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Why Do Backpacks Have Bungee Cords? aka Shock Cords

Ever wonder how people use the bungie cords on the front of their backpack? Those straps always seemed pointless until I started backpacking and cycling. So why do backpacks have bungie cords and how are they used?

Backpack bungie cords are used to strap additional gear to the outside of small packs. Strap on large bulky items that don’t fit easily inside your pack. If the item is light and waterproof it can be strapped to the outside of your pack with bungie cords.

Not every pack will have bungie cords attached to the back. They’re mainly found on small daypacks, cycling packs and school bags. The elastic bungie cords on your pack are surprisingly useful.

I use mine to carry bulky gear like sleeping pads, cooking equipment, extra guylines, and anything else that can get wet. The rest of this article will explain how to use and replace your shock cords. Plus a few alternatives if your pack doesn’t have built in bungie cords.

How to Attach and Use The Bungee Cord on Your Backpack

It’s way easier to carry heavy loads when your backpack has bungie cords (aka shock cords). Anything that doesn’t easily fit inside your pack can be strapped outside. Just make sure it’s waterproof or you’ll need to use a dry bag.

It’s just elastic cord threaded through tie out loops on the outside of your bag. Use the elastic shock cord to lash anything that can’t fit inside your bag.

Keep in mind that shock/bungie cords are usually found on smaller daypacks and school bags. Larger bags usually have attachment points to create your own shock cord lashing system.

If your pack has loops, eyelets, and attachment points you can make a bungee cord system.

Quick Tip: Avoid Strapping Lots of Stuff to The Outside of Your Pack. This is a very common mistake among novice backpackers. You get a little more space in the pack, but it throws off your balance and gets hung up on branches.

If you have more than 3-4 items strapped to the outside of your pack, you need to shed gear or buy a bigger pack. Your food, clothing, tent, air mattress, hydration bladder and delicate items need to go inside the pack.

What Items Should I Strap to The Outside of My Pack?

  • Trekking Poles, Snowshoes, Crampons, etc.
  • Foam Sleeping Pad (latched to bottom)
  • Wet and Muddy Gear
  • Rope and Extra Guylines
  • Lightweight Jackets and Rain Gear (as needed)

Bungee Cords Are Great For Large Bulky Items

Just strap anything that’s bulky to the outside of your pack. Things like trekking poles, rope, helmets, foam sleeping pads, etc can be secured using the bungie cords.

Anything that doesn’t easily fit in your pack needs to be strapped to the outside. Just remember that there’s a fine line between acceptable and ridiculous. There’s a point where you’re better off buying a larger pack.

My sleeping gear always goes inside my pack, but I have friends that carry their entire sleep system outside. You’ll need a waterproof compression stuff sack if you plan on strapping a sleeping bag/pillow outside your pack.

I really like my Alps Mountaineering Compression Stuff Sack. It’s cheap, lightweight, completely waterproof, and it compresses my sleeping bag/pillow down to 25% of the usual size. I use it inside my pack, but it will work just as well outside.

Attach Long Items To The Outside of Your Pack Using Bungee Cords

Attach long items to the outside of your pack. Things like trekking poles, snowshoes, crampons, etc all need to go on the outside of your pack. My fishing poles occasionally go on the ouside of my pack as well.

My trekking poles always go on the outside of my pack when I’m not using them. Stuffing long trekking poles into your pack can potentially damage your poles. Plus, it also makes them easier to access and put away.

It doesn’t matter if I’m taking a 5 minute break or stopping for lunch. You don’t want to set down your poles and accidentally leave them behind.

Some backpacks have built in shock cords, but you can attach regular bungie cords to most packs. My pack has at least 10 attachment points spread throughout the back of the pack.

Jackets and Rain Gear

I would say that 99% of the time my shock cords are carrying a light jacket. I’m a freeze baby, but I sweat a lot when I’m hiking. So I’m constantly taking off and putting on a lightweight windbreaker or fleece jacket.

My rain gear only gets lashed to the outside of my pack on overcast days. I rarely put it on (makes me sweat), but it’s nice to have easy access in a downpour.

Anything Else You Need to Quickly Access

It’s hard to predict what else you’ll need to strap to the back of your pack. Anything that doesn’t easily fit in your pack should be lashed to the outside.

Don’t fall into the trap of attaching everything to the outside of your pack. It’s really easy to overdo it without realizing. Snagging gear on branches 50 times per day is never fun.

Don’t Accidentally Throw Off Your Balance

Adding extra weight to the back of your pack will throw off your center of gravity. Try to keep weight centered close to your torso. Keeping weight close to your body will help reduce back strain.

It’s all about minimizing the amount of gear you need to carry. Don’t be the guy that has a million things strapped to their pack. It will end up snagging on everything and throw off your balance.

Just bite the bullet and buy a bigger pack if you need additional space. Kelty’s Redwing lineup of packs offers excellent bang for your buck.

Dry Wet and Muddy Gear Outside Your Pack

I absolutely hate hiking in wet clothing. Sometimes you have to suck it up, but strap wet clothes to your pack when the sun comes out. With the right hiking clothes they’ll be dry in no time.

You’re missing out if you haven’t tried merino wool hiking socks. Spend the extra money on Smartwool or Darn Tough Hiking Socks. Merino wool dries fast, doesn’t cause blisters, and fights bacteria naturally. Plus they’re actually comfortable when wet.

What If My Pack Doesn’t Have Bungee Cords?

Don’t Worry! It’s cool if your pack doesn’t have bungee cords. Every hiking backpack has attachment points to lash external gear. Pick up cheap bungee cords from home depot or para-cord/guylines to attach stuff to the pack.

Bungee cords and Shock Cords will be easier to use, but they occasionally come undone. Buy a bunch of different sizes so you can attach bulky gear.