How to Pack a Backpack

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There really is not a correct way to pack a backpack. However, if you are going to be hiking off-trail, over rough terrain or on snow there are a few tips that can prevent a lot of problems.

  • As a general rule you might want to pack heavier items a little lower in your bag to bring down your center of gravity. This can help prevent falls from an unbalanced pack.
  • Sleeping bag. 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 resulting in warmth.
  • Clothes Next. Just make sure you have a few items that can be easily accessed if the weather changes. Hat, gloves, and rain gear should be stashed in an outside pocket where you can grab them if things get rough.
  • Shelter – Some bags have enough room in the sleeping bag compartment to stash a small tent or tarp. If your pack has a separate compartment try to stuff your tent under the sleeping bag. The last thing you want to do in a rainstorm is unpack your whole bag just to get to your tent. Tent poles can be strapped to the outside of the bag. (Tip – Some tents or tarp systems can be made to work with your walking sticks, thus freeing up space)
  • Food – Store in spill proof waterproof materials. Can be placed throughout the bag
  • Cooking Fuels – Store any fuel upright and as far away as possible from your food. If you have pockets outside your bag this would be a good place for fuel.
  • Personal Items – Outside pockets are great for things like rain gear, water filters, water bottles, snacks,sunscreen, insect repellant, and your camera.

Responses to " How to Pack a Backpack " Please share your thoughts...

  1. samofshs says:

    eh. not the BEST guide. but the basics are there and for beginners it’s something they wouldn’t know already.
    protip: before you pack your sleeping bag, put a trashbag in the sack. then stuff your bag inside of the trashbag and voila! water proof-ish sleeping bag.

    • Roger says:

      Hey thanks for the tip on the trash, incredibly simple yet sounds effective, I’ve been hiking for sometime but have to decided to take it to next level, I’ve purchased large frame pack, need all the tips I can get, thanks again, happy trails!

    • Mike says:

      You bet… +100..
      I have learned many years ago, use a couple of trash bags doubled as liners, then stuff your sleeping bag loosely into the bottom, then add different stuff sacks of items on top; the bag will compress on its own as gear gets added, and have your most used or readily accessible gear on top. If the top is rain gear, tent, tarp or anything that would be wet, twist the trash bag closed before adding the moist gear This method helps provide a fuller pack, requiring less compression and the heavier gear is more along the center of your back.

  2. hilljohnny says:

    speaking of fuel pure grain alcohol is good for any alcohol stove, produces less soot and if spilled will not poison your food.

  3. Vin says:

    I have an Osprey Atmos the pack it great to wear and well worth the money. I sweat like a pig in an oven, this pack keep the weight off your back.

  4. thomas says:

    a hint when packing is to have a system of bags inside of your main bag you can use dry sacks but ziploc storage bags work just as well to keep everything dry if it starts raining and it keeps everything organized

    • ArtyTheAquaBoy says:

      I agree with ziploc bags as a good solution to keeping key things dry and organized — for example, separate each day’s clothing change items (socks, underwear, undershirt, etc.) in gallon ziploc bags by day. As you find a consistent way you like to pack you’ll be able to find items easily and pull them out without upsetting everything else in the bag. Same system works for food, and anything else you use in portions. It even gives you a bag to put trash from the meal after eating or dirty clothes in after changing without soiling other items in your pack. Gives redundancy too, as you can always consolidate bags if one fails.

  5. hI, this is smith This can help prevent falls from an unbalanced pack.
    Sleeping bag. Most hiking packs have an area compartment try to stuff your tent under the sleeping bag. The last thing you want to do in a rainstorm.

  6. Leonard says:

    Amazon has folding solar panels that are cool for boogie bags. But you’ll also want some sort of energy storage, and that can get heavy. Also, I like the Mossad backpack; it has plenty of room and can be carried in multiple ways.

  7. Larry Duncan says:

    FYI…Packing alchol preps or hand whipes from rib joints,are a great aid in starting a fire. Also to sooth bug bites!

