How To Pack A Hiking Backpack (Pro Tips)

When you’re hiking, it’s important to have the right equipment. But before you even think about buying gear, you need to pack your backpack properly. 

Pack too much or miss something essential, and your trip might not go as planned. I’ve been backpacking for years now, and I recently started working as a hiking guide at a local outfitter store where I get to see what works well for other people who want to explore our area by foot. 

In this article, I’ll share my tips for packing a hiking backpack so that you can be ready for any adventure that comes your way!

How to Pack a Backpack
Tips for How to Pack a Hiking Backpack
Consider weight and placement of items
Balance weight throughout the pack
Use packing cubes, stuff sacks, and compression bags
Pack according to trip length and destination climate
Choose appropriate gear and clothing
Place heavier items closer to your back and at the bottom of the pack
Use exterior pockets for items you may need quickly
Adjust your backpack straps for a comfortable and safe fit

Pack Your Sleeping Bag At The Bottom Of Your Backpack

When packing your hiking backpack, keep the sleeping bag at the bottom of your backpack. Your sleeping bag should be protected from getting wet and dirty by food items, sharp objects, and other gear in your bag.

 If you’re carrying a tent or tarp separate from your main pack, make sure to place it carefully inside the backpack so it doesn’t damage any other gear or create extra weight on one side of the pack.

When packing your hiking backpack, it’s important to consider the weight and placement of your items to ensure balance and comfort throughout your trek. For expert advice on backpack packing, check out our guide on how to pack a backpack for hiking.

Use A Ground Mat To Protect The Bottom Of Your Backpack

If you’re going to be outdoors for more than a day, chances are that you’ll need to sleep at some point. Sleeping on the ground is usually uncomfortable and sometimes inconvenient, so consider picking up a ground mat for your backpack. 

A ground mat will protect the bottom of your bag from sharp rocks and other debris that may damage it. It will also help protect your bag from getting wet if you have to camp in an area with standing water. 

Finally, many brands make backpacks specifically designed for extreme hiking or camping, so be sure that any model you choose has room enough within its main compartment for a folded-up sleeping pad or similar item (as well as all of your gear).

Use A Stuff Sack For Clothes And Hiking Items

It’s important to use a stuff sack for clothes and hiking items. This prevents your shirt from getting tangled up in the other items or dirty, which can make it harder to find when you need it.

It’s also good practice to put wet or dirty clothes into a plastic bag before packing them away so they don’t get your other clothing damp. 

If there isn’t space for a plastic bag, then place them on top of the non-clothing items instead of underneath them so that they won’t get squashed when you’re putting everything else in the backpack’s main compartment.

When packing food, try using space saving techniques such as folding and rolling things up instead of wrapping them in foil or plastic wrap you’ll have more room than if each item were individually wrapped!

Proper training is essential for a successful and enjoyable hiking experience. Our guide on how to train for hiking offers expert tips on building endurance, strength, and stamina for your next hike.

Use Plastic Bags For Dirty Or Wet Items

If you’re hiking with a group, keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean clothes by using plastic bags. 

This will allow you to take them out of the bag, wash them, and put them back in without contaminating other items.

While hiking through snow or rain, it is important that wet clothes stay separated from dry ones so they don’t get contaminated with dirt.

If you have wet boots or shoes (especially if they are waterproof), make sure they are stored separately from other items in your backpack so no water leaks into other areas of the pack. 

If there is any chance of rain on our trip or if we encounter any mud puddles along the way I’m planning on keeping my boots outside my tent so that I don’t track any dirt inside when we reach camp for the night.”

Put Frequently Used Items In Easy To Access Compartments

There are two main reasons why you should put things that you use often in easy to access compartments:

Saving time and energy. This will save you time and energy throughout your trip, because if an item is easily accessible, it won’t take as long for you to find and pull out of your bag. 

Having to take everything out of your backpack just to get something is annoying (and dangerous if there’s someone behind you). 

By keeping items that are used often together with other similar items, these things will be easier to find when they’re needed most.

Avoiding unnecessary weight on the pack itself. If an item isn’t going into one of these “accessories”, but still has its own compartment within the main compartment of your pack (like sleeping pads), then this means that there’s more space left over for other stuff inside!

Hiking poles can provide added stability and support on difficult terrain, but proper use is key. Learn more about the benefits and techniques of using hiking poles in our guide on how to use hiking poles.

