There is a chance you have a hiking buddy that everyone makes fun of for their obsession with organisation: the labelling of vacuum-sealed items; use of dry bags; careful rolling technique – it’s just too easy to poke fun at.
If that's true there is also a chance that you spend a great deal of time rummaging through your backpack looking for your sandwiches, all the while knowing deep down that by the time you get to them, they won’t look much like a sandwiches anymore.
Your organised mate deserves a high five.
Because it only takes one sad-excuse-for-a-sandwich to realise that you really need to learn how to pack a backpack correctly.
We understand that it’s not easy going from jacket-stuffer to gear-rolling, backpack-packing aficionado, so to help make the transition a little easier, we’ve broken down the process into simple steps you can follow every time you pack a backpack for camping, hiking, or any of your favourite outdoor pursuits.
Organising your gear beside your backpack
Packing your backpack is so much easier with lots of space. Clear enough room on the floor (or on your bed), that you can lay out each individual item with room to breathe before you begin to compress, and stow it in your backpack. This also allows you to look at each individual item and really think about how much you need it.
Camptstove – yes
Sleeping bag – yes
Copy of War & Peace – seriously, choose a smaller book
Saving space: roll, compress, contain
Packing your backpack is all about ensuring that each item takes up as little space as possible. Clothing should be rolled into tight bundles: rolled gear is easier to fit alongside other items and takes up drastically less space than clothing that is stuffed into your pack. It’s also a lot easier to immediately identify when you open your backpack.
Make sure you compress gear such as your sleeping mat and sleeping bag as much as possible before storing.
Use items as containers where possible. The pot we are taking is quite large, but all that internal space is great for storing additional cooking utensils and accessories.
How to pack the heaviest items
The order in which you pack your gear is one of the most important things to consider when packing. In the same way that carrying too much gear can make your trip miserable, carrying a poorly weighted pack will do the same.
To weight your pack correctly, make sure that the heaviest items are stored towards the bottom of the pack as close to your spine as possible. Your centre of gravity is at your hips: position heavy items as close to your hips as possible (where the largest support straps are) making your pack easier to manage. Your pack needs to be evenly weighted on either side so that it doesn’t pull you off balance when you move from one foot to the other.
Usually, your heaviest items are also those that you won’t need right away, so prioritise your packing order in terms of those items you need to get to first, such as your snacks, compass, and sunscreen leaving the gear you will use setting up camp until last.
How to pack a backpack, step by step
While everyone has their preferred way of packing, here is a good example of one way to pack a backpack.
1. Sleeping bag
Your sleeping bag is reasonably heavy, but not the heaviest item in your pack. Putting it at the bottom gives your pack some cushioning for when you sling it down to the ground at your destination, protecting valuables above.
2. Sleeping pad / mattress
Make sure you compress your sleeping mat as much as possible before packing. An alternative option is to strap it to the outside of your pack if it is too large to fit internally.
3. Camp cooker & fuel – (BELOW FOOD)
Fuel tends to weigh a bit, so it’s good to keep it near your hips. Make sure it is below your food, NOT above it. Fuel leaking into your sleeping bag is horrible, yeah; fuel leaking into your food is potentially very dangerous. Your cooker is usually the heaviest or one of the heaviest items in your pack so needs to be kept close to your hips. Cushioning from your sleeping bag below and clothing on top helps to prevent any damage if your bag gets dropped by accident.
4. Cooking utensils / pots & pans
Try and stow as much as you can inside your pot / billy — another reason why you should always keep your cooking equipment clean!
5. Food – (ABOVE FUEL)
Keep the bulk of your food in dry bags as a back up against leaks. As we mentioned before, make sure that it is always kept above your cooker and fuel so that it is less likely to be affected by leakages.
Water is often one of the heaviest items in your pack, but you also need to be able to get to it regularly. Most packs have an additional compartment for storing water bottles that keep them low down and centred. Others, like our One Planet backpack, zip wide open so we can stow items and still get to them easily enough, even if they are not near the top.
From bottom to top in order of those items you are most likely to need, followed by those you hope you won't need. Keep a full set of spare dry clothes in a waterproof dry bag so that you have something to change into if the weather takes a turn.
Your jacket should be lightweight and therefore belongs near the top of your pack so it’s easy to get to.
10. Snacks, navigational devices, sunglasses
Frequently used items go at the top or in a top pocket for easy access.
Put some time into packing your backpack before you set off, and you’ll be rewarded with less stress, and more time to enjoy the trip once you hit the trail.