Packing Your Backpack for a Hike

by Dani Howell June 05, 2019
ReadPacking Your Backpack for a Hike Image courtesy of Sturdy Brothers

When planning a hiking trip, figuring out the best way to pack your backpack is probably not the first thing you think about. But, if you want to make the most of your space—and your trip—you want to put some thought into how you pack your bag.

Before you start packing, though, make sure you have a bag that works for your trip. If you’re just doing a light day hike, you don’t need to put as much consideration into your backpack. Just choose one that’s comfortable. If you’re going on an overnight or multi-day trek, however, get a bag designed for hiking.

Regardless of the length of your trip, you’ll want to pack your bag so it’s comfortable and gives you easy access to what you need—when you need it.

Before getting into the specifics, here are some general tips to guide you:

  1. Lay everything out before you start packing. This way you know what you have and how much you need to fit in your bag. With everything laid out in front of you, it’s a good time to ask yourself if all these items are essential. If something is not, you’ll probably want to leave it behind—since you’ll literally be carrying it all.
  2. Pack heavy items close to your back and toward the middle of the bag. More on this later, but this basic theory will make your hike WAY more enjoyable.
  3. Keep everything balanced. Don’t weigh down one side of your bag with all your dense, heavy objects. Don’t hang things all over the outside of your bag. When it’s on your back, you want the bag to feel as balanced as possible.

Now, let’s get into the specifics:

The first thing in your bag should be the final thing you’ll need. Given that, pack the bottom of your pack with stuff you’ll need last. If you’re going on an overnight hike, this should be your sleeping bag, followed by campsite items, like extra clothes. If you’re on a day hike, consider making this an emergency shelter option, like a blanket (you can never be too prepared).

Now you’re towards the middle of your pack. This is a good place for your heavier items, keeping in mind the heaviest should be closest to your back. Think cooking supplies, a bear canister, extra water, and food you don’t need convenient access to. Try to place these items so they sit between your shoulders.

A good reminder: Fill every inch of space you can. That extra room in your cooking pots? Store something in them.

At the top of your bag, you’ll want any item you need easy access to. Your rain jacket, first aid kit, sunglasses, snacks, a map, sunscreen, insect repellent, phone, and anything else you are likely to use often. If you have an actual hiking pack, a lot of these smaller goods can go in the brain.

Once everything is packed in there, use your bag’s compression straps if it has them. The more compact and secure everything is, the easier time you’ll have during your trek. The one item that should be the easiest to reach? Water. Many backpacks have exterior pockets dedicated to holding water bottles—use them.


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