From our early days of schoolbags and lunchboxes, we’ve all had a personal relationship with discovering the ways in which packing a bag can go wrong. Maybe you didn’t close your water bottle all the way, and now your lunch is soaked. Maybe the cool metal ruler your mom just bought poked you in the butt every time you walked. And now?
Now you’re about to embark on a multi-day journey with nothing but a bag (and maybe some cool friends) to keep you safe. You may be asking yourself: how to pack your backpack?
Packing the Essentials: How to Pack a Backpack
Thankfully, you’ve had your whole life to train. Those heavy books you carried to University always stayed close to your spine, and the ramen you brought for lunch stayed near the top so it didn’t become dust. These primary principles still apply, regardless of your destination. Below, we’ll discuss the “ABC’s” of packing your backpack to keep you safe, balanced, and comfortable.
First, choose the right bag for you and your trip. Every trailblazer has a different preference for what bag works for them: some prefer pocket-heavy, lightweight styles, much like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40. Solo travelers who carry all their supplies alone might opt for a sturdier style with more load capacity, like the Mystery Ranch Stein 62.
Whatever bag you choose, it is always important to first think about what you’ll need during your trip, and when you plan on needing it. That’s where the ABC’s start:
For instance, most hikers opt to put their sleeping bags right at the bottom of their pack. This not only provides comfort for the part of the pack that meets the hips, but it’s also an item that will only be needed once camp is made.
This strategy is especially helpful for hikers using a bag like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 3400, where items on the bottom are only accessible once everything else is taken out.
Placing the sleeping bag here also allows your heaviest gear to remain close to your core zone; that is, along your spine, above your hips, and in between your shoulder blades. This area is great for your heavier items, like your tent, food, cooking items, and apparel, and helps maintain your balance and keep a stable center of gravity when hiking.
That’s what the “B” stands for, Balance. As any experienced trail-blazer will tell you, a top-heavy pack is a recipe for disaster.
C is for Compression. Many hikers suggest using softer items to fill up any loose space in your pack, keeping in mind when you anticipate needing these items. Anytime that you can use compression packs to condense your items, do it! This will give you more space for other important items, like a lightweight chair, water bottle, or extra gas for your stove. Once your essential items are in your pack, be sure to use the compression straps located on the outside of your bag to keep everything tight, and to your body.
Now that everything is closed and cinched tight, it’s time to think about filling those outside pockets with items you’ll need easy access to on your hike. This can include anything from a water bottle to extra batteries, trail snacks, a first-aid kit, sunscreen, or camera. Zip everything up, do a double-check, and always put the bag on to make sure it feels comfortable. Adjust where you need. And remember, this is your bag. You’ll probably come up with your own way of packing over time. Nevertheless, it is always good to remember your ABC’s: Accessibility, Balance, and Compression. Happy Packing!
Looking for more camping hacks and tips. Check out this piece we did on learning to buy your first sleeping bag.
Still at the buying stage, and don’t know where to start? Feel free to use the essentials list below:
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Tent/ Hammock Shelter
- Cook Kit: Pot, Gas Canister, Stove, Food
- Mid Layer
- Medical Kit
- Survival Whistle
- Maps, Compass
- Water Filter
- Water Bottle
- Lightweight Chair
- Spare Batteries