How to pack a hiking backpack like a pro

by Jun 3, 2020 | First published in 2019Adventure, Advice, Camping & Outdoors

When you hike 1000km you become a bit obsessed with your backpack and packing skills. By the end of Hiking the Israel National Trail, I’d made all the classic errors while working out how best to pack to save time and strain on my body. Here are my top tips on how to pack a hiking backpack like a pro……


Before we start….

If you are new to this blog, I’m Bex Band – a full-time UK adventurer and founder of the women’s adventure community, Love Her Wild. I’m on a mission to make getting outdoors and going on adventures as easy as possible. You can read more about me here.

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#1 Get rid of too-small stuff sacks

To think of all the hours I spent trying to get my sleeping bag and roll mat to fit back into the tight fighting stuff sacks. Then one day I had a revelation and decided to not bother and to just throw it straight in the bottom of my bag. It was the best discovery of my life. There’s a bit of debate around stuff stacks as some say it protects your items….I’ve damaged a sleeping bag trying to stuff it in a sack though so I stand by not using them. Not only does it save time and effort but I found it actually took up less space in my bag as stuffed bags are such an awkward shape.

#2 Waterproof everything

You can use a waterproof backpack cover but I prefer to use 1 large sturdy dry sack which I put in the main part of my bag. I then know that everything is waterproof and safe without needing to stop and get a cover on if it starts raining.

#3 Put your sleeping stuff in first

The bottom of my bag is saved for my roll mat and sleeping bag which is always the last thing you’ll need access to at the end of the day.

#4 Leave your PJ’s in your sleeping bag

Throwing your PJ’s (I usually wear base layers which double up as evening clothes) in the bottom of your sleeping bag is another quick time saver. It keeps them away from your smelly hiking clothes and easy to grab when you set up camp in the evening.

#5 split everything using smaller stuff sacks

I have different coloured stuff sacks to help me organise things in my bag. It also adds extra waterproof protection. I have one for clothes, another for cooking items, first aid kit and then one for odd bits (battery packs, toiletries, gaffer tape, etc).

pack a hiking backpack

#6 Keep your snacks in your strap pockets

Most backpacks come with handy strap pockets. This is where I keep snacks which are easy to grab throughout the day when I need an energy boost.

#7 Keep the top pocket for essential items

In the top of my bag goes the essential items that I might need to grab throughout the day. That includes first aid kit, head torch (in case you end up walking/arriving at camp when it’s dark) and shovel. At the top of my main section in the backpack, I always have a fleece and warm hat for easy access when I take breaks, as well as my waterproofs.

#8 Get a holder for your map

If using a map, I’ve found it really helpful to have a map case with a strap that I can then attach securely to my rucksack. You can then tuck it under one of the bag straps without worrying about it falling out and losing it. This is much easier than having to get it in and out of a pocket all the time.

#9 Get the weight distribution right

The biggest learning curve when learning how to pack a backpack is packing too much. The second biggest is distributing it well.

A badly distributed bag can really hurt your back. You are aiming to have the weight evenly distributed with the heavy items closest to your back and central. This allows you to tightly secure your bag with the weight predominantly on the hips (using the hip straps). The worst place to have heavy items is in the top or on the outer sections of the bag as this will pull your shoulders back.

How to pack a hiking backpack

#10 Use a hydration system

Although they can be fiddly to fill up having a hydration bladder is the easiest way to drink as a hiker. It also really helps with distributing weight in the bag. Water will likely be one of your heaviest items so you can put the bladder right up against your back in the main pack and lower down as you won’t need access to it regularly.

#11 Pack before you go to bed

Before sleeping I get my bag organised for the next day. I fill up water and replenish my snack pockets. This makes getting going in the morning when you are sleepy and often most demotivated so much easier.

How to pack a hiking backpack

Do you have any tips or advice you’d add to the mix?

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