Jun 29, 20186869 views

How To Properly Pack Your Backpack

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Ask a group of backpackers how they pack their bags and you’ll receive a wide variety of answers. While each person has their own personal preference, there are some general rules of thumb that serve well, especially for novices just learning the art. Packed well, your load should feel balanced and stable, with little sway as you stand.
Choose appropriate gear
Every trip has unique demands. Choosing the appropriate pack for the outing will keep you honest on your packing list and save your shoulders unnecessary weight. Obviously, the longer the outing, the larger your pack size will be. Winter months will require more warm (and bulky) layers, as well as potentially more gear like snowshoes or traction devices. Consider trip-specific challenges or special needs and pack accordingly. If you are traveling with a group, collaborate to reduce gear duplication. Does every person need their own stove and cookset? What gear items can be shared to reduce overall weight for everyone? Where I live in the often grey Pacific Northwest, rain is always a possibility regardless of season. I like to use a heavy duty contractor-grade trash bag to line my pack, placing items within it. It’s a lightweight solution that adds an extra layer of protection against the type of weather that is common up here.
Lay It Out
Once you’ve settled on a pack, lay out all the gear you think you’ll need for your travel. I like to arrange my gear layout by function: sleep system (tent, sleeping bag/pad, sleeping clothes), food (cook-set, stove, bear canister, meals, snacks), hydration, first aid, etc. Grouping items can help you see gaps in your preparation more quickly. It also helps to combine items for streamlined packing. Long underwear for sleeping can be stuffed into the sleeping bag compression sack, for example. Your stove may ride inside the cookpot, along with a small cleaning cloth, lighter, and spoon.
Bottom Third
Before getting started, it’s important to remember to fill and load your water bladder first if you are using one. Trying to push a wiggly water pouch into a loaded backpack is like trying to push a rope. It doesn’t work well! With that out of the way, the bottom of your pack is the perfect place to put items you won’t use until camp. If your sleeping pad rolls up small, this is a good place for it. Sleeping bags fit well here, and warm layers as well as camp booties can be stuffed into the crevices to make a solid base for the rest of your gear.
Middle Third
Heavy gear that won’t necessarily be needed during the day should go in the central zone. Keeping your center of gravity close on your back can reduce strain and overall instability. Weight too low on your back can cause discomfort, and weight too high can make you more prone to tipping. Bear canisters full of heavy food, cooksets and stoves, and fuel are all good candidates for the central zone. Be sure to pack any liquid fuels separately and below food in case of leaks.
Top Third
This is the zone for all the items you think you might need access to during your hike. Most backpacks have a zippered pouch at the top that is perfect for sunglasses, sunscreen, chapstick, map, and light snacks. At the top of the main compartment is a good location for your rain jacket, water filter, and bathroom supplies. My personal preference is to place my first aid kit directly on top here for easy access in case of an emergency.
Outside The Pack
Most backpacks have loops and extra straps for attaching unwieldy gear like ice axes, trekking poles, or crampons. Camp stools, climbing ropes, and bulkier sleeping pads can all find their home on the outside of your pack. Be mindful that gear here can easily snag on overhanging brush. Protective stuff sacks can reduce damage for items that may rip easily. Overall, limiting what you strap on to the outside of your pack is a good general rule.

Do you have any packing tips you’d like to share? How does your packing compare? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!
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Cardamomtea, Isaac Stoner, and 16 others
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I fold my sleep pad, and insert it into an extra large sized ziplock type bag. This is packed into the sleeve that holds my hydration bladder. Create a protective layer for the bladder. It's easy to pull out when I stop to rest and becomes my sit-upon. Light, Organized, Works for me.
i like to pack all unused clothing into the bottom of my pack and compress it all down so it fills out the bottom of the pack. I find that this helps make it so the pack will sit up by itself and not fall down. I dont bother to use a stuff sack for the clothes, just use the weight from everything else to compress the clothes.
One thing no one mentions or wants to tell anyone........ So I will. The bigger the pack and the more it can hold , The more extra , worthless , heavy , useless , just in case krap you will stuff in it to fill any empty space. It's call Human Nature folks and I for one use to be guilty of doing it. Go on the hike. When you get back make three piles , #1 Used all the time. #2 Used now and then , #3 Never used , put that pile in storage and filed away.
oldsparkey
yep..its called 'packing your fears"
m0welsh
Back when I was a Boy Scout (I'm an Eagle Scout, bronze palm) we called it "being prepared". I'll happily carry an extra pound or so if it means I'm prepared for nearly any eventuality. Then again, I usually wind up using those items on my fellow backpackers who put all their focus on packing ultralight rather than on being prepared.
It's not about bottom to top, it's about putting your heaviest items closest to your back so they have less leverage therefore less effect on your balance. That's all the advice anyone needs.
(Edited)
FireboxSteve
I use a GG Mariposa and I pack the things I won't need til camp on the 1/3 as well.. my BV on top of it (middle 1/3) and stuff things like my rain gear, snacks/lunch around it..and on the outside pouch, I pack my first aid, bio bag and Sawyer water filter
FireboxSteve
I recently took an REI class on how to pack a backpack. They recommend compressibles (sleeping bag, clothes) in the bottom (because the weight of the rest of your gear above will compress them even further), then heavier items like sleeping pad, food, fuel, cook system, etc. in the middle, and finally on top any items needing easy access like toiletries, first aid, snacks, rain gear, etc. That said, a pack like the Zpacks Arc Haul Zip throws some of this advice into question since you can access nearly all your gear simultaneously via the main zipper (or use the outer compartment as a substitute for the "brain"). But the basic concept of weight distribution still holds true.
Only thing I'd add to that is leaving extra space. Obviously the outside of a pack are great for storing quick access items like rain coat etc. But you might also want to store something there i.e. food, tinder (if you are the Bushcrafting type), or wet gear you want to dry out (tent fly, wet clothes etc). I picked up this habit when I was starting out with bikepacking. I had decided not to cook food, to keep my load light, so that meant stopping for each meal, instead of bring something to camp with me (and also waking up early to find breakfast). Now I tend to leave at least a few liters of empty space in my gear (hiking, or biking). Or leave an outside pocket free for any incidental requirements.
The inside items are all the items I want protected from the weather and do not need till camp. The only things on the outside of my pack are actually inside , sort of. I'm referring to the mesh pocket on the front of my pack. If the rain fly for the hammock is wet or damp it goes in that outside pocket. Water filter along with the trowel for cat holes. Anything else that requires easy to get to like rain gear. The two shoulder strap pouches are for snacks during the day and incidentals I might need. The two side pockets of the pack are for water bottles and sometimes the water filter goes i there.
Securing a Compression/Dry Bag with Sleeping Bag/Pad/Long Johns, Tent and Towel to the bottom, outside of the pack is the best. This keeps those items bone dry and readily accessible for immediate use and set-up. Also, Opens space inside the pack for rest of gear including clothes. The only other loose items that lash to outside of pack are an Axe, Rope and/or small Fire Grate.
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Very cool. I have the very same tent and will be taking it to Philmont this summer with my son.
jperdog
Do you hang bag to the very bottom or on the front of the bottom so it sticks out? How dies either affect your balance?