How To Pack Hiking Backpack (My Way)

If you’re like me, you’ve probably packed your backpack with just enough supplies to make it through the day. 

When I’m out on a short trip, that’s usually OK. But when I go hiking for more than one night, I want to make sure I have everything I need to survive and that means packing light. 

If you’re going on a trip that will last longer than two days or involve camping at elevations above 7,000 feet (as many of Colorado’s best trails do), there are some special considerations for how to pack a backpack safely and securely:

How to Pack a Backpack
How to pack a backpack for a comfortable and safe trip
Tips for properly loading your backpack and distributing weight
Comprehensive guide covering a range of packing techniques and tips
Organize heavier items towards the bottom of your backpack
Pack high-calorie, high-protein snacks and lightweight food for a multi-day hike
Prioritize important gear like first aid, food, water, and sun protection on day hikes
Adapt your gear based on the season and weather forecast

Pack The Heaviest Items Closest To Your Back

To maximize the comfort of your backpack and ensure that it doesn’t cause any pain or strain, follow these simple rules:

Put the heaviest items closest to your back. If you have a heavy pack, place this at the bottom and use some straps in order to secure it tightly.

Put the lightest items closest to your head. In addition to keeping them out of arm’s reach (and out of sight), this will prevent strain on your neck as well as give you more room for other items within the pack’s main compartment.

You should be able to stand up straight with the pack on; if not, consider shifting some weight around until this is possible!

When packing for a backpacking trip, it’s important to pack light and efficiently. Our guide on how to pack a backpack for hiking provides tips and advice on maximizing space and minimizing weight so you can stay comfortable on your trip.

Put Soft Items On The Outside

Put soft items on the outside of your backpack, where they’re easy to get to. Soft items include clothing, sleeping bags and other bedding, rain jackets and pants anything that’s not hard and brittle.

Put hard items on the inside of your backpack. Hard items include water bottles or Nalgene bottles (unless you’re carrying lots of them), trekking poles, cooking pots and pans, knives or forks any item that could break if it were in contact with something else in your pack.

Also put tools like a knife that you use often on the outside of your pack so they’re easily accessible when needed during a hike or camping trip.

Keep Small, Easy-To-Lose Items In Their Own Bag

It’s a good idea to keep small, easily lost items in their own bag. This includes things like your wallet, phone, and keys. Since these are things you don’t want to lose, it’s best to keep them together in one place so you can find them quickly when needed. 

It also makes sense to keep things that should stay dry separate from those that need protection from the elements. 

For example: If you’re hiking through rainy weather without an umbrella or rain gear, then it would be wise to put any electronics into a waterproof bag before putting them inside your pack. This way they’ll stay safe even if they get wet on the outside!

Another category of items that should be kept separate is anything else that might get dirty—like food items like granola bars or trail mix snacks (yum!). 

These can all go into an additional container where they won’t come into contact with other contents inside your backpack–and therefore won’t become contaminated by whatever else might be in there too.”

Properly packing a hiking backpack is essential for a successful trek. To ensure you have everything you need without weighing yourself down, check out our guide on how to pack a hiking backpack like a pro for tips on organizing and prioritizing your gear.

Sit On Your Pack To Compress It

Once you’ve packed everything in your backpack, sit on it to compress it. This is an easy way to get a very tight pack and avoid having things spill out of the bottom when you’re hiking.

Sit on your pack with a pad or towel under your butt (this will protect your back from sitting directly on the ground). Put the pack in front of you, then place one leg into each strap and pull them up over each shoulder. 

This will help keep them securely in place as well as make sure that they don’t get caught on anything when hiking. 

Use a waist strap if available; this will spread out the weight of all items inside and prevent any uncomfortable pressure points as well as back pain caused by an excessive amount of weight being placed directly onto one spot on your body without any support around it

Put Your Sleeping Bag And Pad On The Bottom

Sleeping bag and pad go on the bottom, where they can be compressed. That keeps them away from other gear that might damage them and makes it more difficult for water to soak through the pack if you have to cross a river.

Hiking requires careful preparation and packing, and having the right tools is crucial for a safe and enjoyable journey. Our guide on important tools to pack in your hiking backpack outlines the essential items you should include, such as navigation tools, first-aid supplies, and protection from the elements.

Pack Your Clothes In A Compression Sack

If you are planning to take a lot of clothes with you, like for example if you’re going on an extended backpacking trip or going camping with your family, then consider packing your clothes in a compression sack. Compression sacks are lightweight and compress clothing down to a fraction of their original size. 

The compression will also help to keep your clothing clean and dry while traveling or hiking because it forces air out through the zippers while keeping water out at the same time. 

These bags aren’t just useful for packing clothes though; they can be used for all kinds of things like protecting electronics, keeping toiletries organized and even storing food if need be!

Compression sacks come in different sizes depending on how much stuff they can hold (measured by cubic inches). 

