How to Pack Backpacking Gear the Right Way (4 easy steps)

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When you start backpacking, there can be a lot of skills to learn. One of those skills is how to pack your backpack correctly. Unfortunately, this skill is often overlooked, resulting in a lot of unnecessary discomfort on the trails. In this post, we’ll go over everything you need to know about packing for an overnight hike in the backcountry, including EXACTLY how to pack your backpack in 4 EASY STEPS.

In this post, we’re not talking about what to pack backpacking, but rather how and where to actually put things in your backpack when you’re packing.

How you pack all of your gear into your backpack directly affects your comfort while you’re hiking.

Pack incorrectly, and your backpack will feel a lot heavier than it needs to, and you’ll likely feel uncomfortable pressure points as you’re hiking.

Pack correctly, and you’ll be saying things like: “wow, this pack doesn’t feel heavy at all” and “I could hike for hours!” You want to be saying that.

Ready to pack like a pro? Let’s get started!

How to pack your gear for backpacking:

For these steps, we’re going to break the backpack up into 4 sections – the bottom, middle, top, and outer pockets.

The main takeaway that I really want you to remember when you’re packing is to keep the heavier items in the middle of your pack, close to your back. This is important for your overall comfort while hiking.

Step 1: The Bottom

Fill the bottom section of your pack with the lighter bulkier items that you don’t need during the hike.

This would include things like your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and extra clothing like sleepwear, or a thicker jacket that you won’t need until you’re at camp.

Step 2: The Middle

The middle of your backpack is where most of your things are going to go.

You want heavier items in the middle of your pack, close to your back!

I think this is the most important thing to get right when you’re packing.

Start with your water reservoir, and pack it close to your back. Most backpacks come with a slot to put your water reservoir in, so just use that!

Then, pack your other heavier items into this middle section. This includes things like your tent, cookware, stove, fuel, and food.

After you’ve added these heavier bulky items, use the extra backpacking clothing you’re bringing to pad around them so that they don’t shift during your hike.

For me, this usually includes clothes to sleep in, extra socks, and a fleece. I will use these softer items to pad around my cookware, tent, and food, so there’s no room for things to move.

You really don’t want things to be shifting in your backpack as you hike because it can throw off your balance.

Step 3: The Top

At this point, most of your stuff should be packed.

The top section of your pack can be used for some of the smaller lighter items that you might need to access during your hike.

The top can be used for things like a layer in case it gets cold and your rain gear.

If an unexpected storm rolls in, you don’t want to have to unpack your entire backpack in order to find your rain gear.

I like to keep it on top for quick access.

Step 4: The Outer Side Pockets

The last section of your backpack is the outer pockets.

I use these outer pockets for things that I need to easily access on the trail.

This includes bathroom supplies, my first aid kit, sunglasses, SPF, my water filter (because the one I use is very small), navigation tools, and snacks for the hike.

It’s nice to have snacks easily accessible so you don’t need to take your whole pack off in order to get a granola bar.

Additional Backpacking Packing Tips

In general, I try to get everything in my backpack.

I don’t like things hanging off the outside of my backpack because they can get damaged or sway side to side throwing off my balance.

However, depending on your gear, you might need to attach items to the outside of your pack because it simply won’t fit inside.

For example, if you have a foam sleeping pad, that’s something you’ll have to keep on the bottom of your backpack, strapped to the outside.

If you have to strap things to the outside of your pack, try your best to keep it balanced on either side.

Simple Ways to Make Your Backpack More Comfortable

Pack it correctly:

Following the guidelines above will make sure that your backpack is well-balanced and the heaviest items are in the middle of your backpack, close to your back.

Adjust it:

Nowadays, backpacking backpacks are SUPER adjustable. If you’re hiking and you notice a pressure point, stop and adjust some of the straps on your pack. It’s best to stop and adjust your backpack when you notice some discomfort, instead of pushing through it for hours and making it worse.

If you feel like the backpack is pulling you back when you’re wearing it, make sure you packed your heaviest items in the middle of your pack, close to your back. Then, try tightening the straps above your shoulders, to bring the backpack closer to your back.

Use the hip straps:

Make sure most of the pack weight is carried by your hips, not your shoulders. The bulk of your backpack weight should NOT be on your shoulders. Carrying all the weight on your shoulders will feel heavy, and likely cause back pain.

When you put on your backpack, tighten the hip straps first. The middle of your hip straps should be around your iliac crest. After the pack is snug around your hips, then you can tighten the shoulder straps to hug the backpack to your back.


Packing things correctly will make a HUGE difference in your comfort level while backpacking, so that’s definitely the first step. Once you have the packing down, use the many adjustments available on your backpack to fine-tune the fit.

If you have any other questions about how to pack for backpacking, just ask me in the comments below.

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