Packing a Backpack

Or, how I get all of this…


Into this…


If you read any book on backpacking, or hiking… you will likely find a section or chapter on how to pack a backpack. These can go from pretty generic, to very darn specific. The bible for those that walk in the woods has probably the best version of this out there… The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher (I wish this was available on Kindle!)

Probably thousands of articles on the subject, but, where would I be without covering this in at least one post? 🙂

The basic gist of it is this…

  • Put the heaviest items high and close to your back
    • Ever wonder why the water bladder pouch in your pack runs right along the back along the spine? Now you know.
    • Tent – generally heavy, if you can fit it, put it also along this line close to your back.
    • Food + Kitchen + Spare water – keep this high up, and reachable, but in close to your back as possible.
  • Put the lesser-used and big items low and to the outsides away from your back
    • Sleeping bag at the bottom, clothes around the outside areas away from the back, and filling up the spaces around the heavier, and bulkier items.
  • Compress your pack, do not let items move around
    • If you are lashing items such as skis or snowshoes to the outside of your pack, make sure they are lashed on tightly and DO NOT MOVE.
    • If items are moving around, especially heavier items, the weight will shift, and could lead to serious injury or worse!
  • Keep emergency items and frequently used items as accessible as possible
    • Use the top hood of your bag, side compartments, at the top of the inside of your bag, lashed to your shoulder straps or waist strap.
    • Items such as First Aid Kit, Snacks, “Stuff for going to the bathroom”, knife, water, emergency whistle, GPS, etc. If you fall and break most everything, can you reach your First Aid Kit (for the Vicodin or whatever you carry for pain management?) GPS unit? Can you reach your phone? Emergency signal mirror? Flashlight? Food? Water? Keep this stuff within reach, as you may need to have it within reach to save your life.

Those are the basics. Now, back to my packing. This is based on a recent winter overnight backpacking trip on the Stratton Pond Trail in Vermont.

From the first picture above, I had a LOT of gear I needed to haul. Some of it was discarded at the trailhead (I did not need an Ice Axe for this trip…). The items in the second picture, of the completely packed pack, are the ones I would be wearing or have on my person in some fashion for most of the trip.

First and foremost, lay all of your stuff out so you can inventory it (might I suggest a gear checklist?). Then, based on the guidelines above, start to imagine where everything will go. Think about how you will access it when on the trail. Especially if it is your first time, pack and unpack it a few times, test getting at your Kitchen, food, water, extra clothing (you will be layering up and down, especially in the winter!). This will help you, but, not be 100%, as there is no tried and true test like the trail itself.

If you have a water bladder, put that in first, it will be tough to move afterwards.


Jam your sleeping bag, perhaps using a compression sack as shown above, and put that at the bottom. Then, especially because of my pack layout, I then put in my extra water, it is high against my back at this point.

Next I add in my ground tarp, as well as my sleeping pad.

Next, I then carefully place in grouped-by-use stuff sacks, food, clothing, kitchen, toiletries, etc. Leaving space for extra layers at the top that will be coming on and off.

Seen above are hand warmers, first aid kit, and other items I may need quick access to in the top hood of my pack.

What is shown in the 2nd picture in this article, you can see the following lashed to the outside of my pack, if you look carefully…

So that’s it. That is my guide on packing a pack. Pretty short, pretty simple, but, it gets the major factors across!


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