Packing a backpack may be intuitive to many of you, but this guide is written for those who have never been told or shown how to pack a backpack for optimal comfort. This is all assuming that you are carrying traditional backpacking gear, like a tent, sleeping bag and pad, food, water, etc.
Everyone will have different gear, so this is just a rough guideline of how to place your gear. The idea is to have the heaviest parts of the load as close as possible to your natural center of gravity for both comfort and agility. To see what it is like without proper packing, trying doing the opposite of what this guide suggests and see how uncomfortable and difficult to move it can be.
1. Start off by loosening all the straps on your pack. It would be a shame to stuff your pack as tight as you can just to find out that you have plenty of room to optimally place items.
2. Store your sleeping bag in the bottom of the pack, closest to your back. Some packs have sleeping bag compartments for easy bag access, but the bag can just go in the bottom of the pack. You can just stuff the bag in there, but use a watertight compression sack if you have one, both to optimize space and to protect the bag, especially in wet conditions. Some sleeping bags still insulate when wet, but that does not mean it is pleasant to be in a wet bag.
3. If you have room left at the bottom, place other medium weight items there to fill up the space. A deflated sleeping pad is a good choice.
4. Fold your tent (and fly and footprint, if you are using them) into a rectangle roughly the dimensions of the inside of your pack and place it on top of the sleeping bag. Leave the tent’s storage sack at home and just think of your backpack as one big storage sack.
5. Place your densest, heaviest items (water, metal tools, stoves, non-dehydrated foods) close to your back, but do not go higher than where your shoulders will be when wearing the pack. Many recent packs have sleeves for hydration bladders, so take advantage of the sleeve if you have one.
6. Fill the remainder of the pack with light items, such as clothing or dehydrated food. If you are using a compression sack for your clothes, they can become surprisingly small and dense, so pack them accordingly.
7. Place any items that you will need to access quickly in an emergency (first aid kit, flashlight, knife) or otherwise on a regular basis in side, shoulder, or hip belt pockets or on the outside of the main pocket.
8. If the pack has external straps or sleeves, use these for tent poles, fishing rods, trekking poles, or any other long and thin gear you have.
9. Take advantage of the external water bottle pockets if you have them. Stopping and taking apart your pack every 15 minutes for a drink of water is not a good way to enjoy the outdoors.
10. Get outside and have fun!
Some other tips:
-Take a pack cover if there is even a remote chance of rain on your trip. You can use a garbage bag if you want, as long as you have something to protect your pack in wet weather. Even if you have all of your gear in dry sacks, rooting around in a soaking wet pack is no fun.
-Put your clothing, sleeping bag, and other water sensitive gear in dry sacks or plastic bags to protect all of it from the elements. You can even line the entire main compartment with a lightweight trash bag for further protection.
-Keep your food separated from the rest of your pack at night if you are in an area with critters that like to rob packs (pretty much the entire world). Take an extra bag or sack and some paracord or a bear canister, and keep the food 50-100 feet away from you, your gear, and your tent. Bears and raccoons in US national and state parks are smart, so do not count on having your food in the air as adequate protection. Buy a bear canister so you do not go hungry in the middle of a week-long trip. Include with the food anything sweet or fragrant smelling, such as toothpaste, deodorant, scented wipes, etc.
-Take items that multitask, if you have them. Trekking poles for tarp poles, backpack frames for sleeping pads, etc.