Backpacking packing is an art form, and it is easy to tell the backpack of an amateur from that of a seasoned hiker or backpacker. Some of this ‘backpacking packing’ skill only the trail will give you, and you’ll find you become a better packer with each trip. Still, there’s no reason to start out at ground zero; stand on the shoulders of giants (like us) and you’ll have a good head start. Here are some tips that will get you as close to a seasoned packer as a novice can possibly be.
But first, what are you going to put in that bag? That’s the first place where push turns to shove, and little mistakes add up to big problems. Your backpacking list. Make sure you have a good one; you need to find the perfect balance between packing light and still packing enough; steering clear of the twin pitfalls of forgetting essentials and packing unnecessary items that will only give you a backache on the trail. Have a look at our outdoor adventure backpacking packing list for a good place to start.
Once you know what you want to take, gather it all together and put it where you can see it; spread out on the living room floor, perhaps, with the pack in the middle. Then, start packing! Your backpack will have three basic strata: the bottom, the middle, the top.
The bottom layer: dark as night. Here you pack whatever gear you won’t need till camping time; your tent, if you have one; your sleeping bag, unless there’s a special strap for that under your backpack, even your flashlight, if you’ll be camping before it gets dark.
The middle of your backpack is where you should put all your heaviest items. This might include your stove, cooking pot, and extra water. Heavy items are often bulky and awkwardly shaped, so make sure you ‘fill up the holes’ with smaller, lighter items as appropriate. The ideal spot for that heaviest item of all is dead center and close to your spine—resting on your sleeping bag, perhaps. This’ll put your backpack’s center of gravity exactly where you want it for optimal stability and comfort.
Up above there, put in the bits and pieces you want access to throughout your hike. Sometimes there is a zippered lid compartment that is particularly easy access; the perfect place for those quick-energy granola bars, compass, toilet paper and sanitation towel.
What about all the hooks and elastics you see on the outside of your backpack? How much can you string along the outside? Use them for things you really need quick access to, but don’t overdo it: those external items can easily snag on rocks and trees in your surroundings and hamper your progress, and they also tend to upset your pack’s beautifully engineered center of gravity.
What else do you need to know about backpacking packing? Here are a few quick tips:
• No empty spaces! If you’ve got an empty pot, for instance, put the bowl inside it, and if there’s still enough room add a pair of socks as well.
• Use your stuff sacks—there’s a reason these things exist; they’ll bring potentially big, puffy items down to size.
• Roll your clothes—well-rolled clothes don’t wrinkle, and they take a minimum of space as well.
• Tape up liquids—a plastic baggie over your bottle of shampoo, and a round of tape around that, can make the difference between a backpack spoiled by a leak and a neat, contained spill.