When you’re planning your hiking trip, whether it's for a serious weekend excursion or a casual day hike, figuring out the best way to pack your backpack is probably not the first thing you think about. But if you want to make the most of your space — and your trip — you'll need to put some thought into it.
Before you start packing though, make sure you have a bag that will work for your trip. If you’re just doing a light day hike, you don’t need to put as much consideration into your backpack. Just choose one that’s comfortable to wear. But if you’re going on an overnight or multi-day hike, you’ll want to go with a bag that's specially designed for hiking.
Regardless of the length of your trip, make sure to pack your bag so that it’s comfortable — and in a way that gives you easy access to what you need, when you need it.
Before we get into the specifics, here are some general tips to guide your packing:
Lay everything out before you start packing. This way, you know what you have and how much you need to fit in your bag. While everything is laid out in front of you, it’s a good time to ask yourself if all these items are essential. If something is not, feel free to leave it behind—you’ll literally be carrying it throughout your day, after all.
Pack heavy items close to your back and toward the middle of the bag. More on this later, but this basic theory will make your hike WAY more enjoyable.
Keep everything balanced. Don’t weigh down one side of your bag with all your dense, heavy objects. Don’t hang things all over the outside of your bag. When you’re wearing your bag, you should feel as balanced as possible.
Now, let’s get into the specifics:
The first thing in your bag should be the final thing you’ll need. Given that, pack the bottom of your pack with stuff you’ll need last. If you’re going on an overnight hike, this should be your sleeping bag, followed by campsite items, like extra clothes. If you’re on a day hike, consider making this an emergency shelter option, like a blanket (you can never be too prepared).
Now, you’re towards the middle of your pack. This a good place for your heavier items, keeping in mind that the heaviest should be closest to your back. Think cooking supplies, a bear canister, extra water, and food you don’t need convenient access to. Try to put these items so that they sit between your shoulders.
A good reminder: fill every inch of space you can. That extra room in pots? Store something in them.
At the top of your bag, make sure that every item is what you want easy access to. Your rain jacket, first aid kit, sunglasses, snacks, a map, sunscreen, insect repellent, your phone, and anything else you’ll likely use often. If you’re using an actual hiking pack, a lot of these can go in the brain (the uppermost zippered pocket that straddles the top of most packs).
Once everything is packed in there, use your bag's compression straps if it has them. The more compressed everything is, the easier time you’ll have during your trek.
The one item that should be the easiest to reach? Water. Many backpacks have exterior pockets dedicated to holding your water — use them.
Stock Up for Your Trip
Written by Dani Howell