How to Pack a Backpack

I was 14 years old when I had the opportunity to spend just over a month working on a youth crew in a mountain park. On our first overnight trip away from base camp, the ranger in charge took one look at my backpack and shook her head.

There's me (and my pack) heading into the backcountry at age 14.

I thought it was quite creative to have the extra shoes, water bottle and raincoat swinging on the outside of my overstuffed load; she knew otherwise. I watched, listened and learned lifelong lessons as she pulled everything out and started from scratch.

If you are new to backpacking, here are a few tips:

  1. Lay out everything you need to put in the pack, including food.
  2. Shrink sleeping bags and coats by cinching them down in compression sacks.
  3. Depending on your centre of gravity, you’ll want to put the majority of dense and heavy items either higher and closer to your back for men, or lower and closer to back for women, when planning a hike on easy terrain.
  4. Put your sleeping bag in the bottom of your backpack and place your tent, cooking gear, food, toiletries, extra clothes and luxury items (book, spare batteries, etc.) in the main body – making sure that there is adequate padding for your back with no hard edges sticking out, and that the weight is balanced.
  5. Set your waterproof gear and a warm layer at very top of the main body.
  6. Keep your first aid kit, map and compass, headlamp, light snack, and small ziplock with a bit of toilet paper and a lighter in top flap pocket.
  7. Put your water bottle and lunch, easily accessible, in a side or outside back pocket.
  8. Strap your sleeping pad and tent poles vertically on the sides of your pack.
  9. If you don’t have a built-in pack cover, slip one in a side or back pocket – making sure you can get it out easily in inclement weather.
  10. I loop my small digital camera (in a padded camera bag) onto my hip belt so that it’s easily accessible.
  11. Set your loaded pack on a bathroom scale. A comfortable overnight pack on a short trip shouldn’t weigh much more than 20-25% of your body weight. If it does, what luxury items can you leave behind? Do you really need all of those clothes? Depending on the length of trip, one set of quick dry clothes and a complete change will see you through. Have you packed too much food?
  12. Sift out the excess, re-pack and you’re ready to go.

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