How to Pack a Hiking Pack

If there’s one thing that can quickly ruin a hiking trip, it’s a poorly packed pack.

An improperly packed backpack can put awkward tension on your shoulders or unnecessary and painful strain on your lower back, none of which is conducive to a great adventure out in the hills.

On the other hand, a well-packed pack could reduce the amount of weight on your shoulders and make hiking a breeze.

Packing a pack properly can be quite difficult, though, so here are some tips to get you started:

1. Get The Right Size Pack

The pack you need for a 5-day trip will be quite different from what you need for an overnight, so it’s important to get the pack that works for the specific needs of your trip.

Although this is all dependent on the amount of gear you bring, as a general rule of thumb, most people can get by with a 60-70L pack for 1-2 night trips, a 70-90L pack for 3-5 night trips, and a 95L+ pack for anything over 5 nights.

2. Weather-Proof Your Gear

​While many modern backpacks have some semblance of weather resistance built into their fabric, when the rain starts pouring down, you’ll wish you had more than just a thin piece of nylon between the water and your down sleeping bag.

A thick garbage bag/bin liner (we recommend compactor bags used for lawn refuse) or a purpose-built pack liner can help protect your gear in foul weather or during a big river crossing.

If it’s something you absolutely can’t get wet, consider putting it in a second dry bag.

3. Think About Accessibility

​If you take a look at your gear, you’ll realise that some of the things you have are only necessary when you’re in camp, like your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp shoes, and long underwear, while other items, such as your snacks, rain jacket, water purification, map and compass will likely get used while you hike.

Generally, we recommend packing the soft, squishy, camp gear that you won’t need into the bottom of the pack.

The stuff you might need during the day should go at the very top of the pack or in the brain/lid of the pack if you have one.

4. Consider Weight Distribution

​The last thing you want when hiking is for your pack to be lopsided or top-heavy.

The heaviest items in your pack are generally your food, cook kit, and stove, so you’ll want to be particular about where you pack them.

The best place to carry these heavier items is right in the middle of the pack, alongside the spine.

This reduces the feeling of being ‘pulled backward’ by the pack and makes it overall less awkward to carry.

5. Food Above Fuel

Spilled fuel can be a complete disaster on a hiking trip, especially if it gets into your food.

To prevent this from happening, make sure to pack your fuel below your food so that if it does spill, it’s less likely to contaminate your food.

Or, better yet, place your fuel on the outside of the bin liner/pack liner that you’re using to waterproof your gear or even in an outside pocket of the pack.

6. Pack Your Water Wisely

​Water is one of the things we can’t live without, and especially in hot and dry environments, you’ll want to make sure you’re well hydrated.

Unfortunately, water is also one of the heaviest things we carry on hiking trips, so we have to pack it with care.

If you use a water hydration system, you may want to put your bladder into the dedicated pouch in your pack, but be aware that it can be difficult to refill with a full pack on.

People who use water bottles generally pack them into the water bottle pockets on the side of their pack.

7. Everything On The Inside Of The Pack

​While it might seem cool to have your spork, camp shoes, tent, and mug strapped to the outside of your pack or dangling from a carabiner, doing so throws off the weight balance of your pack and makes it highly likely that you will lose or damage your gear while hiking.

Too many people have ripped their expensive tent on a tree branch while hiking – don’t let that be you.

Try to pack absolutely everything into your pack, leaving the outside straps and pockets only for water bottles and big, bulky foam sleeping pads.

If half of your gear is strapped onto the outside of your pack, consider getting a bigger pack.

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Gaby Pilson - Professional Mountain Guide

A professional mountain guide and experienced outdoor educator, Gaby enjoys travelling and exploring the world’s most remote locales. As a writer and editor, Gaby has written for a variety of climbing and travel blogs, news sites, and climbing magazines. She is currently finishing a master’s degree in outdoor education but in her free time, Gaby loves a strong cup of coffee and searching for the next great adventure. Learn more about what she does at