Backpacks are a different creature today—especially if you compare the new internal frame packs to the external frame packs of yesteryear. Top or side loading, you’ll be a happier camper if you know how to pack your sack strategically for both comfort and convenience.
In order to pack your backpack for convenience, you’ll want to keep any items you may want while on the trail (GPS/map, headlamp/flashlight, water, first aid kit, rain gear, etc) in easy to reach pockets, such as your hip-belt pocket or side pockets. Water storage is built into most modern backpacks with compatible hydration pack options.
For comfort, your backpack needs to be loaded to sit comfortably on your hips. This is best accomplished when the center of mass is not too high, which can cause tilting to one side or the other, and not too low, which tends to feel droopy. When your gear is well distributed your backpack will hug tightly against your own frame and won’t pull you off balance.
Foremost, pick the right backpack for you. For tips on what to consider in a backpack, see our post “How to Choose the Right Backpack for the Adventure” here at the Adventure Hub. Backpacks are designed for different types of hikes as well as hikers. When you have the right tool, you’ve won half the battle, at least.
When you pack food, be sure to use zipper storage bags, organizing meals by day or type (snack, lunch, dinner, etc.). If you happen to be in bear country, you’ll need to be a bit more strategic. Bear canisters and a bit of rope to hang the food from a tree are necessities you won’t want to be without.
Sleeping Bag and Pad
Generally, you’ll want to pack your sleeping bag at the bottom of your bag. Some bags even have sleeping bag compartments. These are great because they keep your gear off your bag. Unwanted pressure on your sleeping bag can compress your fill and potentially cause cold spots. Attach your sleeping pad on the outside of the pack; just be conscientious of your surroundings. You don’t want to snag your favorite self-inflating pad. Look for sleeping pads that come with their own compression sacks for an added layer of protection.
Clothes are easy to over pack. Unless you expect to face rain, it’s best to take along less clothing than you would for other kinds of getaways. Remember, the shower will be waiting at the end of the trip and clothes add weight fast. Pack a change of underwear for each day, but leave the extra pair of jeans at home. Socks are important—usually a dry pair, a pair to wash, and a pair to wear will get you through.
If you’re hiking with a group, you can distribute the pieces of a larger tent to different hikers. If you’re carrying a one-man tent you can tuck it under the bottom of your pack or strap to the side. Many backpacks offer loops and other gear tethers to clip items to the outside of your bag and this can be really helpful when packing your tent. Be aware that too much stuff attached to the outside of your backpack can cause you to sway off balance. Also, loose items can snag on the vegetation you may be hiking through.
Side note: Remember to pack the heavier items closest to your back. This helps distribute the weight so it’s easier to carry.
A Word on Incidentals
Again, don’t over pack! If you can, lay out your gear at home and cut it down a fraction at a time; you’ll be surprised how little you need—especially when you consider what it will feel like to pack a third of your weight around all day. And enjoy the trial and error process. Soon packing your bag will be second nature.
Here is the camping checklist that we include with all our gear: Camping checklist
If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask us! We love helping other adventurers prepare for their trips. Also, please comment with your own backpack-packing tips.