How to Load a Backpack

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We recently posted about how to perform a proper gear check. In that post, we focused primarily on keeping the items you need together, providing simple and incomplete instructions for loading your pack. Several of you have reached out to us for a guide on loading a backpack. You asked and we listened.

A well-loaded pack can mean the difference between being comfortable and uncomfortable on the trail. This is one the more simple outdoor adventure skills to learn, but it is a process many outdoor enthusiasts tend to overlook. We tend to emphasize what goes into our packs, but we rarely discuss how that gear should be distributed. It’s not rocket science, but it does require some careful planning. Here are our five tips to loading a pack.


  1. The way you load will depend on the type of pack you use. If you are using a frameless pack, begin by inserting your sleeping mat (or similar material). Starting with this will create some structure for the pack. If your backpack has an external frame, you won’t need to think much about this.


  1. If your pack is not waterproof, line the inside with a trash compacter bag. These are incredibly cheap, light, and effective. This will provide extra protection and easy gear removal.


  1. Bottom—Place clothing items you will not need during the day (extra socks, rain pants, thermal underwear, &c) at the bottom. This gear is not necessarily heavy, but the bulk will provide a good base for more weighty items.


  1. Middle—This is where you should place heavier objects, such as food, shelter, and water. Organize these materials so they are situated close to your back. Use your sleeping back or similar material to fill the outer sections. This will allow you to keep the center of gravity close to your back.


  1. Top—Put your snacks, shell, extra maps, and other items you will need during the day at the top of your pack. This will provide easier access and a more balanced backpack. Smaller objects can also be placed in hip, shoulder, or side pockets where available.