Whether you’re planning an afternoon hike or a long, multi-day trek, a backpack is one of the most invaluable tools you’ll have on your journey.
Your pack holds all of those must-have items that you need to keep on-hand, both for your safety and your comfort.
Hiking backpacks come in a variety of sizes and shapes and can offer an array of features. While making sure you have a properly fitted pack that offers the space and accessories you need is extremely important, making sure that you pack it properly is vital.
If incorrectly packed, not only will you have a hard time accessing the gear you need when you need it, but it could also really impact your comfort level.
How do you go about packing a hiking pack? The truth is, there is no right or wrong way. Where you’re hiking, how long you’ll be hiking for, and the gear you plan on bringing are just some of the factors that will determine how you pack your pack.
With that said, however, there are some tips that you can use to help ensure you pack your hiking backpack successfully.
Hiking Backpack Packing Tips
Since gear varies from hiker to hiker – and even from trek to trek – before you start packing up your backpack, it’s a good idea to start by laying out all of your gear.
Set up in an open space; the surface of a bed, a countertop, or a floor, for example. Next you’ll want to delineate your backpack in different zones – bottom, core, and top – and set up different spots on the surface you’re working on for each zone so you can place your gear in the appropriate pile.
Additionally, you should create a pile for things that will be packed into your accessory pockets, as well as your lash-on and tool loop spots.
What to Pack Where
Now let’s breakdown what you’ll pack in the different sections of your backpack: the three main zones and the peripheral zones.
It’s important to note that when you’re packing, weight distribution is important.
- Items that are lighter weight should go toward the bottom of the pack, while the heavier gear should be placed in the middle of your backpack, where it will be closer to your back.
- Packing in this manner will help to prevent weighing you down.
- If you pack heavier items in the middle, you’ll have an easier time supporting your pack, as your core will be able to support the weight and you’ll have a better center of gravity.
- However, if you place heavier items near the bottom, your pack will end up pulling you down, while heavier items placed on the top will make you feel as if you’re going to tip over.
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The Bottom Zone
By the “bottom zone”, we mean the bottom portion or the lowest section of your backpack. In this section, you’ll want to pack your bigger, bulkier items and the things that you won’t need to have readily available while you’re hiking, but rather will need once you stop for a break or if you’re taking a multi-day trek, until you stop to call it a night.
Examples of the gear you should reserve for the bottom portion of your backpack include:
- Your sleeping. If your hiking backpack has a built-in compartment for a sleeping bag, you’ll notice that it is located on the bottom of the pack.
- A sleeping pad. If your pack has a built-in sleeping bag compartment, you may be able to fit it in this section with the sleeping bag itself.
- A pillow
- Any extra clothing that you either you plan on sleeping in or that you may need to change into while you’re hiking; thermal underwear, long-sleeved shirts, extra pairs of pants, etc.
- Shoes that you plan on wearing around the campground.
The Middle Zone
The middle zone serves as the “core” of your backpack. In this section, you’re going to want to put those bigger, bulkier items.
As we previously mentioned, you’ll have an easier time carrying your pack when the heavy items are positioned in the center, as you’ll be able to use the muscles in the core of your body to support the pack.
With that said, here’s a look at some of the items that are best reserved for the middle zone of your hiking backpack:
- A camp stove
- Your stash of food; not the small things that are meant for munching while you’re hiking, but the food you’ll prepare for meals.
- A cook kit; your utensils, cooking dishes, etc.
- A water reservoir (if you’re planning on using one).
- A camping lantern, flashlights, etc.
- Your tent, including the footprint, rainfly, etc.
If possible, wrap softer gear around bulkier items. Doing so will help to prevent those bulkier pieces from shifting around in your pack while you’re trekking.
It’s also a good idea to use softer items to fill in any spaces between those bulkier pieces, as well as your water reservoir, if you’re using one.
Another note on a water reservoir: if you will be using one, make sure you fill it up and put it in your pack before you pack anything else in the middle zone; this is true even if the pack has a specialized compartment for the reservoir.
The reason? – it’s a lot harder to place fit a filled water reservoir into an already full backpack.
The Top Zone
You’ll want to use the top zone to stow those things that you’ll need while you’re on the trail; gear that you need to access with ease. Examples of the items that you’ll want to put here include:
- A windbreaker
- A rain jacket
- A fleece pullover
- Your first-aid kit (whether you purchase a pre-assembled one or make your own).
- A water purifier or water filter.
- Any essential bathroom supplies, such as toilet paper, a baggie to stow your toilet paper in, and a trowel.
The Accessory Pockets
The placement of accessory pockets, as well as the amount of these pockets, will vary from backpack to backpack; however, some of the most common spots for accessory pockets include along the front and sides of the pack, the lid, and the hip belts.
No matter what type of accessory pockets your hiking pack features, they’re great spots to stow away those smaller items that you’ll want to be able to grab with ease. Examples include:
- A GPS
- A cellphone or walkie-talkie
- A map
- Insect repellent
- A headlamp
- Extra water bottles
- A rain cover
- Trekking snacks
- Your ID
- A stash of cash
- An extra pair of socks
- A camera
- Thinner gloves
- A utility knife
Next up on our list of hiking backpack packing tips is the lash-on points. Use these points to stow those larger items that you can’t fit into the body of the pack. Examples include:
- Tent poles
- Hiking poles
- A camp chair/stool
- An axe (covered, of course)
- Climbing ropes
- Crampons (again, covered, of course)
- Thicker snow gloves
- An extra pair of hiking shoes (if you’re planning on bringing an extra pair)
- Any larger tools that you may be bringing with you
It’s important to note that when you’re packing gear in your lash-on points, use caution. Since they’re located on the outside of your pack, there’s a chance that the gear you pack here will get tangled in branches, trapped between rocks, or scraped against surfaces.
As such, it’s a good idea to keep the items that you’re packing in these spots to a minimum. Additionally, you’ll want to ensure that whatever you do pack here is properly stabilized.
Helpful Packing Tips
What you pack where in your hiking pack really depends on the gear that you’re going to be bringing along with you, but the above-mentioned breakdown is a good overall summary of how you should pack things up.
Other handy tips that will help to ensure backpack packing success include:
- Wrap up any bulky/potentially breakable items in softer gear. For example, wrap up your camera or a GPS in a T-shirt or a fleece. This will help to prevent breakage and will reduce the chances that those items will bang into your back, arms, legs, etc. while you’re trekking.
- If you’re packing up liquid fuel for a camp stove, double check to make sure that the caps on the fuel bottles are extremely secure.
- Additionally, you’ll want to place the bottles so that they’re situated in an upright position. It’s also a good idea to place the bottles inside a water-tight bag and away from food items in the event that they knock over and spill.
- Your food stash should be placed in water-tight containers, too. Stowing your food in a bear container, an air-tight container that doesn’t not allow scent to permeate through, is a good idea.
Summing It Up
A backpack is one of the most essential pieces of gear that you’ll bring along with you on your hiking trips. Making sure that it’s packed appropriately will help to ensure your comfort and your success while you’re out on the trails.