Packing your backpack properly will keep you comfortable as you’re hiking as well as ensure that your back doesn’t get tired. Your loaded backpack shouldn’t exceed 25 to 30 percent of your ideal body weight. A majority of the weight of your backpack should shift to your hipbelt so the load isn’t carried on your shoulders.

Be sure to have your backpack fitted to your body. Know that the heavier a backpack is when it’s empty, the more weight it was designed to carry. Off-trail, pack your heaviest items closest to your back between your shoulder blades. On-trail, you’ll want those items higher in your pack so the weight shifts to your hips.

Photo Credit: fortherock

Before you start packing, lay your gear on a tarp. This ensures that you see everything you’re going to pack and remember any missing items. Start by stuffing your sleeping bag in the bottom. Small bedtime items can fill any remaining space on the bottom.

Gather small items that are related and pack them in color-coded bags. Pack small items inside larger items to conserve space. A shirt will fit inside a cooking pot. If you’re traveling with a group, split up the weight of a heavier items, such as a tent. Keep gear you need handy. Your map, compass or GPS, sunscreen, sunglasses, headlamp, bug spray, first-aid kit, snacks, rain gear and packcover should be easily accessible.

Helpful Hints

Consider bringing duct tape and safety pins. You can wrap the duct tape around water bottles or hiking poles to repair straps or tents. Safety pins replace a broken zipper head.

Pack your camera in its case and attach it to your hipbelt or shoulder strap. Then you have easy access.

A packcover for your backpack will keep the rain off. Even though your backpack may be weatherproofed, rain can still get in through zippers and seams.


New backpacks can hold hydration reservoirs for carrying your water. A pocket holds the water and a slit in the backpack enables a tube to poke out. Straps on either side of your shoulder straps route the tube to the front of your pack. If you have an older model of backpack, you can still use a hydration reservoir.

Make sure you pack it close to your back since water is heavy. You should also place your water reservoir inside a waterproof stuff sack to prevent leaks.

Backpacks also have pockets for water bottles on either side of the pack, making them easy to access without removing your backpack.

Lashing Gear

You will want to strap some of your gear to the outside of your backpack, but keep it to a minimum. Pointed objects, such as hiking poles or an axe, should be on the outside of your pack. A sleeping pad can also ride outside your pack, but be sure to pack it in a stuff sack to avoid abrasions. Tuck tent poles on either side of your backpack with the ends secured in the wand pocket at the bottom. You can use the daisy chain and loops creatively, but be sure your gear doesn’t throw off your comfort or stability.