November 12, 2013

Accessory Strap Holders: Return of an Icon

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Tom on the design of the Guide's Pack

Accessory strap holders were originally designed as a means to allow the user to add lash straps to a backpack to secure either items that were oddly shaped (such as ice axes or skis) or to extend the capacity of the pack (by adding a sleeping bag in its stuff sack or perhaps a rolled-up ground pad). Eventually, these usually diamond-shaped patches became emblematic, symbolizing that a pack was a real outdoor pack. Of course some manufacturers then sewed them on pretty much every pack they made, even school/book bags; most people had no idea what they were for and even if they did, well, few students carried ice axes anyway (probably for the best).

The earliest versions of these patches were made from thick, full-grain leather: they were often stiff and hard to use, especially when soaking wet and/or frozen (by that point, the user's fingers were usually wet and/or frozen too — what fun). While leather is quite abrasion resistant, it doesn't have much tear strength, so even the heaviest leather couldn't support much weight. As accessory strap holders filtered down from genuine outdoor gear to mass-market consumer goods, the quality of the leather used declined as well. And unless regularly treated with leather conditioner, even the high-end, full-grain leather patches would become brittle over time.

In the 1980s, many manufacturers began switching to simply using a short piece of nylon webbing sewn down to the pack fabric (both ends were tacked down or included in a seam) as a replacement for leather patches. Though the stitching was often an area of acute stress, this solution was still stronger than the old leather patches, and usually easier to thread the lash strap through as well. These loops of nylon webbing, or sometimes a full daisy chain of loops in webbing, have now become the industry standard, and they work pretty well.

(There was a brief period — very dark times indeed — when black plastic strap holders, molded to look vaguely like the leather patches they replaced, made an appearance. They typically would fail after a few seasons' use, plus they were . . . less than attractive.)

When we first considered revisiting some of the old designs, I became obsessed with developing a new version of the once-iconic, diamond-shaped accessory strap holder. I wanted to make something that spoke to the aesthetic of that era, but was more useful, stronger, and didn't tend to absorb water. After a lengthy search for the right material and endless iterations of the shape, size, and sewing pattern, I think we've nailed it.

My final design is composed of a short length of nylon webbing, sewn (with substantial bar tacks) onto the fabric at the same time as a die-cut patch of synthetic felt. The synthetic felt is evocative of heavy leather, and though it's quite strong, it bears none of the load: the nylon webbing provides all the strength. The synthetic felt provides reinforcement at the area of stress — at the stitching — and nicely covers the hot-cut ends of the webbing. I designed both a single version (the common diamond shape) and a double version. Double accessory strap holders are useful for lashing skis or a yoga mat onto the side of The Guide's Pack; they also provide the optional/removable side pockets with a sweet spot to secure to the pack (via the Annex Clips included with the pockets).

Optional Accessory Straps are available in matching coyote brown: choose from a pair of 24" straps (used to secure a small sleeping bag or mat) and a 10" strap (to secure an ice axe), both made from 1" wide nylon webbing.



TB Crew - November 19, 2019

@haraya Glad you liked the post. It’s worth noting: some of the accessory strap holders that you see on modern bags aren’t designed for actual use / are there for aesthetic purposes, so make sure you’re using a bag with serious accessory strap holders before you strap anything significant to them. :)

haraya - November 19, 2019

Love this. I never really knew what the diamond patches were for… so it is nice to read the history, as well as to know that now there is a more practical, elegant solution!

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