How To Pack Your Backpack!

To save your back, your pack, your pride…and basically the world.


Whether you’re hitting the AT this spring or backpacking around Europe…please please please learn to pack your pack!  If you don’t it will hurt, your pack will wear out along with your body, your stuff will always be a shit show, and I will feel your pain when I pass you on the trail…or in the train station…or where ever.

Also…your backpack becomes your world.  Anyone who has backpacked has experienced this, and no matter how chaotic the world around you can seem having a well balanced well organized pack is a life saver…maybe even literally!

So…here’s the deal…

  • Your pack should look nice.
  • Your pack should feel balanced.
  • Your should be able to quickly grab anything you need.
  • Your pack should be as small as possible.

That’s really all you need to know.  But if you want all the nitty gritty details by all means keep reading :)

Okay…so you have your pack sitting empty on the floor and next to it is this giant mountain of stuff that is somehow supposed to fit inside.  A miracle might be necessary…or at least it often feels that way.

First things first…ditch every single thing you can…seriously…you know this already but it’s never too late to ditch that thing you know you really aren’t going to need.  Think about it this way…it “might” be useful, but is it worth the space and weight 100% off the time?  Maybe it is…but if you can ditch it ditch it.  A lighter pack is more enjoyable for every moment of the trip!

Now…ditch the things you don’t need but haven’t noticed…packaging is the big one here.  Labels, wrappings, tags, if you want to go all out you can even cut down the handle on your toothbrush.  If you have extra batteries ditch any packaging, if something needs packaging see if you can swap it out with a smaller lighter lighter ziplock or sandwich bag.

Okay…now that things are paired down, find the stuff you will use the least…or only in a space where it’s okay to dump out your whole pack.  This stuff goes on the bottom.  For me it’s usually my sleeping bag and spare cloths.  Now…pack them in TIGHT!  Think about the air in your pack, and fill every single pocket of air.  A good way to pack bigger things is to grab a small handful of whatever your packing and reach all the way to the bottom of your pack with it.  Then take another little handful and push/pull it again to the very bottom.  Don’t try to put a whole big thing in at once.

Now…look at your mountain of stuff and take the things you might need, or only need at times when you can take your pack off…things like lunch food, a warm jacket, whatever it is.  This is sort of the middle layer.

As you pack things, think about weight.  You want the bulk of the weight to end up around torso, or shoulder level, and close to your spine.  Not sticking off the back or side of your pack.  Think about it, taking your water bottle and clipping it to the back of your pack (the side farthest from your body when you wear it) will cause it to lever you backwards.  You want the weight pressing down on your spine, not pulling back on your spine.  This is way easier to just demonstration in person but hopefully I’m making sense.

Also, you want weight balanced side to side, so go for a water bottle on each side, peanut butter here balanced with the jelly jar there…you don’t have to bust out the scales just think about it as you pack and try and keep it even side to side.

Now…for the final round it’s the stuff you could need at a moments notice, or the stuff you want to be able to get while your pack is still on.  Rain gear, water, map, snacks, stuff like that.  This is what goes in the pockets, next to the zippers, in the “brain” (that floating top pocket) and places like that.  Don’t go overboard though…sure you need some snacks but you don’t need a weeks worth of snacks so stash the extra someplace deeper inside.  Same with your toothbrush…unless you frequently brush on the run it’s better not to have it falling out every time you reach for your map.

And…the final final thing…is that you should be ready to pack, unpack, and repack over and over again until it’s automatic, fast, and can be done in the dark…on a crowded bus…on a cliff face…and pretty much anywhere you might else you might wind up.  Being able to smoothly and comfortably travel with you pack will make your freeing experience all the more free, and comfortable, and other people will give you that added respect because you no longer look like a walking yard sale in desperate need of a massage.

If folks have questions or other advice I’d love to hear it too!


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