How to Load a Backpack

By Cam Honan (aka Swami) from thehikinglife.com

A well loaded pack can mean the difference between being comfortable and uncomfortable out on the trail.

It is one of the simpler backpacking skills to learn, yet it seems to be a process that many hikers overlook.

There is such a big emphasis on what goes into packs, and relatively little in regards to how that gear should be distributed.

Comfort, stability and convenience are all enhanced in a well loaded backpack. It’s by no means rocket science, but it is a skill that’s worth taking the time to get right.

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Here are five tips for loading a backpack:

1.  What Type of Pack?

If you are using a frameless pack, start by inserting your sleeping mat** into your backpack (either in cylinder form or flat against the back). If you have an internal frame pack begin with Step 2. For external frame users, take a good hard look at yourself and go and buy a different pack. ;)

2.  Waterproof

Line the inside of your backpack with a trash compacter bag. Cheap, light and effective. For extra protection, make the trash bag big enough so that you can either tie it off or fold the top over when the rain starts coming down in earnest.

3.  Bottom

I place my bivy sack and clothing items I will not need during the day (e.g. extra socks, rain pants, thermal underwear, insulation layer when it’s warm) at the bottom of the pack. Such gear is generally not excessively heavy, but its bulk provides a base upon which you can place weightier items (see below).

4.  Middle

Heavier objects such as food, shelter and water (if you happen to be carrying more than a couple of litres) should be situated close to your back in the medium to upper regions of the pack.

Utilise your sleeping bag to fill the outer sections. This method has the dual benefits of keeping the pack’s centre of gravity close to your back, as well as helping to maintain the long term loft of your sleeping bag (i.e.less compression than when placed in a stuff sack and/or put at the bottom of your backpack).

5.  Top

For ease of access, put your snacks, shell, extra maps and any other items you think you may need during the day at the top of your pack (Note: smaller objects can also be placed in convenient hip, shoulder or side pockets).

** For frameless backpack users, if you have an inflatable mat such as a Thermarest NeoAir, I suggest folding it and putting it flat against your back. If it is not giving you the buffer you require when completely deflated, try leaving a little bit of air in it (only a smidgen, as you don’t want to run the risk of popping it).

camABOUT CAM HONAN: I love to hike. I love to travel. Whenever possible I combine the two. That’s basically the website in a nutshell. As to the hows, whys and wherefores, if memory serves they go something like this……
Upon finishing university in 1993 I moved to Mexico. No, I was not on the run from the law, although not long after I arrived I distinctly remember being told that only two kinds of people move to Mexico, “those that are wanted and those that are not wanted.” My intention was to spend a couple of years working, travelling and learning another language before heading home to Australia. I ended up doing all of those things; however, two years somehow became sixteen.
It turned out that Latin America suited me. The relaxed pace of life, the friendly people, the seafood burritos, the balance between work and other interests. I was able to combine my principal job of exporting handicrafts, with teaching yoga and volunteer work. I grew to love Mexico; it became my second home.
Throughout this period if I wasn’t working, I was travelling. My journeys took me all over the globe and wherever I went I took along a backpack, shelter and sleeping bag. By the end of 2012, I had hiked more than 50,000 miles (80,467 km), in some 55 countries around the world.
As a consequence of these excursions I became proficient in different types of environments, ranging from deserts to jungles to mountains. The development of my backcountry skill set was paralleled by a growing connection with the natural world. Nature brought out the best in me. Wandering its hills and valleys, the perceived complications of life would invariably fade, exchanged for a less cluttered existence in which less is more, and the simplest things often prove to be the most profound.