Backpacking 101: Packing Your Backpack

Backpacking 101: Packing Your Backpack

So you’ve got all the gear, mapped out your route, and gotten all your food squared away, now how do you fit it all in that backpack?!

Very carefully!

Just kidding. Packing up your backpack isn’t too hard once you know where everything should go. Lucky for you I’ll be going over how to pack your backpack today!

The first thing you need to know is that there are different sections of your backpack. Depending on the type of backpack you have you may have more or less pockets or exterior attachment places but the main thing to know is that bulky but light things go in the bottom, heavy things go in the middle, and lighter things that you’ll need during the day go in the top.

How to pack your backpack

Using my Osprey Aura 65 backpack as an example here are all the different sections and what I put in them:

  1. Bottom: Sleeping bag or pad 
  2. Bottom Exterior Attachment: Sleeping bag or pad
  3. Middle: Bear canister, jet boil, cooking things, tent; water bladder
  4. Top: Jacket, rain gear, water filter, first aid kit
  5. Top Pocket: Sunscreen, food for the day, headlamp, bug spray, spork, 
  6. Exterior Pockets: clothes, toiletries, permit, book, map
  7. Side Pockets: Water bottle, trash bag
  8. Hip Belt Pockets: Chapstick, multi-tool, lighter, small snacks, knife
  9. Exterior Attachments: Sandals, compass
Backpacking Gear

Before packing up it’s a good idea to layout all your gear, clothes, and food. This will give you an idea of how much stuff you actually have and if you need to cut anything from the list (for me it’s usually clothes).

Packing your backpack

The Main Section

When I pack up my backpack I start from the bottom up.  Larger but lighter things like your sleeping bag, pad, and clothes that you won’t need during the day can go on the bottom. I like to use the straps on the outside for my sleeping pad in case I want it to sit on when taking a break while hiking.

Next you’ll want to put all the heavy stuff in the middle part of your bag, and if you can put the heaviest stuff closest to your back. This will help to keep you pack balanced and keep it from causing you pain. Most packs have a little insert or pocket for your water bladder that sits right up against your back ensuring that one of your heaviest items is right up against you.

Then at the top, you’ll want anything you’ll need during the day. I keep a change of clothes, a first aid kit, and a water filter at the top of the main part of my pack. All my toiletries including sunscreen and bug spray, my food for the day, my spork, and any other smaller items I don’t want getting lost or crushed in the main part of my pack go in the top pockets.

Backpacking Backpack


If you have exterior pockets on your pack they are a great place to keep lighter things and things you might want to easily get at during your hike. I keep my clothes in the two outer pockets in the middle part of my pack. Then things like my hiking permit and map in the mesh pocket at the back. 

The hip pockets on your pack are great for things you might need while actually hiking. Mine are always stuffed with snacks and chapstick.

Hip belt pockets


Attaching things to the outside of your pack is all about personal preference. I like clipping my sandals to the back of my pack which makes them easy to get to and they don’t bother me if they are swinging around. Some people really don’t like stuff on the outside of their packs because of that movement. So it really depends on what you find comfortable if you want to have things clipped to the outside of your backpack or not.

Packing your backpack

The key takeaways are:

  • Heavy gear goes closest to your back
  • Lighter gear goes further from your back
  • Things you’ll need throughout the day go at the top and in the top and hip belt pockets
  • Things you won’t need while hiking go in the bottom of the pack

How I pack my backpack

Backpacking 101: Gear
Backpacking 101: Clothes
Backpacking 101: Food
Backpacking 101: Planning
Backpacking 101: All My Secrets
Backpacking 101: Training

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3 thoughts on “Backpacking 101: Packing Your Backpack

  1. Pingback: Backpacking 101: Food - Nattie on the Road

  2. Pingback: Backpacking 101: Clothes - Nattie on the Road

  3. Pingback: Backpacking 101: Gear - Nattie on the Road

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