How to Load Your Outdoor Backpack

How you load your outdoor backpack can make the difference between a hike being easy or more difficult.  No two people agree on how to arrange the items in their backpack, but there are some guidelines to help manage all of the equipment.

Load Distribution:

The goal in weight distribution is to make the backpack as easy to carry, so that when you arrive at camp at the end of the day, you are not completely drained from fighting your pack.

  • Uneven, steep or rough terrain: Pack most of your heavier items at the bottom of your pack.  Put the lighter items near the top.  Make sure that the heavier items are close to your back.  You will retain a lower center of gravity with this arrangement.
  • Level Terrain – Easy Hike: Work on packing lighter items at the bottom of the pack and heavier items near the top, near your back.  With this arrangement, people find that they can carry more weight more efficiently.  Your center of gravity tends to be higher in this configuration.
  • Women: Because, women typically have a lower center of gravity many desire to pack the heavier equipment near the bottom of their bag.  (The same as uneven terrain)  Make sure that these items are close to your back.

Take Inventory:

Days before you leave, lay out everything that you plan to carry.   Put the essentials in the pack first; fuel, stove, sleeping bag, tent, sleeping pad.  Then add your food and clothing and other required items.  If you still have room, add any items that you want to carry, like a diary, journal or book.

Item Locations: (honey, where’s my…)

There are some better locations to pack certain items:

  • Sleeping Bag: If your outdoor backpack has separate storage pockets, put your sleeping bag in first at the bottom.
  • Food and Fuel: Make sure you pack the food away from the stove fuel.  Pack the Fuel on the outside in an upright position.  People organize their food in different ways.  Some pack each individual item in its own re-sealable bag, others pack according to meal.  Just know that whatever way you come up with is great if it works for you.  Another word on food, eat your fresh food or heavier food at the beginning of your trip.  This will make your backpack lighter faster and will help when you are more fatigued near the end of the hike.
  • Sleeping Pad: Some people like to pack the sleeping pad up against their back.  Others, if they have a top loading pack, will “line” the inside of the pack with the pad.
  • Cooking Equipment: Inside the pack is better than outside.
  • Inside vs. Outside: Many packs have a lot of great locations on the outside of the pack to clip gear to.  Don’t be tempted to attach everything to these.  Know that any item attached to the outside of the pack has the likely hood to: Fall off and get lost, catch on a branch and fall off or just make a ton of noise as it rattles around as you hike.  This becomes doubly important if you are bushwacking and not following a trail.
  • Multi-use Items: Any item that you are going to use throughout the day needs to be placed in outside pockets or near the top of the pack.  These would include; sunscreen, map or bug spray and the like.

Pack the items that you will not need as often or in a hurry (change of clothes, tent and sleeping bag) at the bottom of the pack.  Items you will need before you set up camp or in a hurry (Rain gear, map and trail snacks) .

As you can see, many of these recommendations could be in conflict with each other (weight distribution and sleeping bag).


  • Pack up and walk around with the outdoor backpack to make sure it feels right and you know that you can carry the weight.  Walk around your neighborhood or on a short trail for practice.  Repack everything and see if it makes a difference where something is located.  Is it more or less comfortable?
  • A rain cover can come in handy on the trail.  Again, because this would be an item that would need to be gotten to quickly, it should be near the top or in an outside pocket.
  • If you are traveling in bear country, you may need to acquire and carry a bear container.
  • If your pack has compression straps, you can pull them taut after you get all of your equipment loaded.  This will help keep the load closer to your back.
  • Make sure that your load is evenly balanced left to right.  An uneven outdoor backpack can keep you off balance or worse, hurt your back.
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One Response to “How to Load Your Outdoor Backpack”

  1. freddy says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing your awesome tips! I’m planning to buy camping stuff on outdoor gear, could anyone tell me if I should get their stuff?