How To Pack a Backpack: 101 Guide

How to Pack a Backpack: Female backpacker ascending a hillside with a neatly packed backpack

In this post, we'll take a look at:

A backpack isn’t just about throwing things inside randomly. If you want a comfortable, safe, and enjoyable outdoor experience, knowing how to pack a backpack is crucial.

In this post, we’ll explore the art of packing your backpack like a pro. Whether you’re new to backpacking or a seasoned adventurer, let’s begin.

The Steps to Organizing Your Gear

How To Back A Backpack: Backpacking gear neatly laid out on a floor

It’s time to delve into the art of organizing your gear. Think of it as preparing for a grand expedition, where everything has its place, and knowing where to find it saves you time and energy.

Step 1: Lay Out Your Gear

Before you start packing, lay out all your gear on a clean, spacious surface. This visual checklist ensures you don’t forget essential items and helps you get a clear picture of what goes where. It’s like laying out puzzle pieces before assembly.

Step 2: Prioritize the Essentials

Start by identifying the absolute must-haves for your upcoming adventure. These essentials encompass your:

  • Shelter
  • Sleep system
  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Water
  • Crucial gear (cooking equipment, first aid kit, navigation equipment, etc.)

When it comes to items not fitting this category, think twice and maybe leave them behind. We might sound a bit tough, but going ultralight is our approach, and never pack your fears.

Step 3: Divide and Conquer

When organizing your gear, think about dividing it into categories. For instance, group all your clothing items together, place food and cooking equipment in another category, and keep essential tools separate. This logical division makes it easier to access what you need when you need it.

Also, think about keeping frequently used items separate and easily accessible to save you from the hassle of unpacking your entire bag.

Step 4: Use Stuff Sacks and Compartments

Stuff sacks are your best friends when it comes to keeping your gear organized. They help you compartmentalize your backpack efficiently. Consider using different colored stuff sacks for different categories of gear, making identification a breeze.

Step 5: Get a Compactor Bag to Waterproof Your Gear

For extra protection in unpredictable weather, line your backpack with a compactor bag.

This adds a layer of defense against moisture, especially on wet ground or during unexpected rain. It’s a light and budget-friendly solution for keeping your gear dry and gives peace of mind.

Learn more about it here. You can find one here.

Step-By-Step Packing Techniques

How To Back A Backpack: Backpacking gear laid out on a floor

Now that you’ve organized your gear into categories and made everything easily accessible, it’s time to master the art of packing your backpack efficiently.

Think of it as solving a three-dimensional puzzle, where each piece has its designated spot:

Step 1: Insert the Compactor Bag

Here’s how to use a trash compactor bag effectively:

  • Choose a Nylofume Option: Opt for a compactor bag that is thicker and more durable than a regular trash bag. This added strength ensures better protection.
  • Line Your Backpack: Open the compactor bag and place it inside your backpack. Allow the top of the bag to extend above the pack’s rim.

Step 2: Start with the Bottom

Begin by packing the fundamental elements at the bottom of your backpack. These form the foundation of your load. Here’s how to go about it:

  • Sleeping Bag: Place your sleeping bag in the bottom compartment of your backpack. If it’s compressible, use a stuff sack to save space. Remember, it’s your base layer.
  • Sleeping Pad: Next to your sleeping bag, position your sleeping pad. It’s okay if it rolls up slightly; this helps fill any gaps.
  • Clothes and Pillow: Fill in any remaining gaps with your heavier clothes, and if you carry one, your camp pillow.

Step 3: Pack The Middle Zone

This is where the heavyweights belong, close to your back’s center to maintain balance. The items to load here include:

  • Shelter: If your backpack has a designated compartment for a tent, place it here. Ensure the tent poles fit alongside.
  • Cookware and Food: Your cookware, stove, fuel, and camp food should be loaded in the middle back section. Make use of all available space by stashing your stove and fuel inside your cookware.
  • Light Clothing: Your light clothing, a camp towel, or small toiletries can fill up any remaining space around the heavier items against your back.
  • Hydration Reservoir: Most ultralight backpackers won’t use one, but if you want to, you can put it here.

Step 4: Pockets and Compartments

Make the most of your backpack’s pockets and compartments. They should house lightweight, frequently used items that you may need on the go.

  • Water Bottle Pockets: Use these for your water bottles or, if flexible enough, tent poles.
  • Hip Belt Pockets: Keep small, essential items like energy bars, lip balm, or your phone within arm’s reach.
  • Front Pouch: This stretchy front pouch, often called a “kangaroo pocket,” is perfect for lightweight essentials like a rain cover, bathroom kit, water filter (if it’s small), or a rain jacket if there’s still room.

Most ultralight backpacks don’t have top pockets, but if yours does, use it for lightweight items. In the past I have used mine for a lightweight power bank.

Bear Canisters (When Required)

If you’re going into bear country or an area with specific regulations, make room for your bear canister. Place it vertically on top of your sleeping bag in the middle back section. Fill it to maximize space and use soft items like clothes to pad around it.

You can learn more about bear canisters here.


Packing your backpack isn’t just about tossing things inside randomly; it’s a skill that can significantly enhance your outdoor experience. Think of it as a puzzle where each piece has its place.

Organizing your gear, using a compactor bag for waterproofing, and following smart packing techniques can greatly enhance your adventures.

Wishing you happy trails with a perfectly packed and balanced backpack!

Interested in an ultralight backpack? Check out our TOP 5 guides that showcase the lightest backpacks on the planet.


Is 30L enough for backpacking?

Yes, 30L can be sufficient for backpacking, especially for ultralight hikers or backpackers on short, few-day trips. Ultralight gear, which is smaller in size, allows for a minimalist approach to packing. However, for longer trips or carrying bulkier gear, consider a larger backpack.

Is it necessary to have a rain cover?

Whether you need a rain cover for your backpack depends on several factors. Consider the weather, the type of backpack you own, and your hiking preferences. Some backpacks come with built-in waterproofing, and if you’re an ultralight hiker, you might opt for pack liners. Therefore, having a rain cover isn’t always necessary.

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