Hiking 101: How to Pack a Backpack

Properly packing your backpack will keep your back and shoulders from wearing out more quickly than normal, keep important items within easy access, and it will help maintain your balance as you navigate tricky terrain.

While there’s certainly more than one way to load a backpack for hiking, there are a few simple tips to keep in mind that will make the process easier.

Load the Middle

To keep your center of gravity close to your body and maintain balance, load the most dense items, such as water and food, in the middle of your pack and as close to your back as possible.

Use the Hydration Sleeve

Most backpacks are outfitted with a sleeve for a water reservoir, so don’t shy from using it. It can be a super efficient way to store a day’s worth of water or even a spare shirt or lightweight jacket.

Fill the Empty Space

Clothing and other lightweight, soft items can be used to fill in the gaps around harder, bulkier items. Even if you use a stuff sack to keep clothing together, it might pay off to pull a few pairs of socks or shirts out to stuff into your pack’s nooks and crannies.

Keep Accessories Within Arm’s Reach

It’s smart to pack things that you’ll need in convenient, easy-to-reach locations, such as your pack’s front and side pockets. These items will vary depending on your needs, but snacks, sunglasses, rain gear, hats and gloves are some examples of what you may need quick access to in a pinch.

Use Your Waist Belt

Aside from shoulder strap and side pockets, most modern packs even feature pockets in the waist belt. You’ll find these bonus pockets suitable for a camera, sunscreen, lip balm, phone and any other must-have items small enough to fit.

Get to Know Your Pack’s Storage Options

Some packs have very large external pockets that can be used to carry a large portion of clothing if needed. Furthermore, panel loading backpacks are great for those who prefer complete access to their pack’s interior.

Keep Your Sleeping Bag Low

Most sleeping bags these days are light enough and compact enough to easily fill the bottom of a backpack. Also, some packs feature exterior strap loops near the bottom where you can strap your sleeping bag if you lack room in your pack’s interior.

Tent and Tent Poles Can Be Separated

If you need the space, simply remove your tent poles from the main tent bag and strap them to the outside of your pack. This allows your tent to be easily packed around the other gear inside the backpack.

© Błażej Łyjak | Dreamstime.com – Woman hiker with backpack hiking in forest