Guides | Outdoors

3 Simple Steps On How To Pack A Backpack for Camping or Hiking

One of the key skills involved with backpacking involves knowing how to actually pack the backpack itself.

While it may be tempting to simply cram all of your gear into your pack before and during each day of your trip, the results can be detrimental in ways that go far beyond having to fumble through your pack to find that certain granola bar in the rain.

There aren’t any secret tricks on how to pack a backpack, but there are some logical and strategic methods you can employ that will ensure a well-packed backpack each and every time.

First, Before You Pack

two backpacks with their contents organized next to them

There are a few things you need to have squared away first before actually beginning the packing process.

Backpack Capacity

It’s crucial that you determine the capacity of your bag before packing it, ensuring that the pack’s capacity is the right size to hold all of your gear comfortably, without cramping or stretching the backpack.

Depending on the length of your trip and the size of your bag, you may need to make decisions between certain gear items or added luxuries.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that shorter trips require fewer items, as well as trips in mild or warm climates.


Packing your backpack correctly is much easier if you first lay out all of your items so that you can be more organized as you go. This also helps you move items into groups, and categorize by weight, which will come in handy later.

Another helpful idea is to place smaller items together in ziplock bags or stuff sacks, such as eating utensils. Food items should be stored in ziplock or leak-proof bags as well.

Once you have all of your items and gear out, create an inventory checklist and make sure that you have every last thing that you will need, and make notes of anything that can be left behind if need be.

Weight Distribution

two backpacks next to each other in a field

The main goal when packing your backpack, (aside from fitting all of your gear in,) is to ensure that weight is distributed evenly and strategically in the pack.

This is for a number of reasons. First, proper weight distribution is better for your body in general. When weight is not distributed right, you can have backaches, problems with your feet, and neck as well.

Keeping your weight centered makes the load much easier on your body, which ensures a better trip. Another big reason for this strategi weight distribution is to keep your body centered as you are walking.

If your bag is weighted improperly, you can lose stability on rough terrain, leading to slips and falls. A centered bag does not interfere with your ability to navigate the terrain under you.

Here’s a quick overview of the backpack layout, and what should be loaded where:

  • Bottom – Heavy, bulkier items that won’t be needed until setting up camp.
  • Core – Heavy, dense items.
  • Top – Bulkier items that may also be needed when on the trail.
  • Outside pockets – Essential items that you can access in a hurry if the need arises.
  • Tool Loop/Lashes – Longer and oversized items that cannot fit inside.

Knowing where to attach your tent to a backpack can help organize it easily.

How To Pack Each Section

Knowing how to pack your backpack before heading off can save you a lot of time and reduce the need for any adjustments to be made.

somebody placing an item inside an open backpack

Bottom of the Pack

Most if not all of the items here are things that you won’t need until the end of your traversing that day.

Items such as sleeping bags, sleeping pads, extra clothing layers for sleep (long johns, thermal shirts, etc,) camp shoes, and compactable pillows should all be placed here.

The extra padding from all of the soft items makes the backpack more comfortable on your back as well.

Core of Pack

This is where you will include all of your heavier items, ideally the ones you won’t need during your hike.

Cooking kits, stoves, water reservoirs, bear canisters, food supply, and other gear items should all be fit together to leave as little space in between as possible.

If you are carrying lighter fluid, make sure the lid is on tight. Keep the bottle upright, and below your food supply.

For extra precaution, make sure your food supply is in a sealed bag. If you have any spare soft items, use them to wrap around your gear and fill space to prevent any shifting during your hike.

Top of Pack

This is where you can keep your bulkier items that you may need on the trail. Insulated jackets, rain jackets, first aid kits, water purifiers, and toilet supplies can all be stores at the top.

Some may also prefer to keep their tent at the top for quick access in the event of a sudden bad turn in weather.


Backpacks all vary in the size and amount of pockets, but you will have some regardless. This is where you can keep essential items that you’ll be needing frequently during the day.

These items include maps, GPS, sunglasses sunscreen, lip balm, bug spray, snacks, water bottles, cash, ID, and more. Make sure any electronics are kept in a covered pocket with a seal.

Tool Loops and Lashes

You’ll likely have some gear that won’t fit in your backpack. Try to keep this amount minimal, as they can snag on branches and get caught easily.

Some of the gear items that you can hang or attach to your backpack include trekking poles, tent poles, hammock stands, climbing rope, and larger sleeping pads.

How to Hoist your Pack

Beginning backpackers are prone to hoist their packs wrong, treating them more like a school backpack instead.

This can be burdensome on your pack itself, while also straining your arms and back.

Here is how to hoist your pack properly from the ground level:

  • Loosen the backpack’s straps slightly.
  • Tilt the backpack to an upright position.
  • Stand to the side of the back panel with your legs well apart and knees bent.
  • Grab the haul loop (the loop located at the top of the back panel on your backpack).
  • Lift and slide the pack up to your thigh, let it rest; and keep your hand on the haul loop for better control.
  • Slip your other arm and shoulder through one of the shoulder straps until your shoulder is cradled by the padding.
  • Lean forward, and then swing the pack onto your back. Slip the hand that was originally holding the haul loop through the other shoulder strap.
  • Buckle up the pack and make any needed strap adjustments.

Final Word

Before your first trip, practice packing and unpacking your backpack to get used to the process, while also practicing the hoist itself.

With just a few run-throughs, you should be fully prepared to hit the trail with full confidence and convenience, leading to an amazing excursion with little trouble along the way!

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