You’ve bought your gear. Your plans are set. It’s a few days before you start your trip and it’s time to start packing your backpack. But what goes where?
Well, the first thing you should know is that there is no “right way” to pack a backpack. Each person is different, and it may take you a few trips until you figure out the the packing routine that both functions well and feels the most comfortable. If you’re bringing a journal with you on your trip, we definitely recommend keeping notes about how your backpack feels each day. It’ll help you in the long run and make packing easier each time you go out.
The most important thing to consider when you pack a backpack is balance. A well balanced backpack will not sway when walking and will rest most comfortable on a traveler’s body.
Your backpack can be broken down into three main zones:
- Bottom Zone: Your “once a day” gear. Things like your tent, sleeping bag, and other bulky gear.
- Middle Zone: All your heavier gear should go here.
- Top Zone: Your gear that you may need during your hike.
The Bottom Zone:
All the stuff you won’t need until you’re ready to settle down for the night.
- Sleeping bag. Many packs have special built in sections specifically for your sleeping bag.
- Sleeping pad. Bonus points if it can be rolled up in to a much more condensed shape.
- Tent or hammock gear. Make sure you purchase a tent that has poles that can be broken down.
- Other shoes or footwear.
If you’re traveling with another hiker and plan on using a single tent, we recommend you split your sleeping gear between the two of you. It’ll reduce the demand for space in each pack.
The Middle Zone:
Heavy, dense gear, that you won’t need to access until you’ve made camp. Packing heavier items here helps create a center of gravity. Placed too low and the backpack will feel saggy. Placed to high and it’ll make you top heavy and more prone to falling over.
- Entrees, not snacks. If you plan on cooking a meal once you make camp, place all the ingredients in the center of your pack.
- Your cooking kit. Your stove and any fuel you may be carrying. If you’re using liquid fuel, double and triple check that your fuel cap is on secure!
- A water reservoir. We highly recommend bringing a water bladder with you, even if you are planning on solely using water bottles for hydration. This will add some weight to your pack, so again, if you can split your gear among several packers, do it! Also, don’t fill the reservoir and then try to place it in your bag. It’ll be very difficult. Place the empty reservoir in your bag and then carefully fill it up, allowing it to expand and find it’s own way of sitting.
- Bear canister. No one wants to cross a bear. Put all your food in one of these, as well as any other smaller items to help fill it up.
Wrap softer items around this bulkier gear to prevent any shifting. Extra clothes and a rain fly are great items to fill space and prevent your contents from shifting around. It also creates shock absorption.
The Top Zone
Bulky items that you may need to access quickly and multiple times during your hike.
- Clothes like jackets, rain jackets, hats, gloves, etc.
- First-aid kit.
- Toilet essentials.
- Your tent. Yes, we earlier recommended that you place your tent at the bottom of your back. However, some hikers like to be able to reach their tent quickly, especially if weather sets in. Pay attention to the weather report! If it says that the chance of poor weather is a possibility, consider packing your tent at the top of your pack for quicker access.
Pockets & Tool Loops
Each pack is designed differently, but almost all offer additional pockets and tool loops for organizing your backpack.
- Navigation tools. Map, compass, GPS. Know your way!
- Sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm
- Bug spray
- Water bottle
- ID and Cash
- TOOL LOOPS:
- Trekking poles
- Tent poles
- Sleeping pad
Packing a backpack will become second nature to you, once you figure out what process and configuration you like best for you. Try it all different ways. Re-arrange your pack every day during a trip and you’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.