It takes time and practice to figure out who you are as a backpacker. Regardless of your backpacking style there are basic rules and equipment you will need. I can tell you to pack the “Ten Essentials” but theory only goes so far. My purpose is to make theory applicable and let you experiment from there.

Theory 2: Packing like a Pro

Now that you understand the essentials and the optionals, you pick your poison. You will need a luggage scale, a small food scale and know how much you weigh for this step. The theory is you should never carry more than 1/4 of your weight, pack and boots included. Calculate 25% of your body weight and you have the maximum total all the gear on your back and boots should weigh.

Pre Pack Prep:

The Essentials: About a week or two before your trip, (or before you purchase your first pack) lay all the essentials except your food in one pile (I prefer keeping all my kit in labeled plastic totes.) I have my ‘hard equipment’ ie first aid kit, emergency shelter, fire kit and repair kits organized in zip-locks and in a one litre dry sack for convenience. If I don’t open that sack I had a great trip and it is still set for next time. That sack weighs 3-3.8 lbs depending on if I am going on a day hike or a multi-day hike. I lay out the filled water container (weigh the container before filling and after), all my layers, boots, sun protection, shelter/sleep system, navigation and illumination. I make sure every last thing is there and in perfect working order. I weigh and catalogue every item with the food scale or luggage scale and figure out the total amount, then the total amount minus my layers.

The Optionals: in a second pile lay out anything above and beyond essentials you wish to pack. Start weighing and you will likely find you have too much gear. Prioritize and remove pieces from this pile until the weight of optionals and the weight of essentials are under 25% of your body weight.

The Pack: Choose a pack which is no bigger than you need (you will over fill it if you have the room) and not too small. Try different makes and models and pick the one which is most comfortable and suits your style. It may be an ultralight or it may be a traditional pack but make sure it fits. Makes sure to have it professionally fitted and learn how to adjust it to fit your body before you purchase, just in case you missed something. Weigh the pack empty and add it to the running total.

The FoodPut all the meals in a ziplock bag or two, weigh the food and add to your running total weight. If your total pack weight is over 25% your body weight go back to your optionals and remove a few more things from the pile. The lower than 25% you go, the more comfortable you will be especially as a new hiker.

Sort Supplies: Pull your layers, boots, knife, headlamp, sunscreen, lip chap, water purification map, compass, toilet paper, hand sanitiser, pack cover, lighter, one day worth of snacks and a lunch and anything else you need fast access to like cameras, GPS, trek poles, bear spray and pack in a small pile off to the side. These will be packed outside the main body.

The LayersPull out the layers you will be wearing when you start hiking and set them aside. When deciding what layers to wear at the beginning of the day, ideally you should feel slightly chilled standing still before you start hiking, your body will warm up as soon as you start moving. Moving at a pace that gets you somewhere but doesn’t get you sweating excessively is the goal (especially in cold climates.) Set out these layers accordingly.


Packing the Main Body: The heavier the item the closer to the middle of the of the back it goes. My hydration bladder goes in first and I arrange the hose, then the pack liner (most people just use a big garbage bag.) Light items like sleeping bags and mattresses (most packs have a set of ties for your mattress if you have a sack to keep it dry and clean use them) go at the very bottom. My tent sits on top of the sleeping bag, Stoves, fuel, food and heavy stuff go in next. Place these items inside and try to pack the weight evenly side to side pressed toward where the pack rests against your back. I then stuff the crevices toward the outside of the pack with essential clothing I will not wear 100% of the time, think woolies/down puffies/fleeces. I set my sack of essentials on top of the clothing to keep my first aid kit close to the top. I like to place my rain gear on the very top of the main body to add a little bit of waterproofing. Close the liner bag around your gear.

Packing Pockets and Vestibules: Remember that little pile of gear you want outside the pack. Start organizing. Look at each item and choose its placement in a pocket, vestibule or clipped outside accordingly. Keep the vestibule light and with things you only need when your pack is off (think TP, water purification, pack cover) fill the accessible pockets with things like navigation, snacks and cameras. Tiny stuff like little bottles of sunscreen, lip chap, lighters, knives etc go in your pants pockets. Most people agree bear spray gets clipped to the front where you can get at it. Be very careful how much you clip on. The more things you have dangling the less balanced your pack will be. Try to aim for nothing dangling if possible and anchoring anything which is dangling at two points.

Packing Test:

Did you pack like a Pro? Let’s find out. At this point try your pack on. Balance on one foot then the other. Lean left, lean right, till forward, tilt back. Does the pack feel lopsided or top heavy? Do the strap and hip belt adjustments feel secure and comfortable? If the pack feels lopsided or top heavy, repack now not two hours of hiking and a back spasm later. At any point if your pack strap or hip belt adjustment feels off, adjust it until it is secure and as comfortable as possible, this includes on the trail.

Hey look! Your pack: all that stuff fit in there! And you have a few weeks to spare before your trip, take it for a couple of tours and change anything which is not working for you before your big hike. Perhaps after two hours of hiking that cool pack chair or extra sweater seems like it is not worth packing along and that’s ok. Pull it out and leave it home, you’ll likely be glad you did. On your trip keep track of things you never used things you wished you did and keep a log for your next trip. From here what will make you a real Pro, is you never stop learning and experimenting. Happy Trails!

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