I never realized how particular I was about packing my pack and arranging my gear until I was getting ready to head out for a backpacking trip a couple weeks ago.
So, I thought I’d share some basic tips with you about how to pack your pack, and exactly what my strategy is so we can all pack more efficiently and comfortably.
How to pack a backpack for a multiday hiking trip
After enough days and nights out on the trail though, packing and unpacking your pack each day, you’ll figure out a routine that works for you.
This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience, see my full disclosure for more info.
Overall, your goal is to keep lighter gear in the bottom of your pack, the heaviest gear in the middle of your pack heighth and width wise but against your back, then pack all your other light-ish gear around the heavy gear to keep in place.
REI shows you the basics of how to pack a backpack in the video below and then I’ll fill in some details afterward.
When you put your pack on, you should feel the weight resting more on your hips than pulling on your shoulders.
Here’s where the strategy comes in. On top of trying to account for weight and weight distribution, you also want to account for accessibility and try to pack everything in the reverse order that you’ll need it through the day.
How I pack my backpack:
First things first, I make sure there’s a pack liner (big black trash bag) inside my pack to keep all my gear dry. Then I put my sleeping bag in its compression sack, and then in the bottom of my bag.
Honestly, I don’t know why I still use the compression sack, you really can just put your sleeping loose in the bottom of your bag and stuff everything else down on top of it and save the weight of the stuff sack. But I think I’m too paranoid about my sleeping bag and think the sack helps protect it a little more. One day when I’m feeling brave I’ll just pack it loose.
Next, I put in my food bag (minus snacks for the first day!), which is usually my heaviest, and one of the bulkiest items to go in. So, that goes vertically against the frame of the pack. My tent goes on one side of my food bag, and my compressed and rolled sleeping pad goes on the other side with my cookset resting nicely on the sleeping pad.
I keep all my sleeping clothes in one stuff sack, that goes next to my food bag, opposite the pack frame, so now I have 3 good sized items holding my food bag in place, so it doesn’t wiggle too much while I’m hiking. My warm layer, fleece or down jacket, goes on top of my food bag in case I need it during the day it’s pretty accessible. But I do roll up and tuck the top of my trash bag liner here to keep everything beneath dry.
Right on top of the trash bag liner, I put my camp shoes and rain gear, in case I need that in a hurry it’s on top! Camp shoes end up on top by default because a) they’re bulky crocs and b) I don’t mind if they get wet.
Then I close my pack and attach my ‘butt pad’ on the top of pack using an external compression strap of my pack. Everything else, all the little odds and ends you want to keep either in the brain of your pack, in hip belt pockets or attached to the outside. But I don’t like to have any gear hanging and dangling on the outside of my pack that could damaged or knocked off.
Things to keep in the brain of your pack, or super handy:
Once you pack up all your gear, if your pack is still really bothering you – like pushing, pulling, squeezing, or bruising you anywhere – you might want to take it, fully loaded, to a gear store like REI and have them take a look and help you adjust all the straps properly.
Hilarious side story about packing a pack – while I was on the AT, my toilet paper had gone missing at a shelter. So, of course I immediately blamed (in the most loving way possible) all the hikers around me for ‘accidentally’ taking my toilet paper because where else could it be? When all your stuff fits in a backpack there aren’t too many places for things to go disappearing to.
Everyone insisted they didn’t have it. Fine. We all kept hiking and I was borrowing toilet paper left and right for several days. Until finally one day I found it in the bottom of my pack – but on the outside of my packs trash bag liner!!
Make sure you really check all the nooks and crannies of your pack every once in a while, you never know what you might find in there.
If you have any questions about backpacking gear or how to pack it up – let me know in the comments below.
Check out these posts for more backpacking tips:
- Tips for hiking in the rain
- The worst hiking advice I’ve ever heard
- How to prevent and treat blisters
- Campsite safety tips for backpackers