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How to Pack a Hiking Backpack

Views: 6635     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2021-12-10      Origin: Site

How to Pack a Hiking Backpack

If you're planning a long hike, you'll need to bring along a backpack with food, water and other survival supplies. Instead of just tossing your gear into your pack, take time to plan out what goes where. That way your backpack will be weighted correctly and you'll be able to easily access what you need along your journey. While packing a backpack might seem like no big deal, it's a task that can make the difference between an uncomfortable hike and a fantastic one.

Gathering Your Gear


Choose a backpack. When you're hiking, you'll appreciate having the lightest possible pack on your back. Choose the smallest and lightest backpack you can find that will hold all the supplies you need for your journey. If you're just going for a long day hike, you can get away with a smaller pack, but for an overnight backpacking trip you'll need a pack that will fit sleeping gear like a sleeping bag and tent, as well as plenty of extra food and water.
  • Backpack capacities are measured in liters, and you'll see backpacks for sale that can hold anywhere between 25 and 90. The average capacity for a day hike backpack is 25 to 40 liters (6.6 to 10.6 US gal), and the average for a hike that's five days or longer is 65 to 90.

  • Aside from the length of your trip, the other variable involved in choosing a backpack volume is the season in which you'll be hiking. You'll need a larger backpack for hiking during winter months, during which you'll need to carry heavier clothing and other extras.

  • Most backpacks are manufactured with internal frames that help support the weight, though you can still find a few external-frame backpacks designed to bear the very heaviest loads In any case, rather than just carrying a standard school backpack, look for one especially made to carry weight while hiking for optimum comfort.


Gather necessary supplies. When it comes to hiking you'll want to bring along only essential items. It might be tempting to bring along your camera, a journal, and your favorite pillow, but bringing unnecessary extras will weigh you down. Pack only as much as you need for the hike you're doing. Do research to find out what you should bring for the particular hike you're doing, taking into account how strenuous the hike will be, the number of nights you'll be sleeping out and the weather.
  • Consider springing for the lightest yet sturdiest gear possible, especially if you're going for a longer hike. For example, if you need to bring along a sleeping bag, you might want to get an extremely lightweight and compact bag weighing only a few pounds instead of bringing along a big, fluffy bag that will take up a lot of space and weigh you down. But, you should consider the weather, climate and terrain of where you'll be hiking. Sometimes, you may need bulkier items.

  • Wherever possible, pare down. Instead of bringing along a box of granola bars, remove them from the box and carry them in a plastic bag. Instead of bringing a heavy camera, consider using your mobile device's camera. Some people even pare down by cutting off their toothbrush handles and snapping their combs in half.


Lay out your supplies by weight. Spread out everything you're bringing and organize it into piles according to the weight of the items. Have a pile for heavy items, medium-weight items and small items. Organizing your items in this way will help you pack everything properly to ensure your hike will be as comfortable as possible.
  • Light items include your sleeping bag, light clothing, and other light nighttime supplies.

  • Medium items include heavier clothing, your first aid kit and light food items.

  • Heavy items include heavier food items, cooking supplies, water, your flashlight, and heavy gear.


Consolidate items wherever possible. It's important to maximize space as much as possible and concentrate the weight. Consolidating items will prevent them from loosely traveling around your backpack. Your backpack will stay better organized and well-weighted if you take the time pack flexible into extra spaces.
  • For example, if you have a small cooking pot, fill it up before you pack it. Stuff it with food supplies, or store your extra pair of socks there. Maximize every little bit of space you can.

  • Pack small items that you use at the same time in the same place. For example, pack your toiletries in one lightweight bag to keep them all together.

  • This is a good opportunity to eliminate items that are taking up too much space. If you have an item that you can't easily pack in with the other items, because it's an awkward size or made of inflexible material, you might want to leave it behind.