Use Space Saving Techniques When Packing Food

Packing food is a little different than packing clothes. You’ll want to use space saving techniques to keep the weight of your backpack down and make it easier on yourself when you’re hiking up steep hills. 

Here’s how:

Pack food in a stuff sack, not plastic bags. This helps save space, weigh less and keeps everything together so that if you need something quickly, it’s easy to find.

Use a backcountry stove rather than cooking over an open fire this will make your food taste better too! 

If you don’t want to bring along one of these devices for safety reasons or because they aren’t allowed where you’re planning to go (for example: many national parks require that all fires be contained within designated fire rings), consider bringing dehydrated foods instead of fresh foods (they’ll last longer). 

And again: when possible use the bear bag method or canister system instead of hanging from trees with rope which could get stuck on branches or leave marks behind after removal…

Use Lightweight Ziploc Bags To Organize Small Items

Use lightweight ziploc bags to organize small items.

When you’re packing for a multi-day hike, it can be hard to keep track of the small stuff tweezers, a tiny flashlight, your phone charger. 

Ziploc bags are waterproof and reusable, so you can use them to safely store all kinds of things that might otherwise get lost in your backpack. 

A few days before you leave on your trip, load up the ziploc bags with any items that need to stay dry (like sunscreen). Bring along some labeling pens or stickers so you know what each bag contains before they get packed into your bag!

Dressing appropriately for hiking is crucial for comfort and safety in changing weather conditions. Check out our guide on how to dress for hiking for expert advice on layering, materials, and gear to bring on your next hike.

Keep Batteries, Matches And A Lighter In Separate Waterproof Bags

You probably know to keep your food, water and electronics in separate places. You might even have a special bag for all three. But do you remember when it’s time to pack your hiking backpack? 

A lot of people will shove everything into the same compartment and then wonder why their backpack doesn’t feel quite right.

The problem is that batteries should never be placed within reach of food or water because they could leak into either and cause problems like corrosion or mold growth which can damage electronics like phones and cameras. 

Instead, put the batteries in a waterproof container and put them in your pack with other essentials like matches, lighters and knives (but not sharp ones).

Place Any Food That Can Attract Animals In A Bear Bag Or Canister

If you’re going to be camping in bear country, it’s important to keep your food out of their reach. Bears are smart and can open anything that can be opened by a human being with the use of tools. 

To make sure bears aren’t attracted to your campsite and motivated to break into your stuff, it’s best to store all food in an airtight container and hang it from a tree at night (or whenever you sleep). There are two main ways people do this:

Bear bags – A bear bag is simply a large cloth sack with some rope attached so you can throw it over a branch or hook on something nearby.

 It’s relatively easy for even one person to set up this kind of system by themselves; however, most packs come with their own bear bag because they are so simple! 

Just tie off one end at the bottom of the bag using your cordage (such as paracord) and then fill the rest with whatever food items need protecting from wild animals (or curious dogs!). 

After hanging up your filled “bear bag,” pull down on its handle until tension builds up inside its fabric walls so nothing falls out during travel time!

Keeping your hiking boots clean and in good condition can extend their lifespan and prevent discomfort or injury on the trails. Learn how to properly clean your boots in our guide on how to clean hiking boots using simple and effective techniques.

Protect Your Cookware By Using A Soft Stuff Sack Inside Your Backpack

Protect your cookware by using a soft stuff sack inside your backpack. A cotton or nylon stuff sack filled with clothing should do the trick. 

It’ll keep your pot and pan from getting scratched up and will protect them from sharp objects in your backpack. 

After all, you don’t want to have to clean out a bunch of broken pieces of metal after you get home from your trip!

There are also waterproof versions available, so if you’re worried about getting rained on during the hike, these might work better for you!

Protect Your Cookware by Using a Soft Stuff Sack:

Soft Stuff SackProtects cookware from scratches and cracks
Cotton or Nylon FabricProvides padding for cookware, and is lightweight and easy to pack
Filled with ClothingSaves space by using clothing as padding

Keep Trash In A Waterproof Bag Inside Your Pack

It’s important to keep trash dry and contained in your pack. This is where a waterproof bag comes in handy: place all your garbage into it, zip it up tightly, and you’re good to go! If you plan on camp-cooking (and who doesn’t?), be sure to use a larger garbage bag so that everything fits comfortably inside. 

For longer hikes or camping trips, bring extra bags along with you just in case one rips or tears from being jostled around too much.

