How to Load your BackpackEven the best backpack on the market, fit to perfection and packed well under its maximum weight capacity, can be uncomfortable if it's not loaded properly. By following a few simple rules, you can vastly improve the comfort of your pack. This article will show you how.
Pack SizeFirst, let's start with the backpack itself. Your pack size should strike a reasonable balance between being lightweight and having the ability to carry everything you need for comfort and safety. Keep in mind that upgrading your gear to smaller, lighter items (e.g., sleeping bag and tent) can help to reduce your load and pack size. This includes the pack itself, which, even when empty, can weigh nearly 8 lbs. on the largest models.
Here is a range of suggested pack sizes based on trip length:
|Pack category||Trip length||Pack capacity (liters)||Pack capacity (cubic inches)|
|Multiday||2 to 4 days||40 to 80||2,400 to 4,800|
|Extended trip: men's||5+ days||80 and up||4,700 and up|
|Extended trip: women's||5+ days||70 and up||4,300 and up|
These are approximate guidelines. Your choice of pack also depends on your backpacking style (from gram-counting minimalist to someone willing to haul in comforts such as a camp chair).
Basic Packing StrategiesWhile internal-frame packs dominate the backpack market today, most of the strategies described here apply to any pack wearer. Fans of external-frame packs should check out our external-frame pack tips below.
Weight DistributionHere are a few examples of relative item weight:
|Light items||Medium items||Heavy items|
|Foam pad||First-aid kit||Liquid fuel|
How to Get Organized
Other Packing TipsUse a camera case. These can be attached to your pack's shoulder strap or hipbelt allowing for easy access to your camera. They offer protective padding; some include a built-in rain cover and storage pockets for memory cards or cleaning cloths.
Carry a pack cover. Though some backpacks are made with waterproof fabric, virtually all have vulnerable seams and zippers. Any prolonged exposure to persistent rain could make the items inside your pack wet, and thus much heavier. A pack cover solves this problem.
Bring a few repair items. Wrap strips of duct tape around your water bottles or trekking poles; in case a strap pops or some other disaster occurs, a quick fix could keep you going. Take along a few safety pins in case a zipper fails.
Hydration OptionsMost packs today are hydration compatible. This means they are designed to accommodate hydration reservoirs, though the reservoirs themselves are sold separately. This type of pack typically includes a pocket for the reservoir, exit ports (slits) for the tube and a small strap on each shoulder strap to route the tube through.
Many older packs are NOT hydration compatible. For these packs, put your hydration reservoir close to your back (since water is heavy) and run the tube out of the top of the main compartment. Alternatively, you can place it near the top of the pack, just below the top lid. This allows gravity to work to your advantage and makes it easy to access when refilling.
Tip: To reduce the chance of leaks soaking your clothes, consider putting the reservoir inside a waterproof stuff sack (or plastic trash bag) before placing it in your pack.The other tried-and-true hydration option is to use water bottles. Most packs offer water bottle pockets on each side of the pack where bottles can be accessed without taking your pack off.
Bear CanistersA growing number of national parks and wilderness areas now require the use of bear-resistant canisters. This policy has become necessary to reduce bears' attraction to human food and head off unwanted bear-human encounters. The requirement also acknowledges the fact that it's very difficult to successfully hang food and scented items via the traditional "bear bagging" method. (Most of us don't get it right, and Sierra bears in particular have become adept at swiping marginally positioned bags.) Bear-resistant canisters offer greater food security and convenience, but at the cost of being relatively heavy.
Canister packing tips:
Lashing Gear to Your Pack
It's best to minimize the number of items you strap to the outside of your pack. Gear carried externally may adversely affect your balance. Be sure to secure any equipment you do carry outside so it doesn't swing or rattle.
Maximum Pack WeightAs a general rule, the weight of your loaded pack shouldn't exceed 25% to 30% of your ideal body weight. Some experienced backpackers may be able to carry more, while novices should generally start with less.
The quality and fit of your pack influence the amount you are able to carry. A pack that does not effectively transfer weight to your hipbelt due to poor fit or design puts more weight on your shoulders (this is often the case with kids' school packs). With these packs, the maximum amount of weight you carry should be reduced to 15% or less of your body weight.
Another general rule: The heavier a pack is when empty, the more weight it is designed to carry.
External-frame PacksThis once-popular style of backpacks has become something of a niche item over the years, but external-frame packs still have their fans. A couple of tips:
Courtesy of REI Outdoor Tips