In a perfect world, backpackers could have the packing skills of Mary Poppins and keep ludicrous items like floor lamps and umbrellas tucked away into stylish carpet bags. Until that perfect world becomes a reality, you’ll just have to do your best and train in the ways of the master packer.
Take the time to fold or roll your clothes before packing them, rather than simply jamming them inside. Balled up clothes tend to trap extra air space, taking up more room and preventing you from fully utilizing your bag’s space. For miscellaneous items, discard any unnecessary cases or packaging that take up extra space. Minor space savings from several items tend to add up fast. Save more room by sleeping in a hammock instead of packing a large tent.
Order of Operations
Pack things from top to bottom in the order that you need them most frequently. For example if your trip is going to take you to sunny beaches in Spain, but first you are going to northern Scotland, pack your swimming trunks in the least accessible area of your bag, giving prime real estate preference to the things you are going to use most often.
Pack softer things near closures, zippers and clips. Hard sided objects, like electronics, are harder to cram into that last bit of space. In addition, harder objects are typically more fragile than clothes and other soft items. Placing a barrier of soft things around your most delicate backpacking belongings will offer you an extra level of protection.
It goes without saying that you should only pack what is absolutely necessary. Extra weight can really take a toll when you’re lost in a new city, or have to walk 3 miles to get to a train station. When you do have your items narrowed down, don’t go for the smallest bag possible. Leaving a little extra room to work with allows you to purchase souvenirs. But more importantly, if your bag is busting at the seams you can count on a struggle every time you need to get something out. A little extra space can go a long way towards increasing accessibility.
While bags with one chamber may offer a slight advantage in overall space, they sacrifice your ability to maintain an organized bag. Look for a bag that has a good combination of large and small pockets.