How to Pack your Backpack for Multi-Day Trips

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If you can believe, there is a science to packing your backpack.
It’s not like packing your suitcase to go to the beach where you’re just play a game of Tetris until everything fits.  To keep you safe and comfortable on the trail, there is a very specific way you will want to pack all your gear in your backpack.

Before we dive into how to pack your backpacking gear, lets first make sure you have the right sized backpack.

How big should your backpack be?

There are a lot of variables that dictate how big your backpack should be.  One good rule to keep in mind though is that your packed backpack should not exceed 25-30% of your body weight.  Any more than that and you risk hurting yourself, and more importantly, not enjoying yourself.
Some things that contribute to how big your backpack should be include:
Time of Year – Are you only going backpacking during fair weather months?  More specifically, are you going camping in the winter?  Winter weather means more clothes, more gear, and a bigger backpack.
Distance – How long will your trip be?  More importantly, how long will you be in the backcountry?  Is your entire hike  in the backcountry or will you have food drops along the way?  The longer you are out in the woods, the more food and maybe even water you will need too carry with you.  Which of course means a bigger backpack.
Solo Hike or Group? – If you are hiking with a group, you may be able to get away with a smaller pack size since you will be sharing some of your gear amongst the rest of the group.
Type of Hiker – Eventually you will learn about your individual style of hiking.  Do you prefer more creature comforts or are you all about being as light as possible?  As you learn your backpacking style, your actual backpack size may change with you.
Below is a guide to give you a rough idea of what the average recreational backpacking size should be given the duration of the trip.
  • Daypacks: Up to 40 liters
  • Overnight packs: 30-50 liters
  • Weekend packs: 40-70 liters
  • Extended trip packs: 70 liters and up
Keep in mind that just because this is the average dent mean you have to pack that much gear.  As I said before, as you learn your backpacking style, the size of your backpack may change.

How to Pack Your Backpacking Gear

The science behind how to pack the gear in your backpack is actually quite simple.  You want to have your heaviest gear in the middle of your backpack on the side that is closest to your back.  The lighter gear will be at the bottom and the top of your pack.
The idea is that keeping the heavier gear in that spot helps keep your center of gravity where you’re used to it being.  If the heavier gear were towards the top or bottom of the backpack you would easily fall forward or backwards.  Not something you want to when scrambling up rocks or hiking trail at the top of a ridge line.
Now that you understand the basic principle of how to pack your backpack, lets talk about each area a little more in depth and what you should pack there.  Keep in mind that these are just guidelines, you may find you like to organize your gear and your backpack a little different.  Just make sure you keep the heavier gear in the middle and work your way out from there.
Backpack Lid
  • Map & Compass
  • Snacks
  • Toilet Paper
Top of Backpack
  • Rain Gear
  • Light Jacket
  • Waterfilter
Middle of Backpack
  • Tent
  • Stove
  • Cooking Essentials
  • Food
Bottom of Backpack
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Clothes
Outside of Pack
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Camp Shoes
Shoulder & Waist Pockets
  • Headlamp
  • Small Snacks
  • Lip Balm
As you can see, the order in which you need to pack your gear based on weight doesn’t always make the most sense.   It would make way more sense to have your tent and sleeping gear at the top of your pack.  This way they would be the first things to unpack once you get to camp.  Instead, you have to unpack half your backpack just to get to it.
That said, based on your backpack and your personal preferences, you will eventually find your own happy medium of your gear being organized by weight and priority.

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