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Basic Anatomy of a Backpack

This video explains the basic construction of a backpack and offers definitions for various components of a pack.

Basic Anatomy of a Backpack

Backpacking and backpacks are based on a pretty simple concept; that is, going out in the woods and getting away from your house while being able to carry everything you need with you. However, you may find that the technologies available to backpackers and individual pack features aren’t so simple to understand. It’s true that there are a lot of terms and specific jargon related to backpacking that can make it seem complicated to make sense of things like pack features mentioned in product descriptions. The video above covers some of the basic anatomy of backpacks generally and aims to give you a good idea of the components of a pack and what they’re called.


Backpacks typically come in two different designs – panel loaders and top loaders. A top loading pack traditionally has a hood that opens and you can access the main packbag through the top as your main entry point. By contrast, a panel loader has entry points that are outside of the top. The panel-loading pack featured in the video above has a zippered opening across the front of the pack; when it’s lying down on its back, the opening is similar to a piece of luggage.


The most important part of a backpack is called the suspension system. This “system” is a combination of the hip belt and the shoulder harness, as well as whatever components are used for load transfer, like aluminum stays, titanium rods or a foam back panel. The suspension system includes technologies and materials a manufacturer has devised to distribute weight from the pack onto your back in a way that’s comfortable and safe; these technologies vary widely and you may have to try on several packs to understand what technologies suit your body best.


Next, it is important to consider some of the basic straps and configurations for the components of the suspension system. In the pack model featured in our video above, the hip belt and adjustment are in the front. A very important strap on the side of the pack is the load distribution strap, which connects the hip belt to the bottom of the pack. You will also have shoulder straps (with adjustments under the arm in the pack model shown) and a sternum strap across the chest. Lastly, you will find load lifters. On the pack model shown, they attach from the shoulder or collar bone section of the shoulder padding and go up to the very top of the pack.


Keep in mind that every pack manufacturer is a little different and some of them have very unique features that are specific to their packs and their company alone; not all packs are created equally, though they do all have similar basic anatomy.