Bring Extra Clothing For Sleeping, Even If It Is Warm Out

Plan on bringing extra clothing for sleeping, even if it is warm out. Sweatshirts and t-shirts work well as a layer underneath a fleece jacket or puffy coat. 

And a lightweight fleece blanket can be rolled up into its own pouch and stuffed into the bottom of your backpack when not in use.

Bring one pair of socks per day. You’ll want to wear two pairs at night but only one during the day while hiking because feet sweat less while they’re moving than they do when they’re still at rest.

Bring Extra Clothing for Sleeping:

SweatshirtsCan be used as a base layer of clothing
T-shirtsProvide added warmth and comfort
Fleece JacketCan be used as a middle layer
Puffy CoatProvides warmth in extreme temperatures
Extra ClothingAvoids feeling cold or uncomfortable

Don’t Forget About Water! Bring Refillable Bottles And Purification Tablets

Now that you’ve got your gear sorted, it’s time to think about what to put in your backpack. First, don’t forget about water! 

Even if you are only going on a short hike, always carry enough drinking water to last the entire trip. 

You should drink half your body weight in ounces per day (so if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 75 ounces). Don’t wait until you are thirsty drink when you have time during the day so that thirst will not distract from enjoying yourself in the outdoors.

Also remember that cleanliness is important! It can be difficult to keep yourself clean while hiking through nature and there may not be any bathrooms or shower sites nearby when it comes time for a shower after your hike is over. 

Buying small bottles of biodegradable soap before heading into nature will help ensure that everyone stays fresh and clean no matter how long their trek takes them! It’s also important not to forget about personal hygiene products such as tampons/pads etc..

Have First-Aid On Hand And Ready At All Times

It’s important to have a first-aid kit on hand at all times. This will ensure that you can treat injuries until help arrives or you can get back to civilization.

Assemble a list of the items that should be in a basic first-aid kit and store it in your bag so it’s easily accessible when needed. You’ll want:

  • Bandages
  • Gauze pads
  • Antibiotic ointment (e.g., Neosporin)
  • Pain reliever (e.g., Ibuprofen)
  • Anti-inflammatory medication (e.g., Aleve)
  • Antihistamine (e.g., Benadryl)

In addition, add any special medications or creams that are required by members of your hiking party for example, if someone has food allergies or is prone to certain skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, make sure there’s something on hand for them too!


We hope this guide helps you pack a more efficient and organized backpack, whether it’s for an overnight or multi-day trip. 

Remember to keep in mind our tips and tricks so that your gear is safe from the elements and easy to access when needed. 

If you have any questions about packing your hiking gear, please don’t hesitate to ask! We have plenty more suggestions for how to pack efficiently in our previous blog post about making sure nothing gets lost on hikes

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources on packing a hiking backpack:

How to Pack a Backpack for Hiking by Sea to Summit offers step-by-step tips and visuals on how to properly pack your backpack.

7 Expert Tips for Packing Your Hiking Backpack from Off! provides useful advice on packing for varying trip lengths and terrain.

How to Pack a Backpack by Backpacker offers a beginner’s guide to backpack packing and gear organization.


What should I consider when packing a hiking backpack?

When packing a hiking backpack, it’s important to consider the weight and placement of your items for balance and comfort on the trail. You should also pack according to your trip length and destination climate, and choose gear and clothing appropriate for your itinerary.

How should I organize my backpack for hiking?

Organizing your backpack for hiking can make a big difference in comfort and accessibility on the trail. Place heavier items closer to your back and at the bottom of the pack, and balance weight throughout. Use packing cubes, stuff sacks, and compression bags to organize and save space, and use exterior pockets for items you may need quickly.

What gear do I need to bring on a hiking trip?

The gear you bring on a hiking trip depends on the length, difficulty, and location of your hike. Essentials typically include appropriate footwear, clothing, hydration and nutrition, navigation tools, sun and bug protection, and a first aid kit. Check the weather and trail conditions ahead of time to determine additional gear needs.

How much weight should I carry in my hiking backpack?

The weight you carry in your backpack on a hike can affect your overall comfort, safety, and endurance. As a general rule, your pack should be no more than 20-25% of your body weight. You can reduce weight by choosing lightweight gear and packing only essentials.

How should I adjust my hiking backpack for the best fit?

Proper fit is crucial for comfort and safety when wearing a hiking backpack. Adjust your backpack straps so the weight is distributed comfortably on your hips and shoulders, and the pack is snug but not tight. Check for any pressure points or areas of discomfort and adjust as necessary for a comfortable and safe fit.