Filling Your Backpack


Pack the lightest items at the bottom and the heaviest close to your back. Distributing the weight so that the lightest items are at the bottom, he heaviest items are centered between your shoulder blades and the medium items are stashed around them is the best way to keep your back healthy. If you pack the heavy items first, you'll be putting a lot more strain on your back. Packing the heavier items right along your upper spine situates the weight of the pack on your hips, rather than in a place where it would cause injury.
  • If you're camping overnight, pack your sleeping bag and other light sleep-related items first. On top of those, pack your changes of clothing, extra socks, extra gloves and so on.

  • Pack the heaviest items: your water, your flashlight, your heavy cooking supplies and so on. These should be centered between your shoulder blades right up against your back.

  • Then pack medium-weight cooking supplies, food supplies, your first aid kit, and other medium-weight items so that they surround the other items and stabilize your pack.Wrap flexible items like tarps or clothing around the heavier times to keep them from shifting as you walk.


Keep essential items immediately accessible. There are a few items that you'll need to have handy, so even if they're light, they should go on top or in the outer pockets. You'll want food and water handy, as well as your map, GPS, flashlight, and a few first aid items you anticipate needing. Pack these items carefully so you know just where they are when you need them.
  • After a few days on the trail, you'll get a better sense of what you need to be accessible and what you don't. Rearrange your pack as you go so that it's packed to be as convenient and comfortable as possible.


Attach external items. If the gear you have won't fit in your backpack, you can attach it externally by strapping it to the top, bottom or sides of your pack. For example, you might want to attach your tent poles to the top of your backpack, or hang your water bottle from the side. If you choose to attach items externally, there are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Attach as few external items as possible. It's better to pack everything you can, since as you hike you'll end up catching your gear against trees and other obstructions. Keeping it contained makes for a more comfortable walk.

  • Follow the rules for weight distribution. For example, attach your heavy tent or walking poles to the top of the pack, not the bottom.


Check the pack to see how it feels. Lift the pack onto your body and tighten the compression straps to a comfortable position. Walk around to see how it feels when you carry the pack. If you can walk around comfortable, and the pack feels compressed and secure, you're good to go.
  • If you feel things shifting around, remove the backpack and repack the items so they're more compressed and stable, then try again.

  • If the backpack feels tippy, remove it and repack it so the heavier items are centered between your shoulder blades right against your spine. They were probably too high in the pack before.

  • If it feels off balance, repack it and try to distribute the weight more evenly on either side.

  • If it's way too heavy, think about what you can leave behind. If you're walking with a group, see if someone else has room to bear some of your load.

Packing Like a Pro



Use stuff sacks to pack your food, but not your softer items. Stuff sacks are a popular gear item used to help keep backpacks organized. They're lightweight but durable sacks that come in really handy for keeping your food items separate from the rest of your pack. Many people fill one stuff sack with food they're not going to eat on the trail, and another one with toiletries. You could use stuff sacks to pack nearly anything, but seasoned hikers don't bother putting clothing into stuff sacks, since packing softer, flexible items around the heavier, more awkward items is a more efficient use of space.


Pack bear canisters efficiently. Bear canisters are smell-tight containers used to store food, deodorant, sunscreen, and other items that attract bears. They're mandatory to use in certain areas with high concentrations of bears. If you're hiking in a place that requires the use of bear canisters, it's important to pack your canister efficiently so it doesn't become an awkwardly-weighted item in your pack.
  • Don't use any items like clothes to fill the voids in a bear canister. You might use for example rain clothes or pack cover to fill up the space, but not anything that you are going to wear in camp. You do not want any bear attracting smells in your tent, like clothes that have been soaking in food scent an entire day.

  • The canister is likely to be heavy, so pack it as a heavy item between your shoulder blades and right next to your spine.

  • Pack a flexible item like a tarp or extra clothing around the canister so it doesn't move while you walk.

Get a pack cover to protect your backpack. This is a convenient and lightweight item that could save your backpack from getting soaked by rain or snow. It's a cover you attach over your backpack in inclement weather. When it's not raining or snowing, the packover is small and light enough to stuff into the top of your pack so you can easily access it when you need it.