What is a Floating Lid on a Backpack?

A floating lid top pocket lets you carry extra gear on top of the main pack bag

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 bulky gear that won’t fit inside your backpack.

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 long webbing straps, two attached above the load lifters, and two attached to the front of the pack. 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. Having this gear close 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 that are indicative of a 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 of 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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8 comments

  1. Makes a good pillow, too!

  2. I never thought of that. What a fantastic idea!

  3. Have you seen any packs whose floating lid converts into a fanny pack for the day? I like to set up camp and then head out for a look see with just my daytime supplies. The buckles which hold the lid on would be male/female so they would turn into a waist belt.

  4. Try the Kelty Coyote. Comes in a bunch of sizes.
    http://www.rei.com/product/797985
    I think Alps Mountaineering has this too on some packs

  5. Another advantage to the floating lid is that if you want to go light in good weather, you can remove the lid entirely and leave it at home.. The REI Flash 65 lets you do this.

  6. I started hiking last year. I need a backpack to do day hikes to tops 2 nights. There is so many reviews online and quite frankly it's a tough decision to get the right one. I want one that will attach trekking poles and also snowshoes. Can you recommend one or more for me where the quality is there but at a reasonable price. There is such a wide variety of prices for one that is 2000-3000 cu in ($50's – 200 plus). Reviews will praise one and the next review will not give such a rosy review. It's a tough decision but I don't want to be disappointed and have regrets. I decided to buy the Hillsound Pro crampons because of your review. I can't wait to try them out. thanks dbcooperisalive

  7. To carry snowshoes, you'll want a pack with top and bottom side compression straps. Take a look at the

    Osprey Kestrel 38
    http://www.rei.com/product/764215
    Gregory Z30
    http://www.rei.com/product/809208
    Golite Peak
    http://www.rei.com/product/793634
    Black Diamond Demon
    http://www.rei.com/product/798205

    All of these are packs from good manufacturers. I haven't used them myself, but if I were looking for a winter day pack, in the size you mentioned I'd try these out. I picked REI because it's easy to order and return things with them. So if you don't have a store close by, you can order the packs, test them at home with your snowshoes and see if they fit. Then return the packs that didn't work and keep your favorite.

    Hope that helps. The reviews you are probably reading are written by people who bought the packs, but the online retailers tend to bury the bad reviews and make them difficult to read.

  8. I have a Boreas Lost Coast Pack with a floating lid and have added buckle straps that I use to make a day pack put of it when i stay in one spot a day and what to explore the area. Works great and adds a 2nd use to that item.

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