  8. Bikerman says:

    Hi, has anyone else folded the tent up with the sleeping bag inside? I lay out the bag on the floor. Fold the tent on top as usual and fold and roll. Bag stays dry.

    If I take extra shoes or boots, socks and underware goes inside them.

    I’m right handed so my knife sheath is attached to the left pack strap on the front, upside down….guess it’s an Army thing, but it’s handy. Wearing it on my leg, I have to bend to get it, if it’s on my side or hip, the pack and load bearing equipment is in the way. It’s also out of the way if you repel.

    • Mike says:

      Depends on the material and if the tent is wet or damp as the water can be pushed through the material once it gets rolled (been there, done that). A wet bag is simply uncomfortable and could become deadly if too cold.
      I have rolled up gear inside a tent when I have had to quickly evacuate an area in fear of flash flooding, but to me it is not worth it to do as a regular practice.

  9. lilbear68 says:

    how bout ya pack stuff in the order of need, like rain gear on top, then 1st aid. set your sleeping bag up top cuz ya dont wanna set it down in water
    camp food/cooking stuff in the bottom
    fire starters in o/s pocket

  10. FlaPrep says:

    If you’re not colored-blind, I suggest using color-coded sb-bags within your pack. e.g. blue for water supplies/filters, yellow for fire-starting gear, red for first-aid, green for mess kits & food, etc. When digging deep into your pack to find something, it’s a bit easier to find (e.g. your first-aid kit, instead of you mess kit) when you need to.
    Also, expand on the trash bag for sleeping bag program. (e.g. if ALL of your sub-bags are water-tight, it not only protects the contents, but can ALSO cause your pack to FLOAT (instead of sink) when crossing rivers/lake/streams. <– I learned this little trick in the Army. 50lbs of wet-anchor, versus 50lbs of canoe-like buoyancy.
    Cammo sub-bags: Forget 'em!!! Otherwise, you WILL forget them later… I've seen some campers use cammo binoculars, cammo GPSs, cammo handheld radios, etc. When it's time to break camp and depart, those cammo things tend to get overlooked and left behind.



    • susan says:

      Just a tip on the garbage bag thing. Use heavy duty construction grade trash bags (only adds a bit of bulk) also if you are planning on crossing alot of water, pack a childs pool ring (very small) and it can be inflated with breath, pack placed in one of the construction trash bags (goosenecked) and placed on top of pool ring and you can swim almost any amount of weight across a river. PS the pool ring can double as a solar cooker with the addition of a space blanket and a turkey sized cooking bag and dark anodized camp kit. I know it adds weight but if your water filter runs out or you can’t light a fire, it will get you pasturized water and emergency cooking ability.

  11. DOODS says:

    i put a small LED light attached inside my pack, so when I look for something inside, I have a ready light. Theres plenty of cheap china ziplock wannabes, it help keep stuff dry. extra candles in d first aid kit cum sewing kit helps in some situation, i carry a citronella type to keep bugs away.

    • Mike says:

      I do this as well for all of my packs. I really like the Photon Micro light, they come in different colors, and I use the RED lights for this as they do not detract from your night vision. The GREEN lights are awesome for map reading and for allowing night vision without compromising the depth perception.

  12. I got several modular kits I put together depending on where I am going to teach or practice, and the amount of hardship I want to put on myself for practice reasons. for impromptu backpack searches in darkness I always bring a Beta Light.. It got no moving parts and works uninterrupted for up to 20 years, after which you send it to any tritium recycling facility.. and buy a new one.

    Everything I got is put in SeaToSummit waterproof bags and positioned according to the order of unpacking and weight. Naturally I colorcoded the bags according to what group of item it is. Easy to pack, unpack and repack. My experience tells me that if its not easy and foolproof you will sooner or later cut corners repacking your stuff when you are tired, hurting or busy. This will lead to confusion that will reduce your gear functionality and reduce your mood even more. When you have made your packing list, look at it again and for each item imagine how often you expect to use it. When your bushcraft and survival skills are honed and ready you will agree with me that the more you know, the less you have to carry.

