How to Pack Your Backpack

Get a comprehensive guide to packing your backpack for ultimate efficiency and comfort...

By Tyler Morrissey

Whether you’re digging deep to find the strength to ascend Icidi Pass or pistol squatting your way through the heinous 400m elevation gain to the bottom of Harry Potter Crag, doing it with a poorly packed backpack is an easy way to add some colourful, four-letter words to your vocabulary.

If you’re already well-acquainted with these words, and have worn out their use, then this guide on how to pack your backpack will ensure you keep them for when you really need them (like stubbing your toe on that rock you didn’t see).

No matter the capacity of your pack, the basic rule of thumb is always the same: the heaviest gear should be as close to your back as possible and generally around the middle of your pack. The lighter, softer gear will be packed around it for some extra cushioning. Packing the heavier gear too far from your back or too high up throws off your centre of gravity and might cause the rest of your group to suspect that you prematurely opened that bottle of summit sherry.

Other factors to be aware of when packing include sharp objects, which should not be packed too close to your back, and of course, essential supplies (like headlamps, snacks and medication). These should be packed where they can be easily accessed, such as the lid pocket or in the expandable pouches that most backpacks feature.

If you’re the kind of hiker that needs a bit of extra support, and you simply cannot go anywhere without your poles, make the most of your pack by using its dedicated hiking pole loops – most good backpacks will be equipped with these. The same applies to expedition packs which come fitted with purpose-built compartments for gear like crampons and ice axes. A good hack is to use the compression straps located around the backpack to stow or clip gear, such as closed cell sleeping bags and tent poles. 

There are many topics of debate when it comes to packing, but a few key factors are to be kept in mind when packing for your next trip…


An overloaded pack generally borders on the realms of discomfort. Most guides would recommend not exceeding a third of your bodyweight. Anything more and you will most likely need to arrange a porter for your trip.


A rucksack liner goes a long way in keeping the inside of your pack protected and your gear dry. Another way of keeping your beloved gear free of moisture comes in the form of rain covers and dry bags, which can be used in unison to ensure that all the dry gear stays dry.


Be strategic with the order in which you pack your items to minimise hassle:

● Filling all the outer pockets first makes packing the main compartment easier. Your essentials will most likely be packed in these compartments for easy access. Items in this category will include an extra layer, your headlamp and, of course, your poop kit.

● Your sleeping bag doubles as a massive feather-filled cushion that most of your gear will rest on and provide a bit of shock absorption on your lower back. That said, your sleeping bag goes into the main compartment first.

● Keeping your food-related supplies all together in one container makes dinner time quick and efficient. I would put this in next and close to my back as it usually ends up being heavy.

● Filling the remaining gaps with clothing ensures that things don’t get too cluttered with all the moving around.

Other gear such as blow-up mats will generally go into the same area as the food container.

● Lastly, any gear that you will need quick access to, such as a first aid kit or spare headlamp batteries will go into the lid of the pack.

● If you’re taking a tent, your poles can slide down into the side of your pack if you leave enough space while your partner can take care of the flysheet. Carrying a tent alone, I would recommend stripping it down to its trekking weight and sliding it in with your heavy food container.

Check out the handy graphic below for a visual aid for what the inside of your pack should look like:

Feel free to ask the staff in your local gear shop for products and packing advice, and happy adventuring!