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How to Properly Load Your Backpack

Yes, there actually is a proper way to load your backpack. Over the years, we have come to realize that how a pack fits and how it is loaded, can make or break your pack trip. Either you take the time to ensure your pack is properly fitted to you and loaded correctly, or you will be counting torturous mile after mile and popping the pain pills come nightfall. Here are a few tips to consider while you load your backpack for your next trip: 


Start by putting your sleeping bag, down equipment and other light objects in the bottom compartment. If your backpack comes with a removable sleeping bag compartment divider (diaphragm), then you can choose whether or not you would like to have it in place and have that section divided off or remove it and have one big main compartment. The majority of internal frame backpacks were intended to be used in conjunction with lighter weight mummy style sleeping bags. Those of you partial to your XL flannel rectangle sleeping bags will find it hard to fit them not only in the sleeping bag compartment, but also in the entire backpack in general. If you insist on taking a XL sleeping bag, then you may need to get creative.


Next, place your heavy and dense equipment like stove, fuel, tent, food, and other dense items flat against the back panel of the backpack. This will ensure that the heaviest items will be closest to your back and center of gravity.


Then comes mid-weight gear such as clothing and other not heavy but not light items. These should be placed around, on top, and in front of the heavy dense items you just packed so that they are more towards the outside of the main compartment and slightly further away from your back and center of gravity.



Finally, the lightest items and items you’ll need quick access to on the trail like rain gear, trail food, and compass and map should be packed furthest away from your back and center of gravity in places like external pockets and the top lid of the backpack.



1) Try your best to fit everything you can inside your backpack and external packets and avoid strapping items that dangle on the outside that can snag and get caught or lost on objects passing by. You’ll be more comfortable and your stuff will be more secure this way.

2) Odd-sized equipment such as tent poles, ice axe, trekking poles and skies can be carried on the outside of the pack. Use the appropriate utility straps, ice axe loops, ski slots, or side compression straps to secure these items firmly to your pack.

3) Once you’ve got everything packed, use the compression straps to compress and snug the load tightly to keep things from moving around while you hike. 

4) If your pack feels like it’s leaning away too much from your shoulders, you have a weight distribution problem, and you need to ensure the heaviest items are closest to your back and center of gravity

5) Make sure that your pack is balanced from side to side. This means that your loaded pack should not lean to the left or right, but should rather be evenly distributed. This will help with your balance tremendously on the trail and while crossing uneven ground.

NOTE: Always pack your backpack at home prior to hitting the trail. This will enable you to lay out all the gear on your floor, check all the items off your pack list (making sure it’s all there), and load them one by one into their proper place for the journey. This may seem hard at first, but once you have a few pack trips under your belt, it will become second nature and you will know where everything fits in your pack.

NOTE: As a general rule, a fit person should not carry more than 20-25% of his/her body weight for prolonged periods of time.

Download printable PDF instructions on How to Properly Load Your Backpack