Backpacking your way through forests and along trails sounds like a ton of fun, but you need to pack your backpack accordingly. When you get everything stuffed inside, you may quickly realize it’s too heavy or the weight is imbalanced, making it uncomfortable to carry. If you’re not comfortable carrying it around your house for a few minutes, you’re going to be miserable when you hit the road.
Packing for a backpacking trip is almost an art. It takes careful planning to ensure you have everything you really need without having anything unnecessary, and to make sure it’s packed properly so it’s easy enough for you to carry.
1. Choose the Right Backpack for the Job
There is a lot that can go into choosing the right backpack for backpacking, but this article is really about “packing”. So, we’ll give you an overview here, and plan on offering more advice in future articles.
Choose a backpack that fits you properly and that is designed for backpacking. Get it fitted by an outfitter and where it around your house with all your gear packed in it. See if it feels good and balanced on your body.
A Friendly Note: A school backpack is not going to hold up while you fill it with equipment and walk for miles each day. Do yourself a favor, invest in a good pack for backpacking, period.
The proper fit is one of the most crucial components of the “right” backpacking backpack. It should have appropriate hip and shoulder harnesses that hug you snuggly but not too tight.
You may want to look for a backpack with an internal support if you plan on going a long distance as this can minimize the strain on your back.
Make sure the backpack you choose can be adjusted to fit you properly first and foremost. But you also want to make sure it’s large enough to fit all your gear and food. I’ve gone backpacking with as small as a 32 Liter pack (the size of most “school” backpacks, but over the years I’ve accumulated lighter and smaller lighter gear that can be accommodated by a smaller, lighter pack. This probably isn’t realistic for many people.
Most people that are backpacking “weekenders” or “over-nighters” tend to prefer something in the 50-65 liter range. this is a good all-around pack size and should accommodate most your trips.
2. Separate What You’re Taking into Categories
Everything you pack will fit into three different categories: seldom needed, frequently used, and emergency use. Separating your items into these categories helps you make sure they’re placed in the backpack properly so you can reach them when you need them.
- Seldom-Needed – The items in this category are your camping items. Your tent, cooking equipment, and anything else you’ll only need while you’re camping at night will be placed on the bottom of your bag.
- Frequently-Used – This includes sunscreen, snacks, phone or camera, and anything else you’ll use frequently while you’re hiking. These items fill up the middle and top of your backpack so they’re always within reach while you’re walking.
- Emergency-Use – Items in this category include rain gear, water filters, and trekking poles. They might fit on the top of your frequently-used items, but they may also be placed in exterior pockets in your backpack. While you might not need them every day, they’re ready and very easy to access when you do need them.
3. Distribution of Weight
When you pack your backpack, start with the seldom-used item and place heavier items in the middle of the back. Then go to the next category and keep heavy items in the middle with lighter items along the outsides of the bags. This keeps heavier items close to your body to ensure you’re not straining to carry the backpack.
Many modern backpacks have a sleeping bag pouch in the bottom to hold your sleeping bag secure. This is also functional because the thick cushion of the rolled up sleeping bag can help soften the impact of the weight on your hips.
4. Food & Water
By far, food and water will be the heaviest part of your pack. First, find out whether there will be water sources where you are traveling. If so, be sure to pack a water filter. This will allow you to pack less water in your pack initially, and save weight. As for food: we’ll be building a recipe library on Boundless Outdoors soon, but there are tons of websites with simple, easy to make backpacking recipes. Otherwise, choose pre-made, dehydrated meals that actually taste really good, are easy to prepare, and super lightweight.
5. Adopt a Minimalist Attitude. You’ll Thank Yourself.
If you’re getting ready to go backpacking, make sure you choose what you’ll be taking carefully. I usually ask myself, “Do I really NEED this?” before officially packing it. Remember, backpacking is also about self-reliance, resourcefulness, and the ability to enjoy oneself without all the comforts of home. Opt for lightweight items to minimize the weight you’ll be carrying and pack everything properly to avoid back pain when you’re carrying the backpack for hours each day.
With the right attention to details, you can pack like a pro and be ready for your backpacking trip.