How to pack a backpack

How to pack a backpack How To


I am starting a new series of posts about basic tips and tricks in the backcountry. If you are hiking on the weekend or have a long trip planned – these tips will help you with your adventures. I came across the question “How do I pack my backpack?” – a lot – everywhere I went and I have seen many people do it wrong. When you are on a serious hike, have a long day on foot adventuring or a climbing trip, this will save you some muscle pain and soreness.
And it keeps you more safe!


So, why is it important?


Mainly for two reasons:


  • A messy packed backpack will change your center of gravity drastically, and therefore you will have to work harder with your leg muscles to compensate for that. It will make a big difference on a long day.
  • Your backpack can pull you off-balance in a bad moment when climbing, on a steep slope or scrambling.


In my example I brought some stuff that would get me through a long day of hiking – and some extra stuff.
If you only have two potatoes in your pack and carry it to the kitchen you can safely ignore my tips.
However, even a backpack that feels light in the beginning will pay it’s toll on your back and feet over time if not packed correctly!

To make it more simple, here is an illustration:


How to pack a backpack



So, as you hopefully see from the illustration, the weight on your back shifts your natural center of gravity further behind. That’s only natural and alright, but we can choose how far back the center of gravity goes by packing! The closer your center of gravity with a backpack on is to your natural center of gravity, the easier you will hike, especially uphill. If you have not packed well, you will have to hunchback to compensate for the pull on your back. If you packed correctly, you can walk upright, use muscles more efficiently and safe a lot of energy.


How to pack a backpack



Sort everything into 2 piles


Whatever you want to put in your pack, sort it into two categories. Just lay everything out in front of you, go through every single item and put it onto one of the following piles:


Important things you have to access during the day

These items should actually not be so many! In this pile I would put for example: Map, snack, knife, water, warm jacket, hat, sunglasses, hardshell jacket, camera.
There is no way I would use my sleeping bag during the day. Or my toiletries. So I put them on the other pile.

The rest – sorted by weight

All items that you do not have to access during the day, should go in this pile. You should organize this pile a little bit by heaviest to lightest item.
In this pile I put for example: Sleeping bag, food, extra clothing, emergency kit.


Pack it up!


So now you have two piles of stuff in front of you. The important things you will access during the day and the less important, weight sorted stuff.
Follow the illustration and pack your things in the following manner:


  • Heavy, non-important things go as close to your back as possible
  • Non-important, lighter things are used as a Filler to keep the heavy things close to your back (i.e. spare clothing)
  • Important stuff, If it can’t be fitted in the hood goes on top of everything


How to pack a backpack



How big should my backpack be?


This is a hard one. Stuff adds up. Keep that in mind. Of course you want to shine in your new awesome huge-ass Deuter backpack with 47 pockets and 32 thingies dangling off of it. Looking like a badass, wild hiker. Wrong thinking. I have seen so many people shipping their backpacks back, selling or even tossing them to the street side because of their weight and bulkyness. General rule of thumb: As small as possible. The bigger your backpack is, the more you will fill it! Trust me.


Of course, it depends on your trip and how long you are gone. But, not as much as you might think!
I hiked my 2 months in spain through any weather and terrain with a backpack that did not even have a volume information or raincover. I would guess around 5-6 Liters volume.
Basically a kid’s school bag. I weighed it and it weighed about 13 lbs. Yep.


How do I know how much I will need?


How? If you really access what you will need during your trip. This is hard because everybody loves gadgets and tools and you want to try everything out.
I did the same! When I reached the French / Spanish border by bike, I was so pissed at the hills and mountains because of all the shit I had to carry over them.
I learned my lesson and gave everything away that I didn’t use on a daily basis. Full Stop. Be honest to yourself and do your research of what you will really need.
“But what if it get’s really cold, or hot, or …. ?” – When it got really cold, I just wore everything I had, too hot, I was set up for that. You don’t need two sweaters or two pairs of long pants – you can only wear one!
“But my one pair of long pants is dirty!” So what? You are in the outside adventuring! No need to have ironed pants! Get dirty! Get sweaty! When you pack, think about if you are prepared for every scenario with the least amount of items. By scenario I mean mostly weather conditions and equipment. Then you are good.

I tossed away my headlamp, extra batteries, sleeping back, iso mattress, extra clothing, toiletries, compass, books (big one!! I used a printed A4 sheet as map in the end – everything you need),
camping stove and gas, pot, plate and cutlery the list goes on.

So what did I keep?

Only the most important stuff!
A map on one A4 sheet. Small emergency kit. Iphone. Toothbrush, toothpaste and a piece washing soap. Water bottle. Knife. I got gifted a small light-weight sleeping bag.
I wore one set of clothes during the day. I had another set of underclothes in the backpack. I rotated them on a daily basis. Done.
Sounds nasty? Well, I handwashed one set every night in the sink – in the morning it was dry, ready to go.
Eventually I even kept only one pair of short pants that I wore every day. For rain I had hardshell pants.

For a climbing trip this is of course completely different. You have to take equipment. But do you really need to bring an Ipad? Or your cosy slippers? Nope.
The same principles apply, no matter the trip. Bring what you really have to bring – and the things that prepare you for every situation. With the least amount of items.



Stay Updated!

[Part 4] will not be out next week – I still have to finish my specific period and I don’t want to write about it until I am through.
Don’t worry, as always there will be posts every Wednesday and on the weekend.