Packing a backpacking pack efficiently is essential for a smooth hike. Packing a backpack efficiently means that you will not only be able to find everything you’re looking for when you need it most on the trail and at your campsite but you’ll be able to fit everything in your pack in the first place.
Throughout the years, I’ve learned how to pack a backpacking pack effectively. I’ve tried various methods and tweaked certain techniques to create the perfect concoction for my backpacking trips. Though every backpacking trip is a little different, I use the same general method because it has worked for me time and time again.
To help you pack your backpack efficiently the first time, I’ve put together a comprehensive guide on exactly how to pack a backpacking pack. Whether you’re taking an overnight trip into the backcountry or a weeklong trek in the wilderness, you’ll be able to implement these valuable packing techniques that I use on each of my trips into yours!
I will share how to pack a hiking backpack for your next backpacking adventure, including how to load the bottom, middle, top, hip belt, lid, and exterior of your pack so that all of your gear fits and is accessible for precisely the time(s) that you need them.
That way you can focus less on how to load your backpacking pack and more on your exciting backpacking adventure!
Overall, this is how you will pack your backpack:
- Lightweight, compressible gear on the bottom.
- Heavy camp gear in the middle.
- Trail essentials on top.
- Frequently-needed trail essentials and emergency items in hip belt pockets and the lid.
- Awkward items or items that need to be charged or dried on the exterior of your backpack.
Exactly How to Pack a Backpacking Pack
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Lay Out All of Your Gear
First, lay out all of your gear on the floor in front of you. This is the time to assess your gear and eliminate items you don’t need to take on your trip. Pick out necessities and what think you will actually use on the trail and at camp.
Need help organizing your gear wall so that packing is a breeze? Check out my guide!
Every ounce counts, so make sure whatever you’re taking with you is essential to your hike!
Don’t forget to pack the 10 Essentials!
Load the Bottom of Your Backpack
Load the bottom of your backpack with lightweight, compressible gear that you won’t need until you reach camp.
Storing heavy items or things you’ll need access to on the trail at the very bottom of your pack will hurt your back and cause inconvenience. To avoid this, only put things at the bottom of your pack that are lightweight, can be compressed or molded, and that you won’t need on the trail.
→ I squish my sleeping bag all the way to the very bottom of my backpack. If I bring a pillow or inflatable sleeping pad, those will pile on top of the sleeping bag. From there, I stuff my layers and extra clothing that I won’t need until I reach my campsite.
Bottom of Backpack Items
TIP: BEFORE loading your pack, make sure you have a rain cover. If you don’t have a rain cover, line the interior of your pack with a trash bag to protect your gear from getting wet. Or use waterproof stuff sacks to keep your gear dry.
Load the Middle of Your Backpack
Load the middle of your backpack with heavy, bulky items.
Having these gear items in the center of your pack relieves your back of unnecessary stress. If you shove these items to the very bottom of your pack, your back will be in pain by the time you reach camp – maybe even sooner.
→ I will usually stuff my bear canister in first because it is the bulkiest and most awkward then I will fill in the gaps around it with my tent, footprint, stove, fuel, camp mug & bowl, hygiene essentials bag, repair kits, and camp chair.
PRO TIP: Utilize all of the space in your bear canister. If you have extra room after stuffing it with food, put other things in there to maximize space.
Middle of Backpack Items
- Bear canister & food
- Tent & footprint
- Stove, fuel & lighter
- Camp mug & bowl
- Hygiene essentials
- Repair kits
- Camp chair (This is a luxury backpacking item)
Load the Top of Your Backpack
Load the top of your pack with trail essentials – gear that you will need access to on the trail.
Having these gear items at the top and easy to access will make your trip much smoother. If you hide them in the middle or bottom of your bag, you’ll have to empty the contents of your pack on the trail to find what you need. This is inconvenient and will chip away at your precious timeline.
→ I usually make sure my water filter, food or snacks I will need for the hike, and a rain jacket are at the top.
Top of Backpack Items
Need help getting started with backpacking? Read my Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking guide!
Load Your Hip Belt & Lid
Load the hip belt pockets and brain (or lid) of your backpack with gear that you will need access to frequently on the trail.
Being able to grab emergency or frequently-used hiking gear items without having to take off your pack is a significant time-saver. You don’t want to have to rummage through your bag every time you need access to one of these trail essentials.
→ In my hip belt pockets, I will usually store a small snack, my phone, a map, a permit (if needed), and a knife. Bear spray will dangle in a holster on my hip belt if I’m in bear country. Read about how to hike and camp in bear country here.
→ In my pack lid, I will stuff a toilet kit, head net, first aid kit, headlamp, and spork.
NOTE: I have a designated pocket at the bottom of my pack that my rain cover lives in when not in use. Your pack might have it, too!
Hip Belt & Lid Items
- Trail snack
- Bear spray
- Toilet kit – Read more about outdoor hygiene here.
- Head net
- First aid kit – Read more about hiker first aid here.
Load the Exterior of Your Backpack
Utilize the exterior of your backpack for awkward/bulky gear, gear that needs to hang dry or charge, satellite phone, accordion sleeping pad, extra layers, water bottles, a camera, hats, sandals, etc.
Since your backpack is equipped with loops, bungees, and exterior pockets, there are many purposes you can use them for.
The exterior of my backpack will often look different from trip to trip because it will depend on what I don’t have room for inside my pack, what sleeping pad I’m bringing, if I’m carrying a camera, if I need trekking poles, etc.
Below are some of the things that I typically utilize the outside of my backpack for.
I store awkward gear like trekking poles, an accordion sleeping pad, or my camera on the exterior of my backpack. Trekking poles slide in the loops, accordion sleeping pad straps underneath my bag, and my camera clips onto my Peak Design clip.
I can allow rain jackets or wet clothes to hang dry on my pack.
I can hang my solar chargers for things like my phone and lantern on the outside of my pack so that they recharge in the sun.
I can store extra clothing or water bottles in the side and exterior pockets.
I can strap hats or sandals to the outside of my pack.
Exterior of Backpack Items
- Satellite phone
- Trekking poles
- Accordion sleeping pad
- Wet rain jacket/clothes
- Solar-charged items
- Extra clothing
- Water bottles
- Camp shoes
Get Started Backpacking
You might find these guides useful if you’re new to backpacking and camping!
I hope this guide has helped you pack your backpack for your first (or next) backpacking trip! Remember, your backpack/gear setup doesn’t have to look/be perfect. Mistakes shape your decisions for an “even better” next adventure!
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram @alexysabroad 🙂
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