How to Pack a Backpack
How to Pack a Backpack
It’s true that there are a lot of different packs and a lot of different types of equipment on the market, and every company has their own designs just as every backpacker has their own likes and dislikes and preferred ways to do things on the trail. The following how-to takes that into consideration while offering some tips and ways to pack basic backpacking gear into a backpack that’s going to make the process logical while separating items you need throughout the day versus items you need to have in camp. Also covered is how to distribute weight in your pack in a way that’s going to work with the pack’s suspension and general design.
Starting at the bottom of the pack, this area is an excellent location to stow a sleeping bag; they are typically bulky and heavy, but they are usually not the heaviest group of items that you may be carrying. Some backpacks have a zippered compartment at the bottom that you can easily access that is specifically designed for stowing your bag. Other packs do not have this feature, but that should not prevent you from placing your bag in the bottom of your pack. This will provide a couple of benefits. One, it’s going to give you a nice sturdy base for setting the pack down. Two, it builds a foundation for all the other items that you’re going to stack on top of it in the pack. Your bag is also something that you’re probably not going to need until you get to camp and go to bed, so stowing it away in the bottom where you might not have access to it on the trail is fine.
Moving on to the main packbag, or the main body compartment of the pack, the next item to stow is your tent. Tents are also going to be fairly bulky and heavy items, probably even heavier than your sleeping bag. If you are traveling with someone else and you can split the tent up, so one person gets the fly and one person gets the tent, that’s going to be the best way to pack it and evenly distribute weight. When solo backpacking, you will carry the entire tent yourself. An example of how to successfully pack a one-person tent, which might come in a long, skinny sack that really isn’t conducive to fitting in your pack in a way that allows room for other items would be to purchase a stuff sack in a size that works better. You could even purchase a compression sack if you wanted to compress your tent and make it even smaller. Definitely don’t limit yourself to the stuff sack that your tent came in, but consider other shapes and sizes. Packing your tent after your sleeping bag is going to add to the foundation that the sleeping bag has provided at the base of the pack. (Note that you should pack the tent poles and tent stakes away from the tent body to minimize the possibility of damage).
Typically the heaviest set of items you’ll be carrying in your pack are your food and cookware, not including water. Consider putting these heaviest items in the center area of the pack as close to your back as you can get them. Ideally, you want those heavier items to be right between your shoulder blades. Pack food in a way here that it’s got a long and skinny shape, so that it sits right up against the center of your back. Next, stack other similarly shaped items in this area, such as your sleeping pad and stove, which may also have similar weights. Cookware can also fit in this area.
The last items that take up a lot of room are clothes, though they are not so heavy. These can be packed up high in the pack because they weigh so little compared to everything else. Packing clothing here does make the previously packed food a bit inaccessible, so you might make a point to pack all of your camp meals, such as breakfasts and dinners, in there where you don’t need to access them though out the day while setting snacks and lunches aside to place in an easier to reach spot.
Remaining items at this point in the packing process are mostly smaller and lighter weight. Depending on the shape of your pack, you can place tent poles in an exterior side pocket. They are long and thin, which makes them fit well against the side of the pack. This location is a safe place to put poles where you won’t have to worry about them getting bent or damaging other items inside the pack. If your pack happens to have some other zippered side pockets, you might stow tent stakes there for safety, as well.
Additional items to pack might be a sheet set that goes with your sleeping pad and perhaps a pillow; these items can be packed in with your sleeping bag at the bottom of the pack, if you have the space. If you don’t have extra space with your sleeping bag, you might pack them in with clothing toward the top of the main packbag. If your pack has a lid, that is a good location to stow a rain or wind jacket, which you might need during the day on the trail. That way it’s in a place where you can grab it quickly, or if you’re hiking with someone else, they can grab it for you without you having to take your pack off.
Another important item you might pack is a SteriPEN or similar water treatment device. Plan to keep that in an easily accessible location, such as an exterior pocket. Remember that this item will be getting wet and will need to be dried. If you are carrying a larger water filter, plan to stow that in a top pocket or the lid where it is out of the way and protected in addition to being accessible. Other small odds and ends like a first aid kit, a bear bagging line, or a headlamp can be tucked any place on the outside of the pack where they can fit. You may need to reach your first aid kit in a hurry, or you may need your headlamp quickly late in the day. Be sure to place these small essentials in an easy-to-reach spot. Last, but certainly not least, consider your water and trail snacks, which should also be accessible.
And that’s how to pack a backpack. Hopefully, these basic tips give you a better understanding of where to put items in a pack to make your next trip a bit smoother and more comfortable.