Backpacking: How to Properly Load your Pack

Many experienced backpackers have honed their pack loading skills to a science. For those just starting out, however, loading up a pack for a multi-day backcountry trip can seem baffling. Not only do you have to make everything fit, but you need to position your gear for optimal weight distribution as well as accessibility. The last thing you need when night falls is to have to dig through your pack in the dark to find your LED headlamp.

While the finer points of pack loading are often learned through experience, there are some basic principles you can follow to ensure your gear – and your own safety – are protected.

STEP 1: Get organized.

Don’t just start stuffing your pack willy-nilly. Instead, lay all of your gear out and take stock. Combine any small, related items, such as toiletries or cooking utensils, into colored stuff sacks so you can easily locate them within your pack. At this point, determine if there are any communal items that you will be splitting up among your group.

STEP 2: Group items by weight.

Determine which items are lightweight, medium and heavy. Lightweight items include sleeping bags, pillows and clothing. Medium items typically include stoves, canister fuel, first-aid kits, camping knives and multi-tools. Your heavier items will be your tent and food and water supplies.

STEP 3: Set aside frequently used items.

Separate out any items you will need to reach quickly, easily or frequently throughout your hike: sunscreen, snacks, your map and compass, camping knives, multi-tools, bug spray, rain gear and your LED headlamp. These items should be packed last, in easily accessible locations. At minimum, stash your LED headlamp in an outside compartment to make it easy to find in the dark.

STEP 4: Pack bedtime items first.

Begin by stuffing your sleeping bag into the bottom of your pack, followed by your pajamas and any other lightweight items you won’t need until bedtime.

STEP 5: Place heavy items near your back.

As you fill in the rest of your pack, place the heavy items closest to your back, between your shoulder blades. If you’ll be hiking off trail, position these items lower within the main compartment to lower your center of gravity and enhance your stability while walking on uneven ground. Then fill in the rest of the space with your mid-weight items.

As you load up your pack, take care to make efficient use of all available space. Stuff clothes inside cookware, fill up your bear canister, and lash bulky items, such as tent poles and sleeping pads, to the outside of your pack. Use smaller outside compartments for essential items such as a multi-tool, camping knife or your LED headlamp. And don’t forget to test out your pack’s weight distribution a bit before you hit the trail.

[ photo by: emerson12 ]

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