The most common sizes are 30-35 liters or 40-50 liters but there are also larger versions available if needed as well – usually sold online only though due to regulations regarding shipping hazardous materials such as CO2 cartridges (which aren’t allowed on airplanes) 

So don’t expect them at big box stores like Walmart unless there’s some sort of clearance sale happening (which happens often enough).

Pack Your Sleeping Bag Tightly To Save Space

Let’s start with the sleeping bag. Sleeping bags are bulky and take up a lot of space, so you’ll want to pack yours tightly in order to save room for other items in your backpack. The best way to do this is by using either a compression sack or stuff sack. 

A compression sack will make your sleeping bag smaller at the expense of comfort it compresses the down material so that it takes up less space than it normally would. 

A stuff sack is basically just like any other stuffsack (such as those used for clothes), except that it has more padding than most other kinds of stuffsacks. 

If you have access to both types but can only choose one, go with the compression sack because it will make your sleeping bag smaller but still give some cushioning from sharp objects inside your backpack such as tent poles or trekking poles (if applicable).

Pack your sleeping bag into itself as tight as possible: first fold it in half lengthwise so that both sides meet; then roll this up tightly from one end until all air has been removed from within; finally secure this rolled-up bundle with whatever method works best for packing things into backpacks (usually straps). 

If possible, use something soft like cotton or silk cloth instead of nylon webbing straps since those tend not only scratchy against bare skin but also harden when exposed over time due to UV light exposure while outdoors during camping trips.”

Wearing proper-fitting hiking boots is key to preventing blisters and foot pain on your adventures. Our guide on breaking in hiking boots provides advice on achieving a comfortable fit and avoiding common shoe-related problems on the trail.

Organize Inside Your Pack

Once you’ve packed the larger items of your gear in the backpack, it’s time to organize what’s left. You’ll want to make sure that everything is easily accessible and organized so you can find it quickly when you need it. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Pack all of your clothing into separate compartments so they don’t get mixed up with other items. It can be helpful to use different colored packing cubes so you know where each item belongs without having to open every compartment and search through them all individually.

Use a packing list or checklist app (such as TripLingo) before each trip so that you’re sure not only that everything gets packed but also that nothing is forgotten at home! 

If there is any doubt about whether or not something should go into your backpack, leave it behind just like with overpacking clothes (there will always be more opportunities for shopping on future trips).

Use A Trail Map As A Stuff Sack For A Sleeping Pad

A trail map can be used as a stuff sack for your sleeping pad. This is great for keeping your sleeping bag and pad separate from the rest of your gear, especially if you’re traveling with a group. It also keeps things dry in case of rain, and keeps everything organized.

Preparing for a hiking trip involves more than just packing the right gear – it also requires physical training to increase stamina and endurance. Our guide on how to train for hiking offers tips on developing a training plan that incorporates cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises to prepare your body for the challenges of the trail.

Create Extra Storage With A Trash Compactor Bag

One of the best things you can do to make sure you have room in your backpack is to use a trash compactor bag.

Use it to store your clothing. If you’re only bringing 3 or 4 pairs of pants and shirts, then stick them in a trash compactor bag so that they don’t take up space in your pack. It’ll also keep them from getting dirty or wet if there’s rain or mud on the trail!

Use it as an extra food storage option. You can store snack bars, granola bars, nuts and seeds inside the trash compactor bag so that all those items are easily accessible at any point during your hike without taking up valuable space inside your main backpack compartment. 

This is especially useful for long hikes where food might not be easy or convenient enough to reach throughout the trip — just pull out some snacks from inside this compartment!

Use it as an electronics storage option (or separate electronics compartment). If there’s no room left after packing clothes into a trash compactor bag (or if someone else wants those clothes)

Try putting smaller electronic devices like smartphones into their own smaller compartment within said larger container   this will give everyone more room while still having access to important things like GPS apps while out on their adventure!

Extra Storage with a Trash Compactor Bag

Provides extra storage space in your backpackPlace gear inside the bag and pack it at the bottom of your backpack. This will create a waterproof barrier between your gear and the base of your pack.
Keeps your gear dryFold over the top of the bag a few times and secure with a rubber band or twist tie to keep water out.
Can be used as a makeshift dry bagIf you’re caught in a downpour, you can use the trash compactor bag as a temporary dry bag to protect your items.
Inexpensive alternative to a waterproof backpackInstead of purchasing an expensive waterproof backpack, use a trash compactor bag to keep your items dry.
Easy to find at a local hardware or grocery storeMost hardware stores and grocery stores carry trash compactor bags, making them easily accessible.

Keep Toiletries And Snacks Easily Accessible

You’ll want to keep your toiletries and snacks accessible, but you don’t want them spilling out of your pack. 

Here are some options:

Keep toiletries in a waterproof bag. That way, even if the rest of your stuff gets soaked, they’ll stay safe.

