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A man and a woman with Thule Subterra backpacks talk on benches outside.

Backpack parts explained – straps, loops and more!

What are the loops on my backpack for? And what do the backpack straps do? We explain all the insanely useful backpack parts you didn't know about!

Most backpacks are packed (no pun intended) with functionalities – which you might not even know about! Everything from the shape of your backpack straps to the backpack loops on the bottom of your backpack, everything has a special function.

Here is our complete guide to all the different backpack parts, from compartments to backpack straps and backpack loops.

Once you understand how everything works, you can get even more use out of your favorite bag!

In this article we explain:

Important parts of a hiking backpack

Here are all the important features on a hiking backpack. Looking for the right fit? Check out our hiking backpack fit guide for more information.

An illustration of all the important parts of a hiking backpack.
  1. Load lifter straps: These straps connect the backpack body to your shoulder straps. These backpack straps pull in the weight at the top of the backpack to make sure you don’t get pulled backwards. They should be adjusted so that there is a 45 to 60-degree angle formed between the shoulder straps and the body of the backpack.

  2. Padded mesh straps: These backpack straps keep you ventilated and make sure you don’t finish the hike in a pool of your own sweat. Sweat is a problem for hikers since it makes your skin more vulnerable to chafing.

  3. Compression straps: The compressions straps allow you to adjust the backpack size depending on how heavy your load is. Extend it when you have more gear or tighten it when you have less.

    No matter how much you’re bringing, make sure the compression straps are tight when all your things are packed, so that the backpack sits as close as possible to your back. If it hangs loose, it will put more unwanted pressure on your shoulders.

  4. Rear loading straps: These straps are usually found on the bottom of the hiking backpack and are super handy for attaching a sleeping bag or blanket.

  5. Load stabilizer straps: Some larger technical hiking backpacks have load stabilizer straps, these connect the hip belt to the backpack body. These straps make the backpack hug your body even closer, which lightens and stabilizes the load. Pull these straps forward towards the front of your body

  6. Hip belt: The hip belt takes some of the heavy load off your shoulders and distributes it to your hips. If you are exerting power with different parts of your body rather than just your shoulders and back, they’ll thank you for it the next day. The padded section should cover the front of your hipbones and there should be at least a 3cm/1 inch distance away from the hip belt buckle on both sides.

  7. Shoulder strap: These straps, when pulled tight enough, ensure the weight is distributed all around your shoulder and back, not just as one specific spot.

  8. Back panel: The soft padding keeps you comfortable and the breathable material keeps you cool. For even more ventilation, opt for a suspended mesh back panel. Some hiking backpacks let you adjust the back panel so that it fits your torso length perfectly.

  9. Sternum strap: Like a hip belt, the sternum strap distributes some of the weight to your chest as well. We want the whole body working on this hike.

Trekking Pole Holder: This is a gear loop on your hip belt that is used for storing your trekking poles. Usually, these backpack loops can adjust to fit the size of your poles. They can also be used to store your water bottle, or other gear.
Trekking pole holder on a Thule Capstone hiking backpack.

Internal hydration pocket: This is the pocket inside your backpack used for storing a hydration reservoir. This compartment lets you thread the tube out of the backpack so that you have quick access to drinking water while on the trail.

The internal hydration sleeve on a Thule Alltrail hiking backpack.

Example: Thule Alltrail 45L

Backpack straps

Shoulder Straps

An illustration of the different types of backpack straps.
  1. S-shaped curved backpack straps. Curved shoulder straps are more ergonomic, and the S-curved shoulder strap is the most so. It helps distribute the backpack weight evenly across your chest, so that you’re not just carrying the weight with your shoulders.


    Sporty backpacks, large backpacks (over 30L) and hiking backpacks will often have an S-curved shoulder strap.
    Example: Thule Subterra 30L


  2. J-shaped curved backpack straps are slightly more casual than the S-shaped curved straps, that still helps distribute weight across your chest. This is good if you carry heavy things on your everyday routine. You’ll find these straps on casual yet sporty backpacks.
    Example: Thule Lithos 16L

  3. Straight straps are more common for everyday carry backpacks which are smaller and carry a lighter load. The straight shape is more fashionable but can still be padded and comfortable.
    Example: Thule Spira 15L

Convertible briefcase backpack straps: Some backpack straps can help convert your laptop backpack into a briefcase. This is great if your briefcase gets too heavy and you want to carry it as a backpack. Example: Thule Crossover 2 convertible laptop bag.

Shoulder straps with mesh: EVA and mesh materials increase the ventilation of your backpacks. It helps guarantee the shoulder straps don’t become a sweaty mess when you arrive at your destination.

An example of shoulder straps with mesh on a Thule Subterra backpack.

