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Packing a backpack seems like a no brainer.
Hmm, perhaps there's a bit more to packing a hiking backpack than you'd first think.
Need some tips on how to buy the best backpack for your trip? Read this.
Wondering if you've got all of the best hiking gear?
Now that these questions are out of the way...
how to pack your backpack pointers, in three easy steps.
The very first step in learning how to pack your backpack might be counter-intuitive: lay out all of your backpacking gear in a circle around you.
To be really precise, a pre-step in packing a backpack is to go over all of your gear to look for rips, abrasions, non working zippers or fasteners, or anything else that would cause you trouble on the trail.
Think beyond good weather scenarios, to determine if your gear would stand up to wind, rain, snow, extreme heat or other conditions.
You'll notice that some of your hiking gear is bulky (jackets, sleeping bag, tent), some of it is a fixed size (cook pots, stove, water bottles), and some of it is "stuffable" into the nooks and crannies of your pack.
To reduce the volume of your gear as much as possible as you're packing a backpack, use stuff sacks and compression sacks.
To answer that question, let's look at some examples of each of these storage options before you begin packing a backpack.
Stuff gets stuffed into your stuff bags, you pull the draw string closed and lock it with a plastic cord lock, and voila! everything is in one neat, compact parcel.
Now you can stuff it into your pack wherever it will fit.
But there's more to it than that.
You can go two ways with purchasing a stuff sack:
1. Inexpensive, relatively durable, reasonably water repellent and available in various colors and volumes like these stuff sacks,
2. Just a bit more costly but ultralightweight (meaning less fabric and therefore a higher probability of tearing) and weather resistant, made of sil nylon with reinforced seams that can take the punishment of being used as a food bag ("bear bag" hanging from a tree) like these stuff sacks.
Both of these examples have something you really want: a pull handle on one end to help you pull out your gear.
You can also attach a carabiner to the pull handle to hang it.
Compression sacks are different from stuff sacks because they have at least 3 straps that run from one end to the other, with a handle on each that you pull as tightly as possible.
Water repellent compression sacks like this one are good enough if you're going to keep the sack inside of your backpack or tent at all times.
Step up to water proof compression sacks like these if you absolutely want to remove the possibility of moisture.
I use three different volumes (color coded) of compression sacks on my trips to segregate my socks and underwear, bulkier clothing, and sleeping bag.
Let the name reassure you that whatever you put into it - food, socks, maps, electronics - will stay dry.
But expect to pay more for this reassurance, because the materials need to be durable and able to omit water under tough conditions.
In my humble opinion, investing a few more dollars into a dry bag gives me peace of mind as I'm packing a backpack to head off into the wilds.
These dry bags make great food storage bags that you can hang easily with a D ring on one end, or a carabiner that you bring along.
You don't need a compression dry bag for food (crunch!), but one like this will make sure your nutrients don't rehydrate spontaneously in a downpour. It has a vent that helps drive air out, sparing you the indignity of kneeling on the bag.
Not sure about food handling precautions at your campsite? Here's good advice.
Be sure to turn down the top on a dry bag at least 3 times to ensure a watertight seal, and keep it away from sharp rocks.
Random tip: Always have at least 2 carabiners clipped onto your pack. You never know when they'll come in handy, but they will, trust me!
For a compression dry sack that is as lightweight as possible, try this one. It makes packing a backpack even easier.
Now that you've tamed your volume problem, turn your attention to putting your gear into your pack.
We'll assume that you have a top loading backpack, and that you're packing a backpack at home rather than at a campsite.
Your spine is what's most important here. Use it as a point to steer by as you are packing a backpack.
Once there are no items of hiking gear left around you, put on your pack and take a walk.
A long walk.
Imagine your load as you visualize yourself crossing a slippery log or clambering over rocks.
Now you've got a packing system that will make you smile on the trail.
Tip: Memorize what goes where, or write it down for future trips.
Then you can concentrate on more important things, like your backpacking menu.
So there you have it: Packing a backpack in three easy steps - can't get much easier than that!
Need a review of how to pack? Watch this video.
Let me know if you have questions about packing a backpack for your next hiking trip by using the CONTACT link at the top left of this page.
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