Blog » Backpacking 101: How to Pack Your Backpack (Part 2/4)


Backpacking 101: How to Pack Your Backpack (Part 2/4)

The second part to the Backpacking 101 series (first part was how to fit your backpack), covers proper technique to packing your backpack.  Believe it or not, the placement of heavy and light items can have a large effect to how the pack sits on your body.  It is also good to think about putting frequently used items in easily accessible areas, such as rain gear and toilet paper. Here is the best advice from our MEC representative on how to most efficiently pack your bag. More information can also be found on the MEC site and feel free to email or comment with your questions below.

Packing Your Backpack

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Before packing, spread everything you plan to take on the floor in front of you. Leave behind those things you may not really need, and make sure you haven’t forgotten any essentials. If you’re unsure what to take, use one of our trip checklists.

backpacker4_v2_m56577569831495200Imagine that your pack is made up of three zones:

  • Zone 1– Put light items, like your sleeping bag & sleeping pad, at the bottom.
  • Zone 2– Pack heavy items, such as water, food, climbing gear, tent, etc. closest to your back. Use a sleeping pad or fleece as a buffer between sharp-cornered items and your spine.
  • Zone 3– Place medium-weight or bulkier items toward the top or down the front of the pack.

Your objective is to avoid having a top-heavy pack, which will pull you backwards, or a bottom-heavy pack, which will make you feel like you are being dragged down. Packing heavier items close to your center of gravity (middle of the back) will keep you balanced and make the load feel more natural.


  • Distribute weight evenly between left and right sides.
  • Place frequently used items (i.e. rain gear) in an easy-to-access place, such as external pockets.
  • When hiking on easy terrain, pack heavy items a little higher for better posture.
  • On harder terrain, put heavy items lower down for better balance.
  • Stuff sacks allow you to quickly pack/unpack your gear and find what you need. Put each category of items (first aid, kitchen, etc.) in different colored bags. Try not to stuff the sacks full, as a little play makes them easier to squeeze into gaps.
  • Use your pots as hard metal stuff sacks to protect delicate items.
  • Pack your food above your fuel bottle, in case of leaks.
  • Use your compression straps to bring the load closer to your body and keep everything in place.

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out this great video.

This part of backpacking will take practice. As you experience what works and doesn’t work for you, you will develop a system ideal for you. Before a trip, practice packing your bag and trying it on to see how it feels.  Make some adjustments before you hit the trail to avoid unnecessary discomfort.


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