Packing a Backpack

Packing a Backpack

Packing a backpack effectively is something that comes with experience. Over the years I’ve seen how backpacks have developed and some great innovations have come in making them easier to use as well as lighter and stronger. Being able to access the right gear when you need it is key. When it comes to new hikers and adventurers I often think Sheilas are better at packing a backpack than us blokes! If I was being kind I’d say it’s because they are generally more organised and efficient but I could based on living with my missus I might also put it down to the constant packing and un-packing of handbags!

Whether you go for an internal or external frame backpack, packing is more an art than a science. Although you can choose a backpack engineered for your specific hiking needs, how you fill it is a matter of personal choice and experience. No two hikers will fill a pack the same way and over time you’ll find you approach packing a backpack in different ways.

One of the common mistakes newbies make is where to pack heavier items in a backpack. Lighter items should go at the bottom of the pack with heavier items at the top and close to your body. Depending on your height and weight packing heavier items in lower will shift your center of gravity and help stabilize you. I recommend you experiment with different arrangements to see what works best for you.

Most backpacks have a special compartment at the bottom for sleeping bags so you don’t need to think about this. If you're strapping it on the outside use should always use a waterproof cover. This is really important for down sleeping bags which can be totally useless if they get wet.

Clothes should go in the main compartment, but if you're hiking in cooler weather, store your hat, gloves and an extra layer in an outside pocket for easy access. The temperature can change quickly on a hike and you need to be able to adapt.

If your pack has a compartment for sleeping bags, fit your tent under the sleeping bag and always pack the tent is in a waterproof sack. Any fuel you carry should be stored upright and away from food, in case it leaks. I learned this lesson the hard way! Most people store fuel in outer pockets, but if you must pack in the main compartment, be sure it's below the food, not above it. The food itself should be stored in waterproof, animal-resistant containers.

Personal items – I believe some now call them ‘male grooming products!’ - should be squeezed in wherever they fit. Store items in plastic bags if there's a chance they will leak under pressure. But come on guys, do you really need shampoo and hair gel for a weekend trek!

It may seem like pretty obvious advice but I’ve seen some many people get this wrong when packing a backpack – pack items you need to use often or want quick access to either near the top or in outside pockets. This includes your compass and map, insect repellent, sunscreen, water bottle, flashlight and snacks. I’m a keen photographer so usually have my camera in a pocket where I know I can grab it quickly if I see something I want to snap.

Another basic tip for packing a backpack is to eave no space unfilled. Stuff cooking pots with t-shirts, cram your socks into extra shoes. You’ll be amazed how much extra space this saves. To spot items easily, store related small items in color-coded sacks.

If your on and adventure with some mates, divide large items among group members. For example, if you've got a large tent, divvy the canvas, poles and rainfly among trekkers. Make sure everyone does their bit though! Imagine going to make camp for the night and realising the guy who supposed to have brought the tent poles left them at home…

I’ll end on one of my pet hates. Don’t let gear dangle from the outside of your pack! It can catch on trees and bushes and can be dangerous for you and any fellow hikers. Anything on the outside should be firmly attached – especially your pick axe!

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