This article is based on our experiences and is not the only way to do things, more a guide to help you finding what works for you. This presumes you have an appropriately sized and well fitted rucksack. If you are still at the stage of needing a rucksack then you can read our ‘How to Choose a Rucksack’ guide here.
Once you have a pack that fits you and is appropriate for your adventures you then need to know how to pack it effectively so the weight is evenly distributed and the items in it are easy to find. It is usually something that comes with time and experience but working towards a simple system for packing enables you to enjoy your time out there rather taking too much time and effort and resulting in an uncomfortable trip.
It can be useful to create a backpacking checklist to ensure you have everything and edit later to assess what worked well, or didn’t, after each trip.
Two of the main considerations when packing are weight distribution and organisation. When you have a comfortable pack and easy access to the things you need it can make your experience of backpacking much more pleasurable so it is really important to get these right.
Weight distribution: the key to a comfortable pack. Maintaining your centre of gravity is critical so packing your gear in three distinct zones of your pack will have a dramatic effect on this. The three general areas of you pack for the heaviest, lightest and
Organisation: allows you access the kit you need easily. There are different ways to organise your kit and it's just about finding out what works best for you. Some people use colour coded dry sacks or labeled bags, others pack gear in the same place every time
Within the three main zones of your pack it's a good idea to place certain gear within them to balance the weight effectively.
The bottom area of your pack is ideal for lightweight, bulky items that you won't need until you hit your camping spot. The heaviest gear that again, you won't need to access until camp is best placed in the core of your pack, in the centre and closest to your back, then filled out with clothing such as insulated jackets and warm layers to prevent things from moving around. The top area of your pack should be filled with and lighter gear that you may need access to when you stop for breaks. Finally, any pockets on the outside should be filled with items you need access to regularly or in emergencies.
Here are some examples of the kind of gear you should think about packing in the bottom, core and top parts of your pack:
Bottom of pack: sleeping bag, sleeping mat, camp footwear, sleeping layers. Packing the softer gear at the bottom helps create some cushioning for your back and your pack.
Core of pack: stove, cooking kit, food, water reservoir. Packed out with insulated layers. Packing the heaviest gear close up against your back in the middle of the pack stabilises your centre of gravity and stops the pack feeling unbalanced while adding clothing helps stop the items moving around.
Top of pack: tent inner, rain fly, footprint, extra clothing. This helps maintain the centre of balance but allows you to get access to gear you need first such as spare layers or your tent for when you reach camp.
Pockets, loops and lash-on points: insulated or waterproof jacket (weather dependent), spare layer, first aid kit, water filter, toilet supplies, snacks, map, compass. Keep things that you will need regularly or in emergency situations close to hand.
The majority of people will learn from their experiences and find out what works best for them. One additional area that highlights this is when carrying luxury items or packing 'just-in-case' gear. The less you have to carry the more comfortable you will be and the more you are likely to enjoy your trip. If it is not essential then you can probably leave it behind. From experience, if you area taking a larger pack you will find gear to fill the space, regardless of whether you actually need it! The smaller the pack, the more you have to focus on what essential gear is when you pack.