such a huge difference on the trail, so adventuring will be easier and more fun than ever!
Bonus tip: Check out this video from REI about how to make sure your backpack is well balanced!