A floating lid is a detachable pocket on the top of a backpack that can be used to carry more gear when the pack’s main compartment is full. They’re commonly found on winter or climbing backpacks and are very handy when you need to carry extra gear.
Floating Lids on Winter Backpacks
Floating lids are particularly useful in winter, because you can use a smaller lighter backpack to carry all of your gear, without having to carry some high volume, 7lb behemoth, that doesn’t get any lighter as you use up your supplies. I wouldn’t even consider buying a winter pack without one.
A floating lid is usually attached to a backpack’s body by four straps, two attached above the load lifters, and two attached to the front of the pack (or the back), near the base. To use it, you lay bulky gear, like a tent, sleeping pad, or rope, on top of a main compartment, so that the ends stick out of the sides. Then you winch down the straps to sandwich the extra gear in place.
Floating Lid Pockets
It’s also not unusual to have at least two zippered pockets on a floating lid, one underneath, facing the top of the pack’s main compartment and at least one zippered pocket on top. For example, the floating lid on my Cold Cold World Chaos, shown above, has a zippered under the lid where I keep my toiletries and camera gear, and two pockets on top, which hold my SPOT II, compass, snacks, extra gloves, goggles, sunglasses, balaclava, and neoprene face mask.
Having this gear at hand is extremely useful when climbing peaks in winter, because it saves time, and you don’t have to dig around for it in your pack to find it when it’s required.
Test before you Buy
Before you buy a pack with a floating lid, make sure you test it out. Retailers like REI have an unlimited return policy that does permit returns after use, just don’t make it a habit.
Here are some common problems that you might encounter with floating lids, and that are indicative of poorly designed backpack.
- The outer lid pockets become unusable because the gear the lid is holding in place, interferes with the pocket storage.
- The straps traps attaching the floating lid to the pack are not long enough to secure a bulky item, like a bear canister or a thick sleeping pad.
- The back our your head rubs against the floating lid and there’s no way to reposition it.
Floating Lids on 3 Season Backpacks
Many backpack manufacturers include floating lids on 3 season backpacks, and while they can help with gear organization, they’re often not needed to the same degree as in winter. None of my 3 season packs have floating lids, and unless you are going on a long trip without resupply, you can probably shed the weight of a floating lid and do without this feature.
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