Believe it or not, there is a correct way to load a backpack; something most hikers find out the hard way while suffering from all sorts of uncomfortable backpack related pains out on the trail.
The first thing you should consider when packing a bug out bag, hiking pack, or any bag that you’re going to be carrying for any length of time is pack weight. While it’s tempting to cram your pack full of every piece of gear you can get your hands on; once out on the trail, you’re going to quickly realize the importance of light hiking.
Considering Pack Weight
Before selecting a single piece of gear for your bag, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- How much weight can I realistically carry? Just because you can strap it on your back for a few minutes, doesn’t mean you can carry it for hours upon hours through rough and unforgiving terrain.
- Is the gear absolutely essential to my survival? If it isn’t something that’s essential to your ultimate survival while out on the trail, now is the time to either ditch it, or somehow justify the extra weight in your pack.
- Is there a lighter alternative? When buying new gear, weight should be a big consideration. If it’s going into a backpack, you better make sure there’s not a lighter alternative.
- Can your gear be used for multiple tasks? Any piece of gear that can perform double duty is a piece of gear that will help lighten your load. Look for things that serve more than one purpose.
How to Pack your Backpack for Comfort and Safety
Yes, there is a correct way to pack your bag. While some of the rules are flexible, and will depend on your unique needs, there are a couple of rules of thumb you should keep in mind.
The Bottom of the Bag
The bottom of the bag is usually reserved for items that you don’t need to get at quickly. When packing my bag, I usually reserve this space for things like my tent, and my sleeping bag; gear that I’ll pull out once I’ve made it to camp. Most hiking packs have an area at the bottom of the bag for your sleeping bag. It’s a good idea to keep your sleeping bag separated from heavier gear, because compressing some bags can cause damage to the bag, resulting in a loss of warmth.
Some bags also have a bottom compartment specifically designed for your tent or shelter; this can be particularly useful in bad weather. The last thing you want to do in a rainstorm is unpack your whole bag just to get to your tent.
The Middle of the Bag
The heaviest gear should be close to your back, and should be packed somewhere near the middle of the backpack (near your belt line). Packing the gear into this area helps bring down your center of gravity, making it easier to walk in rough terrain. This really is a rule that should not be overlooked, because an unbalanced pack can cause you to easily fall while walking on steep terrain.
The Top of the Bag
The top of the backpack should be filled with light items, and the gear that you will need the most. I usually reserve the top of the bag, and the outside pockets for things like rain gear, water filters, water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellant, and anything that you’re going to be grabbing a lot.
Just make sure you don’t overload the top of the bag, which could cause you to become top heavy and make hiking on rough terrain even more dangerous.