How to pack your backpack for a backpacking trip

by | Nov 28, 2023 | Backpacking

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Are you dreading the thought of packing your backpack for an upcoming backpacking trip?

Packing for a longer journey can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time going on one.

You may be wondering what essentials to bring and how to fit it all in, without ending up with an overly heavy bag.

We’ll take you through all the steps necessary for creating a well-organized and lightweight backpack that will make your backpacking adventure stress-free.

Check the weather forecast

Two backpacks with rain guards

Before you start packing, it’s crucial to check the local weather conditions you’ll be trekking in.

Choosing gear for the weather

You’ll want gear that’s tailored to the forecasted weather, especially if there’s a chance of rain or snow.

  • Rainy weather: Don’t forget a waterproof cover for your backpack and a sturdy rain jacket.
  • Cold weather: Pack a well-insulated sleeping bag rated for the temperatures you’ll encounter.

Choosing clothing for the weather

Layering is your best strategy to manage changing temperatures effectively.

  • For cold climates, include thermal base layers, a fleece mid-layer, and a waterproof outer layer.
  • In warmer weather, opt for moisture-wicking fabrics and a lightweight, breathable rain jacket.

Create a checklist

Before you start throwing gear into your backpack, crafting a thorough checklist ensures you don’t forget any essentials.

If you plan on backpacking in cold weather, make sure to use our cold weather camping checklist.

List essential items first

You’ll want to prioritize the essentials: shelter, sleep system, food, water, clothing, and navigation tools. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Shelter: Tent, stakes, and ground cloth.
  • Sleep system: Sleeping bag and sleeping pad.
  • Food: Stove, fuel, utensils, and meals.
  • Water: Filtration system and water bottles or hydration system.
  • Clothing: Weather-appropriate layers.
  • Navigation: Map, compass, or GPS device.

List luxury or non-essential items second

After essentials, consider if there’s room for items that can enhance your comfort:

  • Camera: For capturing memories.
  • Book: For downtime entertainment.
  • Camp chair: If you have extra space for comfort at camp.

Remember, every extra ounce counts, so choose wisely.

Organize by weight and size

Pack your gear strategically:

  • Heavy items: Keep close to your back and centred.
  • Medium-weight items: Distribute around the heavy ones.
  • Light items: Place at the bottom and top of your pack.

This way, you’ll maintain balance and comfort on the trail.

Maximize space

Packing your backpack for a camping trip is like playing Tetris with your gear—every bit of space counts.

Use compression sacks for soft items

Orange compression sack

If you’re bringing clothes, sleeping bags, or other soft items, compression sacks can greatly reduce their volume.

Use a nesting mess kit to save room

The MSR Windburner camp stove with dishes

Your pots, pans, and dishes should fit into one another to form one compact unit, freeing up valuable space in your backpack.

Use ditty bags for small items

A small dry bag or ditty bag with reflector tape

Ditty bags keep smaller items organized and prevent them from disappearing into the abyss of your pack.

Pack food in resealable bags or paper wrappers

Chopped veggies in a plastic bag

Instead of bulky containers, opt for flat resealable bags for food items or paper wrappers that reduce volume as you consume the contents.

Choose a lightweight water purification method

Katadyn BeFree water filter

Rather than carrying multiple water bottles, consider a lightweight purifier like the Katydyn BeFree 1.0-litre water filter or purification tablets that take up minimal space.

Pack smart for accessibility

Packing your backpack with accessibility in mind means you can grab what you need when you need it, without the hassle.

Pack the biggest and heaviest items first

Place your tent, sleeping bag, and cooking gear at the bottom of your pack as these are typically the largest and heaviest.

Consider accessibility for daytime items

Keep your map, snacks, water purifier, and first aid kit near the top or in outer compartments.

Your comfort and convenience on the trail rely heavily on how accessible your essential items are.

Weight check

A small food weight scale

Before you hit the trail, make sure your backpack’s weight is in check to avoid any unnecessary strain during your backpacking trip.

While you can use a kitchen scale to weigh small individual items, you’ll probably need a luggage scale to weight your packed backpack.

Check base weight and full load weight

Your base weight refers to the total weight of your packed gear without consumables like food, water, and fuel.

It’s super important to know your base weight to make informed decisions about what to bring on your trip.

Begin by weighing all your gear that will be in your pack, then add the consumables to get the full load weight.

Ideally, your backpack should not exceed 20 percent of your body weight when fully loaded for backpacking.

In general, a good rule of thumb is to make sure your base weight is somewhere between 20 to 30 pounds.

Reassess to see if you can cut weight

Once you have your full load weight, scrutinize each item to see if there’s a lighter alternative or if it’s even necessary.

Ask yourself, “Have I used this in my last trips?” and “Can I replace this with something lighter or multi-purpose?”

Making these assessments helps to keep your pack weight manageable, which is pivotal for a comfortable and enjoyable trip.

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Elise & Ross

We’re Elise and Ross, avid backcountry campers and outdoor adventurers! We started Gone Camping Again as a way to share our knowledge and experience about wilderness living and travel. Our hope is that we inspire you to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer!

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