A wise man once said, the key to a good hike often lies in your backpack. Thinking about it, that’s actually true. After all, the backpack contains your sleeping pad (the most important and largest of the gears), water bottle, food, clothes, trekking poles, mobile, camera, well, you get the point.

Do you think so many things will fit in if you just shoved everything down the bag’s throat? Absolutely not, plus, the most grueling part will be carrying the load. That’s why you need to pack right and yes, even packing the backpack has some science behind it. So this article, we will cover how to pack a hiking backpack the right way.

There are 3 main priority areas of any backpack. That is the bottom, the core, and the top. Then come all the pockets, loops etc.

What goes down under

The things at the bottom of the backpack will require more effort to dig through and take out. That is why the gear least needed such as the sleeping bag/pad goes in first. Along with that go in the pillows, the sleeping pad, and other camping gear. This also provides adequate cushioning to the fragile stuff at the top like the food, camera, GoPro etc.

Pro Tip: Considering your sleeping pad/bag rolls up and comes with straps carrying it by strapping it on the outside of the bag is a great space-saving alternative especially when it just wouldn’t fit in.

Also, 90% of your camping gear goes into the bottom except for the tactical flashlight, batteries, trekking poles etc.

The Core

What you pack in the middle can make or break your hike. That is because all the stability comes from the core. And it is for this reason most experts recommend packing the heavy gear like the stove or grill, additional water bottles, food items, alcohol bottles or a beer canister (always and always carry a canister) in the middle.

In case you are carrying fuel to light up a grill or campfire make sure the bottle’s cap is tight (really tight) and it is positioned upright. Or simply stash the bottle into one of those side pockets. So if the bottle leaks, your gear, clothes etc. remains safe and sound.

So why do we put the heavy stuff in the middle?

The reason is that it helps create the right balance by keeping the load downward. Place the heavy load in the bottom and the bag sags pulling you backward, place it too high and the bag feels bulky giving you a hunched aching back. And lets not even mention the injuries it leaves your shoulder muscles prone to.

The Top

Well, we are almost done with the packing so lets quickly go over what goes on the top. This portion of the bag is reserved for the hike-specific gear. When I say hike-specific gear, it includes everything you will or might need during the hike like your flashlight, emergency kit, the raincoat, rain cover for the bag, towel, some munchies to have along the way etc.

Side Pockets and Zippers

Every backpack comes with bottle holders on the sides that give you on the go access to water or any energy drink you intend on carrying (Gatorade is a personal favorite here).

Apart from that, there are also side zippers, a front pocket, a hip belt pocket and other pockets on the interior.

These pockets and zippers come in handy to store smaller essentials like your mobile. You would want quick access to your mobile which makes the hip belt the ideal place for it. You can also use it to store a map, compass, GPS, energy bars, rain cover, your ID, money and debit/credit cards.

Lash-points and loops

If you have purchased one of the best hiking backpacks, it most likely comes with lash-points and loops. This makes carrying the other comfort/safety gears a breeze that otherwise does not fit into the bag, plus, you get instant access to it as well. The gears can vary from trekking poles (learn to use them here), Ice axe, tent poles, crampons etc.

Pro Tip: Since these lashes, straps and daisy chains can get caught on the branches, rocks etc. you would want to double check them and carry as little as possible using these additional storages.

Few other Backpacking tips to keep in mind

  • Firstly, everything you need should be set out so you can get an overview of the stuff
  • Get the most out of your backpack by filling up empty spaces with socks, undergarments, utensils etc.
  • Essential items should be readily accessible (use zippers and outside pockets for it)
  • Keeping the compression straps tight to prevent sagging or dangling
  • Always test how the backpack feels before beginning the hike
  • Keep a waterproof backpack cover to prevent the bag from getting wet due to rain, waterfalls etc.
  • Avoid over-packing. You do not need tons of dresses and utensils

How to lift your bag the right way?

Once you are done with the packing, the next challenge is picking it up the right way and trust me, most of you are doing it wrong. It is a normal tendency to pick up any bag via the shoulders strap but guess what, when it is a heavy backpack, it is simply, WRONG.

Firstly, the straps will wear out quicker. Secondly, if the backpack is really heavy, getting it onto your shoulders will leave you drained and tired. So here’s how it is actually done.

  • Make the straps a little loser than the actual fit
  • Grab the haul loop with your left hand and a shoulder strap with your right
  • Spread your legs apart (shoulder-width) and keep the back slightly bent
  • Now, slowly lift the bag to your hips and give it a rest
  • Keep hold of the haul loop slip your arm through the shoulder strap
  • Slip in the other arm too while staying slightly bent to keep the back steady
  • Tighten your hip belt
  • Stand upright and lastly, tighten the shoulder straps and voila, you’re good to go

Hoisting a backpack, the right way will need some practice and is worth the time as it will not only increase the bags durability but you will be able to hike more efficiently as the muscles won’t tire out quickly.

How to buy the right backpack?

Well, having the good backpack will make everything a whole lot easier so here are some handy tips to keep in mind when looking for a hiking backpack:

  • The backpack should be lightweight yet durable and waterproof
  • For this purpose, a Cordura or nylon backpack is ideal
  • It should also come with adjustable straps and hip belt as it provides stability
  • Multiple pockets on the outside and inside are a welcome addition
  • For pros, a hiking backpack of capacity 65-70 oz. is ideal
  • A mesh on the shoulder straps and the back provides good ventilation and wicks away moisture.

Also, make sure to take a look at our comprehensive guide on choosing the right hiking backpack: Best Hiking Backpacks


Well, as you can see from packing to hoisting your backpack when done right, it can save you tons of effort (otherwise wasted) and will make your hike an enjoyable one rather than a painful one.

Hikes can be super-fun and an unforgettable memory so don’t let your unorganized, heavy backpack ruin it for you.


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