Step by Step Guide for How to Pack a Backpack

Pelican Flyer  |  May 06, 2020

Packing a backpack, like starting a fire or pitching a tent, is art masquerading as a chore. A perfectly-packed pack is easier to carry, fits more stuff and stores your items so you don’t have to go rifling through it every single time you need something. But the thing is, there’s no backpack-packing formula that works for everyone, mainly because we’ve all got different gear to stash depending on the expedition at hand. Luckily, there are a few packing tips that’ll help ensure you get the most out of your backpack no matter where you’re going.

Step One: Lay Out Your Gear

Start with the big picture by laying out everything you need to pack, including all your essentials and “maybe” items. This will help you visualize the size and shape of things so you can grab them as needed and start putting the puzzle together piece by piece. It’ll also clue you in to the size backpack you need. How small can you go without leaving essentials behind? How big is too big? In this discovery phase, you should also group together smaller items in packable personal utility cases to keep things neat and tidy.

pelican consumer blog r60 large personal utility ruck case

Pelican Personal Utility Ruck Cases are great for adding some order, organization and protection to the interior compartment of your backpack.

Step Two: Pack Dense, Heavy Items

Reserve the bottom third or half of your backpack for bulky, dense and heavy items — sleeping bags, cameras (in cases), lenses, an extra pair of shoes, your smaller Pelican cases, etc. — so they don’t create awkward bulges or compress any fragile top items. If you don’t think you’ll need them, this is also a good place to stash your wallet and passport so they’re securely tucked away. If you’re carrying a lot of heavy equipment or dense gear, make sure you’ve got one of our large, heavy-duty backpacks in the rotation. Some of them actually have designated protective slots for storing fragile, heavy gear.

Step Three: Pack Core Non-Essentials

The main compartment of your pack is perfect for those medium-sized and bulky items that you don’t see yourself needing to access more than once or twice per day. It’s a great spot for your packable raincoat, hoodie, towel, small tent and hammock. When packing clothing items, try to resist the urge to cram and shove. Carefully roll your clothes, using a compression bag if possible, pushing any air out so they remain neatly compressed and won’t unroll in transit.

Step Four: Pack Light, Accessible Items

The top layer of your backpack should be filled with larger, lighter items and anything that you want to access easily, such as your jacket, snacks, knife or tactical flashlight. If you’re headed into a high-risk situation, such as an intense backpacking trip or a dangerous photoshoot, make sure you have your well-stocked medical kit handy, complete with bandages, medications, gauze and scissors.

Step Five: Pack Outer Pockets

If you’re packing a rucksack backpack or one with multiple exterior pockets, you’re in a good position to stash all those smaller items that need to be immediately accessible. Depending on the activity, these little compartments make great spots for your phone, water bottle, wallet, snacks, charger, lip balm, sunscreen and a small camera. Of course, if you’re headed to a busy area, don’t put anything valuable in an easily accessible front or side pocket that doesn’t lock.

Think About Purpose-Built Packs

If you tend to go on similar outings and don’t need a particularly versatile backpack, then it may be time to consider one that is purpose-built for specific activities. For example, if you’re a photographer, it’s a good idea to invest in a camera backpack so that your gear is well-protected. Do you travel with tech? It might help to select a backpack with a designated laptop compartment so you don’t have to worry about finding a safe, comfortable place to store your computer or tablet.

Happy Backpack Packing

A flawlessly packed backpack doesn’t always happen the first time. For many people, it takes trial and error to get right. As long as you’ve got the right pack and a little bit of patience, you can count on earning your backpack packing badge in no time at all.

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