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Vest Style Backpack Straps vs Conventional Backpack Shoulder Straps

vest-style shoulder straps

Backpacks with vest-style shoulder straps, inspired by the trail running community, are increasingly popular. Vest-style backpack straps work best on lower-volume backpacks with a maximum of 40L of volume and maximum recommended loads under 25 pounds. This is because the pack weight sits higher up on your torso – your chest, shoulders, and upper back instead of the more powerful muscles of your hips. That’s also why many packs with vest-style shoulder straps don’t have hip belts or the ones they do have them aren’t load-bearing.

Here’s a breakdown of vest-style straps compared to conventional backpack straps:

Vest-Style Shoulder Straps

  • Design: Wide, often made of breathable, stretchy material. They wrap around the torso like a vest.
  • Benefits:
    • Stability: Snug fit minimizes bouncing, ideal for high-movement activities like running or biking.
    • Balance: Distributes load across the front and back of the body.
    • Momentum: Front weight helps generate forward momentum, good for running.
    • Comfort: Distributes weight evenly across shoulders and chest, reducing pressure points.
    • Accessibility: Easier access to gear stored in front pockets on the vest itself.
  • Drawbacks:
    • Capacity: Typically designed for lighter loads, not ideal for multi-day adventures.
    • Ventilation: Can trap heat against your back, especially in warm weather.
    • Adjustability: May offer less adjustability compared to traditional straps or backpacks with adjustable torso lengths. Since vest-style packs are usually frameless, they lack load lifters.

Conventional Backpack Shoulder Straps

  • Design: Padded straps with adjustable buckles and sternum straps. J-shaped straps are designed for use by men. S-shaped straps are better for women because they curve around breasts, but are also comfortable for men. Some companies like ULA Equipment offer the choice of J or S-shaped shoulder straps on their semi-custom packs.
  • Benefits:
    • Capacity: Can handle heavier loads due to weight transfer to hips through a hip belt when the backpack has a frame.
    • Ventilation: Mesh padding allows for better airflow.
    • Adjustability: More straps and buckles for a customized fit. In particular, shoulder straps with load lifters can be used to bring the main compartment closer to your core muscles.
  • Drawbacks:
    • Stability: Can bounce more during high-movement activities.
    • Comfort: May dig into shoulders with heavy loads.
    • Accessibility: Gear stored in the main compartment may be harder to reach.

Popular Vest Style Backpacks

Make / ModelVest-Style StrapsRegular Straps Available
Osprey Talon Velocity 30YN
Nashville Packs Cutaway 40YY
Mountainsmith Zerk 40YN
Fast Kumo 36 FastpackYY
Six Moon Designs Flight 30YY
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 40YN
Yama Mountain Gear Sassafras 34YN

Choosing Between Them:

  • Activity: Vest-style chest and shoulder straps excel in running, biking, and fast-paced activities. Conventional backpack shoulder straps are better for hiking, backpacking, and carrying heavier loads.
  • Comfort: Vest-style straps are great for lighter loads, while conventional backpack straps are better for heavier loads with proper adjustment.
  • Climate: Consider ventilation if you tend to get hot easily. Conventional straps may be cooler.

Ultimately, the best choice depends on your specific needs, preferences, and fit.

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4 comments

  1. I bought a couple of those Six Moon Swifts to try out. They felt incredibly cheap with shoddy workmanship.

  2. The Mystery Ranch Bridger series has changed over to the vest type harness and are supposed to be able to carry heavier loads. I havent found one locally to try on yet, but I am intrigued. Definitely not lightweight though.

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