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How To Pack A Backpack

4 June 2021
How To Pack A Backpack

Being able to carry all of your gear in a backpack opens up a world of adventures, with the freedom to move where you want when you want. However, it's important that you pack your backpack in the right way in order to stay comfortable and organised.

We are going to look at how to pack a backpack for a multi-day wild adventure, focusing on comfort and convenience. If you are unsure about what you should be taking with you for this kind of adventure, have a look at our wild camping kit list.

General Principles For Packing A Backpack

Depending on the length of your trip and intended activities, your pack size and contents are going to vary greatly. However, there are some universal principles that should be followed each time you pack which in turn will help to make your pack feel lighter, better organised and improve your balance.

Comfort and convenience are two key concepts to remember when packing - you need to be able to wear the backpack for extended periods and retain quick access to certain items. Your backpack should be comfortable from the first moment you put it on. If you feel any discomfort, then have a look at repacking your bag, redistributing the weight through the pack.

When considering comfort, try and put the heaviest items in the middle portion of the pack, resting against your back, and build out from there with lighter items. This way the total pack weight is spread out across your back, hips and legs. Heavy items at the top of the bag will make you more unstable whilst also adding stress to your neck and shoulders. Heavy items at the bottom of your pack will make the bag begin to pull off your back, again adding discomfort.

Before you begin to pack, identify which items you’ll potentially need to access whilst out, and position those at the top of the bag or easy to access areas. For convenience, place items you use once a day (i.e a sleeping bag) at the bottom of the pack and those that you may need more often (i.e a rain jacket) towards the top or even in the backpack lid.

Where possible try to fill all spaces so that not only is the weight distributed evenly, but the bag is filled out. This will ensure that the contents won’t rattle about and will keep it nice and neat for compressing.

How To Pack A Backpack

Step 1: If you have a compatible pack and are using a water reservoir, then before you put anything else in the bag, place it in the back sleeve  – this way it is not too much of a pain to try and squeeze it in with all your other bits. One litre of water weighs one kilogram, so to help you carry this you’ll find almost all backpacks house the reservoir up against your back.

Step 2: Place your sleeping equipment tidily at the bottom of the pack. If you have a separate compartment at the bottom of your bag, this will go in there nicely. Putting your sleeping equipment at the bottom avoids it being in the way of accessing items you may need in the day, and also helps provide a base and some structure to your bag to help make the rest of your packing easier.

packing sleeping equipment

Step 3: Next, place your tent poles down the side of the main compartment. This helps add further structure for easier packing. Continue with the rest of your tent equipment, standing the tent elements upright for easy identification. Placing the items in an upright position also means that you can avoid unpacking your bag completely when you begin to set up camp.

Step 4: The next items to pack are smaller items that you’re unlikely to need to access whilst hiking. You can place your trowel wrapped up and neatly down the side. Roll up your stove in a dish cloth for protection before putting it into a dry bag with matches and other cooking equipment. This can then be placed in the bag with your pan towards the bottom of your pack. 

packing cooking equipment

Step 5: You can then add your first aid kit, ensuring it’s in an easy to access position (in an internal pocket or the backpack lid if possible).

Step 6: Slide in your food and any other smaller items, using them to fill any potential gaps that may have formed inside the pack.

Step 7: It’s important to keep your insulator jacket dry and as you will most likely only use this in the evening, it can be packed down out of the way. So, compress the jacket into a dry bag before putting it into the bag. You can slide this to wherever is necessary in order to fill any further gaps in the bag.

packing insulator jacket

Step 8: If you think that they’re unlikely to be used, but are taking them just in case, then you can stuff your gloves and headwear into any small space left in the bag.

Step 9: Next up pack in your waterproof jacket and trousers, ensuring that they are easily accessible in case you encounter any bad weather.

Step 10: It is best to pack your wash kit and any sun cream/insect repellent into their own bag. This will help keep it all clean and separate from the rest of your equipment. It is also useful to keep this accessible in case you need to top up your sun cream or keep the midges at bay. The backpack lid pocket is usually a good spot for these.

Packing waterproofs

Step 11: Keep your water bottle accessible, whilst also packing your snacks (including your lunch for the day) together in a separate bag which can also be placed at the top of the pack.

Step 12: If space allows, packing your navigation equipment into your top pocket is ideal. It gives you quick and easy access and will help prevent lots of stop starting whilst out on the hill. It’s also a good idea to take a spare map when on a multi-day adventure, and this can be slid down the back of your pack so it’s nice and out of the way.

With everything packed in, pull all of the compression straps nice and snug. You’ll be able to see if the bag has been packed evenly. If there are any lumps and bumps sticking out or it’s ended up lob sided, it’s a good idea to move some things around and try and distribute your pack more evenly.

There is a real art to packing your bag and there are plenty of different ways to do it. Over time you will find what works best for you and begin to develop your own system. However, by following the tips and principles in the post, you’ll be on a good start to a well organised and comfortable backpack.

Huw Saunders

About the Author:

Huw Saunders - Outdoor Expert

Growing up in rural Wales, Huw has been immersed in the outdoors for as long as he can remember. If not surfing the Welsh coast, he can now usually be found either running or hiking in the Peak District and through the winter, tries to get out to Europe to ski as much as possible.

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