Example: Thule Subterra 30L

Sternum straps: Sometimes called a chest strap, it attaches across your chest (no surprises there) and helps spread the weight more evenly. This helps take pressure away from your shoulders. This is common on sporty backpacks and hiking backpacks. But if you’re carry a heavy load to work, it might be a good feature to consider, too.

An example of a sternum strap on a Thule Chasm backpack.

Example: Thule Chasm 26L

Compression straps: You know those strange backpack straps that seem to be going nowhere? Well, these handy straps serve three purposes.

  • First, they can be used in the same way as bungee or elastic cords (as we explain below), to store a jacket or hat quicky.

  • Second, they help you adjust the size of your pack depending on how much you’re carrying.

  • Third, if you tighten these straps, it keeps the bag closer to your back and distributes weight more evenly. This helps lighten your load.
An example of gear loops on a Thule Construct backpack.

Example: Thule Construct 24L

On a hiking backpack they’ll tend to look like this (the green straps on the side):

Compression straps on a Thule Alltrail hiking backpack.

Example: Thule Alltrail 45L 

Rear loading straps: Yet another pair of confusing backpack straps, the rear loading straps can be found at the bottom of your backpack. These straps are usually found on hiking backpacks and are super handy for attaching a sleeping bag or sleeping mat.

An example of rear loading straps on a Thule Accent backpack.

Example: Thule Accent 28L

Pass-through straps: These backpack straps are an ingenious way to make traveling easier. They let you securely attach your backpack to your suitcase and stroll around the airport with ease.

An example of a pass-through strap on a Thule Spira backpack.

Example: Thule Spira 15L

Anti-theft straps: These are straps that can be attached around a pole or the armrest of a chair. This means that strangers won’t be able to walk by your bag and grab it when you’re not looking.

An example of an anti-theft strap on a Thule Tact backpack.

Example: Thule Tact backpack 

Backpack loops and cords

If you’ve ever wondered “What are the loops on my backpack for?” here are some of their important functions:

Lash tabs:The mysterious square or diamond shaped patches on your backpack are known as lash tabs. You can thread elastic cords or webbing through them and hang your gear.

An illustration of traditional lash points.

Lash points are a modern version and are strategically placed on the backpack so that you can thread elastic cords or webbing through, and easily store even more gear. You can see the lash points on the backpack below, the silver loops on the front of the backpack.

An example of modern lash points on a Thule Enroute Escort backpack.

Example: Thule Enroute Escort 2

Gear loops: These are backpack loops made of metal or fabric that you can use to attach even more gear. On the backpack below, you can see that gear loop below the front pocket.

Compression straps on a Thule Construct backpack.

Example: Thule Construct 24L

Bungee or Elastic Cords: Elastic cords go across your backpack to quickly store things like a jacket or a hat. These are useful when you’re on the go and don’t want to stop to put your stuff away.

Hidden Lash Points: Some backpacks have hidden, integrated loops sewn into the backpack itself. On these you can attach a carabiner and extra gear if necessary.

An example of a hidden lash point on a Thule Enroute backpack.

Example: Thule Enroute 20L

Daisy chain attachments: These are fabric loops that are integrated in the bag and remain somewhat hidden. Attach a carabiner to a daisy chain like this and you can easily bring a water bottle or other gear.

An example of a daisy chain attachment on a Thule Chasm backpack.

Example: Thule Chasm 26L

Bike light lash point: Most gear loops, if positioned correctly, can also double-up as bike light loops. Loops that are specifically designed for bike lights, though, tend to be positioned lower down on the bag, and are tighter. This ensures the bike light stays facing outwards so that cars can see it.

An example of a bike light lash point on a Thule Lithos backpack.

Example: Thule Lithos 16L

Different types of backpack openings

Top access: These are backpacks where you open the main compartment from the top. Most backpacks are top-access.

An example of a top-access backpack, the Thule Subterra backpack.

Example: Thule Subterra 23L

Front access: These are backpacks that usually open both from the top and in the front, like a duffel bag. They are popular because they let you easily access items that might be shoved at the bottom of your bag.

An example of a front-access backpack, the Thule Vea backpack.

Example: Thule Vea 21L

Side access: When you can use a side zipper to also access the main compartment while keeping the top opening closed. This is especially useful if you want to put things back into your backpack on the go. Or if it’s raining and you don’t want to expose everything in your bag.

An example of a side-access backpack, the Thule Paramount backpack.

Example: Thule Paramount 24L

Bottom access: Especially common with larger hiking backpacks where you’ve packed tons of gear. A bottom access zip can help you access all the items that you’ve placed at the bottom of the backpack. If you’ve put a jacket at the bottom, for instance, you can reach it without taking out absolutely everything you brought with.

An example of a bottom-access backpack, the Thule Capstone hiking backpack.

Example: Thule Capstone 40L

Fold-over opening: This type of opening is great for commuters since it ensures an extra layer of protection from the rain. This is because more fabric covers the opening and guarantees no water will get inside.

