Having a properly packed backpack, whether it’s for a day trip or a multi-day hike, is a key step in preparing for a trip outdoors. From short local hikes to backcountry camping trips, there are some essential items and tricks that will ensure you’re well prepared.
How to Pack a Backpack for Hiking
Why Packing a Backpack for Hiking is Important
• You will be confident that you have the essentials for a safe and comfortable trip
• Carefully distributing the weight will prevent injury and backaches, which will let you enjoy the hike and travel for longer distances
• Evenly distributing the weight will help you balance as you trek up hills, across streams, or over uneven and rocky terrain
• Strategically locating items will give you quick and convenient access to what you need when you need it
If you’re bringing gear on your next trip, even if it’s just a few basic items, you’ll be able to use this article as a guide to a perfectly packed sack!
There are a few things that are essential, even for a local day hike. The most basic necessities in your pack include your first aid kit, food and water, and some extra clothing depending on the season you’re hiking.
If you plan on going for an overnight or multi-day hike, then on top of the basics you’ll also need shelter. This includes a tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag. You’ll also want to bring cooking gear to make meals for several days.
Here is a list of other items that you’d need for multi-day trips (and might consider for your day hike, depending on the intensity):
• Kitchen supplies. Keep things simple! Bring only one pot, one bowl, one set of cutlery, and one cup. Wash these and reuse them for every meal. You shouldn’t need much more than this!
• Headlamps and lighting. This will help you around the campsite at night. It can also be a part of your safety kit, so these are good to bring on short day trips. A headlamp is probably all you will need, but there are also small table lamps for backpacking.
• Sunscreen and bug spray. You’ll feel way better if you can avoid sunburn and annoying bugs!
• Clothing for all possible weather conditions. Plan for the worst and hope for the best! Bringing raincoats is never a bad idea!
Once you have all of your gear laid out, it’s time to organize and pack. When you’re packing for a multi-day hike, you’ll want to maximize every crevasse in your bag. Backpacks can be broken up into different layers.
These layers will help you achieve the most efficient use of space, ensure your bag weight is properly distributed, and have easy access to the items you’ll most likely need.
Here’s how to organize your gear based on the layers in your backpack:
Pack items that are both bulky and you won’t need until arriving at camp. If you’re going for a day trip, use this area to pack spare items.
Pack dense or heavy items. Placing weight in the middle will make your pack easier to carry because it will help you balance and prevent injury. If you’re packing for a day trip, store your food and water at this level.
Pack bulky items that you’ll need access to while on the trail. This can be a clothing item, like a raincoat or hat. It can also be your safety and first aid kit. On a day trip, the top part of your pack will be similar items.
Use these valuable spaces for items that you will certainly use while hiking. This can include maps, snacks, water, or essential first aid kits. Use these pockets the same way for a day hike, too.
Tool Loops and Lash-On Points
Any long, oversized, or awkwardly shaped items can be attached to the outside of your pack. Avoid strapping anything heavy to the outside, though. This will put you off balance! Usually, hiking poles, a sleeping pad, or ropes are strapped to the outside. Think about strapping gear that doesn’t need to be overly protected.
While you’re figuring out how to pack your life’s essentials for a week in the woods, use the following as helpful reminders or guides. These tips will make your life easier as you pack and hit the trails.
Use Smaller More Lightweight Bags
To help organize your items by type or size. By keeping your clothing or kitchen supplies together, getting settled in camp will be easier.
Make sure you can still stuff items into the small gaps that commonly occur. Your goal is to have a tightly packed and balanced bag so that nothing moves around and throws you off balance.
Maximize Space With Compression Bags
These bags are specially designed to help you shrink gear like sleeping bags or clothing as small as possible. You can push empty space out from these fabric items to form a compact and tight package. The compression bag will hold this shape and allow you to get a super snug fit.
If you’re used to bringing suitcases on trips or even traveling by car, then you’ll want to think about bringing less than what you’re used to.
When you’re carrying your gear, you have to forgo the luxury items like that extra sweater or shirt. If you have quality gear that’s designed for your purpose, you won’t actually need to bring as much as you think!
A Hydration Pack
Is a helpful way to stay hydrated while hiking. You can use hydration packs for day trips or across multi-day backpacking excursions. These are useful because the straw is always right there for a sip of water whenever you need it.
You won’t need to awkwardly reach backward to a bottle or take off your pack for a drink. Staying hydrated more easily can be an added safety feature.
Always Organize for Convenience & Comfort
This means strategically placing gear so that you can easily access what you need when you need it. And it means organizing gear weight so that it’s ergonomically comfortable and balanced for hiking.
Waterproofing Your Bag
Probably one of the most crucial steps to ensuring an enjoyable hike — in any weather — is making sure your gear stays dry in the rain. There are a few tricks to keeping your supplies dry:
• There are specially made “dry sacks” that are coated in a waterproof rubber or vinyl material. They are typically hallowed bags that you can stuff other bags or items into.
Dry sacks have a unique closing feature: fold and roll the opening of the bag until it’s airtight, and then fasten the sides together using the buckle. This works amazingly well at keeping water out! You can buy dry sacks in different sizes, which are usually measured in liters.
• If the dry sack option won’t work for you, there is always a simple plastic bag! This won’t provide an airtight or ultra-waterproof cover, but it will be better than nothing.
You can use plastic bags to cover items that you’d prefer to stay dry but won’t be ruined if they happen to get wet. Some clothing or kitchen items might be good options to cover in plastic bags. This is a cheap solution that will help give your gear a bit of rain protection.
• Many backpacks have rain covers that you can buy. These covers are usually designed to fit snuggly over your backpack to create a barrier that keeps water out. These are a great option to add an extra layer of protection on top of a dry sack or plastic bag. A soggy wet backpack is no fun! You’ll be glad you splurged on the rain cover.
How to Avoid Overpacking
A final word of advice: avoid overpacking! Whatever you back in your bag is coming with you across the rocky, rainy, sunny trails. Make your life easier by lightening your pack — you’ll be thankful you did!
Tips to Prevent Overpacking
Maximum Weight – Your absolute maximum bag weight should be no more than 25% of your body weight. But this doesn’t mean your bag should be 25% of your body weight. It’s best to always try and pack as light as possible. Frequently weigh your bag as you prepare for your trip, and then adjust what you’re bringing based on the scale.
Pack Versatile Items – That can serve multiple purposes. If you have a sweater that you can re-wear, then only bring one sweater. If you can use your jacket as a sleeping pillow, then leave the pillow behind. You get the idea. Think creatively about what you’re bringing.
Pack Lightweight Items – There are some gear options that are cheaper and lighter alternatives. For example, you can choose a lightweight plastic cup rather than a metal one. Or bring an ultra-light stove designed for backpacking. There are tons of alternatives that will help lighten your gear haul!
Lay Everything Out – While you’re prepping for your trip, lay out everything you want to bring on the floor. First, create a pile of the bare necessities. Then take a look at what’s left. Look for things you can remove and try to cut the “non-essentials” down by half. You might be surprised by how little you really need!
Packing a backpack for hiking is both an art and a science. To avoid issues or injuries on your trip, it’s a good idea to start preparing early. You can use the extra time to test out your bag weight on short hikes around your neighborhood park or trail. You’ll get a sense of whether your bag is comfortable and light enough for your longer trips.
It can take some practice to learn how you can best pack your bag. But with these tips and some trial-and-error tests in your local park, you can be confident that you’re ready for an adventure!
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