Store snacks in a ziplock bag. It’s a great way to keep things dry and prevent them from getting crushed by other items in your pack.

Pack food (and anything else) in small containers or plastic bags that can be easily opened when you need something immediately after hiking for several hours straight without stopping once.

If you have room on the outside of your backpack for more storage space, consider bringing along another smaller backpack that can hold these items separately from everything else; this will help ensure that nothing gets lost or damaged during the trip!

Use Extra Compartments To Keep Gear Organized Inside Your Backpack

It’s important to have gear organized in your hiking backpack. This will help you find what you need quickly and easily, rather than having to dig through everything. 

If the items are organized, then you only have to look at one compartment instead of moving things around or taking everything out of a bag.

As you pack for your next backpacking trip, be sure not to overpack. Overloading your backpack with unnecessary weight will make it harder for yourself and others to carry it on steep terrain or over rough terrain like boulders or fallen logs. 

It can also reduce performance because it’s harder for hikers’ legs and lungs recover from carrying more weight than they should be able to handle effectively

Keep Gear Off The Ground To Reduce Moisture And Bugs

Keeping your gear off the ground is an important way to reduce moisture, insects and dirt. A tent is a great option for this but you can also use a tarp or hammock. 

The goal is to keep everything dry so if you use a tarp or hammock make sure it’s waterproofed before heading out on the trail. You should also consider getting some kind of waterproof bag that will hold all your items in addition to your backpack (see below).

If you are sleeping in a tent or under an open tarp, just put everything into one big waterproof bag: sleeping bag, clothing, toiletries and anything else you wish. 

You’ll want to use something like Sea To Summit’s Ultra-Sil Stuff Sack which uses silicone technology to repel water while still being breathable enough so that condensation doesn’t build up inside the stuff sack (which could end up soaked through eventually). 

If there’s no shelter from rain showers then place heavy duty garbage bags over each item before putting them inside another large trash bag

This helps prevent moisture from entering through any small holes that may occur during transport as well as protecting against dirt and insects entering through openings on outer shell (for example when rolling down windows at stops along treks).

Keep Gear Off The Ground Tips

Reduces moistureUsing a tent, tarp, or hammock keeps you and your gear off the damp ground, reducing the amount of moisture that can penetrate your gear.
Minimizes exposure to insectsWhen your gear is kept off the ground, you minimize your exposure to bugs and insects, creating a more comfortable and safe experience.
Reduce the amount of dirt and debrisBy keeping your gear elevated, you avoid the accumulation of dirt, leaves, and other debris that can accumulate on the ground.
Use a tent or hammock for an elevated camping experienceTents and hammocks are great options for keeping your gear elevated and offering a protected space to sleep.
Use a tarp if a tent or hammock is not availableIf a tent or hammock is not available, setting up a tarp above your sleeping area can still offer an elevated and protected area to sleep.

You Can Be Prepared For Any Situation When You Are Backpacking

You should be prepared for any situation when you are backpacking.

You can use your backpack to store all of your gear, so that everything is organized and easy to find. 

You can keep your gear dry in case it rains, or safe from animals if you’re camping out in the wilderness. Your stuff will also stay clean after a long day on the trail!


There are many ways to pack a backpack, but the most important thing is to be prepared. A lot of factors go into choosing what gear you need while backpacking and how it’s going to fit in your pack. 

You can get lost or stranded on a hike if you don’t have enough supplies with you, so always try to err on the side of caution when packing for an adventure!

Further Reading

Backpacker: How to Pack a Backpack – This article offers step-by-step instructions on how to pack your backpack for a comfortable and safe trip.

REI: How to Load a Backpack – Discover tips on how to properly load your backpack to evenly distribute weight and maintain balance.

MEC: How to Pack a Backpack – This comprehensive guide covers a range of packing techniques and tips for hikers and backpackers of all levels.


How should I organize the items in my backpack?

Organize heavier items towards the bottom of your backpack to help maintain balance, and distribute weight evenly on both sides. Pack items you don’t need until later at the bottom of the bag.

What is the maximum weight I should aim to carry in my backpack?

The weight you can carry will differ depending on your fitness level and hiking experience. A good weight to aim for is no more than 20-25% of your body weight. Carrying too much can lead to fatigue and muscle strain.

How should I pack food for a multi-day backpacking trip?

Pack high-calorie, high-protein snacks and lightweight food in sealable bags or containers to prevent spills. Use smaller portions of food packed in small-sized plastic bags that you can reach easily when you’re on the move.

What gear should I prioritize in my backpack for a day hike?

For a day hike, important pieces include sun protection, first-aid supplies, enough food and water to last for the duration of your trip, and a map or compass.

Should I pack differently for different seasons?

Yes, your backpacking needs will differ in each season. In winter, extra layers of warm clothing, insulated sleeping bags, and heavy-duty waterproof clothing are necessary. In summer, you need more breathable clothing and sun protection. Always check the weather forecast before leaving.