Packing a Backpack 101

Wondering about packing a backpack? Well, look no further. Below we’ll cover some key points about packing your backpack easily and efficiently!

Frequently Used Items.

Set aside the gear you plan to use the most. Items like your rain gear, pack cover, insect repellant, sunscreen, sunglasses, toilet paper, snacks, map, compass, first aid, water purification, water bottles and flashlight/headgear are equipment you don’t want to have to go digging around for. Set these aside so you can pack them last in easily accessible places.

Weight Distribution.

Packing a backpack for optimum weight distribution is important. The terrain you’re hiking on and the type of backpack you are using will make a difference on where you should place heavier items in your pack.

Trail Hiking/Easy to Moderate Terrain - Carry your load higher and close to the back centered between the shoulder blades. This allows your hips to carry the weight. However, if using an external frame back, be mindful that you will be more top heavy due to the design of the backpack.

Off-trail/Rough Terrain - For rougher terrain, pack heavier items low and close to the back. This will make your center of gravity lower, providing you with better balance.

Sleeping Bag and Tent

You have a few options with these larger items. Backpacks normally have a place to strap a sleeping bag in at the bottom of the pack or a compartment to store them in. A compression bag is a handy piece of equipment to store your sleeping bag in, as it helps compress the sleeping bag for easier storage.

As for the tent or tarp, you can typically secure the poles at the top of your pack (wrapped in your sleeping pad if you have one) and stuff the tent body or tarp into the top of your pack. Avoid folding your tent body. When you fold the tent body the same way, it can actually wear out the water proofing layer on top of the fabric. However you pack the body though, you want your tent to be easily accessible. It’s one of the first things you set up when you get to camp and you don’t want to be digging for it in the event of rain.


These can really go anywhere in your bag, but many people tend to pack less frequently used clothing items toward the bottom of their backpack. Clothes make great fillers for small spaces and can protect more fragile gear.

Additional Tips for Packing a Backpack

  • Don’t waste space. Consider how you can use every nook as storage space. For example, use your pot as a place to store food or other cooking gear.
  • If you’re backpacking with others, share the load. For example, divide up the tent.
  • If you are carrying fuel for a stove or lantern, make sure the lid is screwed on tightly and pack it below your food items in case of a spill.
  • Carry as little gear as possible outside of your backpack as this can adversely affect your balance if not packed carefully.
  • Pack related items together (such as kitchen utensils or toiletries) in a color-coded stuff sack to make locating easy.
  • If you have a frameless backpack, you can use your sleeping pad to serve as a frame.

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