Backpacking will take you to some of the most remote and beautiful places in the world—but you’re going to have to work a little to get there.
Carrying everything you need for a multi-day trek on your back is daunting to some, but backpacking doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. A properly packed backpack means that you’ll feel steady and balanced, even with a load of gear on your back.
Start With the Right Pack
Even the most efficiently packed backpack can cause a little pain if that pack hasn’t been properly fitted. Before you do anything, find a backpack that fits your frame comfortably. Learn what all those straps and buckles do, and adjust it to your body. Common pressure points include shoulders and hip bones, so ensure the pack is comfortable in those areas when weighted. Finally, after the backpack has been packed, make any adjustments needed to ensure a comfortable fit.
Many people mistakenly believe that the heaviest items should be packed at the bottom of the backpack, with lighter items stacked on top. In fact, the heaviest items should be packed toward the middle of the pack, as close as possible to your body and your center of gravity. This will help keep you stable and balanced, even when your pack is fully loaded.
Lighter, bulkier items like your sleeping bag and sleeping pad can be stored toward the bottom of the bag. Other light and medium weight items should be packed by the top and middle (further from your body than the super heavy stuff).
Equally important is the concept of distributing weight evenly from side to side. If your bag tends to topple over one way, that’s a sure sign that you’re off-balance.
Your pack’s capacity will restrict how much gear you can bring with, so be strategic when considering the volume—that is, the amount of room something takes up—of your belongings. Pots, pans, and dishes can be very bulky and take up valuable real estate in your pack. Look for a set where each component fits neatly inside another, and leave behind the pieces you know you won’t use.
Make use of every nook and cranny. For example, don’t just leave a pot empty; store your camping stove or other items inside of it while it sits in your pack.
You can also look for items that compress down to the smallest possible size in order to fit within the constraints of your pack size. Collapsible bowls and cups in flexible silicone will take up a fraction of the space of traditional dishes.
Compartmentalize and Organize
When you’re backpack is properly packed, you won’t have to empty absolutely everything to find that one item you’re looking for. Use stuff sacks or zippered plastic baggies to keep like items with like and make use of your pack’s compartments and pockets to keep items organized. Get into the habit of packing your backpack consistently—that way, when you need an item, you’ll know exactly where to go to find it.
Keep Key Items Close
Take advantage of easy-to-reach zippered pockets to stash important items like water bottles, multitool, sunscreen or toilet paper. On a backpacking trip, you probably won’t need to access your sleeping bag quickly, so it’s okay to stuff it a little deeper in your pack. On the other hand, you’ll want your trail mix to be easy to grab while you’re on the go so that you don’t have to pull over and take off your pack every time you want a handful.
Get Rid of Excess
Beware of bringing too much stuff. An overpacked bag is a poorly packed bag, so resist cramming every item you might possibly need into your pack. Overpacking will cause more wear on tear on your backpack, and it will make it much more difficult to find what you need since there will be more stuff to root through. Even more importantly, a too-heavy pack will require much more energy to carry. Have an experienced backpacker join you on your first trip—he or she can advise you on what you can afford to leave behind.