The straps on the outside of a backpack are for attaching and carrying gear that’s too bulky to fit inside your pack. Bear canisters, foam sleeping pads, tents, rope, snowshoes, crampons, fishing rods, paddles, packrafts, ice axes, you name it: these are all much easier to attach to the outside of a backpack than inside. The backpack straps that are the easiest to use are the side compression straps – simple slip the gear you need to carry under them and tighten. If there aren’t any straps where you want to attach something, most people make their own with pieces of cord and cord-locks to help keep them tight.
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