Backpacks when packed correctly are able to hold all the gear you will need for your backpacking adventures. When packed incorrectly it can change a great trip to an uncomfortable one. Here is what you need to know for packing a backpack. 

Backpack Basics:

  • Capacity (what is the right size for your trip?)

Backpacks come in various shapes and sizes.  Knowing the right size for your trip is very important.  You want to make sure that you have enough room for all of the gear that you will need but not too much room that leaves you carrying extra weight that is not needed.

Daypack: 20 - 35 L

These packs typically have a hydration pack associated with them and in these packs should be extra food, clothes, and supplies.

Weekend: 40 - 50 L

Weekend packs are for 1 to 3 nights backpacking. There is a large difference between a day pack and an overnight pack.  You will need to pack a lot more gear (stove, tent, sleeping bag, and food). This means that your backpack needs to be a bigger size than that of the daypack options. 

Multi Day: 50 - 70 L

Multi day packs are expected to carry similar gear as the weekend pack however just in larger quantities for food, water and maybe other technical gear. They are designed for trips ranging from 3 to 5 nights.  

Expedition: 80 - 110 L

Expedition packs are for 5 or more nights and is generally designed for professional mountaineers or guides.

  • External vs Internal

Backpacking backpacks have two types of frames: external or internal.  This is a very important thing to know about you backpack.  When packing a backpack the weight distribution will change based on which type of frame you have.

External: These backpack options are a good choice if you have a tight budget.  They are generally less expressive than the internal frame backpacks.  When packing an external framed backpack you want to make sure and pack your heavier items higher up on the pack than that of the internal frame.

Internal: The internal framed backpacks 

Gear Layout

To make it easier on yourself so that you can clearly see what gear you have that you need to bring on your trip lay it out on the floor.  This will allow you to see if there are any items that you can cut to help with your pack weight. Once you are done cutting any item that you don't need then organize your stuff into piles:Shelter/Sleeping, Clothes, Food, Cooking Gear, Small stuff that you will need to access during the day. Getting organized before you put everything in your backpack will and insure that you have not forgotten anything. If you are curious about what to pack for you trip please see our posting with a list of gear you will need on your backpacking trip.


There are three zones to a backpack, plus external storage as well. The zones are as follows: the bottom zone, the top zone, and the core zone.

Bottom zone: Good for bulky gear (items not needed until camp)

  • Ex: Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, any other soft gear that is not needed to be assessed until the end of the day 

Core zone: Good for heavier items

  • Ex:Food stash (entrees, not snacks), cook kit, stove, water reservoir (unless you prefer bottles for hydration), bear canister (containing food and all other scented items, plus whatever bulky items help fill it to the brim)
  • Packing heavy items helps create a stable center of gravity and directs the load downward rather than backward. Placed too low, heavy gear causes a pack to sag; placed too high, it makes a pack feel tippy.

Top zone: Good for bulkier items that you might need on the trail.

  • Ex: Insulated jacket, fleece jacket and pants, rain jacket, first-aid kit, water filter or purifier, toilet supplies (trowel, TP, used TP bag)

  • Accessory pockets: Good for essentials you would need immediately or often.
  • Ex: Raincover, car keys (look for a clip inside one of the pockets), ID and cash stash

  • Tool loops and lash-on points: Good for oversized or overly long items.
  • Ex: Trekking poles, tent poles

Hoisting you Pack

This may seem like a no brainer but properly hoisting your pack is very important and there are many ways to do it incorrectly.  When done incorrectly it can damage your pack as well as yourself over time. One common mistake that many beginners make is to lift a pack by a shoulder strap. Not only can this damage and prematurely wear out your shoulder harness, it also makes it difficult to control your pack as you try to wrestle it onto your back. 

Steps to Hoisting Back Properly:

  • Slightly loosen all of your straps to make the pack easier to slip on.
  • Move your pack to an upright position on the ground.
  • Stand next to the back panel; have your legs well apart and bend your knees.
  • Grab the haul loop 
  • Lift and slide the pack up to your thigh and let it rest; keep your hand on the haul loop for control.
  • Slip your other arm and shoulder through one shoulder strap until your shoulder is cradled by the padding.
  • Lean forward and swing the pack onto your back. Then slip the hand that was holding the haul loop through the other strap.
  • Make all the adjustments needed and buckle up!

Your pack is ready and your buckled in.  Enjoy the trails!

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