    • susan says:

      That is so very true. I slowly purchased these bags in a variety of colors for items. they are a bit pricy at first though. I still recommend that you add a few construction grade bags in the bottom of each so that if you get a hole or it wears through then you are OK.

  13. trekker says:

    Make sure the waterproofing of the bag is easily accessible

  14. TTX says:

    Oh yeah, very nice and sweet info. I was always wondering what in the hell do those backpackers pack in their huge rucksasks. I’d follow just the basics. first 5 and then 10 C’s of survivability and that’s it.

  15. church says:

    I can’t but to read the copy right at the bottom of the page.I personally put my survival pack together 30 some odd years ago at the age of 15 when I picked up and walked a way from home over the years I’ve added and culled it to fit me as an individual .I hear about the 5-10 c’s this and that. keeping everything dry.and can’t help but wonder where this people are coming from.The contents of my bag are in separate component only as to have a mental note to whats in the bag.color coded “hua’ I do not want to be seen every thing is camo or green ,black ,brown.and I’ve never left any thing behind…???? the pack it self is fairly heavy 65 some odd pounds.But it’s based on only 4 things WATER,FIRE,FOOD,SHELTER..And at 65 lbs it dose float the resonant floods taught me this upwards of 6 hrs.It was one of the few things salvageable And one of the few thing that I went back after.The contents were wet but undamaged .Tried true and tested with 30 years of experience….Government official tried to stop me from going after the one thing I knew could keep me alive .SO with night fall and my buddy’s boat I retrieved the only piece of my life that has endured to this day.

  16. church says:

    And a note to all those who read.The creatures of this world are predictable.But mother earth can sweep it all away in a brief moment.Sense that one moment I’ve lost it all all the prep as you all call it.just gone. the lord took my sweetheart my family and gov. took my job ……..but the survival bag and I endure…….

    • Mindy says:

      That’s some powerful stuff, Church. You’re a helluva man.

  17. CS Bowman says:

    Anyone have any tips on how to pack a “day bag” for a family of 4 (one is 8 and one is 4 mos., so diapers, wipes, bibs, bottles, etc. hafta fit) and have 3 hounds that go with us…

    • Mike says:

      It’s been a number of years as the kids are grown and on their own…
      In addition to water, rain gear, snack foods etc., you or the spouse need to carry the baby stuff, split duplicate items between you to lessen the load for one.
      The 8 year old should carry their own pack with water, rain gear and a toy or game to keep from getting bored.
      My Lab has its own pack with collapsible bowl(s), toy, food and 1 liter water bags to balance on either side, but that does not work so well for small dogs. If a small dog, treat like the baby.

  18. john says:

    I have compiled over the last roughly 30 years an amaglomated survival bag that has served me well. There are a lot of good tips that all can learn from and some tips that are just not worth keepin in my personal oppinion.
    those of you who have little or no experiance in the arts of survival, camping and or hunting would do fine in following thesetips from the orriginal post

  19. casey says:

    Former Mtn guide and infantryman.
    Pack as light as possible and then pack even lighter.

    As far as where the majority of the weight should go, the old school tip of packing it low, especially in an external frame pack, puts the extra leverage on one’s shoulders. That’s bad. I advise the heaviest weight in an external frame pack to be above one’s hips and close to the back. On uneven terrain (which is not optimal for an external fr pack) weight a little low. On nice, flat trails, the weight higher allows more load to your hips, and that is good. Follow? I recommend internal frame packs, and on the business of heat and sweat I advise you will suffer less with a better balanced load. My analogy is of a prize fighter on your back trying to throw you down every few steps versus a well balanced load that you can manage best.
    I used to fit packs on customers at REI, and proper fit and then proper wearing of a pack is critical. You’d be surprised at the benefit of wearing the sternum strap in the right place, the hip belt at the correct angle (common error) and the load lifters at the shoulder correctly operated.
    Organize your load for comfort, not convenience, if it is a heavy load. Make sense?
    Proper footwear, no cotton in most climates, excellent rain gear if available. That is my advice. Best wishes.

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