How to Add Compression Straps to a Backpack

A man hiking with a lot of compression straps on his backpack

There’s a lot of debate about what the perfect hiking pack should look like. Some people prefer many compartments while others want everything in one place. There’s one thing everyone can agree on, though – smaller and lighter is better.

Making your gear more compact will make it easier to carry, which is what everyone wants when on the trail. A pack with fewer things moving inside feels much lighter on your back.

Tightly compressed gear is also sought after by cyclists and motorbikers. Because of the limited space, you have on a bike or a motorbike, you’ll want all of your things as tightly compressed as possible. This is where compression straps come in. But how to add them to your backpack.

Compression straps can be easily added to a backpack. You can either sew them onto your backpack or go for an option that doesn’t include changing the way your pack looks. Whichever option you choose, you will be able to do it from the comfort of your home and in next to no time.

There are a lot of uses for compression straps, and they should definitely find a spot in your gear. They can help you get more carrying capacity from your backpack, make your sleeping set up much more compact, and have dozens of other uses in the right hands.

What Are Compression Straps?

Compression straps are straps made from webbing and incorporated into the design of many hiking, camping, and tactical backpacks.

Their primary purpose is clear from their name – they are used to compress various types of packs and gear in order to make them easier to transport.

So, even though tent bags are small, if needed, we could make them even smaller if we’re short on space.

Keep in mind that straps compress the gear, but they do not make it lighter. However, even though it weighs the same, equipment that is more compact is usually easier to carry.

What Can You Use the Compression Straps For?

The humble compression strap has many uses, most of which will depend on creative you get with it.

  • Making your pack smaller
  • Making sure the gear stays distributed evenly across your back
  • Use it instead of a belt
  • Making your sleeping bag smaller
  • Controlling excess cordage
  • Making sure your other straps don’t dangle
  • Use the webbing as cordage

Finally, you can use them to add gear you would normally keep in the bag to the outside of the bag. For example, if you’d rather keep your charcloth and tin on the outside of your backpack for easier access or to prevent it from getting your other things dirty.

Photographer with a bunch of compression straps on his backpack

What Types of Compression Straps Are There

The most common type is the one that comes incorporated in your backpack. It will either compress your pack lengthwise or from side to side.

You’re most likely to see a three-point compression on backpacks these days, where the compression straps make a letter Y across the front of the backpack when tightened.

Additionally, your pack might have side and rear straps which can be used to attach additional equipment to your pack, apart from compressing it.

Unless you’re one of those people who just carry a bivvy for the rain, snow, or sunshine, you’ll want to attach some parts of your shelter to the outside of your pack. This is another situation where compression straps come in handy. They give plenty of loops you can use to tie off your gear or attach it in any other way.

Some straps will have velcro on one side. These can be used to customize your pack with patches or as an additional way to add even more pouches to the pack. If you get some double-sided velcro tape, you can experiment by using these to compress the backpack.

Finally, if you can have quick-release buckles on your compression straps, get them. It is extremely time-saving to just click buckles and have the straps undone. Additionally, buckles on the straps will make your pack much easier to compress.

Ways to Add Compression Straps to Your Pack

Whether you’re looking for a way to make your backpack smaller or to add more carrying capacity to it, you’ll want some compression straps attached to it.

It’s pretty easy to get basic compression on your backpack and all you’ll need are some household items everyone has.

Sew Compression Straps Onto Your Backpack

The simplest way of adding webbing to your backpack is to just sew it on.

You will need a needle and some heavy-duty thread. Make sure the thread is durable and that the needle is not too wide. A wide needle will make large holes in the fabric which could damage the backpack’s water resistance. However, the damages will be minimal unless you rip the fabric.

First, find a place where the straps will go. Double-check where you put them, you don’t want to sew one part of your pack to another by mistake.

When sewing the strap onto the pack, make sure you sew them on tight. Since they will be constantly under pressure, you can’t afford to have them move or wiggle. 

If your pack is made from very thin material, consider placing the pack material between the webbing and some other cloth to strengthen the grip of the thread.

Don’t be afraid to use excess stitching, no matter how bad it looks. Functionality is the key, not whether it looks pretty.

If you can, have someone machine stitch the webbing to your pack. Not only will it preserve the integrity of the pack, thus improving water resistance and durability, but it will also look much more beautiful.

Use Extra-Long Compression Straps

If stitching webbing to your pack doesn’t sound interesting to you, there are other ways to add compression straps to your backpack. One of them requires making no changes to your pack whatsoever.

Namely, all you need are two long belts. They can be made from webbing and have quick-release buckles, or, if you can’t find any webbing straps long enough, they can be regular belts. Just make sure you pin enough holes in them to accommodate different sizes of the pack.

After that, simply use the belts to wrap your pack and squeeze it to the right size.

The obvious disadvantage is that these types of compressions traps do not provide any extra carrying capacity. Apart from this, getting your gear out of the pack might take a bit longer than usual.

This type of compression is mostly seen with old-school campers and survivalists, or people who like backpacks with only one compartment.

Hiker with a lot of equipment attached to their backpack with compression straps

Take Care of the Strap Placement

When putting straps on the sides of your pack with the intention of using them to secure things to the sides of the pack, make sure you carefully place the straps to evenly distribute the weight.

If you don’t plan to strap things to the entire side of your backpack, place the straps close to the bottom of the pack – closer to your center of gravity.

Additionally, make sure the added straps don’t block or go over any of the outer pockets. You should be able to access them without having to undo the straps.

Understandably, this won’t always be possible when adding compression straps to your backpack, but you should strive to disable as few compartments as possible. You’ll want every part of your pack accessible, especially when hiking in extremely cold weather when you don’t have time to waste sifting through your pack.

How to Lash Things Onto Your Backpack

Adding compressions traps to your backpack is only half the job. You’ll need to learn how to properly use them.

Here are some things that everyone should know before lashing their gear to any type of straps:

  • If you have a frame on your pack, lash the compression straps directly to the frame. It will give you more force when compressing your gear and more durability than stitching.
  • Don’t lash things to the sides when going through thick brush or dense forests. Your pack will be much wider than you and it will snag and pull you off balance. Lash them to the front side of the backpack.
  • Always tighten the straps when lashing things to the pack. Never leave any webbing loose or hanging. If you want to avoid snag city, manage everything that’s dangling from your pack and clothing.
  • Use quick-release buckles when you can. Apart from everything else we’ve mentioned, they’re good for taking off the pack in a hurry.
  • Make sure the straps are long enough to encompass the entire pack even when it is completely full, and still have some extra length. Straps should be at least twice as long as your pack, preferably more than that. They won’t do you much good if they can’t reach the entire thing.
  • Pull down when tightening the straps, instead of up. I wish someone had told me that before I tried to compress my first sleeping bag. I pulled with all my might and once the webbing slipped from my grip I punched myself in the face pretty hard. So, this is definitely a thing to avoid.
  • Stuffing the sleeping bag in its holding bag instead of rolling it will allow you to compress it more. Don’t ask me how it works, it just does. I suppose that it gets a specific shape when you fold it, and that “rolled” shape is more difficult to compress lengthwise. Similar to how you can make a paper much tinier when crumpling it than when folding it.

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