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Backpack Bungee Cord: What is it for?

12.09.20

If you’ve ever owned a backpack with bungee cords for daily use, you may have wondered what the elastic straps were for (or how you could use them effectively). The purpose of these straps is to give you a little extra room to store your gear on long hikes and camping trips. 

In this article, I’ll teach you how to use the shock cords on your backpack best, how to add them if you don’t have any, and some tips and tricks you might find useful. If you’re wondering how to use a bungee cord on a backpack, look no further.

What Are the Bungee Cords on a Backpack For?

While, in theory, you can use the cords on your backpack for whatever you want, they’re designed to help grasp onto bulky, soft items that might not naturally fit inside your backpack. For me, this might be a small tent, a towel roll, a bulky coat, or even a compact sleeping bag. However, I use these cords for many more purposes once I get to my campsite, too.

Firstly, my backpack bungee cord can also act as an extra area to hook things onto. Sometimes I tie an extra pair of shoes to my backpack bungee cord if I’m running short on room in my bag, for example, or sometimes I even use this as an efficient way to air-dry wet items. I like to go hiking in running shoes, so sometimes I’ll tie these shoes to my backpack to dry and wear another pair when they get sweaty.

I know from experience that a swimsuit or pair of shoes packed inside my bag won’t dry efficiently, and they’ll get my other belongings wet, too! Similarly, I sometimes attach wet water bottles, canteens, and foods that I don’t want to squish outside my hiking backpack.

Carrying Large Items

One of the most convenient uses for the elastics on my backpack is to carry bulky or long items. For example, tent poles that can’t collapse enough to fit in my bag, fishing poles, saws, pots and pans, and even sleeping pads are all great uses for my backpack’s elastics. 

What About My Shoulder Strap?

The best hiking backpacks will have multiple areas to attach your belongings – your shoulder strap is just one example. However, while your backpack bungee cord works the same way as your backpack accessory straps, it’s flexible rather than fixed. 

Because they’re elastic, they grip onto belongings and keep them in place rather than letting them slide around. However, it’s important to remember that shock cords over-extend and wear out over time, too. Unlike your backpack accessory straps, you’ll need to replace your shock cord with new elastics because they’ll lose their ability to stretch (or they’ll break, whichever comes first).

What Is a Shock Cord?

A shock cord is just another name for the bungee cords that you can attach to your backpack. Shock cords are elastic cords used for binding equipment, locking things down, and other similar tasks. For example, if the bungee cords on your bag are too thin or flimsy for you, you can purchase a thicker or stronger shock cord to replace it – I’ve done this before myself.

How Do You Shorten Bungee Cords?

If you need to shorten your backpack bungee cords, there are several ways you can do so. The best way to do this is to use the stoppers on your shock cord to constrict it rather than shortening it permanently. 

However, if I really need to make a bungee cord cut, I’ll sometimes do that. I just make sure to tie off or otherwise seal the end of my bungee cord after making my cut to be sure it doesn’t unravel over time. And finally, if all else fails, I can just tuck my extra bungee cord inside my backpack or a convenient pocket to get it out of the way.

How Much Weight Can a Bungee Cord Hold?

How much weight your shock cords can hold depends on several things. Some of these criteria might be:

  • How old they are
  • How much they were meant to carry when you bought them
  • How much you’ve used them
  • What temperatures you use them in
  • How you attach the object to them

Generally, you don’t want to overburden your shock cords at all if possible. If your backpack bungee cords snap mid-use, they could end up hurting you or others, and your goods might end up damaged, too. If you’re in doubt, secure it to your backpack accessory straps instead.

If your shock cords are brand-new, abide by the directions that came with them if you have them. However, if you have old or worn-out cables, the best thing to do is to trust your gut. If you have something heavy to carry that you don’t think your cords can handle, either pack it away somewhere else or replace your cables first. 

Also, remember that rubber elastics tend to get brittle when subjected to cold temperatures. I always make sure to secure less with my elastics than I usually do when I hike to high elevations or go cold-weather camping since a heavy load could end up damaging them.

What Can You Do With a Bungee Cord?

Once you get to your campsite, your bungee cord’s usefulness doesn’t just go away! If you can detach your cables from your backpack as I can, you can use them for all sorts of useful things around the camp. Similarly, if you want to bring a paracord, fishing line, or climbing rope that you plan to use later, you can thread that into your backpack’s slots instead of elastic and take it out later.

For example, I’ve used the elastics on my backpack for things like securing food up in trees (when I’ve had to worry about bears where I’ve been camping), tying down a rain tarp in case of a storm, or securing things that could blow away in heavy winds. 

Concerns, Tips, and Tricks

Before you lash anything to the outside of your backpack, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Firstly, remember that, unless you plan to cover your backpack with a parka or tarp, anything you secure to the outside will be at the mercy of the elements. 

For example, if you attach your favorite hand saw or machete to the outside of your pack, it could end up gathering rust if it rains. Similarly, if you bundle up a sleeping bag or tent that isn’t in a waterproof bag, it could end up watered down and soggy. 

Next, keep in mind that while it may be tempting to secure many things to your bag’s elastics, those elastics are designed to be stretchy. If I tied something to them that was very heavy, it could bounce around more than if I attached it to one of my non-elastic shoulder straps instead. 

Finally, I always check and double-check that anything I attach to my backpack, whether with the elastics or not, isn’t in danger of falling off or falling out. When I’m focused and on the trail, it’s not always obvious when something detaches from my pack. I could end up without cooking supplies, tools, or even my tent! 

Final Thoughts

While I used to ignore the bungee cords on my backpack because I didn’t think they served much of a purpose, I now kick myself for doing that for so many years! The elastic portion of my backpack can be so useful for bringing just one or two extra items to make my wilderness stay more fun and comfortable.

As long as you secure your belongings carefully, I can promise you’ll find the cords on your backpack to be incredibly useful, too. They provide so much extra function and space to an already-full pack, and now I even bring things that I never dreamed I’d have room for before. Nowadays, I never leave for a hike without my favorite frying pan to make a delicious wilderness breakfast!

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