Whether you are backpacking through Europe or through the Rocky Mountains, a well-organized bag is the key to comfort and convenience. The less experienced among us may be tempted to just shove as much stuff as possible into our bags and hit the road. However, there are lots of tips and tricks that will make packing easier and keep you as comfortable as possible. Here are a few:
If it’s your first time packing a hiking backpack, give yourself plenty of time to get yourself organized before actually putting anything in the bag. Obviously, what you pack will depend largely on where you’re going and how long you’ll be staying there. The best way to do this – and keep yourself from getting overwhelmed – is to give yourself plenty of space and spread out everything you need. If you’ll be camping, this includes any food, water bottles, tents, sleeping bags and other equipment you’ll have to carry with you.
Remember, it’s a good idea to leave any expensive or delicate electronics somewhere safe. You should consider picking up a portable safe if you’ll be keeping valuables anywhere besides in your home. While you are organizing the items you’ll be brining along, set aside your boots, water bottle, sunglasses, knife and first day’s clothing. You’ll obviously be wearing the clothes and boots, so no need to pack them, and you’ll need to keep the other items handy and on your person or attached to the outside of your bag.
Assuming you are hiking out to a camping spot, look at what you have and determine what you’ll probably need to access while you’re on the trail and what you won’t need until you reach your destination. Whatever items you probably don’t need to get to during your hike – sleeping bag, tent and other nighttime supplies – should go toward the bottom, while anything you may need to get to quickly or regularly – snacks, bug spray, a GPS or rainwear – need to be easily accessible.
Next, you’ll have to start thinking about the weight of your items. If you have a pack with an internal frame – the type that has become more popular as of late – you’ll want to pack all of your lightest items in the bottom of the bag. Next, the heaviest items. You’ll want to pack these items as close to your back as possible and centered halfway between the top and bottom of your bag. This will put them as close to your shoulder blades as possible, transferring the weight to your hips, which should hold most of the weight. If you are traveling over rough terrain, put the heavy items a bit lower to drop your center of gravity and make you more stable. The top of the bag should be reserved for more mid-weight items and things you’ll need to access.
This style of backpack is currently less popular, but they are certainly still perfectly good packs for trail hiking. Just like an internal frame, keep the most lightweight items low in the bag. However, external frame packs should have the medium-weight items in the middle, while the heaviest items go on top close to your back. This centers the pack’s weight over your hips and allows you to walk comfortably upright.
Whether you are using an internal or external frame backpack, it’s important to remember to balance your pack horizontally as well as vertically. If you load up one side of the pack, you will not only be uncomfortable, but you may do some real damage to your shoulders or back over a long period.
While a properly-packed backpack should not require many items attached to the outside of the bag, sometimes it is necessary. Usually, this is due to oddly shaped items or a bag that is a bit too small for your needs. Watch out for anything attached to the outside of your pack as they may swing, clank against other hanging items or get caught on branches or other obstructions along the trail. If attached improperly, it may also have a detrimental effect on your balance.
Most commonly, hikers will attach trekking or tent poles to the outside of their packs. These can be attached vertically on either side of the pack under the compression straps. Make sure you tuck them into water bottle pockets on the bottom of the pack to keep them from getting caught on clothing or plants.
The hip and shoulder belts of most backpacks usually have daisy chains or other ways to hook equipment on the front. These are intended for mountaineering equipment, so if you’re not heading for Everest, they make ideal places for things like water bottles or sunscreen so you can easily access them.