Tips and Tricks for Packing Your Pack
A well-packed pack can help you stay on your feet in the backcountry. Photo: hiking in Sol Duc by BigPantsTrekker
There is no exact way to pack a backpack, but there are some general guidelines that will make it easier for you to access what you need, when you need it, and ease your load carried over a long day.
- Packing heavy items centered in your pack helps create a balanced, comfortable center of gravity. The goal is to have a load that rests on your hips and feels stable and predictable as you hike.
- Whether packing at home or at the trailhead, spread out your gear and visually confirm that you have everything that you need.
- Use a checklist. You may be tempted to simply throw everything into your pack, but packing it properly will improve your overall experience. A properly packed backpack can feel lighter than it actually is.
Main compartment packing
The bottom of your backpack is a good place to store items you won’t need until camp at the end of the day. Many backpacks have a separate sleeping bag compartment. If not, stuff your sleeping bag in the bottom of your pack.
The heaviest items should be placed on top of your sleeping bag, close to your spine. This includes your food, water supply, cooking kit and stove. Any liquid fuel should be packed upright and placed below your food in case of spillage.
The lightest items—tent pieces, insulating clothing, rain gear— should be packed farthest away from your body. Wrapping lighter items around heavier items prevents shifting and fills empty spaces.
Top lid packing
This is where you store frequently used items that need to be within easy reach. This is the ideal place to carry your Ten Essentials, plus snacks, pack cover and sanitation items. This is also where you want to keep any emergency medications. Additional external pockets can help organize these close-at-hand items as well.
Emergency contact info
Carry your identification, emergency contact information, and a medication and allergy list with you. If you carry any emergency medication (inhaler, bee sting kit, epipen), make sure your hiking partners know where it is located in your pack in case you need assistance using it.
- Pack your sleeping bag and clothing away from your food supply and toiletries, especially in bear country.
- If your pack has a hydration bladder sleeve, it’s easier to insert your reservoir while your pack is mostly empty.
- Minimize gear attached to your pack’s exterior, as these items can snag on brush or impair your stability.
- Fill up empty spaces with items that don’t require quick access; put small items inside your cooking pot.
- Carry a pack cover if one is not integrated onto your pack. Even if you have a waterproof pack, seams and zippers can leak in heavy rain.
For more advice, check out this video from the folks at REI.
This article originally appeared in the May+Jun 2013 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Join WTA to get your one-year subscription.