An example of the fold-over opening on the Thule Paramount backpack.

Example: Thule Paramount 24L

Magnetic Flap opening: This extra flap covering the opening of your backpack adds extra protection from the elements. It’s especially handy for bike commuters, since you simply let go of the magnetic flap and it automatically shuts closed. This means you can grab things on the go without fiddling with a buckle or button.

An example of the magnetic flap opening on a Thule Paramount backpack.

Example: Thule Paramount 27L

Flap with buckle: Also good for rain protection and closed with the help of a buckle. The added compression of the buckle can help, like with the compression straps, distribute weight more evenly.

An example of a flap with a buckle on the Thule Lithos backpack.

Example: Thule Lithos 16L

Rolltop opening: Also good for weather protection and guarantees to keep the contents of your backpack dry. That’s why it is popular for bike commuting backpacks.

An example of a rolltop opening on the Thule Pack 'n Pedal commuter backpack.

Example: Thule Pack ' n Pedal Commuter Backpack

U-shaped opening: A backpack with a U-shaped opening is wider than a traditional backpack and makes it easier to find things buried far down in your bag.

An example of a U-shaped opening on the Thule Accent backpack.

Example: Thule Accent 28L

Clamshell opening is when you can open your backpack like a suitcase. Perfect as a carry-on backpack for bringing luggage on a short flight.

An example of a clam-shaped opening on the Thule Subterra Convertible Carry-on.

Example: Thule Subterra Convertible Carry-On 28L

Different types of backpack compartments

The crush-resistant compartment: These are hard-shelled compartments that help keep your precious items protected. They stop things from getting crushed, cracked or broken while you’re going about your busy day.

Example of a crush-resistant backpack, the Thule Accent backpack.

Example: Thule Accent 20L

Hidden anti-theft pockets: Pockets under the shoulder straps or hidden on the back panel are useful for storing important items that you don’t want stolen. These backpacks are useful for travel or conferences when you might be carrying valuable items.

Example of anti-theft pockets in the Thule Tact backpack.

Example: Thule Tact Backpack

RFID Blocking material: What is RFID blocking material? Your credit card, ID card, passport or key cards all have microchips inside them that can be read using RFID technology (radio-frequency identification).

It’s the technology that allows your passport to be scanned and read without a human typing in all the details themselves. These items can even be read from several feet away!

RFID blocking material stops the transmission of the microchip’s information. An RFID blocking pocket in your backpack is made of RFID blocking materials and makes sure that no machine can read the microchip inside your belongings.

This ensures extra security and the protection of your personal information. It’s a great function for business and travel backpacks.

Example of an RFID blocking pocket on the Thule Crossover backpack.

Example: Thule Crossover 2 30L 

Power Pocket charging compartment: This is where you place your power bank and charge your electronics on the go. How do you use a backpack charging port? Place your charger in the charging port compartment and weave the cable through the allocated loops until it reaches your electronic gadget. Some even weave out of the bag so that you can charge your phone in your hand.

An example of a charging compartment in the Thule Subterra travel backpack.

Example: Thule Subterra travel backpack 34L 

Pocket for files and folders: Perfect for backpacks that you use to work or school, these make sure your documents stay straight and in one piece.

An example of a pocket for files and folders in the Thule Crossover backpack.

Example: Thule Crossover 2 20L

Bike helmet net: A net that attaches to a backpack and helps keep your helmet in place. Perfect for bike commuters who don’t want to drag their helmet around all day.

An example of a helmet net on the Thule Pack 'n Pedal commuter backpack.

Example: Thule Pack 'n Pedal Commuter Backpack

Shoe Compartment: Certain backpacks have a specific compartment meant for shoes and dirty clothes. This is perfect if you use your backpack for working out and need to bring along a pair of sneakers.

An example of a shoe compartment on the Thule Subterra Convertible Carry-On.

Example: Thule Subterra Convertible Carry-On

Shove-it pocket: Pockets on the outside of your backpack that are super easy to access. This means you can easily shove a jacket or phone inside your bag while on the go.

An example of a shove-it pocket on the Thule Alltrail hiking backpack.

Example: Thule Alltrail 45L 

Shoulder strap pocket: Great for easy access to a metro card or train ticket.

An example of a shoulder strap pocket on the Thule Paramount backpack.

Example: Thule Paramount backpack 27L


Hopefully you’ve learned a bit more about all possible backpack parts so that you can start using you bag to its full potential!


How to choose a hiking or backpacking pack

Which hiking or backpacking pack to choose?

A guide to selecting a backpack that is the best fit for you and your adventures.
A woman sits on a ledge with a Thule backpack, while a man speaks to her also carrying a Thule backpack.


Tough, versatile backpacks are just the start. Thule can help you carry a variety of precious cargo, including your kid. In town or on the trail.
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