how to pack a backpack

How to Pack a Backpack

Hiking Tips

Knowing how to pack a backpack correctly can greatly improve both your comfort and convenience while hiking. This detailed guide will show you exactly how to pack a hiking backpack, meaning that you can focus on the real enjoyment that hiking brings

Learn How to Pack a Hiking Backpack the Right Way

So, you’re going on a backpacking trip. Great! If you’ve planned well, gotten the right backpack and pre-tested all your equipment, you should be in for a memorable time. You may, however, still have some last-minute questions, such as how to pack a backpack the right way.

After all, when done correctly, even a small hiking backpack can pack a bunch of stuff. When done wrong, on the other hand, you might end up suffering from back pains and other nuisances on the trail. In short, a properly packed backpack increases both comfort and convenience while hiking. They’re “the two C’s” according to

Marco Johnson from the National Outdoor Leadership School uses another yet similar principle. He goes by the A-B-C principle, where A stands for “accessibility”, B for “balance”, and C for “compressed” or “condensed”.

Good packing practices take all these terms into account, resulting in a well-balanced and comfortable backpack with easy access to all necessary gear.

Packing a Hiking Backpack the Correct Way – Step by Step

First of all, no matter whether you want to know how to pack a backpack for day hiking or how to pack a backpack for long distance hiking, let it be clear that there’s no absolutely perfect way to do it.

Where your stuff will end up in your backpack depends on, one: what kind of stuff you have; and two: how often you’ll need to access certain things.

That being said, however, there are a number of steps you can follow to make the packing process as efficient and smooth as possible, while also ensuring that your backpack will feel comfortable on your back.

They’re super-straightforward, easy to remember and possibly even super-obvious. Anyway, it’s still important to talk about where exactly everything should go in your backpack.

Step 1: Lay Everything Out on the Floor

In this first step, you’ll get a clear overview of all your things. From clothing and food to camping gear and first-aid materials; lay everything out on the floor before you. This way, you can start to visualize what gear should go where. It’s the beginning of all good packing plans.

Additionally, this will also give you the opportunity to review your clothing choices. If you haven’t backpacked all that much, it’s quite possible that you’re prone to overpacking.

It’s very tempting to take that extra sweater or pair of shorts. You’ll probably have enough room to fit one extra thing, so why not do that, right? No! Keeping comfort in mind, it’s important to keep the weight of your backpack as low as possible.

Clothes like rain jackets and warm base layers are absolutely essential, but that’s about it. If you’re here because you want to know how to pack a backpack for a 3-day trip, you’ll only need one pair/item of all other clothing. Remember that layering is important. Being able to change from one T-shirt into another is not.

When laying everything out on the floor, try to put things in categories, such as camping gear, cooking equipment, clothes, food,… This’ll help you with the following steps.

two hikers wearing backpacks

Step 2: Fill the Bottom of Your Backpack

It may be common sense to pack your backpack from the bottom up. And it is! But the key lies in knowing what to put in the bottom of your pack. Since most backpacks are only accessible from the top, the things you won’t regularly need during your backpacking trip should go on the bottom.

This is almost always your camping gear. Your sleeping bag should be the first thing you put in your backpack, as well as the very last thing that comes out of it.

Then, put your sleeping pad and other camping gear around it. Alternatively, you could also strap your sleeping pad on the outside of your backpack if it’s particularly large. That’s up to you.

Other items you could place at the bottom of your backpack are camp shoes, toiletries and clothes you plan to sleep in.

Step 3: Pack the Middle of Your Backpack

The middle of your backpack is reserved for your heavy stuff. The number one rule to remember when trying to pack a well-balanced and stable backpack is that the heaviest things should be in the middle of the pack, right against your back.

Keep heavy stuff away from the bottom, top and outer areas of your backpack. This keeps your center of gravity in the middle, reducing the chance that you’ll lose your balance while hiking.

This heavy stuff is usually your cooking gear, water and food. This also includes your tent, unless you’re sleeping in a hammock. When hiking in bear country, your bear canister is also among your heavy stuff.

A useful tip is to not keep your tent in its original bag, but simply taking everything out and distributing it strategically throughout your pack. In that case, your tent poles and pegs will be against your back, while the tent body can be stuffed in left-over spaces in the middle of your pack. You can also wrap any extra clothes you decide to bring in your tent body. This will help keep them dry.

Step 4: Finish With the Top of the Backpack

Lastly, it’s time to fill up the top of the backpack. This will be the location of everything you need to have readily accessible on the trail. Things such as clothes, snacks, a first-aid kit, a map, rain jacket and sunglasses should go there.

The 5 Hiking Backpack Packing Zones

  1. Bottom: large camping gear like sleeping bags, camp shoes and clothes.
  2. Middle: heavier items like cooking equipment, food, tent and some clothes.
  3. Top: essential things you may need on the trail, such as snacks, first-aid kit, sunglasses and sunscreen, rain jacket and extra layers of clothing.
  4. Attachment points and straps: gear like hiking poles, crampons and even tent poles or sleeping pads if they’re too large to fit in your backpack.
  5. Waistband and strap pockets: small items like a compass, bear spray, trail mix,…

How to Pack a Hiking Backpack Diagram

This helpful diagram shows you precisely how to pack a backpack and where all your backpacking gear should go.

how to pack a hiking backpack diagram

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