How To Pack A Backpack: Top Tips and Tricks

Are you always packing last minute? Do you just throw your gear into the pack unmindfully? Are you always complaining how small your pack is though it has a 40L capacity? If you answer is yes to all these questions, chances are you’re not packing the right way. As a backpacker, it’s imperative that you know how to pack a backpack.

Don’t worry because you’re not the only one. In fact, most novice backpackers went through that problem. We understand your struggle mate, and we’re going to help you how to pack your backpack more efficiently. We’re here with some useful tips and tricks to help you out.

Thank us later!

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Backpack Capacity​

Backpack Capacity

Amazingly, backpacks can swallow all the gears you need for your travels. But before loading your pack up, the first thing to consider is whether the pack’s capacity or volume is appropriate for the number of items you plan to bring along.

In a nutshell, you have to find the line between comfort and reducing unnecessary “luxury” things. Short trips require less gear, hence a pack with a small capacity and vice versa.

Also, upgrading to lighter gear and equipment can keep the pack size down.

Here’s a table to serve as a guide when choosing a backpack capacity based on trip duration.​

Duration of Trip

Backpack Capacity (in liters)

Backpack Capacity (in cubic inches)

5 or more days/nights

65 - 90

4000 – 5000(+)

3-5 days/nights

50-80

3000 - 4000

1 to 2 days/nights

40-55

2500 - 3500

Day trip

25 - 40

1500 - 2500

Weight Distribution

Comfort in and off the trail is dependent on the pack’s weight distribution.

Lack of particular arrangement in stuffing the backpack places a lot of strain on the muscles that may potentially lead to fatigue and severe injury. You don’t want to halt your outdoor career just yet due to injuries, do you?

A well-loaded pack feels balanced when rested on the back and won’t sway or disarrange when you’re in motion.

Proper weight distribution starts with the backpack’s frame. Standard backpacking types commonly used by outdoor warriors are of two kinds: internal and external backpacks.

Internal backpacks are the norm for backpacking. Internal-framed packs are designed in such a way that heavy items go on center, closest to the back and in between the shoulders. This arrangement places the weight on the hips when trail hiking.

On the other hand, external backpacks put massive gears on top of the pack, leveled with the shoulder. By doing this, the pack’s weight is distributed over the hips, helping your gain stability and maintains an upright stance.

It’s good to have both packs, really. They help a lot in easing the burden of carrying our gears and tools but what if you already have your good old’ bag and can’t afford to purchase these fancy packs?

Hey, I can still remember my first hike accompanied by my JanSport school bag! Our point is, frameless packs can still be packed efficiently for backpacking.

The only rule of thumb is: beginners, individuals with medical conditions, and less-fit persons should carry less weight while experienced backpackers may exceed the average pack weight.

On that note, here’s a comprehensive guide to organizing the contents of your backpack for a more efficient packing.

Organizing The Pack​

Organizing the Pack

The first step to proper packing is laying out all the things you want to bring in bed or any broad surface instead of stuffing it piece by piece.

This ensures that gears and equipment are grouped by weight like for instance, small items like utensils and knives go together in a zip bag and so on. This step also eliminates the probability of forgetting essentials.

The backpack can be divided into three zones (bottom, center, top) and two external areas for packing (external attachments and external pockets).

Bottom Zone​

The bottom zone is the reservoir of items bulky items, specifically camping gear. This includes sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and trekking boots. These are the things you don’t need before the actual camping.

Moreover, these things create a cushioned bottom that acts as a sort of internal shock-absorption system that protects the pack’s contents during accidents and falls.

Central Zone​

This zone is for dense items such as camping cookware, liquid fuels, food, water bottles/water reservoir, and canisters.

Make sure to put food items in a ziplock bag to prevent spills and such. You may also opt to wrap the cookware in a shirt or any fabric to prevent the containers from making clanking sounds as most camping cookware are made of stainless steel.

Also, bear in mind to always check the condition of your liquid fuel before packing it in. Since it’s gas, it is prone to burning or explosion when in contact with even a minimal flame.

Make sure it’s capped tightly capped and again, wrap it with a soft fabric before placing it upright into the pack.

Top Zone​

The top part of the pack is the place where frequently needed items go.

Clothes, jackets, first-aid kit, toilet supplies, and some snacks go in here. Some people also like storing tents at the top for easy access when the weather gets bad before setting up camp is complete.

External Pockets​

Packs made for backpacking purposely have many pockets. It’s confusing at first because you probably won’t remember where you stuffed your GPS or something because they all basically look the same, but they’re equally useful as the interior space.

Smaller, handy essentials such as maps, GPS, sunscreen, bug sprays, snacks (again), sunglass, keys, gadgets, ID and other credentials, and water bottles should be stuffed into external pockets for minimal searching as these are the items you need most of the time.

Store bottle upright to prevent spills and always put a luggage lock on the pockets containing your gadgets and credentials.

External Attachments (loops and lash-on points)​

Backpacks for outdoor use are designed with loops and lash-on points meant for lashing oddly-shaped camping equipment such as tent body, tent poles, tarps, trekking poles, and ropes.

However, if you still have much space inside the pack, you may want to put these things inside to prevent dangling things that may affect your pace and overall performance on the trail.

Apparently, you can’t stuff the trekking pole inside, so the only place it can go is beneath the compression straps, together with the tent poles.

You can also attach carabiners for hanging items like headlamps and emergency gears.

Here’s a summary video of the things we’ve discussed regarding backpack organization. May it be of help to you as it is for us!​

Just a word of caution: do not overload the pack -- a stuffed bag shouldn’t exceed more than 30% of your body weight, although this is a bit arbitrary because pros can carry more since their bodies have adapted to it.

After your pack is loaded and properly packed, the last step is to adjust the back straps in such a way that the weight of the pack falls over the hips, not the butt.

Likewise, tighten all compression straps to fit everything snuggly and limit item shifting while on the trail.

Final Thoughts​

A well-loaded pack offers a multitude of benefits to backpackers. It lessens the muscle train, saves up space, prevents incidents of forgotten items, and ensures comfort on the trail.

Packing your backpack for outdoor activities is real easy if you have knowledge of the proper way of doing it. Always refer to our guide and checklist above before embarking on your adventures. Happy backpacking!

Hey, camper! Where are you off to next? Have you prepared your pack already? We hope you find the contents of this post useful. Hit us up with suggestions and questions below in the comments section. Don’t forget to share this post before you leave. Ciao!​

How To Pack A Backpack: Top Tips and Tricks
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