When preparing your backpacking gear for a camping or hiking trip, properly loading your backpack is nearly as important as the gear you take. A well-loaded backpack improves balance and weight distribution, allowing you to carry more gear with less effort. Your body will appreciate a proprly loaded backpack, so use this handy guide whenever you’re preparing for any kind of backpacking excursion!
Preparing your Backpacking Gear
Before you begin, assemble all the gear you’re planning to bring. Whenever possible, place smaller items inside larger ones if they won’t be needed until you make camp. For example, putting your backpacking food inside your cooking pot will help maximize the space inside your backpack. It will help if you separate your gear into three weight groups: light, medium, and heavy.
Plan to keep at least one water bottle or canteen in a readily accessible location for when you get thirsty on the trail!
Loading your Backpack
When packing your backpack, be sure to keep the weight evenly distributed from side to side. If one side of your pack is heavier than another, it will significantly inhibit your balance.
Start packing your pack from the bottom up, and from the “back” out. The “back” refers to the part of the backpack that will rest against your back (meaning “out” refers to the part of the backpack closer to you when loading). You will want the heaviest items packed in such a way that the weight is supported by your skeletal structure rather than your muscles. Refer to the diagram below for assistance.
Pack your sleeping bag at the bottom of your backpack. Depending on the model of backpack, you may have a compartment specifically for your sleeping bag. If you have an external frame backpack or a pack without a sleeping bag compartment, you may to tie your sleeping bag to the bottom of your backpack.
Load the remainder of your backpack as indicated by the diagram below. Remember that your lightest items should be the furthest from your back to prevent unnecessary stress and torque on your skeletal structure.
Remember to avoid loading anything that may shift into the top part of your pack, as this may cause you to lose your balance. You may want to use extra socks or similar soft goods as filler to keep loose items from shifting.
Before setting out, try your pack on to make sure there are no items sticking in to your back.
Can’t decide which backpack to buy? Check out another handy gear tip from Northwest Backpack Specialties: How to Choose a Backpack