You are 3 miles into your 3-day backpacking trip and already your body is aching. It might not be the fit on your pack (or even that hiking just isn’t your thing) but how you loaded the items inside of your bag. Yup, where you place the gear has a lot to do with how comfortable you are as you make your way over the trail, especially on extended journeys.
There is a science to packing: When done improperly, your backpack can throw you off balance on uneven terrain or worse, do damage to your body. When done right, you may find yourself quite surprised at how much you can actually carry without maxing the limits of your strength.
Take the time to learn how to organize and place your camping gear in your bag before you head out on your adventure. Check out the following guidelines:
- Overnight: up to a 50 liter bag
- 3 days: up to a 60 liter bag
- 5 days: up to an 80 liter bag
Organization:Get started by sorting through all the gear you’ll be taking and organizing it into piles of weight (light, mid-weight, and heavy) and use (sleeping, cooking, etc.). Group together loose items that function together, such as cooking utensils, and place in a Ziploc bag. If you have any empty cavities, such as in a cooking pot, stuff compressible or small items inside to open up more space in your pack.
- Light: Place the lightest and least necessary to access items at the bottom of your bag
- Heavy: The heaviest items should go nearest to your back
- Mid-weight: Fill in the space at the outside and top of your bag with the in-between weights
Why: Placing gear in your pack in this manner helps to keep your center of gravity low and balanced. It also means the things you use less during the day (sleeping bag, for example) are at the bottom of the bag and out of the way of more essential items like bug spray or a headlamp, which would be included in the “mid-weight” section of your bag.
Other Pockets:Outside of the main compartment of your backpack, you’ll often have a lid and/or side pockets to stash things in. Use these for the items you need to access more frequently: snacks, chap stick, bear spray, sunglasses, etc. If your bag has straps at the bottom, stick your sleeping pad there.
Compress!Those straps on your pack are extra helpful in getting things nice and snug. A slim pack helps to keep the interior load from moving around and makes it easier for you to move through tight areas as your bag is less likely to catch on a limb or other protruding elements on the trail. Cinch those babies down to get as close a fit as possible.