The role of colloidal constituents in soil structure and its resistance to compaction was studied in two acid forest soils of contrasting pH, clay type and texture. The soils were trafficked with an eight‐wheel‐drive forwarder, and undisturbed topsoil samples were taken on trafficked and control plots. Shrinkage analysis was used to assess the soil's physical behaviour, and in addition texture, organic carbon content and exchangeable Al3+ (Alex) and amorphous Al oxide (Aloxa) contents were determined. The effect of each constituent on the soil's physical properties was assessed with covariance analysis. The hydro‐structural stability and coarse pore (> 150 µm radius) and structural pore volumes of control samples were strongly determined by organic carbon and the forms of Al, whereas the plasma porosity was determined by clay content only. Organic carbon and Aloxa increased the structural pore and coarse pore volumes and modified their susceptibility to compaction; organic carbon provided a protecting effect, whereas it was the opposite with Aloxa. We observed contrasting effects of the colloidal constituents and of the behaviour of the pore systems on compaction. The situation is complex and we need to take into account the effects of the colloidal constituents to determine the effects of compaction on the soil's porosity. A simplified approach in which we used the water content at −10 hPa as a covariate predicted soil bulk density as accurately as with all the analytical covariates, and it seems to be an inexpensive way to assess compaction.