Everyone knows that lighter is better when it comes to packing for your big backpacking adventure, but how exactly do you pack a backpack for travelling? First things first, start by laying out the non-negotiable gear that you know you’re going to bring such as the technology (laptop, camera, chargers, etc), sleeping bag/travel pillow (depending on the trip), and the shoes that you’re going to bring (you probs only need two pairs). Once you’ve determined what you absolutely NEED, it’s time for the hard part. The golden rule for packing that we often follow is to lay out what you want to bring and then ditch half of it, although an extra pair of underwear and socks might be worth the weight… When it comes to larger backpacking trips, you can cut that down even more. Sure, it can be difficult to pack for destinations with drastically different climates, but remember that you can generally pick things up along the way quite easily; you’ll probably be glad you did it that way, too, as opposed to packing something for the entire trip and only using it once. Every gram adds up. Consider packing synthetic or wool clothes that wick away sweat (good for hot and cold weather), are easily washed in a sink, and dry in no time!
Once you’ve figured out what you actually need, it’s time to figure out how to make all that stuff fit into your backpack, sort of like a game of Tetris! We suggest picking up some lightweight stuff sacks to help to organise your belongings; they also help to remove excess air so you have an easier time packing everything together (pro tip: get different colours to help you differentiate the contents of each bag without having to open them all). If you don’t want your clothes to be completely wrinkly, try folding them into a more manageable width and then rolling them up before putting them into the stuff sacks. Grabbing an extra stuff sack to separate and compress your dirty closes can be quite helpful come laundry day too!
Now that you have all your essentials picked out and separated into your handy-dandy stuff sacks, it’s time to load up your bag. No matter how efficiently you packed, this part can make or break your backpack carrying experience. You can think of the backpack as five different sections: bottom, middle, top, pockets, and outside; here’s what to put in each:
A general rule is to put the heaviest items at the bottom of your bag, close to your back. One of the many beautiful parts of staying in a hostel is that you won’t need to pack the heaviest items that would generally go in the bottom of your bag such as a tent, sleeping bag, or cooking equipment. The next heaviest item is generally your clothes, so squish any excess air out of the stuff sacks and squeeze those vertically into the bottom of your bag, making sure to use all the space available.
The bottom of your bag is also a good place to pack your extra shoes; again, place them vertically amongst your clothes close to your back.
The middle of your backpack is where you’ll want to put your medium weight items; this is usually your electronics, toiletries, and water (most backpacking bags will have a hydration sleeve around this area of the bag). Other than being the ideal spot in terms of weight distribution, placing your electronics in the middle of your bag will give you the peace of mind that your precious camera lenses or computer hard-drive are less likely to take a hit and be damaged. Depending on your bag, you may have a laptop sleeve; otherwise, slide it vertically against your back and place the rest of your electronics and toiletries in front of it: safe and sound.
Keep in mind that you’re only packing the essentials, so a full size sunscreen, shampoo, or lotion bottle probably isn’t the best choice… Instead, grab some travel sized liquids and refill as you go (remember to double bag to reduce the chance of a spill!). A toiletry bag or stuff sack can be used to keep your toiletries together, we often find that a light toiletry bag is better suited for consolidating everything together and not wasting space, but it depends on the bag. Toiletries usually fit best placed horizontally in the backpack. The middle is also a great place to put a light travel towel if you are bringing one, plus, it will act as some extra padding for your electronics.
The top of your backpack is where you put the lightest of your belongings. Put the things you don’t need quick access to in the top of the main compartment; these are things like gloves, hats, waterproofs, food, and first aid packs. Most backpacking bags also have a top flap that is best suited for carrying items that you want to be able to grab on the fly, such as your wallet, phone, and headphones. Your bag may have a built in waterproof cover so make sure to check that out before you go packing another one. If you’re kicking it old school, the top is also a good spot to put your books and maps.
Most backpacks have top and side pockets that are best suited for small objects that you want to have easy access to without having to worry about accidentally dropping them as you pull other items out of your bag. We like to keep things like our passports, travel documents, and room keys in these secure little pockets. Some bags will also have water bottle pockets on the side; if you’re the photographer sort, putting a water bottle in one side pocket and a tripod in the other is a great way to make sure they’re both easy to access, securely packed, and that the weight is balanced evenly on each side.
The outside of your bag should be used sparingly as the objects dangling from your bag can become cumbersome, throw you off balance, or get caught on your surroundings. It’s generally a quick and easy place to put an extra jacket if the weather is changing rapidly, or can be used to dangle awkwardly shaped objects like a coffee mug. For longer trips in more remote locations you may even want to purchase a portable solar panel charger, they can be clipped to the outside of your pack to charge your batteries while you’re on the go!
Check out these great articles for more packing ideas and advice!